On Saturday I woke up bright and early at to make it to the first installment of Azul's interactive cooking class series. While 9:30 a.m. seemed a bit too early, welcoming pastries and French-inspired sangria made my morning grouchiness vanish almost instantly.
To go with the holiday-focused theme, executive chef William Crandall created a three-course menu that exemplifies Azul's flavors and techniques but that would be easy for participants to recreate in their home kitchens. "I want you to be able to do this for people you invite over for dinner," began Crandall.
See also: Updated: Veganaroma Holiday Cooking Class Rescheduled for December 20
Nine out-of-towners joined in on the educational fun. All were eager to be standing and sharing Azuls' five star and marble-clad open kitchen.
As far as what we made, Crandall borrowed some recipes from his grandmother, specifically smoked ham soup with dumplings that have bacon worked right into the dough. That's right - bacon in dumpling dough. This is actually quite easy to pull off. All you need to do is mix precrisped bacon (chop it and fry it in a large sauté pan) with flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, butter, and milk. Just make sure that the butter is at room temperature, or otherwise it'll create lumps. After you've finished your dumpling batter, you'll want to set it aside till your ready to drop them in your soup as it's cooking. Rule of thumb for doing so: when it floats it's done.
For the soup, Crandall recommends three cuts of meat. "But no matter what always bacon." He used pork stew meat, lean bacon, and country style ham. "The pork bones you don't need to sear or roast or anything. Just throw them in there." As for his bacon of choice, Crandall likes Wisconsin Nueske's applewood smoked. "I grew up just South of there and so I love it."
Instead of using a whole bunch of vegetables, Crandall recommends bouillon cubes. "They're just as good." His idol Marco Pierre White actually came up with the idea of diluting a stock cube in olive oil and using that as seasoning for dishes. "It's all the flavors you want compressed into a tiny cube."
He actually used cherry tomatoes, leek, and carrot to make the soup. As for cutting off scraps or skins, Crandall's recommendation is no. "The skins and stems have so much flavor I don't like to throw it away." Matter of fact, once we peeled potatoes for the roast beef, Crandall went ahead and threw the skins into the simmering broth. "You also want to add some bay leaves in there. One won't do anything. Four or five give it general flavor." As for cooking soup, general rule of thumb is little water lots of ingredients and always low heat. Do this for eight hours and then skim away the excess fat and you'll have whatever soup of choice it is you're making.
Second course Crandall made was a rosemary scented roast beef. He chose to use an NY strip cut of meat because it lends itself due to the cap on top that helps protect the meat. "There's no extra cartilage and it's very simple to carve tableside. It's less hassle than a filet or ribeye." Although he will say that the most tender cut on the cow is a filet. After rubbing half a garlic all over the slab of meat, Crandall pressed rosemary leaves onto the meat side. "You want to do this side because the fat cap won't absorb the flavors." He also coated it in grapeseed oil. "I use grapseed oil cause it tastes like absolutely nothing so the taste of meat and rosemary is going to come through."
At home you'd let this sit for three of four hours to let the oil, rosemary, and garlic start to sink in. Of course, everything was sped up for the class, so we weren't able to do this. As for washing meat, Crandall doesn't like to do so. "Obviously you want to buy good quality meat. Don't go home and make this recipe with bad meat. With good meat all you'll need to do is pat it dry with a paper towel." Sear the beef at medium heat till nicely browned then bake in the oven at 350 degrees for about 10 to 15 minutes or until it reaches 125 degrees. Crandall recommends using a thermometer to know exactly whether it's ready or not. As for his kitchen essential, it's actually tweezers. "They allow you to do a lot more delicate things than you can do as a chef with tongs."
We made a potato casserole with mushrooms to accompany the roast beef. It had a mixture of button, shiitake, and Portobello mushrooms. "I chose these because they are available at all stores." As for the potatoes, Crandall's personal preference is the Yukon gold variety, which he cooked in duck fat. Where may one be able to secure some duck fat? "Whole Food and Fresh Market for sure has during the holidays. Otherwise, pork fat will work just as well, and this is Miami so that's readily available." When adding potatoes to the pan of heated duck fat, you'll want to layer them so they only cover the bottom and turn the heat high to crisp them. "I like to crisp one side and leave the other less cooked because it results in a dual texture, which I am a huge fan of. "
Lastly, Crandall showed us how to make a sabayon as the filling for the blood orange tart. "It's really a few steps short of a hollandaise." What you'll need are a couple of eggs and egg yolk, granulated sugar, store bought blood orange reduction, and room temperature butter cut into pieces. The method is where it gets a bit tricky. After bringing a medium pot to a simmer, place a bowl larger over the pot and mix the eggs and sugar away from the heat until it becomes smooth. Then place over heat and whisk until the eggs become frothy and thicken. Add a third of juice and repeat until all of the blood orange reduction has been incorporated and until your mixture oozes writing above itself. Then pour into your crust and refrigerate until it has set. "Graham cracker crust is perfect and organic, not to mention you can get it at any grocery store."
After all the labor intensive work, Crandall finished off the meal as everyone sat at the chef's table and awaited the final product. Sommelier Todd Phillips poured wine with each course and kept it flowing freely throughout.
Finished soup product.
Medium rare roast beef with black lava salt.
Mushrooms and potato caserole turned out to be the absolute biggest hit of the morning/afternoon.
"In every cooking class there's a lesson to be learned," said Crandall. In this case, it was not letting the tart sit long enough. It was still
delicious even though it was a tad bit runny.
Priced at $175 per class, Azul's cooking classes are on the higher end of the price spectrum, but considering the intimacy (classes are maxed out to 15 persons), cocktails, and three course meal with wine pairing lunch you get after all the hard work is over, they're justifiable. Especially for tourists traveling from out of town.
The schedule and theme for the series is as follows:
March 7, 2015: "Spring is in the Air"
June 6, 2015: "Seafood of Summertime"
July 11, 2015: "Backyard Grilling"
November 14, 2015: "Turkey-Tastic"
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha