Jason and I made our way to Enderun on a very dreary Saturday morning, but I could see only sunshine on the faces of the students waiting for classes to start at the lounge area. We weren’t late this time around, thankfully. It was the last session of the Ducasse Signature Series ‘Into to French Cuisine’ 5-Day Bootcamp, and to be honest, it felt bittersweet.
Last week I wrote about my first ever experience attending an Enderun cooking class. Before that, I didn’t really have any idea what it was like to attend classes here. By the end of it, I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I learned and managed to accomplish in just a session. I’m sad this is the last one for the Ducasse series.
I love Enderun’s kitchen classrooms. It’s very well-equipped and spacious, and I really like the fact that you have more than enough room to work on recipes without bumping elbows with anybody. Despite how it can feel like I’m being slow-roasted in here, I reckoned this was one of the things I would miss the most when classes were done. I was right.
Today’s recipe was originally something called Marjoram Rockfish Meuniere with Gnocchi, Zucchini Ribbons, and Tapenade. I did a little research on what meuniere means and it’s a French cooking method where part of the process involves dredging fish in flour. We definitely did not do that because our chef instructor Joma Tuaño decided to make the class a little less complex. So I guess I’ll just make up a name for this recipe based on what we did for the day… Milk-Poached Fish with Gnocchi, Zucchini Ribbons, and Tapenade?
Okay, let’s just carry on with the class.
So first things first, Chef Joma showed us how to ‘fabricate’ this lovely fresh besugo fish. Fabricate is a chef term I learned for the first time here, and it essentially means to clean and slice a whole fish into a form that you would normally see in the market. In this case, we were going to fillet the fish. (The term fabricate also applies to other seafood and meats, by the way.)
Before scaling the fish, Chef Joma placed a colander at the bottom of the sink to catch the scales. Holding the fish under running water with its head facing up, he removed the scales using quick deliberate scrubbing motions. He told us to make sure we also removed the scales near the spiny top fins to make filleting easier later on.
Once the scales were removed, he dried the fish by wrapping it in kitchen paper. The next step was to cut off the sharp top and bottom fins of the fish.
The head of the fish was then sliced off at an angle to make sure the flesh is maximized. Once Chef Joma fully removed the head, all the entrails came away with it. Finally, we were getting to the filleting part. Starting on one side of the fish, he sliced through the upper and lower parts of the fish just halfway in, making sure to keep as close to the spine as possible.
Then he inserted his paring knife all the way through the middle, held on to the tail of the fish, and then cleanly sliced the meat of the fish away from the spine.
This process is repeated on the other side, then the spine is snipped off using kitchen scissors. Next, the ribcage is sliced away and the last bits of fish bones are removed using tweezers. The idea is to end up with a clean fillet of fish that’s ready to cook with.
I never thought I’d say this but it’s quite a fascinating process, filleting fish is. I think it’s why I felt compelled to narrate almost the entire process in this post even though it’s hard to explain without demonstration. There’s an art to it. It has definitely made me gain a new appreciation for our fish suki in the market.
Now it was our turn to fabricate our fish. We followed chef’s instructions as closely as possible. I really like that Enderun makes you cook the recipes literally from scratch, meaning they will get the fish for you but you need to learn how to clean and fillet it yourself. Sometimes we forget how basic skills like that are very useful in life.
You guys don’t know how happy I was when I got my first fish off the spine nice and clean. Chef Joma made it look so easy, but when you’ve never filleted anything in your life you’ll find out there’s a technique to it. It’s not just slicing things off bones.
Here’s the end result of our efforts. Mine are the two on the right and Jason’s are the two on the left. Our fish look so clumsily filleted my OC side is cringing right now haha! But hey, now I know how to fillet a fish and I think that’s pretty cool.
Next up is the gnocchi. I have made gnocchi before, twice, and both times they were successes, so at least in this portion of the recipe I wasn’t nervous at all. Before we came into class, Chef Joma had already popped some scored potatoes into the oven to roast for an hour and thirty minutes. They were set over a bed of salt to help dry them out. Gnocchi is best when the potatoes used are not wet.
Removing the potato peel, he ran the potatoes through a sieve to make sure there are no large bits of potatoes left, and then he started to knead them with egg yolk and seasoned flour. The resulting dough should be moist but not so moist that it sticks to the hands.
Chef then divided the potato dough and shaped them into gnocchi. This is done by balling up the small pieces of dough and then rolling them against the tines of a fork.
I love making gnocchi specifically because of this step. The shape is just so unique!
Since I already know how to make gnocchi, I decided to let Jason take over this step so that he could see the charm in it too.
I stood by as he labored through the kneading process, and when finally he was able to get the dough to the right state, we got to rolling out and shaping the gnocchi.
With Jason’s inexperience handling dough, it took us longer than the others to finish. I also had to teach him how to shape the gnocchi against the fork and it took him several tries to get it right, but I think he enjoyed the few pieces he made. He had me take over in the end because everyone was already done with this step except for us. 😅
After that, Chef Joma showed us how to do the tapenade we will be using to fill our fillets. Because the quantity needed was so small, he whipped up a batch for the entire class. It’s basically a mixture of black olives, anchovy fillets, garlic, and olive oil pulsed in a food processor. He added some marjoram and sage to balance out the salty notes.
Now that the easiest part (aka the part where we did nothing) was done, it was time to prepare the garnish. This component of the recipe uses zucchini in different interesting ways.
Chef first peeled the skin off the zucchini, making sure they came off in strips. These were blanched later on to be turned into “ribbons” for plating. The flesh of the zucchini and most of the zucchini flowers were to be turned into a puree.
After slicing the zucchini, the flesh was cooked in chicken stock and butter until very soft but still quite green in color.
While the zucchinis were softening, chef went ahead and cooked his gnocchi in boiling salted water.
Gnocchi cooks really quickly, and you can easily tell they’re ready once they float to the surface.
To keep the gnocchi from sticking together, chef scooped them out from the water with a slotted spoon and placed them straight into a tray coated with a thin layer of olive oil. He gently tossed the gnocchi to coat them in the olive oil as well. I shall adapt this trick in the future.
At this point, the zucchini had softened quite a bit. They were moved into a food processor and pulsed in intervals until they turned into a chunky puree that looks like baby food.
Chopped zucchini flowers were added in as a final touch.
As you can see, the tapenade, gnocchi, and garnish were ready. All that was left was to cook the fish and to assemble everything together. Chef Joma started seasoning his fillets with some salt. He seasoned both sides of the fish as well as the inside.
Here’s where the tapenade comes into play. Chef spooned some into the center of just one side of his fillets, then he sealed the tapenade in with the other half. To avoid having overly salty fish, Chef Joma recommended not to add too much. The tapenade was meant to add flavor, not steal the show.
Bringing a bit of milk to a boil in a saucepan, Chef Joma placed the tapenade-filled fish fillets gently into the milk. He poached the fish in the milk for 10 seconds on each side, then covered it up with aluminum foil to bake in the oven for just 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, he reduced some chicken stock and butter in another saucepan then added the cooked gnocchi in. The butter sauce needs to be thick enough to coat the gnocchi.
For some fragrance and flavor, chopped sage was added to the mix. I’m totally geeking out over the mood captured in the photo below. This is why I love taking photos in kitchens like this.
I think by now you can guess what comes next: plating time! The zucchini puree went onto the plate first, where it served as a bed for the fish. To add color to the plate, Chef Joma used his very briefly blanched zucchini ribbons and more fresh zucchini blossoms. Finally, he added in a few pieces of the gnocchi.
I wish I had managed to take nice photos of the inside of the fish so I could show you guys the perfectly cooked meat. Everybody was busy demolishing the plate for the taste test part and I was too shy to ask them to stop haha! The fresh fish worked really nicely with the slightly salty, nicely garlicky tapenade.
The gnocchi was soft and buttery, with hints of sage and an underlying potato flavor. I find that most people who eat gnocchi for the first time have no idea there are potatoes involved, but I quite like that you can actually taste it in there, and yet feel like you’re eating something completely different.
When the taste test part was over, it was our turn to make the dish. I was relieved I took some notes and pictures while Chef Joma was demonstrating the steps to us because I couldn’t remember the exact sequence of everything he did. 😂 Ironically, I remember everything now that I’m sitting here writing this post instead of when I was back in the kitchen!
The first thing Jason and I did was boil our gnocchi, and then we grabbed a pan to reduce the stock and butter to make the sauce for the gnocchi. At the same time, we cooked our zucchini until it was soft enough for the food processor. The last thing we did was prepare the fish.
I realized belatedly that I might’ve added too much tapenade into the center of our fillets because some of it spilled out while I was flipping the fish in the milk, but we just kind of rolled with it and popped the pan into the oven.
It was nice to see everyone busily working on the recipe with their respective partners. Again, I highly recommend tackling the recipes in the Ducasse Signature Series ‘Intro to French Cuisine’ by twos because they are so incredibly involved. If you’re thinking of enrolling in this class in the future, find a partner to enroll with you!
This recipe had so many components that completing them all made me feel like a champion. I can’t begin to describe how it felt to see them all lined up and ready for plating. Except they didn’t end up in a plate. They went straight into our takeout boxes.
Our takeout aesthetic for this recipe isn’t too pretty, but I was more concerned with whether it tasted half as good as chef’s version. Our fish didn’t have the same soft texture because it was a bit overcooked, but I’m happy to report the amount of tapenade I used wasn’t overwhelming. The fish tasted great eaten with the buttery soft gnocchi and the zucchini puree.
For a recipe that was a wee bit more complex compared to last week, I think we did a decent job here. I’m pretty proud of our efforts.
In an unexpected turn of events, Jason and I actually received certificates from Enderun, even though we only attended the last 2 of the 5-day Bootcamp under the Ducasse Signature Series. To be honest, those two days felt like more because of the amount of things we learned and the amount of work we did.
[READ PART 1 OF MY DUCASSE EXPERIENCE HERE.]
To end this post, I just wanted to say a big thank you to Enderun Colleges (especially Tin and the two Nicoles!) and to Chef Joma Tuaño for another great session. It’s interesting to note that there are some cooking classes that don’t even teach as much in a week as these two sessions have in just a matter of hours. This won’t be my last Enderun class for sure! 🙂
You can browse all the available courses at Enderun Colleges HERE. This coming Saturday marks the beginning of their 10-Day Japanese Cooking Bootcamp, while on the 21st they will start their 10-Day Pastry Bootcamp. Sounds like a lot of fun!
Full disclosure: This post was written in partnership with Enderun Colleges. I received no monetary compensation to write this post. All opinions above are my own.