Below is part two of In the Kitchen with David Goodridge at Gaddi's, click here for part 1.
Creating a Pastry Bird
With a sigh of relief mixed with excitement it was off to the stoves. I melted a good hunk of clarified butter (allows higher cooking temp) in a cast iron frypan on high heat and at the first sign of smoke it was in with the bird to be browned all over. This meant that it was turned four times, literally 25 per cent of the bird each turn, and a final turn on the neck end (2mins each turn) to give medium colour but not to cook. To finish more butter was added and melted, heat turned off, and the whole bird continually basted until the pan stopped sizzling. David has a French attitude towards butter that I love, saying, "It's okay, it's a flavour enhancer and cooking vehicle, most of the butter remains in the pan."
Preparing the salt pastry (which is inedible because of the high salt content) was not hard as the ingredients had been measured for me and I didn't have to make it by hand. The keys here were to add the egg white to the dry ingredients very slowly, and the same with the water, on a low speed. David mentioned that the amount of water to add can vary, but in both cases the amount in his recipe was spot on. The firm and slightly dry dough is kneaded a little until it comes together, and rolled out (on floured baking paper) to a 1cm thickness. This all went without a problem.
The next step took a combination of gift wrapping skills and artistic ability. Cutting two wings from the outer edges of the pastry with a preprepared stencil was easy, fashioning the head and neck of a pigeon from a ball of dough and two cloves not my forte. If by some miracle you look below and wonder which is my bird's head, it is the one that is making you laugh.
The wrapping begins by placing the bird (after a final trim of protruding skin and removal of the joint) as if it was sitting up on a blanket of egg-washed dough, bring the front of the pastry over the bird to meet the pastry behind and wrap it much like wrapping a present, with the excess trimmed for a tight and clean finish.
The wings and head were attached with egg wash and the reborn squab was christened with a thorough egg washing. Its chest was sprinkled with bleached salt (retains its whiteness) to simulate chest feathers, and the wings scored to add a sense of realness, and placed on a tray in the oven.
It needs to be wrapped tightly because the pastry acts like an oven inside an oven, literally steaming and seasoning the pigeon. The dish slow cooks inside despite the high oven temperature.
The Great Reveal
Once it was decided that the bird had been cooked medium rare it was removed from the oven to rest and would continue to cook to medium while resting inside the pastry case. David used the chef's trick (can be used for other meats) of putting a thin metal skewer in the bird and testing its temperature on the skin above his top lip. If the skewer feels warm on the skin it is medium rare, if it is warmer (had to be there) it is medium and if it is hot, bad luck your bird is overcooked and you may well have burnt yourself. We repeated this when it had rested to ensure it was medium.
All of this effort deserves a dramatic reveal, and in a restaurant the reveal and plating are done tableside. We had come full circle and again it was off with its head, this time its pastry one, a run of the knife under the wings and a slit down its chest. I then had to place a fork in the open end of the bird and in one slightly tricky movement pull and push and it should burst free of its pastry cage. It was impressive to watch, harder to do. The aroma was sensational, I could hardly wait to try it.
David carved each side, swiftly and precisely removing all the meat from the bird and plated the dish.
I then had to repeat the process with my bird, something I wasn't expecting. I have never carved anything so I found myself in no-idea-what-I-am-doing panic mode, and I would have lost points in terms of timing, serving sizes varied and some truffle remained - the waiter would have won here said David, meaning the waiter would have been able to enjoy a little breast and truffle on the way back to the kitchen.
Luckily for me one of David's team had already prepared the accompanying vegetable of slow cooked cabbage (recipe below), which the meat was placed on, and the divine jus. I was relatively happy with the way it looked and fairly confident that it would taste good. David and his sous chef sat down and ate my efforts, which they did quickly.
I got to enjoy the one that David had made and it was a dish I will always remember eating. Sublime is an understatement. It had a silky, almost liver-like tenderness and an earthy, slightly gamey, richness and intensity that you get with blood birds (been strangled). You could taste just the right amount of salt.
Hungry for More
This experience has given me a deeper understanding (and respect) for the behind-the-scenes efforts of chefs at this level. A dish that in theory sounds quick and simple - prep bird, make pastry, wrap bird, cook and serve - involves around 40 steps (not counting the garnishes) that all need to be done perfectly. I am convinced that part of the memorable taste of the dish came from knowing exactly how much effort and care had gone into making it.
David set me a challenge with this dish, a dish that was a favourite of his to make when working for Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons. I am glad that he did, there was a sense of achievement after that has me hungry to get back into the kitchen for more.
I think Vicki was surprised how much of a workout a tiny little pigeon can provide. She tackled basic preparation well, cleaned and cut the pigeon as required, all offal and organs removed, basic preparation was of good standard. I was impressed with her working style, clean, tidy, hygienic and seemed very organised. She also followed procedures well. She needs to be more brave with cooking haha...very jumpy.
The pastry was made well and even, wrapping of pigeon was fine, although it looked more like a fat pigeon from Trafalgar Square rather than Bresse.
I was very surprised that I enjoyed eating Vicki's pigeon, must prove what a good teacher I am!
Score: 8 out of 10
Recipes and Lessons with David
• If you buy a prepared bird, this is a relatively easy dish, with a big WOW factor. Simply proceed to the pastry. Baking in salt pastry has a long history in French cuisine and the pastry can have herbs and seasonings, such as horseradish, added to it.
• In addition to squab, truffle (optional) you will also need the Salt Pastry (500gm flour, 375gm fine salt, 140gm egg white, 125ml tepid water - enough for two 360gm prepped squab). The key instructions are above. Place the prepped and pastry wrapped bird on a lightly buttered paper on a tray and place in 220C oven for approx. 18-22 minutes, allow to rest above stove (in warm place) for 10mins.
• Cabbage: 70gm butter, 100gm smokey bacon, 2 garlic cloves, 500gm savoy cabbage, 125gm cream, salt and pepper; serves 4. The cabbage we served also had julienne carrot, which added colour to the dish. Remove and discard thick stems from cabbage leaves, finely slice the tender leaves, wash, drain and dry. In a stainless steel pan warm the butter, add bacon, garlic and cabbage and begin to saute without colouring, season. Once the cabbage is cooked, remove and place flatly on a tray to cool, remove the bacon and garlic. Reduce any juices left in pan to a glaze, add cream and mix back in the cabbage. Can also partner the dish with mashed potato.
• Meat can be used instead of poultry, David serves Wagyu Beef Sirloin Baked in an Herbed-Horseradish Salt Pastry with Red Wine Oxtail Jus at Gaddi's.
• A popular way to have a taste of David's cuisine is Gaddi's Rosé Sundays, a four-course brunch with free-flow Billecart-Salmon Rosé Champagne and live jazz.
• For those of you keen to get into the kitchen with David he will be teaching 'The Art and Benefit of Slow Cooking', 24-27 November, as part of the hotel's regular cooking classes. For a hands-on experience David is available for private lessons upon request.