During week four of the Superior course at Le Cordon Bleu Dusit, we learned to cook the following main dishes:

  • Class 9: Duck baked in a salt crust
  • Class 10: Chicken stuffed with spinach and langoustine, served with curry sauce
  • Class 11: Salmon and sea bass baked inside a brioche crust

Class 9 at Le Cordon Bleu Dusit: Duck Baked in a Salt Crust

Martini glass filled with guacamole and ceviche; duck breast in a salt crust with vegetable taggliatelle and crispy potatoes; warm strawberry and ginger soup, yogurt sorbet.

Martini glass filled with guacamole and ceviche; duck breast in a salt crust with vegetable taggliatelle and crispy potatoes; warm strawberry and ginger soup, yogurt sorbet.

For the very first time at Le Cordon Bleu Dusit, I was the first one to complete my dish for presentation. The lessons are either getting easier or I’m getting faster in the kitchen; I’m not sure which is correct. After all the rumors I heard about this term, I feared I would fall behind, as there is so much work to be done in just 2½ hours. Last term may have been all about mastering your butchery skills, but this term is really all about organization and time management; usually these are my strengths.

During class nine we cut our vegetables into long, thin strips (or ribbons) to resemble pasta noodles. We could either use a mandolin or a wide potato peeler. Although my “faux-pasta” looked good, was uniform in size, and seasoned and cooked well, the chef said they were cut too short. Really?

As for the duck, proper cooking can be tricky; the portion I served to the chef was prepared perfectly while the second breast was a bit overdone. Luckily, we are given at least two portions of protein to work with. All you need is one good serving for your presentation plate!

In the demo class our chef made a big deal about the thickness of the salt crust: too thin and the duck would definitely be overdone and dry; too thick and the dough would absorb all of the heat and the duck will take a very long time to cook. Sometimes, time is not your friend, as I can certainly attest to. If that’s not enough to worry about, we were told that the resting time inside the crust is almost as important as the final cooking temperature. We were instructed that we needed a resting time of at least five minutes and informed that if we removed the duck too early, the salt would not penetrate the skin of duck breast which will result in under seasoned meat! Surprisingly, I got a nod from the chef that I had done a good job on this particular lesson.

Class 10 at Le Cordon Bleu Dusit: Chicken Stuffed with Spinach and Langoustine, Served with Curry Sauce

Creamy cappuccino mushroom soup; chicken breasts with langoustines and curry sauce; mango pineapple and vanilla "brochettes" with gingerbread and coconut flavors.

Creamy cappuccino mushroom soup; chicken breasts with langoustines and curry sauce; mango pineapple and vanilla “brochettes” with gingerbread and coconut flavors.

Today was another good day in Le Cordon Bleu kitchen. We made a record of three sauces, a fresh salsa (all fine dice/ brunoise cut, thank you!), a pastry “bowl” to hold the salsa, and stuffed chicken breasts with blanched spinach leaves and fresh langoustine for the main course.

Although it’s not a competition, I was second to present my dish – a good 40 minutes before the end of class. It’s quite comical to watch the panic set in as the other students rush to complete their dishes as the minutes tick away and time is called; usually there is only a 15-20 minute window for presentation.

In class ten our chef went new heights and actually peeled (or is it shelled?) the green peas before blanching them to make the pea tartare! Although a tedious task for sure, just like plucking off individual leaves of fresh chervil or thyme, I can’t argue with the final result!

Before we could even get to making the sauces, we had to de-shell the langoustine and separate the different parts for the corresponding recipes. We used the shells, legs and body to make one sauce that we combined with coconut milk and curry powder, the tails for presentation and for stuffing the chicken, and the chicken bones for a second sauce mixed with an array of vegetables and fruit (mango and banana). Finally, we took a portion of the langoustine sauce to make a langoustine foam. I made more components for this dish than I thought were possible in the time we were given! As he went around the room to check on our progress, the only real critique the chef could give me was that I left the stems on my wilted spinach; so there I was, using scissors to cut out the stems for his presentation plate!

Class 11 at Le Cordon Bleu Dusit: Salmon and Sea Bass Baked Inside a Brioche Crust

Pea tartare flavored with peppermint; sea bass in a crust Coulibiac style, stuffed eggplants; tapioca with fresh pineapple, jasmine tea ice cream.

Pea tartare flavored with peppermint; sea bass in a crust Coulibiac style, stuffed eggplants; tapioca with fresh pineapple, jasmine tea ice cream.

One of the main elements in today’s Le Cordon Bleu class was making brioche bread dough, which we used as the outer layer to stuff our fish. It was a mad scramble to get access to one of the stand mixers, as we needed to take this step first so the dough could rest for at least 20 minutes.

For this recipe we could have used puff pastry, short pie crust or the brioche we made in class as the outer layer. We were told we needed to make the dough, fillet our fish (sea bass and salmon), prepare the rice and mushroom filling, and roll all the ingredients into five cohesive layers within 1½ hours so we would have the proper amount of time for proofing and baking the dough. Although the chef did not initially like the shape of my finished coulibiac (mine was long and thin rather than a rectangle), I was happy that mine took the least amount of time to bake and fit the size of the plate better than the traditional size called for in the recipe.

What I learned today was this: if you want an ultra-smooth consistency for chopped hard-boiled eggs, you don’t chop them at all; you press the cooked eggs through a fine-mesh strainer. So the next time you want to make an egg salad sandwich, this is the technique you should use. To create added color and texture we separated the whites from the yolks and rolled our fish in each one separately.

By far, this particular lesson was the most demanding of all of our lessons to date – even more so than last term’s rack of lamb recipe (this was lesson #71 for me in the Le Cordon Bleu kitchens). The chef gave our class mixed reviews, as told us he had some of the best scores and some worst scores he can remember having as a Superior instructor.

Stay tuned for more of my lessons at Le Cordon Bleu Dusit!

Mary Hathaway, owner of Dinner Diva, has been a personal chef since 2002. She cooks regularly for clients who have special dietary needs, value healthy cooking by using organic products where possible and those who want healthy family meals but have no time to cook. Whether it’s a dinner for 4, a holiday party for 20, or a set of meals for the week, all of the recipes are customized to her client’s needs or lifestyle. Go to Dinner-Diva.com for more info.