(Work-in-progress) These are some notes from the “Intermediate cookery” evening course at Little Portland Street cookery school in London.

I had a great time on this course, you are provided with recipes but it really concentrates more on understanding and skills which is exactly what I wanted. Looking forward to practicing these and then taking further courses.


The course ran for eight weeks 6:30-9:15, if you couldn’t attend one week I think you can go another time (but you must tell them in advance). There were normally seven of us but one week there were nine. Many dishes were somewhat prepared to save time (e.g. pre-chopped), I’d say the course was about 40% watching, 30% preparing, 20% cooking, 10% eating.

Week 1 - Meat (with Stefan)

Browning meat is purely for Maillard reaction - this gives all the lovely flavours and a nice colour to the meat.

Two types of meat - that which has been worked hard throughout the life of the animal (thighs, shoulders etc) and that which has had a lazy time (e.g. fillet). Well hung meat is more tender (dark red, not bright red).

Tougher cuts have much more flavour but typically wants hours of cooking to break down the tougher collagen into soft gelatin. (NB: adding a little acid such as vinegar or lemon to a marinade helps with this). You don’t need to brown all the meat - e.g. just top and bottom is sufficient, more will add more flavour. Hot pan, bit of oil, wait for meat to unpeal itself from the pan.

Stewing - wait for collagen to turn into gelatin - 2-3 hours (or 45mins in pressure cooker). It’s ready when meat falls apart.

Tenderer (generally more expensive) cuts prefer cooking quickly to retain their tenderness. If you let them get too hot they’ll become tough. Use thumb/finger/palm test for readiness. Must leave meat to rest (keeps juices, allows it to relax and hence be more tender).

When frying only oil and salt - never anything else until right near the end (e.g. butter and herbs). Can oil pan (unless it’s a griddle) or meat. For tender cuts, salt meat as well.

Always cut across the fibres in the meat - this makes it tast more tender and helps avoid getting it stuck between your teeth :-)

Salt enhances flavour (they used much more than I would have done), pepper is to your personal taste.

Week 2 - Bread (with Ghalid)

The wetter the dough, the softer the bread. Never flour for kneeding - just pick up bread (from the top/bottom), lift up, move hands to the sides (i.e. turning the dough) and slap down onto work bench. Repeat for e.g. 10mins - it will stop being sticky. Use a dough scraper occasionally to get stuff off the workbench. Then kneed using heel of palm and rotating.

Floured surfaces (lightly) for shaping, not for initial kneeding.

Cholla plait - 5 strands, arranged in a splayed hand shape. Squeeze the braids together where all five meet. Take right most and take it over/under/over/under the other four strands. Repeat with what is the new right most strand. At the end merge them all back together. Then left the left/right and tuck under slightly to give it a nicer shape.

Week 3 - Fish and shellfish (with Stefan)

Prawns - cut down the backbone (from near the head down), insert a small knife and lift our the digestive tract. It’ll be there (but might be empty). Rinse and cook.

Poaching fish - you want hot stock, but not vigourously roiling as it will break up the fish.

Muscles - don’t keep them underwater in fridge (they drown). Any closed ones are good, any chipped/broken ones bin, any open ones tap and keep any that move (they maybe very slow especially if cold). Don’t worry about barnacles etc, but trim the “beards” (looks like moss coming out of them) - just hold the beard and firmly pull towards the hinge end so that it snaps off. After cooking throw away any that aren’t fully opened.

Squid - hold tenticles and pull to remove them + body from the mantle. Then cut the tentacles just below the eyes (towards the tentacles end of course) - discard the body. Squeeze the tentacles where you cut them (towards the tentacles end) as this may pop the beak out (or maybe it was in the body part). With the mantle, rip the fins off (can be hard - best to grip them using the ridge of cartilage between them and the mantle). Now “skin” the mantle (i.e. removing the thin coloured film). Then cut it (gently) down one side to open it out. Clean the inside then score it - very very gentle pressure only. If the fins are a decent size you can also skin and score them - remove the ridge of cartilage though. Squid only takes about 4 mins to cook and then toughens up - but it will also soften back up after about 50 mins (the rule is “5 or 50 mins”) for stews.

Fish - eyes should be clear (or not too cloudy), scales should stick, not much smell at all, open the gills (with finger) - they should be red - if they are green do not eat.

To fillet a fish (where the fishmonger has already removed the guts), cut down to the backbone. Now cut up (in an arc) around the head and then down (cut so that the “empty” part where the guts where is removed). Cut up and down near the tail. Now take a filleting knife and cut with gentle stroke (and only a bit at a time, don’t try and do too much) along the backbone, trying to keep the knife as close to the bone as possible. Keep doing this until you get to the edge where the fins are, then you can often just grab and pull the fillet away. Then trim the fins and edge off.

Scallops - take a normal blunt dinner knife and slide it down the flat shell (we are try to cut as much of the scallop off the shell as possible). The shell will open once you cut through it. Now pull off the skirt and anything else - although you can leave the roe (the orange bit) on if you like. Don’t wash them, but do wipe with a damp cloth.

Week 4 - Pastry (with Ghalid)

Choux - water,salt, butter in pan, heat up, (optionally remove from heat) then add flour in one go and beat quickly until it turns into paste and pulls away from the sides of the pan. Remove from heat and beat (we are trying to cool it now and lose some steam), once it’s not really hot any more add eggs a bit at a time and beat (it’ll look like it’s splitting - don’t worry, but beat viciously from side to side, scraping the sides. Keep adding eggs until it sticks to a spoon held above the pan and has a glossy look. An upright spoon in the mixture should not really fall over (except slowly). If you like, add cheese, potato at this stage (for gougere or cheese aigrettes). Bake in oven hot (220, reduce to 200) for 30/40mins (try not to open door)

Shortcrust - for pate sucre, you can mix with water quite well (it’s more forgiving as it has a high fat content), then dump in pastry case and push with fingers (thumbs on edge) until it it over the top (and effectively you push/slice it off with you thumbs).

For quiche use cold water, drape over case, tuck into corners, do not cut it off, if you need to patch just press (don’t use water to glue). Prick base with fork, baking parchment + baking beans, blind bake, then trip excess pastry using a speed peeler.

For Cornish pasty, mix with little iced water (not too dry) and kneed very little. Slighty thicker than quicke, cut around a plate, then lightly eggwash edge, put mixture in middle. Lift up both left and right edges, pinch them together starting at the top, working down to one end, then pick up pasty in one hand (open end upwards) and finish pinching the open half closed. Make the ripple across the top by using finger and thumb of one hand vs finger of the other hand. Eggwash + bake.

Puff pastry - add a bit of lemon to iced water (prevent browning in fridge). Make the dough base (quite dry), we want it relaxed so only lightly kneed. Leave as flattened ball (covered with bowl) cut a 2cm deep cross in top so you can see it open up as it relaxes (an hour or two).

Once base dough is ready, take cold butter and hit with rolling pin starting at one corner working diagonally across to the other corner (you should be hitting perpendicular to the direction of travel). Keep doing this until it’s about 20cm square. Roll pastry out to diamond shape so you can use it as an envelope with butter square in the middle. Try not to trap any air and try and seal it pretty well by pressing rolling pin across the top (not rolling).

Now press down with rolling pin across the bottom and top (again, to seal the butter in). Pound horizontally across the top with rolling pin. Try and keep it rectangular on the edges (tap with rolling pin if getting out of shape). Repeat with pin on the “ridges” from the prior pounding. Third time’s a charm. Now roll it until it’s about 6x1 shape. We’ll now do a double fold - firstly fold the ends in - but offset so about 16 and 56 when folded - then fold it in half (the first offset fold means that the ‘join’ isn’t in the middle. Brush off any flour as it’ll dry the pastry. Wrap in clingfilm and leave it in the fridge to chill until cold (10-60mins). You’ll need at least two more double folds - or better yet, one more double, then two single folds. To do a single fold, it’s not just in half - it’s in thirds (so roll to 3x1 and fold each third in so it’s 1x1). You can spread sugar/nutella/parmesan in those last two folds to make cheese twists, palmiers. cheese twists - just cut into strips and twist. Palmiers, fold in half, then unfold, then fold to line (i.e. quarters) then in again, cut… Often best to freeze the desserts before baking (helps stop butter melting).

Week 5 - Poultry (with John)

Your apron isn’t for wiping your hands on. It’s not even to stop you getting dirty. It’s to protect the food from you.

Started with refresher, e.g. frying onions. Olive oil is fine, don’t need a huge amount even when lots of onions - it’s only to stop them sticking. Put onions in from cold (hot olive oil turns carcinogenic and you can’t taste it). Takes 5mins/onion to get nice “hot dog style” brown (i.e. yes really 30mins for six onions).

Always add garlic once onions are cooked as they take mere seconds (until you can smell them).

Stock - never boil as it’ll become greasy, instead keep it hot and skim off any foam or oil from the top from time to time. You can put in carrot peelings (assuming carrots were washed first!), herbs, bones etc. Once you’re almost done, remove the bones and stuff and then you can boil to reduce it down.

Chicken, don’t wash it (to kill the bacteria you have to cook it, washing just spreads them). To check if it’s cooked, clear juices and 75°C for 3mins (or 80°C) - check the part between the thigh and the body.

Duck - bit of salt, medium hot pan (as it takes time) - 80% of the time it’s cooking skin side down. Keep pouring off the oil (e.g. hold duck with your fingers and just tip the pan). Leave it to rest (half the time it was cooking for).

Spatchcocking chicken - makes it cook faster, gives more surface to rub spices into. Remove the “parson’s nose” (bit at the bottom of the bird) as the little bump at the top is a scent gland and is very bitter. Turn the bird breast side down. Take knife or butchers scissors and cut through either side of the backbone (it’s cartilage, not bone). Remove the backbone. Now turn the bird over (breasts up) and push with the palm of your hand to break the breastbone. Done.

Boning a chicken (slow, butcher will do it in about 3-5mins). Remove the “parson’s nose” Turn the bird breast side down. Use a boning knife and “whispy” movements - use only the 2cm at the tip of the blade during the whole procedure. Remember that you are aiming to remove as much meat as posible from the bird. Also preserve as much skin as you can - it should be removed in one piece with no holes - the flap at the top/bottom is especially helpful). It will look like a horrendous mess - don’t worry, it’s all hidden once we roll it! Cartilage is white and can be cut, bone is grey and cannot be.

Start to slice along either side of the backbone. Just before the thighs are the “oysters” - release these from the bone by pressing with your thumbs (nail side up). This helps to show you where to go. Now use whispy movements and follow the bone exposed by the oysters away from the bird, start to cut through tendons etc until you get to the joint, then cut through the cartilage - this can be hard - it’s easiest if you expose the joint quite well then you can see the right angle to cut at. Then cut back towards the bird.

Working in the opposite direction now along the top of the bird, you’ll feel a bone that’s stuck out a fair bit - you must cut on the outside of this (we never take any bones with us except for the thigh bones). Keep working along this, eventually we’ll free the wings - pull the wings cut through the cartilage here and completely remove the wings from the bird (leaving as much meat as you can on the bird, not the wings) and set aside. Keep working along the entire length of the bird, working along the rib cage and then breastbone to release the breasts. At some point you’ll find it easiest to pick up the bird, allowing the meat and thighs to dangle beneath whilst you slowly free the meat. I found it easiest to work along the wishbones (once exposed) and then along the top of the breastbone to release the final part.

We now need to remove the thigh bone, leg bone and the very thin “pin” bone that runs right next to the leg bone. Cut straight down to the bone, then whisp away with the knife, perhaps using fingers underneath the bone, near the end it may be easier to bend the “knee” joint to expose it for cutting more easily - don’t worry about the mess.

Check the chicken - you should have a large piece of skin with thigh meat on the two ends, then a gap (of just skin) and the breasts in the middle. Remove the “false fillets” (the little ones) and place them in the two gaps to fill them in. Place you stuffing in a line across the entire fillets section, stopping before the thighs. Then fold the thighs over at an angle and roll the chicken over tightly. Do not try and lift the parcel as it will fall apart. Instead, slide five lengths of string underneath, spaced evenly, then wrap around the top but no tighter than the chicken is - we don’t want unsightly indents.

Guinea fowl - older, more flavoured bird cf chicken. Brown the meat like a triangle (both breasts and bottom). Then braise (about 1/3rd up with stock, lid covered) until cooked.

Week 6 - Sweet sauces (with Stefan)

Week 7 - Savoury sauces (with Stefan)

Week 8 - Cakes