South Africans, as a whole, are known to be tough. Well at least that is what I was told by a Kiwi girl a few months back. We, like the Australians, tend to just muck in and get things done. And if anything upsetting happens we “build a bridge and get over it”, as my brother likes to advise me. But not me! There are certain things I get very squeamish about, and I battle with my upbringing to ignore the potential freak-out looming and just get on with it.
I did a zoology degree at University. It was an amazing experience, and makes me rather nifty on game drives/trivial pursuit nature questions (or perhaps just a smart-arse on game drives/trivial pursuit nature questions) and now I’m no longer scared of giant hopping bugs or slimy snails. The only part of the course I wasn’t a fan of was the dissections. I used to go pale (if a lighter shade of pale is even possible) and refuse to touch the dead creature with my hands. This, as you can imagine, was frowned upon in the South African zoology crowd. I may have come in the lower half for my dissections, but I can proudly say that I dissected a whole snail with two sets of tweezers and no touching!
I have to admit that I was also a big girl’s blouse when it came to handling a whole raw chicken for a roast. They look so sad all naked on the tray, and sometimes they still had a little wing feathers on, and I had to get Frank to prep them for the oven. But, taking the advice I always offered to people being big girls’ blouses, I decided to man up and just get on with it.
So when Ferret e-mailed me about a 2-for-1 offer on a “duck and pinot” cooking course I jumped at it. I’ve never cooked duck before, and surprisingly never tasted a pinot noir, so I was really looking forward to it. The course was held at the Sydney Cooking School, which is run by a great chef called Brett Deverall. The school has only been open for six weeks and already this class was sold out for three weeks. Soon after we got there I realized why: Brett is a great teacher and explained everything in a clear manner. He also made everything look so easy!
When we arrived at the school Ferret and I were given our aprons and a glass of wine while we were waiting for the others to arrive. First off we were shown how to cook duck breasts properly while Brett explained where to buy the good ducks from. After that he showed us how to de-bone a half-duck, and how to make a duck roll with that half-duck.
He then sent us off to try our hand at de-boning. Ferret was first up, and made quick work of her half. I poked myself with the very sharp knife (after repeated warnings from Brett) and continued gingerly from there. The de-boning was rather simple in the end, and it’s a skill Ferret and I can use on chickens too.
We cooked our duck breasts in the pans provided, and while doing this Brett showed us how to make a quick red wine glaze and a blood-orange and watercress salad to accompany the duck. He also showed us how to make duck-fat potatoes and confit duck legs, and had some legs bubbling away in the oven for our dinner.
After all the cooking was done we sat down to try two pinot noir with our meal. The first one was a light drinking pinot from the Southern Highlands of New South Wales (so a local one for me). The second one matched the duck perfectly and was from Tasmania. I am happy to announce that pinot noir is now my new favorite red wine…
The course had a good mix of technical skills and sociability. Ferret and I got on the bus with smiles on our faces and duck in our bellies. I can’t wait to try my hand at making confit duck legs at home!
Sorry for the photos, I forgot my camera at home and had to use my phone…
Sydney Cooking School
73 Military Road
NEUTRAL BAY NSW 2089