The weather was miserable as I jumped onboard the train to Bath Spa station, on arrival the sun was shinning out of The Bertinet Cookery School as Spanish Chef Supremo Omar Allibhoy was in town, teaching 12 eager cookery enthusiasts and I was on the list!
I booked this course a while back having invested in ‘Tapas Revolution’ over 4 year’s ago, which was Omars’ first book. I spent most of my wife’s birthday in 2013 preparing various Tapas which featured in the book and posted on an earlier blog post HERE. It was also our silver wedding anniversary that year so a good excuse to have some tasty food, I still remember it to this day.
There were 12 of us on the course (a full house) and as usual some familiar faces, friends that had been on previous courses we all settled in very quickly and learnt what the agenda was for the day.We were going to prepare several dishes from different parts of Spain and at the end sit down on the communal table and ‘feast’, which is always a pleasant and fitting end to several hours graft in the kitchen! On the menu was Gazpacho de Sandia (chilled Watermelon soup), Higaditos al Jerez Dulce (Chicken Livers with Sweet Sherry and Spices), Arroz Melosos de Seta (Paella with Mushrooms and Cod), Ensaidmada Mallorquina (Rolled Flaky Pastry).Blimey, apart from the really tasty and slightly un-familiar menu some new techniques to get to grips with, we started on the Mallorcan dessert. An enriched dough was made using an ‘industrial’ grade mixer purely due to the quantity we were making, you could do this in a Kenwood or Kitchen Aid quite easily. We had to get the gluten working hard so this was not a 5 minute process, once done (about 10-15 minutes), the dough was left to rest whilst we worked on the other dishes.As we followed through the menu, Omar spent lots of time explaining some of the interesting facts about Spanish Cuisine, it’s ‘subtle’ not in your face and I personally think it’s a shame that a vast number of tourists only seem to focus on fast food chains and ‘British fry up’s’, Spain has so much more to offer if you make a little effort.
You can think of Spain as lots of regional cook books we learnt, the climate also dictates the methods of cooking but you will have to try and book a course with Omar to find out more, its really interesting.The Ensaidmada was challenging to make, several processes were required after the dough had rested as you can see from the pictures above. I imagined dear old Spanish ladies working away in their kitchens making everything from hand including making the dough without a mixer!
It’s hands on with resting between each process, you are making a VERY thin pastry by hand, which also has a layer of ‘Pork Lard’ spread thinly on top. Yes, you heard it right, ‘Lard’ is an integral part of this very special dessert.We had some prepared Stock on the hob which was going to be used to make the Paella dish. This was not a traditional ‘dry’ Paella so familiar to tourists but a ‘sloppy’ one even beyond the wetness of a Risotto.
Omar took time again to explain the Spanish Rice ‘Bomba‘, don’t believe all you read though, speak to a Spanish cook who know what they are talking about as it’s a challenging Rice to use and timing is critical to get a perfect result. We had to reduce the Stock and add ‘hard’ fried Onion, Pepper and Mushrooms with Tomato, Paprika and Saffron before going back to the dessert to finish the preparation.So, we are making a dessert and then add Sobrasada melted into more Pork Lard and spread it all over the stretched dough, Yummmmm!
There are several variants of this dessert, we were going to make both a sweet and savoury version. Once spread gentle rolling is required, I was fortunate to be working with Vivien, who unfortunately had broken her arm a few days previous but still joined in as much as she could. If you have an interest in Preserves, please check out http://www.vivienlloyd.com as she is an expert in traditional methods and runs courses etc. (I didn’t get paid for the plug btw, she was great fun to work with).Who loves Chicken Livers? Surprisingly Omar put his hand up as he asked the question. Fine in Parfait and pâté but cooked, nope, except this way. This was to be an appetizer to get the taste buds singing before the Gazpacho. Marinated in some ‘special’ ingredients you can find the recipe in Omar’s new book ‘Spanish Made Simple’, I invested in a copy before departing and look forward to cooking some of the recipes within.Rather than just show and tell, Omar was also hands-on, assisting and guiding all 12 of us during the 5-6 hours of cooking we were to complete before sitting down and eating our efforts. He was very enthusiastic and great fun, telling us more about his experiences in the restaurant industry and giving us hints and tips as we prepared each dish.
Also in the kitchen were the ‘Bertinet Baker Girls’ who cleaned, helped clear up, sort out ingredients, make teas/coffees, snacks etc. They always do an amazing job and help make the sessions run very smoothly.You have to stretch the Ensaidmada before ‘gently’ coiling and allowing to prove for a couple of hours, traditionally this would be done overnight to develop more flavour but our time was limited. Once risen it goes into a hot oven until a deep brown, not the light golden colour we are normally used to when baking.Ignore the ‘rustic’ look of the Chicken Livers, they were to die for, absolutely delightful, tangy, sweet and soft. We served them on some toasted Sour Dough and decided to crack open the wine at the same time as dinner was nearly ready and quick taster of these would get us over the line.The Ensaidmada’s were ready in about 19 minutes at 190deg, the top one is the savoury version, you can seen small pieces of Sobrasada speckled on the surface. The Gazpacho was probably the easiest dish we made, assemble the ingredients and whizz in a blender. Adding Melon was unusual but it was not long before we sat done and started tasting, chatting and talking about the techniques we had learnt and discussing food in general.The Gazpacho was delicious, it was quite hot in the cookery school so a cool refreshing slightly sweet starter did the job perfectly. Bomba Rice is very picky, you HAVE to get the timings correct otherwise you end up with over cooked grains that are like sludge. Shortly after finishing our starter the Arroz Melosos De Seta was ready for the final ingredient to be added, Salt Cod. This only needed a few minutes and we were ready to serve.You can see the slightly ‘sloppy’ nature of the dish in the picture above. It is supposed to be like this, wetter than a Risotto it did taste subtle and was also delicious, the Paprika creating warmth and smokiness, the mushrooms meatiness and the Rice had textures but probably not the al dente described in Italian Cuisine, it was slightly beyond that stage.Once the Ensaidmada is cooked both versions are given a good coating of Icing sugar. The savoury version might be considered a bit like the Moroccan Pastilla dish, Pigeon Pie with Cinnamon and Icing Sugar in Filo Pastry, but in this case we are using Sobrasada which is a cured spicy Pork. It was unusually delicious again, difficult to describe unless you can taste it yourself.
So, another cookery course over, Omar was brilliant and everyone was commenting on how much fun we had, and lots learnt too. These days are hard work but really good fun, for me time to mentally escape from day to day life they provide an environment to learn new skills meet people with similar interests and most important add to the repertoire in the kitchen with dishes from around the world.
A big thank-you to Richard Bertinet who is able to attract some seriously good Chefs who are also good at teaching, these skills do not often come in the same package. A massive thank-you to Omar Allibhoy who took time out of running a significant business to teach 12 people some skills and techniques you cannot easily learn from a book, if you get the chance to go on a course with Omar, book quickly!
As usual, I paid full price for this course and received no incentive to write this blog, the description above is my personal experience and one I would highly recommend.
……………………Until Next Time………….L8ers………………….