Wildside Kitchen: Christmas Cooking Tips From A Real Chef

Disclosure: I attended this course as guest of the Wildside Kitchen, but all opinions are my own.

Some twenty-something (ahem) years ago, my sister did a course at catering college. Amongst other tricks, she learnt the French technique for proper  onion-chopping. It’s called a ‘brunois’ and it looks like this:

Thank you, internet. So helpful. Anyway, Sam taught it to me and ever since, I’ve been dicing my onions real professional like. But that brunois lesson was the last time I had any training from a proper chef, other than the one-sided cooking-show relationships I have with Manu and Pete and Colin and George.

That is until I spent the day with Head Chef Michael Ross from the Wildside Kitchen, learning how to do a full Christmas lunch, starting with the pickled peaches, progressing through the pork and passing out – with post-prandial pleasure –  after the plum pudding. (I’ll stop that now.)

This class was great fun. We cooked all morning, we ate a big lunch, and I carted a towering pile of Tupperware containers back to our house to share with the family for dinner. Merry Christmas to us, alright!  And a happy new year.

(‘Why are you making that face?’ asked my eight year old. ‘I don’t know,’ I had to tell her. ‘It’s just my face.’)

The Wildside Kitchen runs a number of cooking courses (French and bread-making, among others) but the one I attended was designed to take amateur cooks right through a Christmas lunch menu. Now, I’m a creature of habit.  I will likely cook this menu for the rest of my life, so if you’re reading this, family,  I really hope you like macadamia nuts.

Watching a professional chef at work is quite thrilling. They chop very fast,and they juggle numerous boiling and simmering things. It’s like a circus for foodies. Michael taught us how to debone a turkey and how to French the bones of a pork roast, and he kindly answered all the questions I had been saving for just this opportunity.

I picked up a couple of great tips to add to my single ‘brunois’ kitchen skill. For instance: you might make chicken stock, like I do, using the carcass of the bird every time you make a roast. Well Michael blew my mind when he taught me how to make a jus.  He prepped the carcasses in the same way I would for stock: a pile of bones,some carrot, onion, bay leaf, but then instead of filling the pot with cold water, he added just 1/2 litre or so of chicken stock, then let it all bubble away for a couple of hours on the stove, until it melted down into a reduced, gorgeous sauce. He strained it out, stirred an obscene amount of butter through it, and voila: the most delicious jus. Totally freezable (before the butter step), and ready for gravy the next roast around. I loved it.

At the end of our mornings cooking, a delicious feast. I’m planning to try and recreate the whole menu for Christmas lunch in a month’s time. Will I present something this wonderful? I’ll keep you posted. I think plying everybody with wine might make up the skill shortfall.

In the meantime, here’s Michael’s roast pork with stuffing, simply sublime to eat.

Macadamia Nut Stuffed Port Rack

I pork rack

2 onion

300g macadamia nuts

100g prunes

herbs

100g pork mince

200g breadcrumbs

Clean pork rack and score skin. (Michael also spent a good amount of time cleaning and scraping the rib bones.)

Chop macadamia nuts and diced onions, sweat onion off in a pan then add the macadamia nuts and lightly toast. Add breadcrumbs, pork mince and herbs, then season to taste. Cut a hole next to the bone on the pork rack and fill with stuffing, adding some whole prunes as you go.

Put into oven and roast on 220 for 30 mins then reduce temperature to 180 degrees for one hour.

SO GOOD!

Bon appetit!

More about the Wildside Kitchen here, and a report on our stay at Tarraleah here.