Hello Dear Reader,
Last week I was lucky enough to spend the day at one of the top cookery schools in the UK!
The Edinburgh School of Food and Wine is Scotland’s oldest cookery school. It has a whole host of accolades, most recently being highly commended in the British Cookery School awards – beaten only by the infamous River Cottage.
The school is situated in the 18th century coach house on the idyllic Newliston Estate, just west of Edinburgh. As I drive up the long driveway I am struck by what a beautiful place it would be to come to school or work each day.
On arrival our KP for the day Aneta welcomed us warmly with tea and coffees and freshly baked buns.
Our chef for the day, Chris, is an extremely experienced chef with an impressive CV, most recently as head pastry chef at the luxurious 5-star Caledonian Waldorf Astoria hotel.
Chris has prepared a menu perfect for today’s themed course of Seasonal Scottish food. The full recipes are presented in a little booklet, with space for us to make notes if we want, and to take away to re-create the dishes at home.
Squat Lobster and Scallop Skink
Our first dish is Squat Lobster and Scallop Skink. Chris immediately puts us at ease with tales of kitchen disasters, including lobsters frozen so long they weren’t ready for service and many tales of tough head chefs and lost fingers!
The squat lobsters are similar in size to crayfish. Chris helpfully tells us that squat lobster is a by-product of Scottish prawn fishing, so is very affordable and can often be picked up at harbours for free. If you are not near a harbour, you can request that your fishmonger order it in.
While prepping the dish, Chris mentions the school’s ingredient sourcing and his own passion for local ingredients shines through. I am delighted to hear some of my favourite Scottish producers being mentioned as the school’s suppliers of choice. Hebridean Sea Salt is the only salt they use in the kitchen and Supernature cold-pressed rape seed oil is their cooking oil of choice. He hands round some of fantastic flavoured vinegar made by The Little Herb Farm in Fife, telling us we must try it in cocktails!
Later Chris tells me that the school has helped many local producers to develop and launch their products. They take great pride in supporting and promoting artisan producers, who use seasonal Scottish ingredients. I suddenly remember that the school is one of the main sponsors of the most fantastic event on the Scottish foodie calendar Eat, Drink, Discover Scotland.
Back to the seasonal Scottish seafood and for true authenticity, Chris tells us that some people will go all out and collect seawater to cook their shellfish! The easier method is to use about one third more salt than usual in your cooking water. A few minutes later the lobster is ready and he shows us how easy it is to extract the succulent tail meat.
The rest of the lobster is used as the base of the soup, imparting bags of fishy flavour. Vegetables sautéed, tomatoes and water added and Chris’s soup is left to simmer gently.
Meanwhile we are are let loose to cook the dish ourselves!
Each workstation is for 2-4 people, all set up with aprons, cloths and our ingredients. In the middle of each station is a big bowl for our waste and I am very impressed to hear that the school has a policy of 100% recycling, with all waste being collected by Changeworks and zero waste to landfill.
My cooking partner for the day, Elaine, is a seasoned baker who does the catering for her husband’s flying school near Perth. We have a wonderful day chatting about her recipes and she promises to email me a couple of them!
Elaine unfortunately has a fear of fish, so much so that even sitting near a fish tank gives her palpitations! It does however mean I get to prep the lobster and scallop, which is great practice for me, and I get double servings of them both too!
Elaine took over for the exciting part of the dish – flambéing the whisky! It certainly gives a wow factor to the day and there was lots of nervous laughter followed by oohs and ahhs as everyone got theirs to catch and flame.
The flambé removes the alcohol but keeps the extra depth of flavour given by the whisky. Chris is teaching us that constructing a successful dish is all about building up layers of flavour.
Once we all have our soup simmering, we nip back to Chris who shows us how to finish the dish.
First up is a demo on how to open a scallop and remove the delicate meat inside without damaging it. I have seen professional chefs on Masterchef struggle with this but Chris makes it look easy. In fact throughout the day he exudes an engaging mix of laid back attitude but with attention to detail, that will make even the most nervous or inexperienced cook feel they can achieve these dishes.
Then the soup is blended, the lobster tails added to heat through and the scallops quickly cooked. Chris explained that we shouldn’t season the scallops before cooking, as the salt can crust in the hot pan and prevent the heat getting through to the scallop. I have never heard this advice before but it makes perfect sense. Another tip is to place scallops in the pan in a clockwise manner, so you know in which order to turn them, so as to avoid overcooking. Genius!
Chris leaves the soup thick for our wintery day but suggests sieving it for a lighter soup on warmer days. I am delighted with the image he evokes of enjoying it on a late summer evening just as the sun is going down. Heaven!
Then it’s back to our stations to repeat what we have just learned. I was so excited at how easy I found it to prep the scallops now that Chris had shown us the proper technique!
Today we are just using the white part of the scallop but Chris gave us a top tip on using the scallop coral, telling us it is brilliant dried and powdered to add flavouring to risottos. I love this idea as I am always keen to use as much as possible and minimise food waste. I must have looked an idiot running around collecting everyone’s unused coral from their rubbish bowls to take home to try this. It was definitely worth it though as here is what I ended up with after a few hours drying in a very low oven and then pulsed in my spice grinder. The taste is phenomenal! I already have an idea for a very special recipe, so watch this space!
Chris had left his skink thick but I was keen to try sieving it as I have a big problem with bones and shells catching my throat. He kindly rustled up a sieve and was full of encouragement for us to make the dishes our own, reminding us that recipes are just guidelines or starting points. Here is our finished soup – I love how silky it looks.
After cooking each course, we all sat down together to eat what we had made. The communal table was a jolly affair with plenty of wine on hand for us to refresh our glasses. The taste of this skink was truly awesome, with amazing depth of flavour, and everyone was delighted. I will definitely be recreating this at home!
Treacle Marinated Rump of Lamb, Jerusalem Artichoke and Purple Broccoli
Chris entices us back for the next demo, promising succulent lamb and inviting us to bring our glasses. This could end up being a very drunken affair – I’m both relieved and disappointed that I am driving! I think about what a fantastic outing it would be for a group of work colleagues and indeed there is a group of eight who I assume are on a work day out. I ask them and it turns out they are a family having an outing in honour of a couple of sixtieth birthdays. I am delighted for them – what a wonderful day out to have as a family!
The lamb rump has been marinading overnight in a mix of treacle and spices, an easy way to inject extra flavour into a cheaper cut of meat. Chris dries it, removes the skin, sears it all over and then pops it in the oven to cook. Easy!
The main course is ready in less than half an hour but the fantastic flavours achieved suggest something much longer and more complicated. This would be perfect for a dinner party, allowing the host to enjoy the evening and not have to spend too long in the kitchen.
We return to our work stations and find them all tidied up, wiped down and with ingredients laid out for the main course. Our KP for the day, Aneta, is like a whirling dervish in how quickly she gets through everything. There are various remarks on how wonderful and unexpected it is to have someone doing our dishes!
Half an hour later we are all enjoying our main courses. The jus is a revelation, a 2:1 mix of chicken stock and balsamic vinegar reduced and thickened. I expect it to be too tart for me but it is rich and sticky and complements the lamb perfectly. I have undercooked the Jerusalem artichokes but they are still delicious. After much yumming and mmm-mmm-ing, everyone comments that they plan to make this dish again very soon.
Toffee Apple Trifle
So to dessert. Throughout the day we have made the various components of this and left them to cool, so all that is required is the layering of ingredients. We have sweet spiced apples, custard, toffee sauce, cream, sponge fingers and cocoa powder. Chris’s top tip is to make the custard a little less sweet than usual as the toffee sauce is so sweet.
The toffee sauce is a simple five minute recipe. It tastes amazing and another girl and I get into a chat about how dangerous a recipe it is, as we just know we are going to be making making it a little too often at home! We are each given a tub to take home and I later find my daughter standing by the fridge in a trance at how delicious it is. She may have been seen later on that evening scurrying to her bedroom with the tub and a spoon!
Chris gives us a few different options for our layering and I think about what a wonderful dessert this would be for Christmas dinner. It is not as heavy as Christmas pudding and it would be so much fun to lay out the different ingredients to let everyone build their own dessert. Ideal for kids at that time of the meal when they are starting to get a little bored and just want to go play with their gifts!
Taking Chris’s advice to the extreme, my own “trifle” has no sponge, a little apple, lots of custard and lashings of toffee in each layer. Fantastic!
The less-sweet custard works perfectly giving a lovely balance so the dessert as a whole is not overly sweet.
Chris comes to chat with us as we eat our desserts. He hopes that the day has given us more confidence in the kitchen and that we feel able to take on a wider variety of dishes and eat more seasonal Scottish dishes. The vigorous nods around the table put a smile on his face. Happy chef and happy clients – a perfect day at school!
On my way out I notice the wall of awards. I whole-heartedly agree with Kenwood’s recent evaluation of this cookery school – Highly Commended!
If you know someone who likes to cook, or is nervous of the kitchen, then give them the gift of a day’s cookery. It is something that will last the recipient a lifetime and you may even get to taste their wonderful dishes cooked with new-found confidence! You can now even buy vouchers valid for any of the courses, so the recipient can choose their favourite course from the diverse range on offer.
As ever one of the best parts of the day is all the extra little unexpected tips picked up when chefs talk off the top of their heads! I would love to immerse myself fully in this school and take their professional diploma. For now I will have to content myself with the occasional masterclass.
Legalese: Vohn was a guest of Edinburgh School of Food and Wine on this one day masterclass on Seasonal Scottish food. Vohn was not told what to write in this blog post and all opinions are her own.