Today I was attending a cooking class with Joyce of @monkeyeatsworld. Both of us weren’t well experienced in food preparation, so this “recreational cooking school” setting was perfect for us. And thankfully our instructor further spoke to this by letting us know that we were not here for a professional kitchen setting, and she wasn’t here training professional cooks.
They offer over 45 different themed classes. Italian, Thai, a class for meat lovers, and even ones for kids and teens only. Today’s class focused on seafood preparation, pairing it with bold flavours; two things we were both very unfamiliar with.
For the vlog version, and the realistic view of how we did replicating what we learned, check out my latest vlog, now up on my YouTube channel: MaggiMei.
The night begins with a welcome glass of bubbles. We drank and geared up in our “Dirty Apron” branded aprons with name tag, which you get to take home as a parting gift after. The class is three savoury courses that you prepare yourself, and concluded with ice cream that “Dirty Apron” makes themselves.
The instructor walks you through the process first, adding tidbits and cooking tips. Next you are sent to your station in pairs to replicate what you have just learned. Course by course you cook, then eat. Each course comes with an alcoholic beverage of your choosing. White or red wine, draft beer, and fruit cider. Your order is taken as you cook, and when you bring your creation into the dining area, your chosen glass is waiting for you. As you eat, their team clears and cleans your station, then prepares all the ingredients you’ll need for the next course after. Everything is measured out for you, all you need to do is open the container and pour its dry or wet ingredients out. Majority of such prep work is done for you, although there is some knife work required and the need to season to taste.
I won’t be going over the how to’s for each course, you will have to enrol and take it for yourself to learn these recipes. Instead, I will list a few interesting factoids and tips I have learned from our instructor during each course.
We started with the “pan roasted halibut in a vindaloo curry paste with deep fried curry leaves” The difference between Indian and other curries like south East Asian style curry is its use of powder and spices versus fresh ingredients grounded, like in Thai curry.
We were in the middle of halibut season so it was chosen as the white fish we were featuring. It also pairs well with stronger flavours, as it isn’t a fish that over powers. You sear the presentation side, aka the “pretty side”, the one that is nice and white for an even golden brown colour. Anything missed can be hidden behind a cilantro garnish. This course is served with naan bread that they pre-make for you. In Indian cuisine naan is a yeast bread with tang, prepared in a tandoori oven.
Next, we prepared “pan seared scallops and prawns with cauliflower in a espellette butter sauce”. This course was served with bread, it was my favourite of the three courses we prepared. Joyce is lactose allergic so any time we were asked to use butter we substituted it with coconut oil, or opted out of using it all together.
When it comes to selecting scallops, the pinky-orange coloured ones are the females and they are often sweeter. Their colouring comes from the roe inside them, present before they spawn. When preparing your scallops you need to remove its overly chewy side muscle. It should come off easily with a peel.
Similarly, when preparing your prawns you want to remove their shells, and run your knife through them, to devein their intestinal tracks. Some shrimp farmers have their crop fast before harvest, so that their intestinal tracks are clean and you need not devein them. Ours were clean, but we still took the time to remove them. This should always be the case for any larger shrimp you use.
A quick and easy way to mince garlic is, when you have much of it collected on your blade, you press and smear it off on to your chopping board and repeat your knife motion from here. And speaking of knives we were taught how to hold each and directed on the proper way to curl our fingers when chopping.
When searing you scallops, avoid over cooking by pressing into them to see if they bounce back, over cooked scallops are tough like rubber. If they are translucent at its centre, it needs a longer sizzle on the pan. But shrimp cook quick. When done they turn white and curl up. And with our sauce we were taught how to balance fat and butter or cream with lemon juice.
Our final course was “zatar pan seared salmon steak in a persevered lemon brown butter sauce”, served with a premade babaganosh. The babaganosh is prepared a head of time because it takes an hour plus to bake the eggplant needed so that it purées well. They also pre-grilled the eggplant chunks we needed for the side of zaalouk salad, this too was to save time.
The best way to carve a thick piece off of a whole salmon is with a bread knife. You tie the pieces together, to help keep it at one similar shape, and to help cook it evenly. You want to pan sear the salmon steak to medium rare. Once cooked, you remove its centre bone. This is also a good way to tell if it is cooked through, if the bone comes out easily.
For garnish, parsley stems are actually more flavourful than the leaves. People don’t know that you can use them and they end up throwing the most flavourful bits away. We also learned how to preserve their own lemons. Myer lemons are packed in salt with lemon juice, and after two months you can eat the rinds, and they are not as bitter. And Zatar is a Middle Eastern spice blend consisting of thyme, sumac, sesame, coriander, and and fennel. Sumac is a purple weed with a sour quality, using it helps to balance out all the other flavours.
Our meal ended with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, drizzled over in maple syrup. And a bar of coffee or tea you can help yourself to.
After the class you are invited to fill out a questionnaire on how they can improve their classes. Doing so enters you into a monthly draw where you can win a free cooking class. This was followed by an invitation to visit their adjacent delicatessen. There, a collection of seasonings used today is available for purchase at 10% off. There is also frozen food and canned goods for purchase.
In summary, this was a really great class thanks to our charismatic instructor. She kept things lively and interjected humour. She checked in with each student, and was encouraging in her feedback. She really made the class, giving us a great way to experience all that “Dirty Apron” has to offer. More than just a cafe, they are a deli, a catering company, and a cooking school; with a second location at the airport, and a second cook book coming out soon. For more on the classes available and what they are all about visit the link below.
540 Beatty Street, Vancouver BC, V6B2N7