Last week on the blog, I shared my experience making all of the gluten free goodies at River Cottage Cookery School. Well, I was there for three whole days, and I made a lot more than that! In this blog post I’m sharing the rest of my cooking experience. We made an array of beautiful meat & veggie dishes in my one day cookery course, and I also participated in an amazing meat curing & smoking course.
Just like on my first day, I was greeted with hot drinks and mini (gluten free) pancakes to pick at while the day got underway. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I was lucky to have Gill Meller as my teacher, one of the head chefs who has been with River Cottage for over a decade. Here’s a snap of the first quick brunch-style dish we started off with, poached duck egg, chorizo mix and wild garlic (yes, I regretted eating brekky at my B&B that morning!):
Gill demonstrated each of the recipes we were to make before we’d head to our workstations to give them a go ourselves. As well as giving a practical demonstration, Gill spent time explaining the provenance of the ingredients we were using. You could tell the source and quality of the product was of importance to him; this is something I’ve always loved about the River Cottage ethos. Using natural, seasonal food, and keeping things fresh and simple.
We also popped out into the veggie garden to collect fresh baby kale and fennel fronds for our salad course. Pictured at the top, this was a massaged kale, apple, mushroom and celeriac raw salad, finished with toasted pumpkin seeds.
Though it sounds like a lot to cover, the approach at River Cottage Cookery School is informal and relaxed. Gill was a very calm and helpful teacher, and though we made six dishes, we still finished up a little early somehow, allowing us time to have a little wander around the farm.
You can check out snaps of the bread and pudding I made on day two (both altered to be gluten-free for me!) as part of my first blog post here. Both were divine; I especially liked making the dessert, which involved creating a rhubarb jelly. We used gelatine leaves to set the jelly; something I’m always a bit nervous about using but really, they are super easy!
Our meat and fish courses were just as lovely. We started with a fish dish of plaice with purple sprouting broccoli and a creamy garlic and rosemary sauce. And, yep we filleted our own fish! Another cooking technique I was really happy to watch and practice. I won’t be as daunted buying whole fish now!
Finally, the meat dish was a beautiful warm salad of spiced roasted cauliflower with crunchy sunflower seeds and a lightly seared piece of lamb. The spice combo on the cauliflower was really lovely, and I’ve jotted it down to use on cauli at home, and other veggies! I am told you can find a similar recipe in Gill’s recently published cookbook Gather, which they were sold out of when I was there.
Needless to say, I went home a very full girl!
On my final day at River Cottage I attended the Meat Curing & Smoking Class led by Steven Lamb. After experiencing this class, I can absolutely guarantee that he’s your (natural, preservative free) meat curing and smoking guru!
The meat course was more of a demonstration class, and took place in the River Cottage barn rather than the cooking school room. The things we were preparing were better demonstrated and talked about as a group. First, because we were dealing with big cuts of meat (a whole leg of pork) and also some machinery (a sausage machine, and a smoker). Second, because a lot of the cured stuff we prepared wouldn’t have been ready to take home for a good few weeks at least, making it all individually would have been wasteful.
But don’t worry, there were plenty of individual treats too. After being greeted with hot drinks and snacks (gluten free orange cake for me!) we had a mid-morning bacon sampling plate. With drinks. Of course!
Though it was run as a demonstration, Steven did get each of us up at some point to get our hands involved in the process. I took part in helping to salt/brine some beef in preparation to make bresaola. The hubby (who joined me just on the third day) got up and used the sausage machine to prepare some salami. We also had a surgeon in the group, who was extremely adept at helping to carve up that whole pork leg and taught us a thing or two along the way!
If you are a meat-eater, but like to keep things as natural and organic as possible, this is a wonderful class. I don’t eat a huge amount of cured meats, and one of the main reasons is because I try to avoid chemicals in my food. Commercially prepared cured meats typically contain added nitrates, which can form potentially carcinogenic compounds when exposed to high temperatures (i.e. when cooked). Traditional curing methods taught by the River Cottage Cookery School don’t use nitrates; only salt. And nowhere near as much salt as you might think! The same goes for traditional smoking. There are no artificial colours or preservatives (or any other chemicals) used.
Practically, traditional curing and smoking methods aren’t too complicated either. Unless you want to make something like salami – that requires the sausage machine – equipment is pretty basic and easy to pull together. Especially for bacon, which is probably the most commonly consumed cured meat. For the hot and cold smokers, Steven was really helpful in explaining the cheapest way to set these up, including by repurposing household items. The River Cottage Cookery School has a rustic custom-built cold smoker, set up outside. Here’s a little snap of it (okay, it’s mainly a snap of my husband, but you can see the smoker)…
Now that I’ve seen how simple it is to prepare these things, I am definitely keen to try out a few different items myself. Bacon definitely. Smoked items probably when I’m back in Australia and have more kitchen space, plus a BBQ I can try it on outside. I suspect the other flats in my building might not appreciate me setting up various smoking apparatus inside my place! We picked up a copy of Steven’s book River Cottage Handbook: Curing & Smoking so we’d have all the information we could possibly need (though you do get free information/instruction sheets sent to you if you do the course).
Oh yes, and you’ll probably want to know what we got to eat during the day! It was quite a meaty feast, mainly pork, though during the smoking part of the day we also tried smoked fish, chicken and cheese (all delicious). For lunch, we had a beautiful pork dish with a side of purple sprouting broccoli. It was really lovely to enjoy this lunch at the long table in the barn, too. On each of the courses there was always a great, friendly bunch of participants so it’s nice to get this time to chill and chat.
And that’s a wrap guys! I had such a wonderful time at River Cottage Cookery School. I’d go back for more courses for sure! If you’re a lover of natural, whole foods then these cooking courses are for you. Each course was informal, friendly and fun. A beautiful way to spend a few days in the countryside!