Carving is one of those tricksy affairs; it is akin to knowing how to rewire plugs and checking a car’s oil level. Carving is something a man is supposed to know all about. Instinctive knowledge to prop the roasted and rested joint up at the head of the table and to provide for the family.
A combination of hacking and frequent disasters has taught me to carve a chicken, but amongst friends I am known for effortlessly converting a perfect roast into ‘slab-meat’. It was with some trepidation then that I attended Mark Hix’s Carving Masterclass at Rocco Forte’s Browns Hotel in Mayfair.
Running typically late from work I was ushered into a private dining room and a martini glass thrust into my hand. Immediately the evening began to take on a much more civilized feel. Chef Hix greeted us as we all arrived and we milled around discovering our fellow students. We take our seats at the table and immediately it becomes clear that this is to be no ordinary lesson.
While Mark Hix begins by introducing us to the three meats we will be studying (Turkey, Rib of Pork and Leg of Lamb the wine is served. Nibbles start to appear on the table, lamb scrumpet, strips of the most exquisite crackling and flavoursome chicken wings; and I have to remind myself that I am about to have three roast feasts, so hold back. Then give up and accept I’ll be eating for three tonight!
Chef Hix has big plans for the turkey and promises us a method to cook the entire bird in less than an hour. The chef starts by removing the legs and detaching the crown. Next in a display of knifemanship shows us how to bone the legs and remove tendons that would make for an imperfect texture. The leg meat is then flattened and stuffed before being strung into a perfect roll. The crown and rolls are taken away for a roasting, and the remaining bones taken can be used for stock (although as Hix confirms, life can be just too short for homemade stock)
Conversation and discussion is encouraged throughout the dinner with each of us asking questions and dispelling a few myths about the complexity of the traditional roast. For example, roasting the turkey upside-down doesn’t really do much to avoid dryness if you’re still going to cook it for four-hours. You need to reduce its mass to reduce cooking time.
Then, in “here’s one I made earlier” style a perfectly roasted twin of the turkey we just prepared makes and appearance. Our chef shows us how best to serve the turkey breast; large chunks as opposed to thin fibrous slices. The plates are passed around and we tuck in to the first part of our delicious feast.
After a brief repose the roasted and rested pork is presented, which like traditional Sunday beef is ‘on the rib’. First the cracking is removed and set aside as a single piece; a common error is to attempt to cut through the cracking into the meat. In a smooth motion Hix shows us how to remove all the meat from the bones so that the job can be finished without difficulty. I have to admit I would have tried to cut down between the bones creating thick chops, cursing as I negotiated the blade through the fiddlier bits.
Next came the lamb wrapped in a bundle of hay; call me cynical but I’ve never been one for hay as a chef’s aide. However, I can say that it definitely added both flavour and moisture, so will be heading down to the pet shop the very next time I want to roast a leg of lamb. Important tip: make sure the hay is soaked in water first, otherwise there is a chance of it catching fire in the oven.
Mark Hix assured us that this was the most difficult joint to carve; requiring the most experience, perseverance and skill. Naturally this was the joint we were all going to have a go at! Using a long flexible blade Hix showed us how to identify the different muscle groups and how to take good slices through the group down to the bone. Then it became my turn; gripping the joint by the leg bone the slicing began. I can honestly say that under Mark Hix’s guidance this daunting task became effortless, as the tender meat fell away.
The evening was immensely good fun, brought together well by our entertaining host and would have been enough. Miraculously though I have been able to repeat the skills I learnt at home too. Remembering to keep my movements fluid and confident, investing in decent equipment and being more adventurous with the joints I buy. No longer am I the purveyor of ‘slab-meat’!
Thank you Mr Hix.
Where, What and How Much?
The Mark Hix Carving Masterclass costs £150 per person which includes the two-hour class, a veritable feast for dinner, a bottle of wine and acopy of Chef Hix’s own cookery book. Dates are always being added so check on http://www.thealbemarlerestaurant.com/experiences.asp?page=35 or call 020 7493 6020.
33 Albemarle Street
5 Essential Carving Tips
- Knife Selection - always keep your knives sharp (a blunt knife is a dangerous knife) and select wisely depending on the meat. A long flexible knife for lamb, but a shorter more rigid knife for beef or chicken.
- Prepare the Terrain - you need a good sturdy wooden board to carve upon. Ideally with spikes to hold the joint still, and grooves to catch the juices.
- Use the Whole Knife - gliding the whole knife back and forth through the joint will get better results than pressure and hacking.
- Anatomy - through experience you’ll gain an understanding of where all the bones are and how to negotiate your way around them. This is especially true of lamb and chicken.
- Rest, rest, and rest some more - never attempt to carve an unrested joint.