Minneapolis cooking classes teach how to field-dress a deer

A review of this and other gems from Community Education

WITH A FEW Community Ed courses under my belt, I'd pass along this counsel: Always allow extra time for finding your classroom. If you haven't visited a particular school before, its various entrances and mazes of hallways can be a little confusing. (I learned this the hard way when I walked the wrong way around Roosevelt High School, found myself at a dead end on a football practice field, and decided the shortest way to my destination was to scale an eight-foot chain-link fence.)

Instructors, too, might be better served by a little more advance planning. Tack up a few signs on the building and you'll avoid leaving lost students to huddle outside a locked door. Double check your ingredient stash so you don't have to ransack the school kitchen's barely stocked pantry or make a frantic call to your spouse. If your class has a material fee, bring change. If there's a recipe handout, ensure that the information is correct. And if your class involves cutting up raw meat, there'd better be soap at the ready.

That last scenario cropped up in my duck confit class, in which each student was proffered a whole duck—feet and face still intact, much to the dismay of a few squeamish types—to disassemble and prepare for cooking at home. When it was time to sanitize the cutting boards, we made do with what was available: a few weak pumps of foaming cleanser from a hand-washing dispenser. (I later learned that the classroom we occupied is no longer in use, so hopefully we didn't pass on any salmonella.)

Ulana Zahajkewycz

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Minneapolis Community Education

2225 E. Lake St.
Minneapolis, MN 55440

Category: Community Venues

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

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Minneapolis Community Education
www.mplscommunityed.com

Our instructor reminded me a bit of a friendly, eccentric aunt as she fed us samples of her own duck confit, then handed us each a knife and a five-pound bird she'd picked up at the Asian market. She passed out spices and explained how we would blend them with salt, rub the mixture into the duck, and let it cure in the refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours.

The final step involved cooking the meat in a 180-degree oven for anywhere from 6 to 10 hours. True confit calls for enough additional duck fat that the meat cooks completely submerged, but a simplified method, in which the duck pieces end up simmering in about a half-inch of their own melted fat, seemed to work just fine. The meat turned out lusciously rich, salty, and fragrantly spiced.

While I might just as easily have made my own duck confit with the aid of an online recipe or video, the class motivated me to tackle a project that I might not have attempted on my own. After I cooked my bird, I picked the meat off the carcass, for convenience's sake, and packed it into a 16-ounce jar. While the French typically leave the meat, sealed in solidified fat, out on the counter, I stashed mine in the refrigerator. In either case, the confit can keep for several weeks, or even months, but mine was delicious enough that the jar was empty within a few days.

I HAD BETTER LUCK with the duck than with French pastry, as the Buche de Noel class I signed up for had a rather misleading description: "Bring $10 for food fee and a container to carry your Yule log home." So students arrived toting large plastic cake boxes, Tupperware rounds, and oversized platters, only to discern, from the size of the cramped kitchen and small assemblage of ingredients, that this was a demonstration class. The instructor would bake one cake, and we would each depart with a slice.

That glitch aside, the instructor's French accent seemed to smooth things over with the mostly older, all-female set, even if he wasn't a pastry professional. "I'm an engineer," he explained. "That's why I do this—otherwise I wouldn't talk to anyone," he joked.

After parsing the differences between flour types and recommending that we use spent vanilla bean pods to flavor rum or sugar, our instructor got to work on the génoise cake batter. Don't overmix it, he advised, but don't undermix it either. "You don't want to end up with a gnocchi inside your cake," he warned.

The Yule log—cake rolled with chocolate pastry cream and covered in chocolate ganache—was a decadent affair, but $25 later, we students left log-less, some of us wishing we had just spent an extra $17 and had the Salty Tart Bakery make one for us.

MOST HUNTERS PAY butchers to slice up their kill, but Kerry Swendsen's deer-processing class begins where the buck (or doe) stops: Once you pull the trigger, now what?

Swendsen is a professional butcher by trade, who offers deer-cutting seminars through his website, DeerDummy.com. The deer Swendsen brought to class had been road-killed several days before, and when he punctured its chest and released a nasty, gassy stench, it was clear why hunters remove a dead animal's organs immediately. (After our lesson, the meat was tossed.)

Out in the Washburn parking lot, Swendsen demonstrated how to slip a knife between the animal's fur and the flesh, cutting outward and away so as not to contaminate the meat with hair. He peeled the hide off, cut through the deer's spine, and carried half the carcass into the school and left the rest of the animal—the hind, the bloody organs, the sawed-off head—outside.

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