Last week I went along to the Waitrose Cookery School in Finchley Road to attend their Persian Feast cooking course. Here’s how it went.
The class started at 10 am and there was a light breakfast served upon arrival of warm pastries, fresh fruit and yoghurt with orange juice, tea and coffee. We could also help ourselves to tea, coffee and water throughout the day.
The class lasts five hours (from 10 am to 3 pm) and in that time you cook and eat three delicious courses. Our teacher for the day was chef Omar, who has taught this particular class many times before.
On the menu was:
Starter: Spiced sea bream with kuku sabzi, a pomegranate, feta and herb salad and spiced yoghurt for serving.
Main: Saffron chicken with barberries, tahdig rice and spinach yogurt.
Dessert: Cardamom pannacotta with rose syrup, crystallised pistachios and grapefruit.
Ready, steady, cook
As the dessert was a pannacotta, it needed time to set so we started with that first. Although pannacotta is Italian, Iran has similar desserts that are a set custard. Chef Omar demonstrated how to make the dessert in the theatre and then we went through to the kitchen to start making ours.
You cook in pairs and my cooking partner for the day was a lovely lady called Jane who had come with two friends. Jane and I set to work preparing the pannacotta, which was surprisingly easy. As you only have so many hours to learn, cook and eat, all the ingredients are already weighed out for you.
Once all the pannacottas had gone into the fridge to set, it was back to the theatre to watch chef Omar demonstrate how to make the spiced sea bream starter. The starter seemed complicated because there are four elements to it: making the kuku sabzi, which is similar to a frittata, then making the salad and dressing, frying the fish and preparing the spiced yogurt.
I’ll be honest and say that I wasn’t really looking forward to this dish because I’m not really a fan of fish with spices, however I was blown away by how absolutely delicious it was! And it was pretty quick and easy to make – it only took about 15 to 20 minutes. Look how fabulous it looked! I can’t wait to make this at home.
We were served a cold glass of Riesling to accompany the fish starter and it matched beautifully.
After the starter, it was back to the theatre to learn how to make the main of Saffron chicken with tahdig rice and spinach yogurt. This dish takes around an hour to make. Chef Omar started with the tahdig rice as that takes an hour and the chicken takes 55 minutes. Tahdig rice is unique in that you fast boil the rice for 5 minutes, then drain it, melt butter and coat the bottom and sides of the saucepan, turn down the heat to the lowest setting, add the rice back with 30ml of water to create steam, stick the lid on and then don’t touch it for 50 minutes.
Whilst the rice is steaming away, you fry the chicken in the heated tagine base (a casserole dish will do), add the vegetables, stock, juice of an orange, a few spices, and then pop in the oven for 50 minutes.
Once the rice has steamed away for 50 minutes, here comes the fun part! To get the rice out of the pan, you dunk it once into a bigger pan or basin of cold water and then tip onto a plate. Ours sadly didn’t quite come out in one piece… To decorate the rice, we made a Barberry syrup. Barberries are slightly sour berries and are an important ingredient in Persian cooking.
We plated our main and sat down to eat it with a glass of Gruner Veltliner. There’s quite a bit of orange juice in this dish, which I would reduce the quantity of when I cook it at home but it was still so yummy. The tahdig rice, in particular, was so good! And a real surprise was just how much I liked the spinach yogurt.
As we’d made the pannacotta first, it was ready to eat straight after our main. We had made a syrup of rose water with rose petals and grapefruit segments, which we topped onto the pannacotta. Chef Omar had made the crystallised pistachios that we could add, however I chose not to. I love cardamom so I adored this dessert. I was worried about the rose water being a bit over-powering as I’m not a big fan of it but it was actually very subtle and the sharp citrus of the grapefruit worked so well with the sweetness of the Cardamom.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Persian Feast class and can’t wait to try the recipes at home. I’ve got my eye on a few of their other classes too, such as the Japanese Patisserie course and the Knive Skills class.
This particular class, at the Finchley Road Waitrose Cookery School, runs from 10 am – 3pm, includes all your ingredients, the recipes to take home, wine or beer with your food, tea and coffee throughout the day and a light breakfast on arrival.
My class was courtesy of Waitrose Cookery School in exchange for an honest review.