Here are my picks of the best home cooking ideas that we can all borrow from Masterchef’s latest contestants
EACH season of Masterchef we get an intriguing glimpse of what taste-trends the best Aussie home cooks are adopting; trends that could help any of us make our home cooking better. Here’s what’s on the menu this year:
ROAST AND PICKLED GRAPES
Using grapes for their burst of freshness, acidity or sweetness is a smart idea.
Roast them until they wrinkle slightly to throw on roast pork dishes, toss into couscous with roast chicken, or even just to strew on desserts like Greek yoghurt. Pickle them to bring bite to salads, especially those served with cheese, or cut them so their cool, wet flesh contrasts against drier textures.
RICE CAKES, WAFERS AND CRISPS
We judges are texture junkies and these fried, crispy, often chewy delights are a far more interesting way of adding carbs to Asian-inspired dishes. So head to an Asian grocery for glutinous rice flour.
The contestants have done very well with homemade versions of thin, flaky pastries such as roti, brik, katoumari and rough puff, proving that a good recipe and a little technique is all it takes to make them at home. They are also a clever way to build a dish using staples.
The garden at Masterchef has never been more in play, as contestants use ingredients such as nasturtium, horseradish leaf, lemon myrtle and lemon verbena in interesting ways. They’ve gone into desserts, lighter dressings to serve with seafood, or are oven-dried or fried to add texture.
Japanese miso is a great way to add a salty savoury hit to gravies and broths. This year it has also been used as a glaze or caramelised for an appealing crumb.
SPICY SAUCES AND BROTHS
We all also love bold flavours and this year many of the contestants have excelled at knocking up quick versions of spicy delights, including sambals, XO sauces and Asian broths. Make them yourself with ingredients from your local Asian grocery, or pick up pre-made chilli sauces like XO or sambals to spice your dinner. Move over sriracha!
Ravioli and tortellini have always been popular ways to stay out of trouble in Mystery Box challenges, but this year the dumpling has become the leader.
So, pop wonton wrappers on your shopping list for the supermarket or Asian grocery if you want to save time.
Heston Week on Masterchef always generates lots of conceptual dishes. They are supposed to elicit an emotional response from the diner and very much “take you there”.
This year, Mr Blumenthal’s influence extended outside our week with him as a guest on the show, with contestants creating dishes that attempt to take us everywhere from beach barbecues in Broome and smoky street stalls in Shanghai to grandma’s apple tree or a humming beehive.
We’ve seen a lot of beef fillet this year, usually artfully trimmed into a perfect Snickers-sized rectangle. If it wasn’t hiding under nasturtium leaves, it would be nestling under pickled oyster mushrooms. This just shows that we’ve moved on from just quick pickling carrots and cucumbers to …
I don’t want to say I told you so, but this year the contestants caught on to the Scandi trend of roasting cucumber over charcoal, which some of you tittered about when I put it in my last cookbook. OK, now I admit that I am over it too.
Ewww! That was my first reaction when I saw baby corn in contestants’ dishes. But canny ideas like charring or butter-poaching have helped. They’ve made it surprisingly edible.
Fennel is always a Masterchef favourite, given its versatility to go sweet or savoury. It’s still popular but this year your top chefs’ favourite herb garnish, expensive bronze fennel fronds, is what the contestants have been going mad for. Luckily, we’ve had loads of it growing with wild abandon in the garden. Go on, plant some today.
CARAMELISED WHITE CHOCOLATE
Forget biscuit crumbs – this year the crumbs were made by roasting white chocolate until golden and tasty. Easy to do in your oven at home.
After a spate of parfaits last year, this year contestants have really nailed ice creams in every flavour from chocolate and yoghurt to lemon verbena, fennel and basil.
We’ve also enjoyed the return of salted caramel – perhaps as a salty butterscotch sauce. Not that it ever went away in my house.