Tuesday, 10 December 2013

This year's Masterchef moment has arrived

Beat that drum sieve for good food
It’s ‘that’ time of year again: Masterchef The Professionals is entering the final stages and there’s already a new gadget in the kitchen.

It’s been a fascinating few weeks, with huge contrasts in culinary achievement.

Happily, the BBC seems to have realised just what a star Monica Galetti is and have given her more to do over a longer time in the series, including giving her the opportunity to demonstrate what to do on the infamous skills tests before the contestants try their hand.

And as for Michel Roux Jr’s demonstrations of classic French dishes – ‘oh my’, again and again. I most especially want to try Savoyard potato cake – a potato dish that’s made of grated spuds, mixed with onions and sweet sultanas and dates, and packed into wafer-thin bacon before being baked. Yummy.

Indeed, the variety of French potato dishes that have been seen on this series are mind boggling. I need to study my Escoffier and Robuchon books.

The Other Half had been observing, with a mutual friend, that it’s probably a good thing that they don’t make sous vide cookers for home use, and was horrified when I informed him that John Lewis sell exactly such a beast.

“No!” he responded, with something close to a roar that seemed to include panic.

I did point out that it wasn’t me that had discovered that JL stock such an item, but a colleague. Our mutual friend observed dryly: “Just because he’s daft doesn’t mean you have to be too”.

I must say, if I really did have a bigger kitchen, I’d be more than tempted. After all, it’s only about the size of a bread maker.

And anyway, what’s “daft” about serious cooking? With each passing series of Masterchef The Professionals I can see the value of cooking in a water bath, allowing you to cook thoroughly but without any risk of drying out something like pork loin, for instance.

There are, I hasten to add, cheats that can allow you to come close to the same method of cooking but with ordinary kitchen equipment.

Watch this space.

In the meantime, this year’s Masterchef-inspired gadget is a drum sieve and blue scraper – just like you’ve seen contestants use on the programme.

And the weekend saw its first outings.

Vegetables purées, I have now convinced The Other Half – well actually, Michel, Monica and the contestants have done that – are not ‘baby food’.

They can add colour, texture and – of course – flavour to a dish.

What they also allow is, if you’re cutting down on complex carbs (the spuds, pasta or rice), an easy way to offer something to add another portion of veg instead.

One of the other great advantages is that you can do a purée in advance.

Saturday morning’s visit to Broadway Market had seen me return with a shopping basket that unexpectedly included a red and a yellow pepper, after Mark had decided that he was giving one of each to regular customers.

I don’t use a lot of peppers – The Other Half isn’t overly keen – and had nothing planned for such a fruit.

But then again, I thought, since Saturday’s fodder was set to be steak and chips, why not serve a pepper purée with that?

The first thing I did, therefore, was to roast the peppers: cut them in half, take out the seeds and pith, then pay them skin side up on a roasting tray and pop under a hot grill, about 10cm away from the heat.

They’ll needs about 10 minutes before they start charring, but when they’re ready, as soon as they’re cool enough to handle, peel away the skins.

Blitz in a blender and then press through a sieve if you have one, and reheat gently when ready.

Now, I added a dot of butter to this and checked the seasoning – it needed nothing of the latter – but it was never going to be thick enough to be a purée, but it was a very, very nice sauce and went perfectly well with the rest of the meal.

On a side note, my small deep fryer decided, on only its second outing, to play up: instead of 12-15 minutes to heat up, I was still waiting after half an hour and eventually resorted to a digital thermometer to check.

Bigger, plain white plates do help.
I know it was a cheap piece of kit, but that’s poor.

Yesterday’s meal was slated to be pan-fried duck breast with sautéed potatoes and a few sprouts, into which a purée of sweet potato seemed destined to fit perfectly. 

First, peel and chunk some sweet potato – one medium-sized one was more than adequate for the two of us – and toss thoroughly in olive oil with a good sprinkle of celery salt.

Then roast for approximately 30 minutes at 180˚C (fan). You will need to test and may find that an extra 10 minutes won’t go amiss.

Once again, blitz and then sieve.

That left a smooth but pretty solid mass. I left it in a clean pan covered in cling film to avoid it drying out.

For anyone wanting to know, the duck breasts were cut on the skin diagonally and salted, before being placed skin side down in a hot pan and the heat turned to medium.

They were given seven minutes like this, with the fat that came out of the skin being poured into a large frying pan on the next hob.

The duck was then turned and given a further seven minutes before being lifted out and covered loosely in foil on a plate in the oven, which was still warm from grilling the peppers.

For a sauce, drain off the last fat from the pan youve cooked the duck in and deglaze with a couple of tablespoons of raspberry vinegar. Add a tablespoon of redcurrant jelly to this and stir until its melted.

The potatoes had been boiled for 20 minutes in their skins, then placed in the oven with the door just ajar and left to dry off for 10 minutes (it was still warm from roasting the sweet potato). This helps to stop water getting into them, which you certainly don’t want for sautéing.

They were then skinned and sliced and added to the second pan with the hot duck fat, over a high heat and cooked until just golden on both sides.

But back to the purée.

To loosen the mixture, I added plenty of butter and stirred it in over a very low heat. Since it was still stiff, I also carefully added some boiling water – remember, you want it to be loose enough that you can make a bit of a swirl on the plate.

The final touch, though, is the crucial One: a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, which just takes the edge of the sweetness.

Such things are not displayed at their very best on small plates with bright coloured rims, but that apart, the taste was lovely.

Purées offer not only an opportunity to provide another texture on the plate, but also to experiment with flavours.

It won’t be long before the next one.

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