Masterchef Essentials I Need to Learn

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Masterchef has finished for another year and I find myself at a loss as to what to do each evening. I love the show so much that it takes all my time when it’s on and when it’s finished I’m never sure whether to get involved in other TV series or just reclaim some of my time again for other more creative pursuits.
I was away for the final episode of Masterchef this year and it’s taken me just over a week to finally watch the show, though I knew straight way who the winner was. Congrats to Emma but I really, really wanted Samira to win. Go Samira!
But now I’m thinking about all I’ve seen and the ways these regular people have grown because of their Masterchef experiences and I’m starting to dream too.
Am I ready to become a Masterchef contestant?
This question has been floating around in my head during most of this year’s Masterchef season so I’ve decided to take a critical look at my own cooking skills versus the types of skills, techniques and combinations of ingredients and flavours I’ve seen preformed on Masterchef this year and in previous years.
Below is a list of foods and techniques that I believe I would need to know before I decide to audition for the show. This list has become a bit of a checklist for me, and it will provide me with a list of ideas to experiment with so that I can take my cooking to the next level. One day that level might be Masterchef level, or it could be the level that sees me reach my cooking dreams (to meet Jamie Oliver, to run my own cafe, to have a collection of my best posts from Spiced Anecdotes made into a book and many more!).
But for now I can’t keep my head in the clouds. It’s time to read up on tricks and techniques, it’s time to leave Sunday afternoons free for experimentation and it’s time to cook up my best and brilliant. It’s time to extend myself.
So here is my Masterchef Essentials List:
         Pork crackling. It comes up in every season and if you can’t get it perfectly crunchy then it’s not worth doing. I will never make this as I don’t understand how you can get so excited about eating skin. Yuck, I just can’t do it, so this is one skill I just won’t learn.

Meringue.Each season somewhere and somehow the meringue is featured on the show. It’s an essential skill in dessert making, and from watching some of the crazy elimination desserts, knowing how to whip glossy egg whites is essential for all manner of recipes. Luckily I can already make pavlova so I just need a bit more practice.

Pastry making. Whether this is for a sweet dessert, a breakfast pastry or a savoury quiche or tart, its one I’m going to have to try. It looks easy on the show, but getting the right amounts of butter and egg and flour will be difficult. There are also many different types of pastry so I’m going to have to experiment here.

Pasta making. Every year someone gets sent home because they made a pasta dish that wasn’t worth it. If you don’t make your own pasta then you are harshly criticised from the judges (unless there is sponsorship from Barilla and then it’s okay, but that doesn’t happen often).

Quail. Quail is such a test in Masterchef because the bird is smaller than a chicken and there is a greater chance that the tiny little legs will burn while the breast will stay raw. I’ve never even eaten a quail before so this will be a challenge.

Chocolate.This is an absolute essential for desserts. If nothing else, a chocolate sauce is used but usually you need to know how to melt the chocolate and use it as a glaze, as part of a cake or pastry and how to pipe it out of a bag into interesting shapes. This one I’m eager to try (no surprises there, I’m a woman!).

Deboning an animal. Argh! This one freaks me out. I grew up with my meat coming in little packets wrapped in cling wrap from the supermarket. You can read about my first attempts at cooking a whole chicken in the post Roast Chicken Take 5 and check out how I freaked out over the feel and the skin of a raw chicken. The first few attempts at whole fish were a similar experience. I’ve never tried to debone anything because I don’t cook with the bone in! Argh! Lord help me if they decide to bone a whole lamb again like they did this year.

Custard.From what I’ve seen custard needs a custard base (der, right?), crème anglaise needs a custard base and ice cream needs a custard base. What’s custard? As far as I can tell, its eggs or egg yolks mixed with cream or milk and heated but not heated so far that the egg cooks or the mixture ‘splits’. Not entirely sure what ‘splits’ means but I’m sure I’ll understand it when it happens to me the first time. Note to self: buy ice cream machine.

Dressing.I’ve become great at making interesting and colourful salads, but I’m not so good at making the dressings. I’m working on this one already as I can make a French dressing with Dijon mustard, and a simple oil, lemon, salt and pepper dressing. I need to experiment with other types of oils and vinegars and ingredients like oranges, raspberries and nuts.

Seafood.For this, I mean more than just fish. Yes, they cook fish in a lot of interesting ways (George cooked a piece of white fish in milk and herbs the other night and I want to try that) but they use lobster, crayfish, crabs, mussels, squid, sea urchin, eel, that I’ve never eaten, let alone cooked with. I’m not all that good with cooking prawns either so I’ve got a lot of work cut out for me here. But my husband will love being the guinea pig on these attempts because seafood is his favourite. Phew.

Macrons.Adriano Zumbo has a lot to answer for here. Macrons are always a make or break dish in the Masterchef kitchen. They are also costly in my own household as we’ve made plenty of trips to Sydney just for Macrons and to eat them at Adriano Zumbo’s cafe’s at the Star Casino and in Balmain. But I have never ever attempted to make one because they just seem like so much hard work! But won’t my husband love me when I can master this one!
These are just some of the skills and techniques I’ve discovered and taken stock of while watching Masterchef. While I may not try them all, I do have a passion for attempting new ways of cooking and new foods in the kitchen. I’ll take my time over the next 6 months and learn what I can about the foods listed above, and see if I can actually do any of them. Eight of these I’m happy to do straight away the rest I’m really hesitant about.
But you know what: it’s not all about becoming a Masterchef contestant.

It’s about challenging myself to do something I haven’t done before, and to do something that fills me with dread because it’s new and different. It’s about taking a few risks and finding that at the other end I could do it when I didn’t think I originally could. It’s about taking the recipe or food I thought was scary and discovering it wasn’t as nasty as I thought it was. It’s about taking the knowledge learnt from making many mistakes and applying them so that I become a better cook (and probably a better person as well).
And that’s my aim for each and everyone one of you who takes the time to read my posts. I’m just trying to teach others that cooking isn’t as hard as it always appears, that it is worth the effort, and that you get such a great sense of achievement from it!
So please, leave me a comment with your food fears and let’s see whether we can combat some of these together!

Here’s to us!

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