Each series of MasterChef seems to throw up (sorry, bad choice of words) its own culinary trend. One year, pan-fried scallops with pea puree appeared in front of the judges several times. And in a recent run of The Professionals, a number of contestants developed a molecular gastronomy fetish (“there were a lot of jellies and mousses and froths,” recalls Michel Roux Jr). But this time around, the extent of the chefs' fixation on one particular dish is bizarre and inexplicable...
So far on the current series of MasterChef: The Professionals, we've had guinea fowl ballotine, coq au vin ballotine, and both monkfish and duck liver ballotines. We've had ballotine stuffed with mousse, and with pine nuts and raisins. And last night, in the so-called invention test, seven of the ten contestants attempted to stand out from the rest by presenting Monica and Gregg with slices of a chicken version of the stuffed, sausage-shaped meat parcel.
Back when the MasterChef bar was set a bit lower, scallops and pea puree was a gastropub stalwart that contestants in the earlier rounds saw as an easy way to imitate fine dining. And Heston Blumenthal was mostly to blame for the introduction of science lab practices into the kitchen. But it's difficult to pinpoint exactly where this sudden obsession with ballotines has come from.
As a classic technique that might feature on any French-influenced menu, it's not a new trend per se. Perhaps the MasterChef franchise's many-pronged attack is increasing Britain's overall culinary prowess, leading to more classic cookery and therefore more ballotines. Perhaps, during the last series of The Professionals, Michel Roux Jr expressed a fondness for ballotines that I missed. Or perhaps numerous incalculable factors have converged to create a perfect storm of ballotine (and if that isn't a good name for an experimental dish, I don't know what is).
Whatever the reason, it seems unlikely that any future series of MasterChef will be able to out-ballotine this one (unless the producers are now working on MasterChef: The Ballotines) so let's ride that storm while we can. Turkey ballotine for Christmas dinner, anyone?