MasterChef: Five things we learned in week 5

Spice things up but don't play with fire. Forget the fondants but remember your classics. Oh, and be lucky...

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Always keep a Crème Anglaise up your sleeve

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Contestants never know what they’re going to get with the Invention Test, which is why it’s worth having a well-rehearsed showpiece up your sleeve. Basics like eggs, milk and sugar are usually on the bench – and those who’ve used these staples to conjure up a Crème Anglaise have usually won over renowned pudding-lover Gregg Wallace, and often John Torode as well. 

This week saw 28-year-old Louise rattle out a textbook Crème Anglaise to accompany her strawberry and raspberry tarte tatin. Firstly, infusing the milk with juicy vanilla pods, then pouring the warm milk over creamed egg yolks and sugar. “Louise, your custard is beautiful” cooed John Torode. “Rich with vanilla, sweet, lovely consistency. It’s perfect – absolutely perfect.” And so we saw how whipping out a classic can beat an over-inventive invention test.


Hope luck is on your side

To get as far as MasterChef undoubtedly involves a lot of skill. But there is a certain amount of luck involved too. While the Invention Test is kind to some, it’s cruel to others – like meat-loving Jez from Week 1 who was confounded by tofu and rice. Similarly, the Restaurant Service has some contestants plating up a goat’s cheese salad while others are juggling eight steaks on a grill as part of a five-element dish, complete with smears and foam.

The Palate Test has been no exception in its varying degree of trickiness. Last week was ham and leek pie – GCSE cooking. Ham? Tick. Leeks? Tick. Pastry? Tick. But this week, John quizzed the contestants over the components of beef stir fry with curry paste, choy sum and peanuts. Trickier.

Poor Guy fell at the first hurdle, confusing beef with pork and then lamb. The other contestants struggled on, some recognising that the saltiness was from shrimp paste and others managing to pick out a few of the subtle flavours, from white pepper to galangal and dried chillies. On watching the series back, we bet these contestants wish they’d been in the ham pie heat instead.


Forget the fondants

Five weeks in, and fondants are still proving to be the nemesis of over-eager MasterChef contestants. The Moriarty of vegetables. Last week, Emma failed to cook a 15-minute potato fondant, and this week Graeme struggled with a brie-stuffed beetroot fondant. Despite cutting the cooking time by hollowing-out the dense beetroot middle and replacing it with a slice of cheese, he still didn’t leave long enough.

“The fondant…this is hard, really hard” the judges said, sawing through the solid purple lump, when their knives should have been sliding through buttery warm beetroot. Seeing as no points have been lost so far for sticking with a decent mashed potato perhaps the contestants should give-up trying to wow with a fondant, and go for something a little less high-risk instead.


Don’t play with fire

“Quarter-final place up for grabs here. Why would you be so dangerous?” John asked Scottish dance lecturer, Jo. Her two dishes saw the unusual flavour combinations of seabass and rhubarb, followed by a Highland version of a surf ‘n’ turf comprising scallops and venison with blackberry sauce. It was clear she had her work cut out to convert the judges. “I think you’re being daring. The girl who played with fire,” said John.

As Jo served up the starter of seabass with fennel, on a bed of kale, leeks, fennel, ginger and chilli with a rhubarb sauce, Greg seemed distressed. “It’s a very striking looking plate. Striking bordering on alarming,” he said. “The kale is a northern European, hearty winter vegetable. You’ve put the flavours of the East in with that, and you’ve then got the flavours you’d normally associated with a dessert on top of that.”

With the (very) rare venison, scallops and jammy blackberry sauce getting a similar reception, it seemed Jo’s daring approach hadn’t paid off. “Maybe the world’s not ready for you, Jo,” sighed Gregg. There was one thing for certain – as Jo was eliminated – MasterChef certainly isn’t.


Spice things up

“I don’t just use ground spices, I use the whole spices – the cassia bark, the cardamom and bay” said Saira. “It gives you a lovely freshness – a mellow edge to the spice mix.” Indeed, using whole spice garam masala certainly paid off for the 38-year-old housewife.

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After the smallest of slip-ups, where Saira forgot to stir the crispy fried onion through the rice, her curry (pictured above) received enormous praise from the MasterChef judges. “The smell that hits you – it’s just full of spice. Warm, delicious spicing,” said former MAsterChef winner Thomasina Miers. John was also in raptures: “I feel like I’m one of those cartoon characters caught in a pinball machine. The bumpers are bashing me around – there’s so many spices, so many flavours. That food tastes fantastic.” Which proves that if you master how to spice a curry, then you’re flying through to the next round of MasterChef.