MasterChef: Five things we learned in week 6

Food your grandad would love, out-of-the-box thinking and kitchen gadgetry. Plus cardomom - the new lavender

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MasterChef: Five things we learned in week 6
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Working men want food "like my grandad"

...so said Part-time DJ Natalie, as she set about making a hundred portions of fish pie for a group of firemen on their lunch break. The first challenge in the MasterChef Knockout Week saw a real change in pace, as fine dining was replaced with mass-catering. The contestants were split into groups of three and given the task of churning out a couple of hundred of portions for British Airways engineers and firemen – not easy with limited preparation time, an unfamiliar kitchen and a two-hour time slot.

Sophie learned that picking the right food for the situation was just as important as executing the dish well. And sadly her lemon posset didn't fit the bill, with very few take-ups. The three other puddings – two sponges with custard and one cobbler with cream – proved far more popular. But the star of the task was undoubtedly Natalie, who created an instant crowd-pleaser with a hearty fish pie main. Not only did she pick the right dish, but Natalie mastered the dinner lady rhetoric too: "Nice bit of prawn and haddock in there. There you go darling" she said, as she loaded slabs of fish pie onto eager plates. Proof that it was indeed a situation for a pie – and not a posset.


If you're making breakfast for 20... don't poach the eggs

Faced with a bounty of ingredients, and challenged to rattle out breakfast for 20, it was extra remarkable that three out of this week's four teams decided to poach eggs. What happened to a rasher of bacon? A bowl of granola? Or the somewhat more scalable option of scrambled eggs?

Saira seemed to have the best shot at it – explaining that cooking 20 poached eggs wasn't out of the ordinary for someone from such a big family. But things soon started to fall apart when she substituted the teaspoon of vinegar in the pan for lemon juice instead which, John Torode explained, causes the egg whites to fall apart.

The only distraction from the inevitable drama of Poached Egg-Gate was Hollandaise-Gate – taking place on the neighbouring workbench. Both Dale and Shivi volunteered to make Hollondaise sauce to accompany the ciabatta, fish and poached egg. But the problem was that they'd only ever made Hollandaise once before, making it an odd choice for the quarter-finals. "Why are they both deciding to make Hollandaise if they don't know how to make it properly?" asked Gregg. Well, quite. Bet they all kicked themselves afterwards for not going with a bacon sarnie instead.


Cardamom is the new lavender

As always, MasterChef has been spearheading new food trends. At the very start of the competition, lavender was having its fifteen minutes of fame – first appearing in week one when Emily used it in a pork meat rub, and then again in week two when Rukmini made a lavender arlette.

But now cardamom is elbowing its way into the spotlight – particularly this week, when it was used to infuse not one, but two custards. Firstly Rukmini's cardamom custard to accompany her brioche pudding, and then again, in Dave's brioche and sugared pecan pudding. Conclusive evidence that Birdseye is out, and it's all about cardamom custard now.


Think out of the box... and into a bag

"It evokes so many memories, it'll just take you to a place" said Essex Mum Saira, about her "showstopper dish" of Bengali street food – pakora, stuffed paratha, lamb kebabs, coriander dipping sauce, tomato chutney and spiced masala chai.

But it seemed Gregg hadn't got over his gripes with Saira's presentation from the previous round: "How do you present street food and a cup of tea?" he asked. When Saira plated everything up in paper bags – authentic street food style – Gregg wasn't going to let it drop: "Your food is full of love, full of flavour. But you can't really put your food in a paper bag for MasterChef, can you?" he asked.

Luckily for Saira, John was in a more open-minded mood: "I disagree with Gregg about the presentation" he said. "You're trying to do something new." And so Saira's out-of-the-box thinking saw her bag a place in the next round...


Embrace kitchen gadgetry

Guinea fowl and lobster paella with citrus air was a bold choice for Larkin's Showstopper Dish on Friday. It could have gone either of two ways. As he lit his smoker and started pumping aromatic wisps inside a glass cloche, Gregg began to get a bit nervous: "My worry is that for all the wizardry, all the trickery, he's just going to be left with a bowl of rice," he said.

But as soon as the judges tucked into Larkin's dish, the mood quickly changed. Describing it as "bloody brilliant", Torode praised Larkin's "wizardry": "The fact you've actually used all those gadgets makes a difference" he said. "I don't like clever for no reason" said Gregg. "But I fall in love with 'clever' that delivers beautifully flavoured food" he continued, as he helped himself to another spoonful of Larkin's delicately-smoked paella.


Want to cook like a MasterChef? Then visit souschef.co.uk for smoking wizardry, cardamom, cloches... and loads of other equipment and ingredients