What are the skills that can give the most basic cook a professional sheen? Monica Galetti, who judges MasterChef: the Professionals, reveals her top three secrets to being better in the kitchen – and the mistakes most commonly made.
1. Stay sharp about knives
“People are afraid of large knives, so I tend to tell people who are not professional chefs that they only need two knives – a small vegetable knife, which is pretty much good for everything, and a medium-sized kitchen knife to go with it.
“If you start really getting into butchery and filleting fish, then you would look to buy a boning knife or filleting knife. But make sure you concentrate when using those knives.
“Once I was doing a cooking demonstration and I chopped off the top of my thumb while showing a little girl how to cut things properly. I threw my thumb in the bin because I didn’t want to scare the child and then the paramedics had to delve it out. It was horrifically painful – I was screaming for hours.”
2. Perfect pastry
“Use icing sugar to make very fine, delicate pastry and don’t overwork it. The more you knead and mix it, the tougher it’ll become.
“It should be like a biscuit base with just a sort of crumble and will melt in your mouth. The same goes for shortbread: don’t overwork it because you want it to break easily.”
3. No-lump custard
“The main mistake people make with custard is not cooking it properly, so it’s still watery and the eggs haven’t thickened it up.
“Equally, overcooking custard means it curdles and goes lumpy. You’ve got to have great eggs to start with, and make sure your saucepan is absolutely clean. Then make sure you control the heat – if it’s too hot it’ll scramble the eggs.”
MasterChef: the Professionals returns Tuesday—Thursday, 8:00pm BBC2