Last year, I found myself at a dinner where Renae Smith, MasterChef Australia contestant from Season 6 was cooking. Our 3-course meal started with her beetroot and sage tart that she had cooked on the show too, followed by a Harissa Kingfish (options of lentils and chicken) with roasted vegetables, and an orange syrup cake for dessert. More than the food, it was the experience of being hosted by a bona fide ex-MasterChef chef that is memorable.
The dinner was not arranged in any part of Australia; it was in the tony suburb of Kalyani Nagar, Pune in India. MasterChef Australia is a roaring hit with television viewers in India, and even Gary Mehigan, one of the affable judges on the show acknowledges this. He says he and his fellow judges from the show, Matt Preston and George Calombaris, “(have) been mobbed and chased down the road by fans on motor scooters.”
This, in spite of the show hitting our screens much later after the airing in Australia and other Commonwealth nations. Despite the contenders cooking with some very strange ingredients, totally unfamiliar to us in our side of the world. Notwithstanding having access to the official Indian version of MasterChef, even though it holds the attention of a much smaller audience.
We sure love MasterChef Australia. And since finals week is here, we’ve come up with 2 seafood meals designed around the MC Aus theme—an easy-to-do, yet MasterChef-level 4-course meal, and a slightly more complex repast, complete with a palate cleanser. Each recipe comes from the show, has been cooked by a contestant in a test, or by a professional chef in a challenge, or by a judge in a masterclass. The meals have been designed to include recipes that are not very complex in nature, nor do require components not easily available locally. The recipes have been culled from various seasons of MasterChef Australia, and are curated to showcase seafood in a multi course meal. The ingredients for each are easily sourced from stores and markets around. The wine pairing suggestions may be tweaked to your own liking. Both meals hero seafood; right from plump prawns to succulent squid, with lobster, tuna and snapper dishes. Since the judges lay such great emphasis on the freshness and quality of produce, make sure you procure the best ingredients around. For great seafood, you always have Fishvish
The Cheat’s Guide to a MasterChef Australia Meal
Stuffed Squid Pizzaiola Style
Start your easy peasy meal with a pizza-style stuffed squid that comes from Antonio Carluccio, the ‘godfather of Italian gastronomy’. Soft squid tubesare stuffed with squid tentacles and pine nuts, and parmesan. These are then simmered with tomatoes and oregano. Canned oil-packed anchovies can be found at the supermarket; these pack in a lot of umami, with the tomatoes and parmesan doing their bit.
This colourful first course is a sort of bruschetta, one that takes place on an avocado toast. This is topped with classic chilli garlic prawns. A spoonful of sweet sour cherry tomatoes and onions makes up for the final layer. Quick and delish, this is great if you’re careful not to overcook the prawns, since they continue to cook even after you’ve turned off the heat.
This elegant dish uses a total of 12 ingredients, 3 of those being oil, butter and seasoning—unthinkable for a dish that comes from Masterchef, right? What is cut down in effort is more than made up in terms of flavour; fresh, smooth tomato sauce meets butter-fried lobster, which together along with crumbed, deep-fried egg yolks throw a party for your mouth. Easy enough to make even on an indulgent week night, you’ll want to hold on to the recipe way past finals week.
Angelic Cheat’s Cake with Devilish Chilli Lime Syrup
Flamboyant (did anybody miss the fuchsia suit he was wearing last week?) and fussy Matt Cravat, er, Preston presents a no-bake cake. No seriously, total prep and cooking time for this hassle-less dessert is 20 minutes tops (not including refrigeration time). And the yin yang of sweet, Asian-inspired limey mousse with chilli syrup brightens up a meal like nothing else.
Not that that this easy seafood meal needs much to shine; you’ll be fighting off your dining companions for seconds.
Start this Asian-themed spread with this marinated-grilled-tuna-meets-som-tum, a fresh dish that brings classic flavours from Japan and Thailand. Meaty tuna steaks get flash-grilled, just lightly seared on each side. These are then placed on hot, sweet, tangy shreds of green papaya, cherry tomatoes and blanched snake beans. The dish is finished off with toasted peanuts, like any self-respecting som tum would be.
Thai Red Prawns with Coconut Lemongrass Panna Cotta
Is this a first course or have you headed straight to dessert, you may wonder. It’s just how things are done at MasterChef—shake up ingredients, cooking techniques, plating and dishes so your diners sit up and take notice. From contestant Brent Owens, this recipe embraces the Asian theme fully; there’s a soft coconut and lemongrass panna cotta, there’s prawnstossed in a paste of aromatic Asian staples, that goes on to be cleverly made into a vinaigrette, grilled mango cheeks and toasted cashews. If that is a mouthful of words, imagine what a mouthful of the dish would do. Now pick a day for the meal, you’ve got to push.
Of course, 2 dishes into the meal, each a blowup of myriad flavours, you would need to erase the tongue of all current memories, to prepare for the next course. Its palate cleansing abilities may be debatable, but there’s no denying this popsicle delivers on its promised Vietnamese flavours of fish-sauce salty, sweet, tangy and hot, all in an iced block. These really should be featured on menus of Asian places around, you could always do with a refreshing lick.
A stunning way to present beautiful fish, this recipe doesn’t need hours of work; sure, a little technique is called for to make the crunchy almond praline, but nothing that’ll faze amateur cooks. If you don’t have snapper wings around, feel free to leave them out. The praline crumb brings enough of a crisp texture, so the former won’t be missed too much. The pineapple roasted with ginger, chilli, coriander and butter adds a bit of a tasty surprise element. Serve on a black platter for a true MasterChef experience.
What a better way to end a Asian-themed MasterChef seafood meal than a Zen-sounding dessert called Ginger Pond? A mousse-like soft chocolate, made with dark and milk chocolate, is capped with a ginger ice lolly made into a disk, with a spiced ginger crumb strewn atop.
A superb ending to a perfectly elegant, spectacular-looking meal that celebrates the joy of seafood. ‘Yum’, as George would say.