food

ROADTEST: 'I cooked three MasterChef recipes from this season. Here's exactly how it went.'

I love MasterChef.

I love the judges – Melissa, Jock and Andy – the contestants, and of course, I love the food.

Despite growing up with the reality cooking show and watching the occasional episodes here and there, like many of us, I only really got into it when the pandemic began.

There were new judges, familiar faces returning, and four to five nights of guaranteed wholesome entertainment – it was the perfect distraction from the world crumbling outside.

Watch me attend the MasterChef media event and cook with... Jock Zonfrillo! Post continues below.


Video via Channel 10.

I'm also a big foodie but couldn't cook to save my life (my speciality used to be eggs on toast) – so all that time watching the pros whip up dishes under pressure taught me a thing or two.

This season, I challenged myself to make three dishes the contestants created on the show, because naïve old me thought it wouldn't be that hard. 

Here's exactly how it all went.

1. Julie Goodwin's Prawn and Chorizo Paella.

Image: Supplied/Channel 10.

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The first dish I had to try to recreate was Julie Goodwin's Prawn and Chorizo Paella. 

I love chorizo, I love prawns, and I love rice – so cooking a one-pot dish with all three in it was a no-brainer.

There was only one slight problem: I've never eaten or cooked paella.

But that didn't deter me! I bought all the ingredients and got to work. And honestly, it was pretty damn simple.

We are ON. Image: Supplied.

Similar to making a slow-cooked dish like ragu, all I had to do was cook the protein, dice up the veggies and let the ingredients simmer in the stock and rice for 45 minutes. I didn't make the anchovy crumb, but it was just as good without. 

The recipe was so easy to follow. I've made it twice now and my boyfriend constantly requests we make it for dinner (clearly a winner!).

And yes, it was DELICIOUS. Thanks, Julie!

Call me a paella pro now. Image: Supplied.

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Here's the recipe if you want to try it too.

Julie's Prawn and Chorizo Paella.

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

Paella:

  • 1 (100g) chorizo, sliced 5mm thick
  • 8 (250g) green king prawns, head and tail intact, body peeled, de-veined
  • 2 small leeks, white and pale green parts cut into 1cm rounds
  • 1.5L chicken stock
  • ¼ tsp saffron threads
  • 2 ripe red tomatoes 
  • 1 medium brown onion, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 1 red capsicum, seeded and chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 2/3 cups Carnaroli or Arborio rice
  • ½ cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
  • 2 lemons, cut into wedges
  • Extra virgin olive oil for frying and serving

Anchovy Breadcrumbs:

  • 1 large ciabatta roll, cut into 2cm cubes
  • 1 tin (47.5g) quality anchovies
  • Oil, for deep frying
  • Sea salt flakes

Method:

1. Heat a paella pan, large shallow chef’s pan or frypan over medium-high heat. Cook the chorizo slices for a minute each side or until golden brown. Transfer to a bowl, reserving oil in the pan.

2. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan. Sauté the prawns briefly until golden and just cooked through. Remove from the pan.

3. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and add half of the leeks slices. Cook until they are browned on one side. Carefully remove from the pan and set aside.

4. Meanwhile, bring the chicken stock and saffron to the boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer.

5. Prepare the sofrito: place the tomatoes, onion, capsicum, the other half of the leek and garlic into a food processor and puree until smooth. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the pan and then the sofrito. Stir over low-medium heat until most of the moisture has evaporated, about 7-8 minutes. Add the paprika and stir for a further minute. Add the rice and stir thoroughly.

6. Pour in one third of the hot stock and stir well. Add the chorizo and distribute evenly in the pan. Add the remaining stock. Cook, without stirring, for around 40-45 minutes on low heat or 25 minutes on a higher heat. When the rice is cooked through, remove the pan from the heat.

7. For the anchovy breadcrumbs, heat oil in a deep fryer to 180 degrees Celsius.

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8. Add the cubes of bread and fry until golden brown. Remove from the oil and place into a bowl lined with paper towel. Sprinkle with salt and set aside to cool. Break down into smaller pieces by hand or in a food processor.

9. Place half of the anchovies with the oil from the tin into a frypan and place over low-medium heat. Fry gently until the anchovies disintegrate. Pour over the breadcrumbs. Finely chop the remaining half of the anchovies and add to the bowl of crumbs. Mix well with a spoon.

10. To serve, arrange the prawns around the frypan, nestling them into the rice. Place the leeks around the pan. Sprinkle parsley over the top, and some finely shredded tops from the leeks, if desired. Pile the anchovy breadcrumbs into the centre of the pan. Drizzle generously with olive oil, and garnish with parsley and lemon wedges.

11. Enjoy!

2. Chris Tran's Steamed Snapper, Ginger Shallot Oil, Jasmine Rice and Chinese Broccoli.

Image: Supplied/Channel 10.

The next dish I attempted was Chris Tran's steamed snapper with ginger shallot oil. I mostly cook Asian dishes when I'm in the kitchen, so this one sounded pretty simple.

...But it was not.

See, the recipe requires you to use a steamer, and I do not own one of those. So, I made do and created my own with a pot, aluminum trays, baking paper and elastic bands. 

Do not try this at home. Image: Supplied.

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Don't do this – just buy the bamboo steamer. They don't cost much and they'll save you a whole lotta time transferring the whole fish into a fry pan. 

Oh, and you won't have elastic bands flinging at you when they get too hot and break.

But despite the chaos in the kitchen, this dish ended up being delicious.

It was light yet filling and if I owned a steamer, I would 100 per cent make it again.

Thanks, Chris!

10/10 for taste. 7/10 for difficulty. Image: Supplied.

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Here's the recipe if you want to try it too.

Chris' Steamed Snapper, Ginger Shallot Oil, Jasmine Rice and Chinese Broccoli.

Serves: 3-4

Ingredients:

Jasmine Rice:

  • 1 cup jasmine rice, washed and drained
  • 1 ½ cups water

White Soy, Ginger and Spring Onion Snapper:

  • 1/3 cup white soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 ½ tsp caster sugar
  • 1 whole plate size (700g) snapper 
  • 6 tbsp vegetable oil
  • thumb size piece ginger, peeled and julienne
  • 1 spring onion, julienne
  • small bunch coriander, leaves roughly chopped
  • 1 bird’s eye chilli, thinly sliced

Chinese Broccoli with Garlic Oil:

  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 bunch Chinese Broccoli, cut into individual stems 

Method:

1. For the jasmine rice, place rice and water into a saucepan and cook according to package directions.

2. Uncover and fluff the rice using a plastic or wooden paddle/spoon. Keep covered until ready to serve.

3. For the steamed snapper, bring a wok of water to the boil.

4. Combine white soy sauce, water and sugar into a bowl and mix until sugar has dissolved. Set aside.

5. Score the snapper, place on a plate then into a large bamboo steamer. Cover and steam for 9-12 minutes.

6. Remove the fish from the steamer and carefully place onto a serving plate.

7. In the meantime, place two tablespoons of vegetable oil and half of the ginger into a small saucepan over medium-high heat. When the ginger starts to sizzle, add remaining vegetable oil and white parts of the spring onion.

8. When the onion starts to sizzle vigorously, pour in the white soy sauce mixture and bring to a simmer.

9. Remove from the heat and pour hot dressing over the steamed snapper.

10. Garnish with coriander leaves, spring onion and chilli. 

11. For the Chinese Broccoli, place oil into a large frypan over medium-high heat.

12. Add garlic and sauté for 15 seconds, until garlic starts to lightly brown.

13. Add Chinese broccoli and coat evenly in the oil and garlic, until the leaves and stems turn a vibrant green. Season with salt and transfer to a serving bowl. Serve alongside the snapper and rice.

3. Aldo's Melanzane a Scarpone.

Image: Supplied/Channel 10.

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The final recipe I wanted to try was Aldo's Melanzane a Scarpone – meaning boot-shaped aubergines.

According to the recipe on Channel 10, the "dish from Naples is simple yet scrumptious".

Simple? Absolutely not.

This recipe reminded me very quickly that I'm not, in fact, a chef. Not even close.

It was HARD. There are a lot of elements involved, and no one mentioned it would take close to two hours to make.

Before this recipe almost defeated me. Image: Supplied.

But again, I soldiered on and tried techniques I've never attempted before – deep frying, making salsa verde and being very patient. 

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Note: I used store-bought ricotta because today was not the day I learnt how to make cheese, too.

By the time I finished at almost 8.30pm, it was honestly all worth it. The flavours (taken from Maggie Beer's mystery box) worked so well together and went down a treat.

It was also the most requested recipe when I posted it to my Instagram, so clearly the effort paid off!

After! That was tough. Image: Supplied.

I now have another vegetarian dish to add to my repertoire. Thanks, Aldo!

Here's the recipe if you want to attempt it too.

Aldo's Melanzane a Scarpone:

Serves: 4

Ingredients: 

Ricotta:

  • 1 L full cream milk
  • 2 tbsp white vinegar
  • 2 tbsp thickened cream

Eggplant:

  • 2 small graffiti eggplant
  • 1L vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp vincotto
  • 1 tbsp verjuice
  • 2 sprigs thyme

Eggplant Filling:

  • 3 tbsp capers
  • 1 graffiti eggplant
  • 4 sprigs parsley
  • ½ tsp smoked paprika
  • 6 prunes, pitted
  • 100g toasted pistachios

Salsa Verde:

  • ¼ bunch parsley
  • 100ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 100ml verjuice
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius fan forced. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil, then remove from the heat.

2. For the Ricotta, place the milk into a small saucepan over medium heat. When just below boiling point, add vinegar and stir gently for 20 seconds. Remove from the heat, cover with a lid and set aside for 15 minutes. Pour through a lined sieve and discard the whey. Place the sieve over a deep bowl and place in the fridge to further strain and cool for at least 30 minutes.

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3. Gently squeeze the ricotta to remove liquid then place into a small food processor. Process until smooth. Add 1 tablespoon of the cream at a time and process until well combined. Season with salt then transfer to a piping bag. Set aside in the fridge.

4. For the Eggplant, cut each eggplant in half lengthwise and scoop out the centres. Immediately place eggplants and flesh into the salted water for 3-4 seconds then remove from the water and drain on paper towel. Pat with extra paper towel to ensure eggplants and flesh are dry.

5. Heat oil in a deep saucepan or deep fryer to 170 degrees Celsius.

6. Add the eggplant and flesh and cook for four minutes. Remove from the oil and place onto paper towel until cool. Reserve oil for later use.

7. Combine the vincotto and verjuice in a small bowl. Brush the eggplant with the mixture and sprinkle with thyme leaves and season well with salt. Bake for 20 minutes, turning every five minutes, until eggplant is tender and browned. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool while preparing the filling.

8. For the Eggplant Filling, heat reserved oil to 180 degrees Celsius.

9. Add the capers and fry until crispy, about one minute. Remove from the oil and drain on a paper towel.

10. Trim the stem and base from the eggplant. Cut away the skin and dice the flesh into 4mm cubes. Add to the oil and fry until golden and soft, no more than two minutes. Transfer to paper towel to drain then place into a bowl. Add chopped fried eggplant centres, parsley, fried capers, paprika and salt. Dice prunes to the same size as the fried eggplant and roughly chop the pistachios. Combine with the eggplant by hand. Season with salt to taste and set aside.

11. For the salsa verde, using a mortar and pestle, pound the parsley then add half of the olive oil and verjuice. Continue to mix until emulsified. Add remaining verjuice and salt then add remaining olive oil, a little at a time, until combined to the consistency of pouring cream. Transfer to a small serving bowl.

12. To serve, pipe a 1cm thick layer of ricotta into the cavity of each eggplant shell. Spoon in the filling in a generous pile. Place onto a serving plate and serve with the salsa verde on the side.

Which MasterChef recipe will you try make first? Let me know in the comments!

From more from Charlie, including her making more recipes like this, follow her on Instagram.

Feature image: Supplied.

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