MasterChef Australia: The Cookbook Volume 1 is the best-selling book in Australia after its first full week on sale, making it the fastest selling illustrated cookbook opening week ever recorded on Nielsen BookScan (stats released by Random House Australia).
Yes, I was thoroughly addicted, glued to the television screen with my novice-chef glass of wine and my cooking apron knotted firmly against my spine in expectation. Yes, ancient jars of herbs and spices began tumbling out from the dim, dark recesses of my ‘cooking stuff’ cupboard soon after the series commenced. Yes, I eventually ditched the jars and went and bought fresh herbs – but even more than that… I even planted my own herbs.
I also sharpened knives. I scrubbed the great clunking wooden chopping board, hauled out from semi-retirement. I dragged gadgets out from the back of the utensil drawer that had been wedged against the backboard for all eternity. I became inspired, driven and insatiably lustful to create nightly dinners of such gastronomic worth, my family grew cutlery from their extremeties and sat expectantly at the dinner table the moment a clatter emerged from the kitchen.
Yes, Masterchef hauled me out of my spaghetti tin repertoire (ok, it wasn’t quite that bad, but almost) and birthed me like a naked culinary babe into the wonders of marinated possibility… could I? Could I create even a slip of a side dish from this mouthwatering, belly-juice-inducing television show? Could I do it?
Yes I could. Or I’d most certainly try. And try I did.
Surprisingly – as is the way with life when one applies themselves to something with passion and gusto – things tended to work. I still can’t believe I pulled off half the dishes my appreciative family devoured before me. As is also the way in life, however, once Masterchef Australia finished, my gastronomic capability seemed to drain away like a be-muslined batch of ricotta cheese. Let’s just say – last night I cooked stock standard tuna mournay with rice.
Hmmm. The puff has well and truly gone from my parboiled sails.
But never fear, tuna mournay detractors! Masterchef Australia’s fabulous new tome – The Cookbook Volume One – hits the shelves tomorrow and this tidy collection will not only delight fans of the show, it should quickly have them on the hop, back to the kitchen hob for round two of nightly inspiration. I, for one, am already planning the menu.
The Cookbook Volume One is not only inspirational when it comes to blanching, boiling and baking – it’s also a really lovely way to reconnect with favourite characters from the first series of Masterchef Australia; all twenty are featured on the back cover of the book, and in a series of wonderful photos dotted throughout the book.
A foreword by the inaugural winner, Julie Goodwin, espouses her desire that this book will refuel the appetite for home cooking, initially ignited by the TV series, and I for one, couldn’t have said it better myself. Not only will this book practically whittle your knives for you, it also most humbly acknowlegdes the amateurs amongst us by offering pages on the simple basics more competent foodies take for granted.
In Stocking Up, we’re treated to a list of basic ingredients with notes on purchasing, use and storage. I didn’t know flour should be used within nine months, but I do now (won’t even tell you how long dried herbs should be kept – too embarrassing). In Gearing Up, we learn about equipment basics – not only about kitchen and cooking equipment, but how-tos on sharpening knives, cleaning cutting boards, choosing the right pot or pan, seasoning woks and much more.
Chopping Up is my favourite part… it outlines basic knife skills (yes, I have been doing it wrong), the super-slick way to dice an onion, skin a tomato, julienne a carrot and macedoine a potato (that means how to cube it to perfection, ahem). Plating Up is also a priceless chapter. It means you can feed the eyeballs as well as the bellies of your family – and maybe even elicit an ooh or an aah, as a fragrant little side dish.
As for recipes, the book retains its basic mantra (thankfully) and offers up invaluable fundamentals that actually caused a deep sigh of relief from this reader. Finally, I have access to basic stocks, dressings, sauces and pasta dough, all in one handy book. So simple… but isn’t simplicity the cornerstone of great food? And doesn’t simplicity have a far greater pull for us reluctant cooks who suddenly find 5pm upon us like rats on a bagel?
But wait – this is by no means a ‘basic’ cookbook. I love how The Coobook opens with simplicty and then promptly expands to souffle proportions. We begin in the Vegetables section with George Calombaris’s secret to crispy chips, then we move onto the perfect roast potato, the idyllic mash and the feather we all should have in our caps – Vichyssoise. Then we get into the fan pan – recipes from the contestants themselves, starting with Brent’s Italian Vegies, Poh’s Buddha’s Delight and chef Frank Shek’s Chinese Mushroom Stir Fry.
Then we go even higher. Apprentice chef mixes with master chef beautifully as we travel through eggs and cheese (learn how to poach eggs like a real life chef!) which includes chef Martin Boetz’s eggnets and Chris’s Egg in Hell. In Poultry, we learn how to carve a chicken, how to roast it to perfection and are treated to Justine’s marvelous Duck with Sauce Aigre Douce, which she served to renowned chef Jacques Reymond – to swooning acclaim.
Seafood features helpful hints on how to shuck an oyster, fillet a fish, crack a crab and pick every precious shred from a lobster carcass. We’re also treated to Melissa’s Bug and Sage Tortellini, Lucas’s Singapore Chilli Mud Crab, among other mouthwaterings. In Meat, making a sausage is clearly explained (Kel Knight, eat your heart out), and we are treated to a meatlover’s array from Ben O’Donogue’s Seared Kangaroo with Creamed Corn to how to make your own Hong Kong suckling pig.
For sweet teeth, Desserts starts with simple pastry cream, chocolate sauce and choux pastry, and ends with the heart-stopping (for the contestants, anyway) Croquembouche – a task that shaved two years from her life, according to Poh. This mountainous creation by Adriano Zumbo will challenge even the most confident of home chefs.
Yes, Masterchef The Cookbook has it all and yes – you should be excited about it. It’s a lovely, varietal, compact and beautifully stylised tome that will have fans of the show swooning, and families all over Australia drooling over their dinner plates. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait too long before the second course. My tummy is already grumbling.
Masterchef Australia The Cookbook Volume One is published by Ebury Illustrated, an imprint of Random House, RRP AU$39.99