Tea towels at full mast, the international signal of culinary distress.
Welcome to the semi-finals where things are getting fishy and there’s not mushroom for anyone to make even the tiniest of mistakes.
Fishing For Compliments
As it’s the semi-final Mary has upped the difficult of the Ultimate Challenge and tasked the cooks with making their Ultimate Friday Fish Dinner – the real difficulty is that the cooks will be having to fillet their own fish and inexplicably 3 of the 4 celebs all chose flat fish which are notoriously difficult – we’ve seen many a professional chef on MasterChef lose their spot in the competition to the enigma that is a turbot – not that this show’s budget could extend to a turbot. Instead Ed Balls landed himself a gigantic salmon
Tom and Rachel found themselves wrestling with, in the words of one Tom Read Wilson, “A hunkatron of a fish” in their Plaice
and Ferne was going toe-to-toe with a lemon sole.
Tom was the most confident with the filleting process because, slightly unsurprisingly, he does this on the regular while Rachel is bluffing her way through it after watching YouTube videos for the entire night (I once learned how to do taxidermy on YouTube but the videos got removed last year for “violating the YouTube Decency Rules”) but she does a very good job even with Angela watching her like a hawk.
Ferne meanwhile has brought in a cheat card with an incredibly detailed and helpful diagram
Whether it’s telling you how to fillet a fish or kill a fish remains to be said. She had a slight mishap in the early stages of her filleting and whines “Can I have another lemon sole?” as though they just had a tank of them in the backroom where they keep the hand sanitizer. As it turns out all she had to do was pluck a few bones out of her fillet and Ferne was not handling the pressure of the semi-final very well.
While they all contend with their flat fish Ed got on pretty badly with salmon and pulled this face throughout his filleting
and left so much of the meat on the bones that the production crew actually made him go and show it to Mary as some sort of penance for his fishy crimes
Nobody else was put through this humiliation.
Balls’s woes didn’t stop there as once again he was being ever the overachiever and had decided to make his own pastry his Salmon en Croute with a Hollandaise Sauce, a green been potato salad and an inexplicable side dish of Salmon and Prawn Toast.
It was a lot to do and it didn’t help his time management that his pastry was too dry at first and needed a touch more milk but also his cover of the salmon fillet was a bit of a hodge-podge
I always love to wrap my salmon in a patchwork pastry quilt.
But it was his Hollandaise Sauce that gave him the most trouble as he committed the cardinal sin of declaring it “an easy sauce to make” before it promptly went wrong and split and all this happened while Mary Berry ominously loomed over him on the balcony
and oh did she take great pleasure in telling Ed Balls that his Hollandaise Sauce was not a Hollandaise sauce at all
SAVAGERY. That “is it?” will echo through time immemorial.
She later declared it “a nicely flavoured, gently curdled butter” and yet despite the misgivings about the sauce it was enough for Mary to declare it her favourite dish
Honestly, find someone that loves you despite your numerous and many faults like Mary Berry loves Ed Balls.
He wasn’t the only one with a concerning sauce as Tom kept adding more and more liquids to his white wine and cream sauce and threatening to give it an incredibly thin and insubstantial consistency but while Mary and Angela quibbled about Tom’s sauce Chris Bavin had taken an irrational grudge against the mere existence of the salsa and courgette salad that rachel was serving alongside her Blackened Plaice, which she claimed was black because the spices but I think it may have been black for another reason
That is the Joan of Arc of fish.
Her final dish is a lot to take in
I don’t think the salsa and courgettes are as out of place as Chris made out – it’s a cajun recipe and salsa would help cut some of the spices (you can also find this entire recipe in The Independent by the way). The fact she left the skin on draws the most ire from Mary and Angela. I was personally more concerned that she called gherkins “capers”
Tom also chose to leave the skin on for his Plaice, Lemony Potatoes and the aforementioned concerning sauce that turned out to be quite the success for him – and not just because it earned him a little wink from Chris which got Tom all a bit hot and bothered
Especially in teal! The man is a walking piece of art and I am all in on Team Tom because I’m not sure I can deal with Ed Balls dining out on the win and ANYONE BUT RACHEL JOHNSON. Even if she does say “mummy” far too much.
His final dish goes down very well
or it mostly does, Mary would have preferred crispier potatoes and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that they were soggy because he dowsed them in lemon three times – I’m more shocked the judges didn’t turn inside out when they ate them.
Lastly we have Ferne who went for a lighter approach to the challenge by serving celeriac, which barely qualifies as a carb, alongside her poached lemon sole and pickled vegetable salad. Mary seemed particularly disgusted by the dish and repeatedly moaned throughout the episode that she’d have preferred Ferne to have made a celeriac puree because you know, everyone makes a puree when cooking a home cooked fish supper.
Her dish is definitely the best presented of the bunch, something that Ferne always excels at
and the judges were impressed by her interpretation of the brief and the fact despite the risky pickle side dish the lemon sole still manages to be the star of the show.
An Arbitrary Fish Supper Ranking
- Ferne’s Lighter Fish Supper
- Tom’s Mummy’s Plaice
- Ed Balls’s Salmon en Contretemps
- Rachel, that was just burnt fish.
Mary somehow managed to insist that Ed Balls, the main that curdled butter and called it a sauce, was her favourite dish while Chris opted for Ferne and rather excitingly Tom scored his first Judge’s Favourite from Angela! And then the next day Ferne (AND DEFINITELY NOT PRODUCTION) organised a little surprise celebration for his achievement which wasn’t at all patronising
and Rachel Johnson definitely wanted to be a part of – the only redeeming part of Rachel Johnson’s casting is how obviously uncomfortable she is with doing any of the “reality TV bits” like the cringey love hearts and the canned to camera bits – it at least means she might have been scared off doing Strictly any time soon.
There’s Not Mushroom For Error
For this week’s Rustle Up Challenge the celebrities will be contending with one of the most divisive foods known to man, we are of course talking about…
It’s actually a bag of mushrooms which Chris tells us were a favourite of Egyptian royalty – although what he didn’t quite specify was that this fact mainly refers to the ancient Egyptian’s fondness for psychedelic mushrooms and that would be a VERY different challenge – although one I would be eager to see someday, just imagine Ed Balls tripping balls.
To make this challenge even harder they have further stripped back the cooks’ larders which I expected to mean they’d find half a carrot, a sad bag of celery you bought two weeks ago to make spag bol and only used three stalks, maybe some damp ham, a can of passata and some door keys from that drawer of assorted miscellanea that every house has. Instead it means that they are once again going vegetarian, they’ve been slapped with a two egg limit and the cornflour has been taken away to prevent anyone making mushroom custard – I’M LOOKING AT YOU ED BALLS.
As a test of bravery the risotto rice has also been taken away and replaced with pearl barley and both Ferne and Rachel immediately fall for this sand trap despite both never having cooked the stuff in their lives. Rachel was opting for a simple Mushroom Pearl Barley Risotto and once she realised it was a little too simple she decided she was going to serve a stuffed mushroom on the side – which was pretty much everyone’s tactic except for Tom who went with his Rustle Up default and was going to bake the mystery ingredient into bread and serve it alongside what he had dubbed “a cassanoff” because it was too distant a cousin from a Stroganoff because it had no Worcester Sauce or Brandy in it
and despite the bread having the density of osmium the mushroom stew goes down so well that Chris Bavin is very happy to declare it his dish of the competition which I fully imagine Tom has taken as a marriage proposal.
Back over in Pearl Barley Hell and Ferne has changed tact halfway through the time, which isn’t a surprise considering earlier she got very distracted by a cat during one of her to-camera pieces
and honestly incredible bit of highly relatable television.
She changes her mind about the bed of pearl barley and decides she’s going to serve her stroganoff on toast alongside a mushroom that she is sceptically stuffing with cheese, but don’t worry the pearl barley still makes its way onto the plate by being shoved into the stuffed mushrooms to make what looks like the most threatening plate of food I have ever seen
That is a declaration of war!
The judges aren’t wowed by any particular part of it – least of all the dry pearl barley but the stroganoff is a perfectly passable plate of food.
While Ferne dithered about whether or not to include a kick of chilli in her mushrooms, Rachel was quickly realising how simple her dishes seemed and just decided to scatter a whole load of raw hazelnuts on the plate because that’s what all the professional chefs on MasterChef were doing last year
Her pearl barley risotto gets the ringing endorsement of “it’s a nice attempt at a risotto”
and then Mary kind of just prods the bottom of what is somehow an absolutely raw mushroom after having been in the oven for 20 minutes
It’s honestly quite an incredible culinary feat, not in a very good way but a feat none the less.
Of course while everyone else was making a scrappy main dish and lobbing some form of a stuffed mushroom on the side Ed Balls was creating a three piece meal including a mushroom and leek soup that you sure did know was a mushroom soup from the unappetising grey colour and alarmingly thick texture
I don’t think mushroom soup will ever look appetising but what’s making it worse is that it’s hard to tell where the soup ends and the tea cup that he weirdly chose to serve it in begins.
There was also some mushrooms on toast and a schismatic tortilla
Which personally I don’t believe should exist in the first place, least of all with Chris Bavin trying to call it a Spanish Omelette but Chris and Angela believe it could have been saved with less potato and more mushroom – some people just love chaos apparently.
And because they didn’t like his tortilla and Mary thought his mushroom’s on toast were just… well, mushrooms on toast Ed pulls an almighty wooby face
Bet you wished you hadn’t finished 5 minutes early now!
An Arbitrary Mushroom Dish Ranking
- Tom’s Long Lost Stroganoff
- Rachel’s Risotto Attempt
- Ferne’s Pearl Barley Sand Trap
- Ed Balls’s Three Plate Clanger
The only person to secure an automatic pass to the final was Tom while Ferne, Rachel and Ed all find themselves in a 40 minute battle to produce 5 crab ravioli – I cannot believe it is 2021 and we are still going over the fact it is 1 raviolo and multiple ravioli – “raviolis” is NOT A WORD and I will one day die on this pedantic hill.
The cooks have been granted absolutely no help with this task as they will have to make their own pasta from scratch which given the fact none of them had ever done it before resulted in some exceptionally good pasta, Balls suffered a slight mishap when he forgot to pull it while rolling it through and it all ended up sticking sticking into one wrinkled mound, kind of like one of those hairless cats
but despite that set back he still managed to produce a full plate of pasta that may have been called the weakest of the three but there was at least 5 ravioli on the plate as well as a puree with the texture of porridge
Ferne on the other hand was having a complete nightmare and entirely lost her mind in the middle of the challenge and entirely forgot what an egg wash was
It was a difficult task to watch as Ferne rapidly ran out of time, with 30 seconds remaining she still had 30 seconds on her pasta cooking time and all she could do was pull this panicked face as her ravioli simmered away
and in the end all she could get onto the plate were three of the required 5 ravioli
And she knew she was doomed and wilted into the chair and even more upsettingly nobody could hug her due to the social distancing regulations.
This was made all the more bitter by the fact Rachel just sailed through the challenge without even the slightest hiccup beyond not quite knowing how much ginger “a knob” is. And so for her ungenerous pasta portion Ferne finishes in a firm 4th place
I think Ferne of everyone was the contestant I warmed to the most – it’s hard to know how someone from TOWIE will come across on shows outside of the Essex Oeuvre but she was quite the delight.
And so 3 finalists remain