MasterChef 2021, Episode 8: Bracken Salts 3

Speak of the devil and he doth appear wearing his trademark scarf.
(If anyone gets this reference please let me know.)

The penultimate heats begin to draw to a close and this week we found out it is in fact possibly to curry sadness.

Signature Dishes

All aboard the lamb express because there’s two cooks who have bravely decided to take on what I think we can now safely consider the most difficult challenge in reality television.
The first of our ovine combatants is Kerry who is trying to posh up the classic Irish Stew with the addition of lavender honey and heritage carrots – which are just carrots that own land. We all know the risks of using lavender in a dish – we’ve all seen Norman on Bake Off – Kerry pulls it all off remarkably well and becomes one of the few people to successfully cook a rack of lamb on television

Put her in the BAFTA Hall of Fame!
Even with the lamb cooked to perfection the main source of praise are her little whisky glazed Turnip Balls and the Lavender Honey Jus. It was a very interesting sounding dish and would probably have been the most unique if it hadn’t been for the fact Alexina, our other Lamb Gladiator, was roasting Peanuts, Rice Krispies and Cornflakes

and before you think “this sounds like something a drunk student at 2am would make” – she’s seasoning it with cumin and coriander to make a unique take on Chevdo which is more commonly known in the UK as Bombay Mix.
Her Cereal Chevdo is being served alongside a Lamb Rump, Mustard Seed Potatoes and a Chilli Dhal

it’s a superbly executed dish and just the way Alexina talks about food and her inspirations, you can really see the excitement behind her eyes, she would make a fantastic addition to the MasterChef Winners Circle.

While the lamb dishes were a success the same can’t be said for the duck dish that was being made by Josh who within the first minute of the show had aired all of his childhood trauma

Plot twist, his dad is John Torode.
He was making a Duck a l’Orange without realising he was making a Duck a l’Orange accompanied with a Potato Croquette, Asparagus and Carrot Puree

The only real problem is the fact he had no time to rest his duck so it was still lightly bleeding like it was in an episode of a 3pm BBC medical drama and the fat hadn’t rendered enough – which I think is mainly an issue of him not realising how long the pan would take to heat up on the induction hobs. At least the croquettes were good though and he made a lovely sounding orange sauce which is better than some previous contestants managed.

Having his own resting nightmare was Jim who didn’t manage to get the resting time in for his Fillet Steak which meant it was a little bit dry and bleeding, and he may have been trying to sell the dish as Fillet Steak with a Potato Fondant but from the portion sizes it was more of a Potato Fondant with Fillet Steak, Creamy Mushrooms, Parsnip Crisps and a Red Wine Jus

It’s some real vintage MasterChef Pub Grub potato portions and in many ways we have to respect the man for it.

Lastly and certainly not leastly we have Verifiably Not a Magician Mike who is doing nothing for the misconception that The Hairy Bikers are in a relationship

You cannot convince me that he is anything but the result of Si King and Dave Myres somehow splicing together their DNA.

He’s making Ravioli/Agnolotti/Mezzelune (delete as necessary) with Squid Ink Pasta and a Langoustine and Ricotta filling and thus The Langoustine Saga begins. For his filling he has only brought in 5 langoustines which John Torode takes as some sort of personal slight and not because whoever was buying the ingredients on the production team really short changed Mike on the 5 langoustines he ordered

Those are barely scampi.
He also has quite the issue shelling them and John Torode has to step in because he could no longer take the sight of Mike ripping out the flesh like Predator ripping the spinal chord out of his victims. Sadly they fall just short of recreating the iconic pottery wheel scene from Ghost, I blame Covid.

His final dish was actually very good and accomplished for a home cook

The langoustine flavour was all but overthrown by the ricotta and the presentation is maybe a little lacking in refinement but it’s always going to be hard to make squid ink pasta not look like a bat in a bowl. While we’re talking about his pasta, it was introduced as Ravioli, John pointed out it was agnolotti but as it turns out it was Mezzelune all along. WHO’S THE EXPERT NOW TORODE?

It was quite the dominating effort on Alexina and Kerry’s part and should come as no surprise to anyone that they were the first to get their aprons

while Mike, Josh and Jim find themselves cooking again.

Favourite Ingredient Redemption Arcs

Hoping to showcase that he does actually care about the construct of time, Jim was simply pan-frying a piece of cod – the fish being his favourite ingredient, and serving it on a richly seasoned tomato stew containing chickpea and chorizo

It’s like a whole different person cooked this dish compared to his previous attempt at steak! John and Gregg both love it – he had originally planned on serving it with a crispy skin but it softened up during his basting but it’s worth sacrificing for such beautifully cooked fish.

With Josh and Mike it became a Battle of the Coconut Curries with Mike in the Chicken Thighs corner making some sort of variation of a Katsu Curry by deep-frying his chicken thighs and serving it alongside fragrant rice, a sweet coconut sauce and a kind of pointless onion bhaji

The cooking of the chicken thighs looks phenomenal – you can almost hear the crunch just looking at them. John’s a little iffy on the bhaji and the fact the curry sauce is laced with an almost lethal amount of turmeric though.

Over in the Cauliflower Corner and Josh was having what can only be dubbed The Worst Time of His Life as his curry slowly turned an ominous shade of browny-pink

the Dulux paint wall informs me it is Bracken Salts 3 if anyone wants to paint their living room wall that colour.
It does somehow manage to get worse from there as Josh takes his eye off the curry while making his pakoras and splits the coconut milk which means his curry has a weird oily layer over the top of it

I genuinely didn’t even know it was physically possible to make coconut milk split this badly, so congratulations on that scientific breakthrough Josh!
While his curry is nothing short of a disaster, his pakoras and cumin spiced flatbread are lights amidst an almost overwhelming sea of curdled chaos.

It’s an obvious pass to the next round for Jim

with some debate over whether Josh potentially showed enough skill in his flatbreads and pakoras to get him through but they eventually decide to rather forgive Mike for the extra handful of turmeric he chucked in and he gets his MasterChef apron

and Josh will now forever be stuck with his naff one reading “Dinner will be ready when you hear the fire alarm” – it is his penance for life.

The Winners’ Chamber

For the final challenge of the heat the cooks will, as usual, have to cook a 2 course meal for past MasterChef winners, Digger Dean

and Steven Wallis who is now a “trends forecaster”

and yes this has filled him with an abundance of pomposity and an ego so inflated I’m surprised it didn’t break social distancing rules.

In order to try and please the judges Kerry is hoping to impress them with the food she loves to cook including an Italian starter of Microscopic Rocket and Ricotta stuffed Ravioli

I admire her 3:1 ratio of cheese to pasta but there needs to be at least 6 ravioli on a plate if she’s going to serve them that small. They all have much the same issue with it tasting delicious but proportionally being more of a tasting menu item.
From her Italian starter Kerry is going Nigerian with her main course, using the Nigerian Suya Beef as the basis of her recipe. Suya being the skewered style of cooking any number of meats with beef being one of the most popular. The spice mix, known as Yaji, varies across Nigeria with the common ingredient being dry roasted peanuts – which is why John kept declaring “This tastes like Satay Chicken!”.
Instead of skewering her beef, Kerry was serving it as a fillet steak with a yaji sauce and a sweet potato fondant

There is a slight issue in that she didn’t have enough time to rest her steak so it’s bleeding more than Josh’s duck but everyone is fully prepared to forgive it because the dish tastes phenomenal.

Like Kerry, Alexina was also putting on a bit of an Italian showcase with a main course of saltimbocca and replacing the traditional veal with red mullet and a very generous portion of butter

This is somehow not the most butter featured on a dish this evening.
Alongside her prosciutto wrapped red mullet she’s serving crispy potatoes and 2 different purees: Butternut & Sage and Fennel & Dill

I admire the fact she managed to resist not plating up the dish so that it looked like a flag.
It’s a knock out dish that she honestly could have saved until her inevitable three course meal in the finale and it fills John with so much life that he can’t resist popping another of her crispy potatoes in his mouth with all the sass of a drag queen

That’s when you know you’ve done a brilliant job.
Keeping it Italian for dessert Alexina is making a panna cotta, and before you all groan, it’s not vanilla! She’s flavouring it with Liquorice, which is a risk considering it’s such a divisive flavour. The accompaniments are a Blackberry Curd and a Cocoa Nib Tuile

ALEXINA. It is unfair to be this good, let the others breathe!
Again, everyone loves it and there is not a single complaint.
It truly is Alexina’s world and we’re living in it.

This round saw the return of the ceviche as Mike began making his salmon version featuring 4 whole limes, a guacamole and a sesame cracker

It’s a perfectly lovely dish but does come with the obligatory “what did you actually cook though?” discussion – at least there was a cracker that cracked.

You would think that if you made such a simple started you would then really go all out for the main course, this was not the case for Mike who didn’t seem like he had done any of the main course cooking before serving his starter. It makes sense because all his dish was was a paratha with a yoghurt marinated lamb chop and an onion bhaji

I love that the arrangement of the chilli slices makes the lambchop look like The Scream by Edvard Munch.
None of it went down particularly well as several components got wafted around like a Victorian debutant’s hanky trying to catch the eye of some eligible young gentleman

Did it work Steven? Are you now engaged to The Duke of Hastings?
As for Mike’s dish, the flavours are mostly there but it’s incomplete and needs a little something more to tie it together, and Gregg’s lamb is undercooked

what a surprise!

Showing his dedication to cod Jim was cooking it again and serving it alongside leaks, bacon and enough beurre blanc sauce to give John Torode a heart attack just looking at it

I mean, there was A LOT of butter on that plate

whether it’s more than Marcus Wareing uses remains to be seen

I’ll never let that go.
His cod isn’t as perfect as it was in his previous dish but it’s by a matter of seconds and I doubt anyone would send it back to the kitchen. It is just a very rich dish and it was only getting richer with his Chocolate Brownie, and just look at the malevolent butteriness of it as he swirled it around his tin

I both want it and fear it immensely.
The final product of his Chocolate and Walnut Brownie with Salted Caramel, Vanilla Cream and Orange Liqueur Soaked Strawberries was the mammoth portion it deserved to be

I have nothing but respect for Jim and his portion sizes. Once again it all tastes incredible but it’s so rich and overwhelming that John just about has a religious experience while eating it

He saw the face of God and it was a brownie.

It would have been hard for anyone to withstand the dominating forces that are Alexina and Kerry who are inevitably the last of this week’s quarter-finalists

I truly can’t wait to see what Alexina cooks in the future.

As for the guys, it’s a sad farewell to Jim and Mike, but if you were as taken by Mike’s charm and charisma as most of Twitter was, you can check out his Instagram page here – he is nothing but a delight and has cooked some really great stuff.

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