Wednesday, 1 July 2015

A Masterchef recipe becomes a signature dish

Pan fried sea bass with chermoula and spiced chickpeas
For one who fell at the first hurdle of Masterchef back in 1986, I found this years series possibly the best ever.Cooking doesn’t get more emotive than this.For starters there was a lesser degree of of edible pansies being brought to the plate.Far less capering about with nasturtium flowers, sprawling and climbing in an effort to escape being garnished next to a daube of boeuf.But no seriously, the three finalists who intensely battled through seven weeks of challenges all deserved to win in their own special ways.This year’s competition put together the most evenly matched, nicest group of people in recent years. They were so nice, in fact, that if I remember correctly none of them would admit to wanting to trounce their opponents.
Oldham heartthrob and father of four, Simon’s cooking sent the judges into slightly frightening raptures. "Do you know why I love you?" spluttered John Torode. It was all a bit oh my Giddy aunt when Simon´s  "tarted up posset"  sent John and Gregg a -reeling in the final.
"What this guy has learnt is lunacy" proclaimed Gregg Wallace.The comment could only leave one assuming that this was a positive thing.Coming back down to earth my heart was always with "Someone’s lovely mum" Emma, so much so throughout the entire competition I constantly wanted to recreate her dishes in my own kitchen,and that is exactly what I did.More on that story later...
To me she was one of the most consistent cooks on the show always staying true to herself right up to and including, can you believe it, the making of her own home made cous cous in the final.
Having been privileged enough to have travelled around the middle east as a child, she kept this extraordinary culinary inspiration in her back head.These middle eastern flavours brought punch and homely soul to the competition.Yes she did falter occasionally under pressure, but then wouldn´t we all. The judges were right when they said "the benchmark has been raised"
Her presentation at times lacked the refinement required to lift the lid off the trophy,but a tagine does not require namby pamby arranging, or decorating to enhance its aesthetic appeal.This is big-flavoured homely fare but of the highest level. Emma was so into the whole MasterChef process that she had lost all semblance of normal patterns of speech and could only talk in Wallace/Torode-isms. "I’m excited with a hint of nerves" she said. 
They tried to inject an essence of drama into Emma’s story as she told the camera that she’d "been to breaking point" during the whole process. (cut to footage of Emma dropping a tray of sausages on a tarmac runway ).
However poor Emma was doomed from the start, in editing terms at least, as from the word go Gregg was damning her with the faintest of praise, describing her cooking as "brave" and "heartfelt". This I assume is MasterChef code for "not gonna win any Michelin stars,love".
After weeks of deliberating, cogitating and digesting this pair of  comical  judges finally crowned their MasterChef 2015 champion, in a frenzy of herbs and hyperbole.Sadly it was not Emma.However I wanted her achievement to live on and the dish that she cooked on the show that shone through for me was a pan fried sea bass with  chermoula sauce,roasted cherry tomatoes on the vine and spiced chickpeas.I loved it so much that I have tweaked it and adapted it as a Casa Rosada signature dish.

Pan fried fillet of sea bass with chermoula sauce,a chickpea and spinach casserole and oven roasted cherry Kumatoes
The chermoula can be prepared well in  advance and kept in the fridge over night.The Chickpea casserole actually improves with standing so can also be cooked the day before,just adding the spinach when you re-heat it.
1 sea bass fillet (approx. 1lb/ 500g) per serving.
Ask your fishmonger to clean de-scale and fillet the fish or alternately if you feel confident enough, fillet and de-bone it yourself.
Butter and oil for frying

FOR THE CHICKPEAS
serves 4-6 as a side dish
350g /12 oz chickpeas,picked clean and soaked overnight in cold water
450g / 1lb fresh baby spinach
2 large onions,chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons ground cumin
4-5 garlic cloves,chopped
1 lemon
salt and freshly ground pepper
Drain and rinse the chickpeas.In a large pan,cover with plenty of water and bring to the boil.Skim,cover and cook until they are soft.This could take about an hour or more (if using a pressure cooker,about 20 minutes).Strain,but keep the liquid.
Using the same saucepan,sauté the onions in the hot oil until glistening and add the cumin and garlic.when they become aromatic,add the chick peas and enough of their reserved cooking liquid to barely cover them.Add the lemon juice,cover and simmer for about 1 hour.Towards the end of that time,or if re-heating, rinse the spinach leaves and drain them.Add the spinach,salt and a generous amount of pepper to the chickpeas.Mix well and cook for a further 15-20 minutes.
FOR THE CHERMOULA
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
! medium red chilli,finely chopped
1 clove garlic,finely chopped
zest and juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon coriander leaves,chopped
1 tablespoon parsley chopped
freshly ground black pepper
 Mix all the ingredients together in a large shallow bowl.Set aside in the refrigerator.When ready to serve warm the chermoula through gently in a small pan and pour over the top of the fish.
FOR THE ROASTED CHERRY KUMATOES
Take about 5 or six tomatoes per portion and coat them in some extra virgin olive oil.
Put them in a shallow roasting tray and cook for about 45 minutes at 200C.

When ready to serve heat a frying pan over a medium-high heat until hot then add the butter and olive oil. Place the sea bass in the pan, skin-side down, and fry for 2-3 minutes, or until the skin is crisp. Carefully turn the fish over and cook for a further minute or two, or until cooked through.
To present the dish.place a mound of the chickpea and spinach in the centre of each plate carefully lay the sea bass fillet over the top and Spoon over a coating of Chermoula.
Take the roasted tomatoes and place them alongside the fish. 

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