In the Kitchen
These 10 recipes could change your life - for the better. They'll give you confidence in the kitchen and comfort at the table. They'll help you win friends and influence people. Who needs social-media hashtags when you can make the perfect #tartetatin?
We're not talking about one-night-only showoff cooking, such as whipping up Peter Gilmore's snow egg dessert, or Tetsuya Wakuda's perfect confit of ocean trout. We're talking about recipes we should all know inside-out and upside-down, recipes our mothers should have taught us, and we should teach our children, and our partners. These are the mother recipes, the ones you want to cook time and again, the ones that pass on the skills, techniques and accumulated instinct that are the foundation of all good cooking.
Take the omelet. Everyone knows how to make an omelet, right? But the perfect omelet? That takes time - and a helpful recipe.
I've learnt from the best chefs and country home cooks and I've picked up a couple of tricks along the way. So although the recipes here are mine, I share them with a long line of wonderfully skilled and generous teachers from around the world. Each recipe comes with a tip from one of the greats - the sort of wise or helpful thing they might say if they were standing next to you in the kitchen.
If you can cook these recipes well, you can cook anything.
1. MA PO TOFU
WHAT YOU LEARN: Meat can be an accompaniment and not the main attraction; Chinese chilli bean sauce is wonderful to keep in the fridge; and Sichuan peppercorns are both fiery and numbing, a totally different taste sensation.
500g fresh bean curd, drained
2 tsp cornflour
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice wine
350g coarsely minced pork
2 Tbsp peanut oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 red chilli, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp ginger, finely grated
3 green onions, finely chopped
2 Tbsp chilli soy bean sauce (from Asian food stores)
1/2 tsp sugar
125ml chicken stock or water
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp Sichuan peppercorns, ground
6 sprigs coriander
Cut bean curd into bite-sized cubes and blanch in a pan of lightly simmering salted water for 30 seconds. Drain and set aside.
Mix cornflour in one tablespoon of soy and one tablespoon rice wine. Add pork and mix well. Heat wok, then add oil, swirling to coat. When hot, add garlic, chilli and ginger, tossing well.
Add pork and stir-fry for three minutes until browned, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Add half the green onions, chilli soy bean sauce, sugar, remaining soy sauce and rice wine, stirring well. Add stock or water and simmer, stirring, for five minutes.
Add drained beancurd, folding through gently to coat and simmer for two minutes. Stir in remaining green onions and spoon into a warmed serving bowl. Drizzle with sesame oil and scatter with Sichuan pepper and coriander. Serve with steamed rice. Serves four.
TOP TIP: Cookery writer Elizabeth Chong suggests roasting the peppercorns over low heat in a dry wok until fragrant, then roughly crushing before use.
WHAT YOU LEARN: Vegetables are the foundation of all good dishes; slow cooking creates depth of flavour; correct seasoning is crucial to satisfying eating; and the best of all minestrone variations is alla Genovese, finished with pesto.
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 celery stalks, sliced
2 leeks, sliced
2 carrots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
300g potatoes, diced
1.5lt boiling water or stock
Sea salt and pepper
50g small maccheroncini or dried soup pasta
400g canned chopped tomatoes
1 Tbsp tomato paste
400g tinned borlotti beans, rinsed
200g silverbeet leaves, roughly chopped
2 zucchini, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp pesto
2 Tbsp grated parmesan
Heat olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed stockpot, add celery, leeks, carrots and garlic. Cook over gentle heat for 10 minutes.
Add potatoes and water or stock and bring to the boil, skimming surface if necessary. Lower heat, add salt and pepper and simmer, partly covered, for 20 minutes.
Cook pasta in a pot of simmering salted water until al dente, then drain.
Add tomatoes, tomato paste, beans and silverbeet leaves to soup and simmer 10 minutes. Add zucchini and simmer for 10 minutes or until the soup is nice and thick (mash a few of the beans to thicken it further).
Add pasta and heat through. Serve in warm pasta bowls and top with a spoonful of pesto, grated parmesan and extra pepper. Serves four.
TOP TIP: Jamie Oliver suggests using up all those half-used bags of pasta at the back of your cupboard.
3. A GREAT ROAST CHICKEN
WHAT YOU LEARN: A great roast starts with the bird, so buy the best you can; trussing the legs gives a good shape; garlic, herbs and butter add flavour; roast the vegetables at the same time.
1 fresh chicken, about 1.6kg
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 Tbsp butter
Sea salt and black pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
3 desiree potatoes, peeled
12 baby carrots, peeled
12 eschallots, peeled, left whole
2 Tbsp olive oil
Heat oven to 220C. Clean chicken and wipe dry. Tuck lemon, two garlic cloves and two thyme sprigs into the cavity, and tie legs together with kitchen string. Coat chicken with dabs of butter, scatter with sea salt, pepper and oregano, and place in a lightly oiled baking tray.
Cut potatoes in half lengthways and cut each half lengthways into three wedges. Coat potatoes, carrots, eschallots and remaining garlic cloves in olive oil, and arrange on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Strew with half the remaining thyme and half the rosemary and bake for one hour in the oven with the chicken.
Roast the chicken breast-side down for 15 minutes, then turn breast upwards and roast for a further 45 minutes, until the skin is golden and the juices run clear when pierced. Rest chicken for five minutes.
To carve, remove legs and cut leg joints in two, then slice breast meat at a slight angle. Serve with vegetables, watercress and remaining thyme and rosemary. Serves four.
TOP TIP: British chef Heston Blumenthal suggests seasoning the bird generously inside and out with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
4. CREAMY POTATO GRATIN
WHAT YOU LEARN: To turn potatoes into a beautiful, bubbling gratin Dauphinoise; to balance cooking time and temperature for perfectly cooked potatoes with a scorchy, deliciously caramelised crust.
1 garlic clove, cut in half
2 tsp butter
1kg desiree potatoes
Freshly grated nutmeg
50g grated parmesan or gruyere
Sea salt and black pepper
Heat oven to 200C. Rub cut garlic around base and sides of a shallow one-litre gratin dish, then lightly grease with butter. Peel and finely slice potatoes.
Gently heat cream, milk, nutmeg and garlic halves in a saucepan until just under the boil. Add potatoes to hot milk mixture and simmer for 10 minutes, jiggling them every now and then to stop them sticking.
Use a slotted spoon to layer half the potatoes in the gratin dish, scatter with half the cheese, salt and pepper, then top with remaining potatoes. Discard garlic and pour hot milk over the top.
Scatter with remaining cheese, sea salt and pepper and bake, uncovered, for 30 to 40 minutes, until potatoes are cooked and gratin is bubbling and richly golden. If not, raise heat to 220C for another 10 minutes before serving. Serves four.
TOP TIP: Nigella Lawson says: ''This is not the most labour-saving way of cooking potatoes, to be sure, but one of the most seductive. And it reheats well as an accompaniment to cold roast pork, or indeed anything, in the days that follow.''
5. THE PERFECT OMELET
WHAT YOU LEARN: The devil is in the detail. Overbeat the eggs and the omelet will be heavy; add too much butter and it will wrinkle; use too thin a pan and it will scorch; cook too long and it will be rubbery. The end result should be ''baveuse'', as the French say - still runny in the middle.
3 free-range eggs
Sea salt and pepper
1 tsp snipped chives
2 tsp butter
Extra butter for serving
Lightly beat eggs, sea salt, pepper and chives with a fork just before cooking (some cooks also add a tablespoon of milk or water).
Heat a 20cm-diameter non-stick frying pan with sloping sides over medium heat, add butter, swirl well to coat, and heat until foaming.
Pour in eggs immediately and cook, using a spatula to draw back edges as they set, while tilting the pan to spill the runny egg over edges. When golden and set underneath but still a little runny on top, scatter your chosen filling (such as sliced smoked salmon) over half the omelet.
Tilt the pan so the omelet slides up one side and folds over on itself, then slip it out onto a warm plate. Glaze the top with a little extra butter and whatever suits your filling (such as a spoonful of creme fraiche and sprigs of dill). Serves one.
TOP TIP: According to legendary British food writer Elizabeth David in French Provincial Cooking: "The eggs are often beaten too savagely. In fact, they should not really be beaten at all, but stirred, and a few firm turns with two forks do the trick."
6. TARTE TATIN
WHAT YOU LEARN: To work with pastry; to be brave in the face of sizzling and spitting to create a golden caramel; to invert a hot pudding without dropping it; how butter, apples and sugar can turn into one of the finest desserts in the world.
8 golden delicious apples
125g castor sugar
500g puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
Creme fraiche, cream or ice-cream for serving
Peel apples and cut in half lengthwise. Use a melon baller to remove core, and trim off any stalks.
Melt butter in an ovenproof 25-centimetre frypan and sprinkle with half the sugar. Pack apples in tightly, rounded side down. Cut one or two apples into quarters and squeeze in - they will shrink as they cook.
Scatter with remaining sugar and cook over medium heat, letting them hiss and bubble for about 20 minutes, until there is a lightly golden caramel beneath. Watch out for browning or burning but be brave, you want a real caramel. Press apples down into the pan as they soften.
Heat oven to 220C.
Roll out pastry and drape generously over apples, trimming edges so you can tuck it in all round (grease sides with a little butter for easier turning-out).
Prick pastry lightly with a fork, brush with beaten egg, and bake tart for five minutes. Reduce heat to 200C and bake for 20 minutes or until pastry is crisp and golden.
Cool for five minutes, then place a large, flat serving platter over the pan, and very carefully invert.
Some apples may stick to the pan - just pop them back into place and nobody will be the wiser. Serve hot, with creme fraiche. Serves six to eight.
TOP TIP: It's critical to get the caramel just right, according to Thomas Keller of California's famous Bouchon Bistro. It should be ''cooked slowly so its flavours are developed, but not cooked so long that the sugar becomes bitter''.
7. SALT AND PEPPER SQUID
WHAT YOU LEARN: To fry at the correct temperature so food is sealed and doesn't end up greasy; not to overcook delicate seafood; and to get extra crispness by dipping the squid in beaten egg white.
750g cleaned squid tubes and tentacles
1 Tbsp sea salt
1 Tbsp cracked black pepper
1 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
100g cornflour or rice flour
Vegetable oil for deep-frying
1 egg white, beaten
1 red chilli, finely sliced
3 green onions, finely sliced
1 lemon, quartered
Cut squid tubes in half lengthwise, and score inside in fine criss-crosses with a sharp knife. Cut each half into bite-sized triangles and pat dry. Cut each cluster of tentacles in two.
Mix sea salt, pepper, five-spice, dried chilli flakes and cornflour in a bowl. Heat oil in a wok or saucepan until a little cube of bread browns nicely within 30 seconds.
Working in small batches, toss some squid in beaten egg white, drain, then toss through spiced cornflour to coat. Shake off excess and cook for about one minute until golden.
Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper while you cook the rest.
Finally, add fresh red chilli and green onions to the pan and cook for two minutes, remove with a slotted spoon then toss with squid. Taste for seasoning (it should be salty, spicy and moreish) and serve with lemon quarters. Serves four.
TOP TIP: Vietnamese chef and owner of Red Lantern, Luke Nguyen, advises to add squid a few pieces at a time but in quick succession, to maintain the heat of the oil.
8. OSSO BUCO
WHAT YOU LEARN: Everything is edible - the marrow inside the bone, as well as the meat around it; the importance of cooking meat on the bone; how meat becomes tender through slow-cooking; and the tangy freshness of gremolata.
3 Tbsp plain flour
Sea salt and pepper
8 x 3cm veal shank slices
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
300ml dry white wine
400g canned chopped tomatoes
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 anchovy fillets
250ml stock or water
2 garlic cloves, finely grated
3 Tbsp flat leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
1 Tbsp grated lemon zest
Mix flour with sea salt and pepper, and roll veal shanks in it to coat. Heat two tablespoons oil in a large pot and brown shanks on all sides. Remove from pot, add remaining oil, and cook onion, celery, carrot and sliced garlic for 10 minutes until softened.
Add wine and let it bubble and evaporate by half. Return shanks to pot, add tomatoes, tomato paste, anchovy fillets and stock and bring to just under the boil. Season well, cover and simmer for two hours or until meat is tender and falling off the bone.
To serve, mix grated garlic, parsley, sea salt and lemon zest to make a gremolata. Scatter osso buco with gremolata and serve with mashed potato, soft polenta or saffron risotto. Serves four.
TOP TIP: If osso buco is too liquid, the author of The Cook's Companion, Stephanie Alexander, says, remove the lid and increase heat for five to 10 minutes.
9. MOLTEN CHOCOLATE PUDDING
WHAT YOU LEARN: Timing. Courage. And the bewitching power of chocolate as it forms into a fragile pudding with a molten heart of rich chocolate lava.
125g butter, plus 2 tsp extra
200g bittersweet dark chocolate, chopped
2 large eggs, plus 2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
35g plain flour, sifted
Heat oven to 170C. Use extra butter to grease four 150ml heatproof souffle moulds or ramekins, and place on a baking tray.
Melt remaining butter and 150g of chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of gently simmering water. Remove from heat and whisk until smooth.
Using an electric beater, beat eggs, yolks, sugar and vanilla for two minutes until pale and creamy. Fold in chocolate mixture, then sift flour over the top and fold through. Pour mixture into moulds to fill by three-quarters.
Bake for 13-14 minutes until puffed and set on top but still soft in the centre. Invert each mould on to a warm dessert plate, drizzle with cream and scatter with remaining chocolate. Serves four.
TOP TIP: New York chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten says the best way to serve them is to invert each mould on to a plate, and let sit for about 10 seconds. ''Then unmould by lifting up one corner of the mould,'' he says.
10. THE PERFECT RISOTTO
WHAT YOU LEARN: Patience. It's all about the timing, the rolling rhythm of adding the stock over the right amount of heat, and stirring calmly and serenely. Of importance is good chicken stock, the correct consistency of great risotto and the need for quality parmesan cheese.
3 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
350g Italian risotto rice (eg, arborio)
200ml dry white wine
1.2lt chicken stock, heated
100g sliced ham off the bone
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp freshly grated parmesan plus extra to serve
2 Tbsp flat parsley leaves
Melt one tablespoon of butter with olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan or pot, add onion and cook for three minutes until it softens.
Add unwashed rice, and cook for three minutes, coating it in the onion. Add wine, and let it bubble and be absorbed as you stir. Add half a cup of hot stock to the rice, stirring carefully and calmly with a wooden spoon over medium heat.
When the rice has absorbed the stock, add another half cup, and so on, stirring continuously over medium heat until the rice is tender but not soft, with a creamy consistency (about 20 minutes).
Cook peas in simmering salted water for one minute, then drain. Dice or shred ham. Add ham and most of the peas, stirring well, adding a little extra stock if rice is too stiff - it should be just soupy enough to move across a tilted plate.
Beat in remaining butter, sea salt, a generous amount of pepper and parmesan and serve in warm, shallow plates. Scatter with remaining peas, parsley and grated parmesan. Serves four.
TOP TIP: Great Italian cookery authority Marcella Hazan suggests tasting the rice after 20 minutes of cooking. ''It is done when it is tender, but firm to the bite,'' she says. ''Never cook rice until it is soft at the centre.''
Do you agree with the recipes on this list? What 10 dishes are the most important in your culinary repertoire?