The calibre of cheffing talent on show at Gourmet Abu Dhabi has been much talked about. Those lucky enough to attend the various tasting dinners have swooned over all manner of delicacies and at the masterclasses, audience members have looked on in wonder as chef after chef has whipped up dish after dish of stunning-looking food.
Yet for all their talk of searing and sous vide, of chinois, jellies and foams, these stellar chefs have also provided plenty of interesting insider tips; off-the-cuff information that could prove invaluable to the home cook.
Every chef, regardless of nationality and style of cuisine, has stressed the importance of not just seasoning, but of tasting food as you go along. Cooking on stage, in an unfamiliar kitchen, several of them have paused to taste the contents of the little pot containing fine, white grains before adding it to their dish, to ensure that it is salt rather than sugar. It seems a few of them have been caught out in the past.
On Friday, James Martin delighted his crowd with a quick take on ice cream. Frozen strawberries were tipped into a blender, along with a couple of tablespoons of clotted cream. A minute or so later, et voilà, he was spooning balls of ice cream on to a plate, to complement a raspberry millefeuille. Any type of frozen berry would work well here and the recipe really is as simple as it sounds. Martin is well known for his love of butter and while you don't have to lavish it on your food quite as generously as he does, he is right when he says that it provides flavour and that imitation products and margarines (with their dangerous trans-fats) are simply no substitute.
His advice on how to make the perfect risotto was more contentious. Martin claimed that the traditional method of cooking risotto (by stirring constantly) is overly laborious and old news. He prefers to swirl the pan around every few minutes, rather than use a spoon. The Italian two-Michelin star chef Claudio Sadler took a different approach; he stirred his risotto Milanese frequently, so it's up to the individual whom they side with on that one. Still, the chefs agreed that when making a risotto, it is essential to ensure that each individual grain of rice is coated in oil before you add the first ladleful of stock. This advice was later reiterated by Yannick Alleno.
As part of his demonstration Sadler also prepared a shellfish stock. He roasted the scampi heads and tails and sautéed the vegetables as normal, but went on to add ice to the pan, rather than water. The ice melts but the contrast in temperatures draws fat and impurities to the surface more efficiently. You then cook the stock as normal. Sadler explained that this helps to clarify the stock, resulting in a clearer end product. This is an interesting technique that apparently works equally well when making chicken or beef stock.
A quietly charming Tetsuya Wakuda extolled the virtues of rapeseed oil during his masterclass. Wakuda favours cooking with this type of oil because of its neutral flavour and high smoke point. Atul Kochhar uses vegetable oil for a similar reason; he said that particularly when cooking with spices, you don't want the flavour of the oil to clash - so extra-virgin olive oil is out. He also noted that when sautéing spices, the temperature of the oil is all-important: too hot and they will burn, not hot enough and the flavour won't be fully extracted. Of all the spices, Kochhar uses turmeric, red chilli powder and ground coriander most frequently and he stressed that people should remember that garam masala is made of a blend of spices that have already been roasted, so it should only be added to a dish at the end of the cooking process.
Anyone who regularly cooks Indian food will find his next tip handy. Recipes frequently call for the addition of garlic and ginger paste; Kochhar suggested puréeing a large quantity of these two ingredients (in a 50:50 ratio) with a splash of oil and water, before freezing the mixture in ice cubes trays. These can then be added to a dish one or two at a time, when required.
Both he and Wakuda were keen to point out that no matter what a recipe says, instinct plays a vital role in cooking. Recipes are there to act as a guide but you also need to trust your senses: if you can see or smell something burning, then turn the heat down, regardless of what the instructions in the book in front of you say.
There is some great advice from the visiting master chefs here and happily, in the coming week, there will be much more to come.