From tomato sauce in Asian broths to stock powder in batter, some of the top chefs in the country spill their biggest cooking secrets.
If your kitchen skills lean more towards burnt toast than wannabe MasterChef, all is not lost. You can still plate up restaurant-worthy meals at home with the help of a few secret shortcuts.
Three Blue Ducks chef Darren Robertson lets you in on these easy-to-follow tips in the free video series, Make it delicious.
He’s joined by celebrity chefs including Colin Fassnidge, Josh Niland and Peter Gilmore who talk about their signature dishes before Robertson reveals the timesaving tricks and small changes that make a big difference to your final dish.
People can be scared of cooking fish at home, but Josh Niland of Saint Peter in Sydney assures us it’s not as scary as it seems. He recommends cooking it on the bone.
“You’re benefiting from all that gelatin and stickiness, so it coats your palate,” he says.
Robertson makes his version of Niland’s fried fish burger and divulges a simple change to the classic dredge of flour, egg and breadcrumbs that’ll evelate the end result.
“Flavour the flour with Massel vegetable stock so you get that real depth of flavour and make it super-crispy,” he says.
“That’s going to do two things, that’s going to give us the salt to season our fish and give us umami flavours, it’s that savoury flavour.”
Peter Gilmore runs Quay, one of Australia’s best restaurants, and after more than twenty years of cooking he has finally come across “probably the best lamb I’ve found in Australia.”
The rare English breed, Hampshire Downs, is farmed by Tom Bull at Kinross Station in NSW.
What makes this lamb so special is that it’s one of the few sheep breeds that have a lot of marbling, which makes it juicier and tender. Think of it as the lamb version of wagyu.
“The flavour of this is really pure. We cook the short loin fat side down, let the fat render, cook it in the oven for about eight minutes and the most important thing is resting the lamb for about 10 minutes,” he says.
Planning is important when you cook meat and you want to think ahead.
“To maximise the result of any protein, you want to take it out and bring it to room temperature,” Robertson says.
And when you render the fat, don’t throw it away.
“I’m not going to waste that fat. Animal fats are fantastic, they’re nutritious, they’re flavoursome so I would often just pour that into a jar and keep that in the fridge. I’d use it to cook vegetables in or fry eggs in the morning.”
Robertson includes the regular suspects in his broth – chicken stock, ginger, garlic, lemongrass, fish sauce, soy sauce and tomato sauce.
“Now this may seem a bit strange, but this is going to give it (the broth) even more colour and just a bit of texture,” he says.
Colin Fassnidge’s “eureka” moment when cooking was putting a loaf of sourdough under a chicken while cooking it on the barbecue. The bread was better than the chicken.
“I love this dish, when I die it will probably be on my tombstone,” he says.
“What happens is all the juice and the herbs go into the bread, the outside (of the bread) is crunchy and the inside is I what I call an Irish pizza. The bread is hard and in the middle is like the best chicken stuffing you’re ever going to have.”
Chicken farmer Georgina Goddard of Brooklet Springs Farm in NSW recommends brining chicken in a mix of water, salt, sugar and herbs.
“What brining does is it’s a way to salt the inside of the chicken, it makes it tender,” she says.
“The brining really helps with cooking as well, it shortens the amount of time you need to cook it.”
Robertson’s tip is a simple one that applies to most meat.
“It’s important to get the pan nice and hot. If you don’t get it hot enough it’ll just boil (the meat), it won’t colour (the skin) and render that chicken fat,” he says.
Lasagne is traditionally done in flat sheets, but by bringing up to 3D it becomes a lot better. Chef Adam D’Sylva of Coda in Melbourne coils his lasagne sheets into a rotolo – think something akin to a savoury scroll – and stands each one up in the baking tray. What it does is maximise texture.
“What I like about the rotolo style I have here is everyone gets a corner, even if you have a middle piece of the lasagne,” he says.
Because we all know the crispy edges on the corner of the lasagne are the best bits.
Robertson knows that this is a contentious topic.
“A lot of chefs have different ways of cooking steak. Some like to cook it halfway, flip it once and rest it. Others like to finish it off in the oven. For me, I like to turn it every two or three minutes,” he says.
Whatever method you use, a butter-baste is a great way to finish it off.
“Now this is my favourite part. So, this is an old school cooking technique we do at many of our restaurants, it’s a brilliant way to finish a steak,” he says.
“I throw in some butter until it foams up nicely. At this point we throw in some garlic, what we’re going to do now is cook our sliced garlic until it becomes beautiful and sweet and use that to nappe (fancy French term for when the sauce coats thinly coats the back of the spoon) over our steak, baste that over.”
Rest it for half its cooking time and voila, a restaurant-worthy steak.
Originally published as 7 expert hacks to give your at-home dinner that restaurant feel