Go Pro at Home with Chef Bjorn
Party season is right around the corner and there’s no better time to gear up for holiday entertaining. To take the stress off party planning, we’ve teamed up with Bjorn Shen, Chef-Owner of Artichoke and resident judge of MasterChef Singapore, to show how you can play host(ess) with the most(ess) by recreating restaurant quality food at home –with all you need from RedMart.
Tip #1: Upgrade your toolkit with a mandoline and blowtorch
Ever wondered how restaurant food has a certain look about it? Giving homemade meals a ‘restaurant’ aesthetic is easy when you use the same tools that restaurants use.
A mandoline is a tool that’ll give you ultra thin slices or strips of food. You can put many foods through a mandoline, most commonly hard vegetables and cheese. Blowtorches are used to give a quick burst of intense heat to the surface of food. We call this ‘searing’. I like searing foods because it gives a smoky, charred flavour.
In this salad that I made, I shaved thin strips of zucchini and fennel with the mandoline. You can get a very large salad out of a little amount of vegetables just by slicing them thinly. Then I charred some cucumber with a blowtorch to lend a smoky flavour, and I dressed the entire thing with lime juice, honey, olive oil, crushed smoked almonds (to double down on the smoky theme), crumbled feta and dill. The result is a restaurant quality salad that’s both interesting and tasty.
Tip #2: Throw a brunch party with plenty of variety
Brunch parties are the new trend that’s so new, hipsters haven’t even heard of it yet.
Dinner parties are common, but they can be a real pain in the ass. That’s cuz dinner food can easily drift into being too elaborate and too high maintenance – lots of prep and lots of washing up after. Brunch parties on the other hand, can be an easy cop out if done right, and can still make you look like a boss.
The brunch platter that I made here requires that diners dig in and make their own “fancy toasts”, again, much less work than plating things up individually. My advice on putting together a kickass brunch platter is to orchestrate a balance of cooked foods and raw foods, hot stuff and cold stuff, savouries and sweets. And why be boring and serve only one kind of bread when you can offer several types of bread?
Tip #3: Cure salmon with salt, sugar, and spices
Curing is all about removing water and intensifying flavour. A mixture of kosher salt and sugar is rubbed over the surface of a piece of fish, and it is let to ‘cure’ for anywhere from a few minutes to a few days.
In this recipe, I’ve mixed together one part kosher salt and one part white caster sugar, and added a small pinch of toasted, grinded Szechuan peppercorn. This mixture was used to cure salmon loins for 4 hours. In that time, the salmon loins lost about 25% of their weight in water, condensing the flavour in the pieces of salmon.
Curing also changes the texture of food drastically. Cured fish has a firm, waxy texture, which makes it great for use in salads and sandwiches.
I couldn’t resist pairing cured fish with Szechuan flavours. Szechuan food is my bae. In this recipe, I have loins of Szechuan peppercorn cured salmon with a dressing of Lao Gan Ma chilli (half my body weight is made up of this stuff), sesame oil, sesame seeds, black vinegar, smashed cucumber, spring onions and peanuts.
Tip #4: Cook perfect steaks every time with a meat probe
For a long time, big cuts of meat seemed to be the domain of a professional kitchen. These things carry high price tags, and you’d historically want to leave them in the hands of a professional chef.
The challenge has always been – how do I know when my meat is cooked? A meat probe solves this dilemma. You’re essentially sticking a thermometer into your steak for the duration of the cook, so you’re no longer guessing what’s going on in there.
I like to rest my meat for half the time that it cooks for. Un-rested meat just bleeds all over the board when you cut into it, rendering the meat dry and tough regardless of how precisely it was cooked.
Having perfectly cooked steak is just half the battle won. What you pair it with makes quite a big difference. The steak in this recipe is a grain-fed Black Angus, so it’s marbled and rich. Bright, acidic condiments like salsa verde, chimichurri, tzatziki provide a nice counterpoint to the butteriness of the meat. I’m all about that contrast between fatty and fresh.