Masterchef Australia : Salmorejo with WA Marron & baby herbs


I came, I saw, I did not conquer.

The wiley among you would have guessed that my last post was in regards to Masterchef Australia auditions. Channel 10’s new big reality TV show for the year and the single train of though that has been occupying my mind for the past few weeks now.

I applied for the show before Christmas and then was pleasantly surprised to hear that I’d got an audition. The details for the audition were that we had to bring along one dish that would impress the judges. It should best be served cold, as there were no facilities to heat things up before they were tasted, and it should showcase your cooking ability and knowledge of flavours.

So being the resourceful food blogger that I am, I started scouring the internet and coming up with as many ideas as possible for a dish that would be seasonal, local, interesting but simple, and ultimately delicious.

With my trusty group of taste testers in tow I toured through the culinary landscapes. Starting off along the lines of a roast beetroot salad with goats curd, rocket, caramelised walnuts and orange, then went towards a roast pumpkin salad with blue cheese, toasted pine nuts and baby spinach, then ventured towards carpaccio of beef, tuna tataki, ceviche of king fish, gazpacho with morton bay bug tails. My taste buds then went a little sweet and I experimented with panna cotta, with frangelico and lime.

I took into account a lot of the great ideas put forward by all you lovely contributors and then a week before the audition I had an almighty cook-athon. Raiding the markets for the freshest, most delicious looking produce I could, then spending all afternoon prepping up all the potential dishes.

I called the taste testers over for a final opinion on the direction to go in. It was a one of the last dishes however, that caught their attention. Kam had casually dropped the idea of salmorejo into the comments, and so while prepping up the gazpacho, I left some tomato aside to make that as well. It was an instant hit and my direction was set.

Salmorejo is basically a cold Spanish soup made with tomatoes, stale bread that’s soaked in water, garlic, olive oil, and sherry vinegar. The hardest part about the dish is pronouncing it properly (sal-mor-echo), the rest is dead simple.

Pinchey Baby Herbs

Salmorejo comes from Cordova in Spain, and there it’s generally served with boiled eggs and jamon. I decided to serve mine with some local marron. Thinking the sweetness and lightness would be a great addition to the flavours in the soup, and getting a great suggestion from Deb about using baby herbs to give the dish some lift, without overpowering the flavour of the marron, as the chiffonaded basil I was using to garnish could be a little too much.

Once the main ingredients were set I diligently set about perfecting it. Trying as many different types of tomatoes as I could get my hands on, eating copious amounts of herbs at my local garden centre, and sourcing the freshest marron I could find. Fortunately Dad came to the rescue on that one, letting me know about a marron farm just outside of Corrigin. He rang up and they went out to the dams and fished some out just for me, then he drove them up to Perth in a box for me, well and truly alive and kicking (and ready to sever any fingers inadvertently left too close to the pinchey end).

The ingredients were thus finalised, and the night before the audition I sat up til 1am making the final batch of salmorejo and cooking the marron, ready for the 7:30am (!!) start time. How exactly I made it to the audition on time and awake I have no idea. But everything came together pretty smoothly.

Of course the auditions didn’t start at 7:30am. We instead sat in line for a good couple of hours while the camera guys and producers got little grabs of people looking excited and panned up and down the ever growing queue of people unnecessarily standing outside the building in the growing heat.

New queue buddies Manda, Tash, John, and I chatted about what we were all doing there in the first place, talked food, reality tv, and mused that we’d probably have the worlds best picnic with all the great food in everyones collective eskies at the moment.

So finally we get inside, sign our lives over to Masterchef and head into a little room to be briefed on the process. I’m not entirely sure what I signed when I put my signature to the release form, so I won’t give away any inside secrets about the show (not that I know any), but suffice to say it should be great to watch.

After our initial briefing we were split up into groups, and headed into our first audition session. About 10 people per group all went into a smaller room with a group of producers and assembled their dishes on a table up the front. Then two at a time talked about who they were and why they made the dish they made, and tasted the other persons dish and gave a little feedback on it.

I have to say all the dishes looked excellent, and all the ones I tried after the session tasted great. There was a terrine of chicken, lobster, and scallop, some vietnamese rolls with marron, a japanese tofu custard, a smoked salmon stack, a nectarine and pomegranate salad with lamb, a mango pudding with layers of panna cotta and jelly, a flourless chocolate liqueur cake with a berry sauce, scotch eggs with home made chutney, a layered salmon tartare, and a number of other different and wonderful dishes.

My salmorejo was very well received by everyone who tried it though. I was really happy with how the flavours came together and it looked great on the plate. When I heard my name called out for the second interview I was super happy. Those who made it through gathered anxiously outside, and those who didn’t were bid a fond farewell. It was surprising the amount of camaraderie generated in such a small time…but I guess that’s what being part of a shared experience can do to you.

Then on to my second interview with some other producers. I took my second plate of the soup and marron in and placed it delicately on the table in front of them, only to have them mostly ignore it and get straight to the nitty gritty of why I deserved to be on the show. I did my best to justify just how keen I was and made sure to emphasise keywords like passion, dedication, commitment, and honesty… a motivation speaker would have been so proud of me.

Then, when I thought it was all over, I had another chat with yet another producer. This time the lovely Keily, who wanted to know all about where I came from and what I liked, and if I were a food, what food would I be. It was all quite comfortable and positive when I left it was with a fairly strong idea that I’d be getting a call back for the next round of auditions, where I’d have to prepare a dish and present it in front of the judges for real.

So when the call came through at 8pm that night saying sorry, you didn’t make it through, I will admit, I was a little disappointed. Ok, very disappointed. But what can you do really. It’s TV, they have a specific group of people they are looking for and I guess I didn’t fit into whatever that was. If my dish hadn’t of been so well liked I think I’d be more upset, but as it stands I did everything I wanted and said everything I felt I needed to in the auditions to represent who I am.

Pretty much anyone who knows me will know just how competitive I am, but at the same time I won’t get hung up on things I have no control over. Plus as much as I’d like to hate everyone else who did get through to round 2, everyone I met was really nice and I have nothing but good things to say about the whole audition process.

So to all the lovely people I met over the course of the day (Tash, Manda, John, Rob, Charles, Antoneo, Patrice, Pete) I wish you well and look forward to seeing just who does go through to be the first Australian Masterchef.

And now… how about the recipe for my dish.

Salmorejo with West Australian Marron and baby herbs

You will need

  • Roughly 500g of tomatoes – the reddest ripest you can find, I tried about 4 different types
    and eventually settled on baby roma tomatoes which were plump and red and super sweet
  • 200g stale bread – I used a loaf of sourdough that was left out for a few days, but really any kind of bread would be fine, just not multigrain.
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic – vary this depending on how strong you want the garlic to come through
  • 2-3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 100 ml of good olive oil
  • salt and pepper to season to taste

How I made mine

Depending on your tomatoes you may want to peel and core them before you start. I was using baby tomatoes and it wasn’t really an option, so I instead blended whole in a food processor and then strained them through a sieve to get rid of the skin and seeds. If you however, have a thing for peeling tomatoes (or you’re some kind of sadist) then you’ll get a great result that way too.

So blend the tomatoes with the garlic cloves, soak the bread in water til it’s soggy, and then squeeze the excess water out. What you’re basically making is a tomato emulsion, and the bread is here to stabilise and thicken it, and give it a nicer consistency.

While the food processor is still going, add the bread bit by bit until it’s all smoothly blended. It should be somewhat thick at this stage. Check the flavour and consistency and then add your sherry vinegar to taste, and gradually blend in the olive oil until you’ve got the consistency and flavour you like.

This soup is a real vehicle for the produce. So the better the tomatoes and olive oil you use, the better it’s going to taste. Once all of that is blended through, add salt and pepper and perhaps more sherry vinegar to taste, and more bread if you need to change the consistency.

Then either into the fridge for a while to chill it right down, or get a bit tricky a blend 3 or 4 ice cubes into the mixture for a quick cool down. I think it tastes better the colder it is, especially on baking hot Australian summer days.

The marron I simply cooked whole in salted water (after putting them into the freezer for 15 minutes to put them to sleep, and pushing a knive down through their heads between their eyes for a quick, tho still traumatic enough, death).

My final dish is then just arranging the soup on the bottom, a small mound of chopped and lightly seasoned marron into the middle of the dish, and a delicate topping of baby herbs on top. I ended up using baby basil, purple basil, asian parsley, and coriander. An elegant swirl of olive oil and the dish is ready to serve.

I recommend making a large bowl of it and watching Master Chef while bitching and moaning to your friends about what might have been :)

Your favourite dish

Yes dear readers, it’s time for me to open the floor once again to get some feedback from within your wise and scholarly minds and well fed bellies. I need suggestions for a great dish to make for a very specific purpose.

It needs to be served cold, it needs to be able to be transported easily, and it needs to be delicious.

Think simple, think seasonal Australian summer produce, think combinations of flavours and textures. It can be sweet or savoury, a light salad, a dessert, seafood, meat, pastry, anything.

It doesn’t need to contain any special, fancy, or expensive ingredients but the end result must be something you can take one bite or fork or spoonful of, and be a little bit wowed. It doesn’t need to have a recipe, I just want ideas of things you love eating that you think are a little bit special.

You might be able to guess what this is all about, but for now allow me a little mystery.

All suggestions welcome. And if you can say why you like the dish so much that would be great too.

Come on down :)