The BBC ‘MasterChef‘ series is one of my favourite tv shows. It’s a competition for both amateur cooks and professional chefs (in mutually exclusive series of course) and a new winner is crowned the MasterChef Champion each year. I really enjoy the witty banter of hosts/judges Gregg Wallace and John Torode while the contestants are scurrying around trying to create master pieces in the middle of utter chaos. It makes for some exciting, nerve-wracking, awe-inspiring moments that makes you want to get into the kitchen and whip up a MasterChef-worthy recipe immediately!
So, you can imagine my joy when we were in a bookstore recently and I found ‘MasterChef at Home’. The book brings together some of the best recipes from winners and participants of the 2010 competition. It also has recipes by Michel Roux Jr, the renowned chef, who’s a judge on the MasterChef Professional series and some handy kitchen skill masterclasses from his trusted aide, Monica Galetti.
Needless to say, I’ve been waiting for a chance to try out a recipe from my recently acquired cookbook (of course I bought it!). After recovering from a recent nasty bout of cold and cough, I decided to try a chicken recipe so it would be easy on us. The one I chose was a ‘Pancetta-Wrapped Chicken Stuffed with Tomato, Pine Nuts and Basil’ from Christine Hamilton, a finalist in the 2010 Celebrity MasterChef.
The only changes I made to the recipe – I scaled down the ingredients to serve 2 instead of 4 and instead of serving it with baby carrots and new potatoes with lettuce, I opted for simple roasted potatoes.
Chicken wrapped in Pancetta with a Tomato, Pine Nut & Basil Stuffing (original recipe by Christine Hamilton from the book ‘MasterChef at Home’)
8-9 slices of pancetta
2 skinless chicken breasts (I chose free range)
25g pine nuts
2 shallots finely sliced
fresh basil, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, finely sliced
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tbsp olive oil
salt & pepper
sundried tomatoes in oil (I used semi-dried tomatoes in oil and sliced them into manageable pieces)
Ingredients for the sauce –
Few sprigs of thyme
150ml vermouth (would have required about 250ml originally, but didn’t feel like putting in all that alcohol ;))
50ml double cream
25g unsalted butter
The first step is to make the stuffing. Toast the pine nuts lightly in a pan and put aside in a bowl. Add a tablespoon of oil in the same pan and lightly saute half of the sliced shallots with the garlic until soft. Add this to the pine nuts along with the breadcrumbs, egg, basil and season with salt and pepper. Mix it all together and set aside.
The next step is to prepare the chicken and fill it with the stuffing. Lay a piece of aluminium foil on table or counter top. Place the chicken breasts between two layers of cling film and beat the daylights out of them until they flatten to a thickness of around 1cm (this is your chance to vent out all that pent up frustration, so go for it!).
Arrange 4-5 slices of pancetta (depending on how many you have, I ended up with 4 slices for one breast and 5 for the other) on the foil you laid out earlier. Place one of the flattened chicken breasts on the pancetta. Spoon the tomatoes and prepared stuffing on the shorter end of the chicken and then roll it up along with the bacon tightly. Wrap the foil around this so it’s snug and twist the ends of the foil. Repeat the process with the other chicken breast. Chill the parcels in the refrigerator for about an hour.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Centigrade (350 degrees F/Gas mark 4). Place the chicken wrapped in foil on a baking tray and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. At the end of this period, unwrap the foil and cook it further for another 15 minutes.
To make the sauce –
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pan. Cook the remaining chopped shallots with thyme until soft. Add the vermouth and let the mixture reduce by half. Stir in the cream and honey and let it reduce again by half. Once you see the sauce thicken, remove from heat and add the butter.
I found that beginning work on the sauce at the stage where the chicken is being cooked for the second round for 15 minutes gives you ample time. It turned out to be a truly delicious sauce. The sweetness of the honey and the flavour of the onions combined with the smoothness of the cream and fragrance of vermouth in an unexpected fusion that works wonders.
For the roast potatoes –
4-5 large roasting potatoes peeled, chopped and boiled
salt & pepper
I always toss around the boiled potatoes a bit after draining them. It’s a tip I picked up from watching the beloved Jamie Oliver’s cookery shows. According to him, this breaks up the skin a bit which leaves you with roasted potatoes that have a crispy top and a mushy interior.
Throw the potatoes into a baking tray with some olive oil and/or butter topped with herbs of your choice. Our favourites are usually rosemary and dried oregano with salt and pepper to season. Pop them into the oven alongside your chicken. Turn them over a bit half way through. The total cooking time of 45 minutes is more than sufficient to give you lovely roasted potatoes at the same time that you take out the cooked chicken. Brilliant.
Overall, this recipe was a winner. The chicken turned out be really moist thanks to the bacon that covered it. The stuffing complimented the meat really well without overpowering it. The sauce, as I already mentioned, was just delicious and made an excellent companion to the dish.
This is but only one out of 200 of the best MasterChef recipes in this book. I’ll definitely try out more of these and day dream about what the judges would have thought of my efforts at the end 😉