You always get a feeling of being let in on a trade secret, of getting a sneak through the proverbial back door when you watch Chef Gary Mehigan hosting his popular masterclass on television. Even when you’re well aware that a million others are watching the very same class, privy to the same tips you’ve just manically jotted down, giggling at the same witticism Mehigan has passed self-deprecatingly. So imagine our delight at being offered precious words of advice face-to-face, the jocular chef standing behind the kitchen counter a mere two feet away.
The Melbourne-based chef, jet-lagged from his flight, exhausted from a demanding trip to South Africa, is all set to get down to business. Which, as we soon realise, involves a lot of belly-rubbing and finger-licking. “Always taste your food. Don’t worry about using your fingers. If you’ve already dunked one in, use another. Remember you have five of them,” he says in all seriousness; all part of the charm.
Even while he offers his recipes, all inspired by European cooking, Mehigan is quick to suggest that alterations are always welcome. "Think of recipes as roadmaps. If you don’t have an ingredient, don’t fret. Try and replace it with something else,” he continues, as he gives a toss to the smoked salmon, dill, crème fraîche, and shallots he’s using to prepare a canapé. “I love using fresh produce.
But when it comes to veggies like broadbeans and peas, I’d just as willingly use frozen stuff. With peas, for instance, when you buy them fresh they’re sweet and lovely. But keep them for a while and they dry up. When fresh peas are processed and frozen they’re able to retain their flavour,” he adds while he purees broadbeans and peas for a second canape.
Sharing recipes, claims Mehigan, is one of the greatest things about being a chef. “There’s not a single recipe I wouldn’t share with the world; they’re all meant to be shared. It’s amazing when you can walk into a restaurant, enjoy the food and get the recipe from the chef. You can always play around with the recipe, make it your own, and that’s not plagiarising,” he adds.
Roast chicken, which the chef claims as one of his all-time favourites, is on the menu too. “The chicken, which I’ve stuffed with thyme, garlic, and lemon, must be roasted on the crown for the perfect result,” he says pointing to the still-attached chicken breasts. “To plate up, I’m going to slice the filleted chicken breast, which is the tenderest part of the chicken.
I think that’s my most tender part too,” he says, giving his ribs a poke. “I just love using the rotisserie; there’s something caveman-like about the technique, isn’t there? And I think that’s something Indians love too -- the tandoor,” he says. But his concept of Indian food is limited to the nut-heavy North Indian food, he admits. “In Melbourne, we are still missing a truly good South Indian restaurant. Know any good Indian chefs?” he concludes with a question.
>> One sourdough baguette, thickly sliced
>> 80g unsalted butter, melted
>> One 200 g salmon fillet, skin removed and pin-boned, then cut into five-mm dice
>> ½ shallot, finely diced
>> Finely grated zest and juice of ½ lemon
>> 100g smoked salmon, cut into five-mm dice
>> 80g crème fraiche or sour cream
>> 2 tbsps finely chopped chives
>> Preheat a fan-forced oven to 180°C
>> Brush the bread lightly with melted butter, then bake on a baking tray for eight minutes or until golden brown and crisp. Set aside
>> Mix the salmon, shallot, lemon zest, juice and a pinch of pepper. Leave to stand for five minutes
>> Mix in the smoked salmon, crème fraiche and chives
>> Place a tablespoonful of the salmon mixture onto each of the little toasts and serve with glasses of champagne
Tip: You can make a great salmon mousse by blending smokedsalmon, crème fraiche and a good squeeze of lemon juice in a food processor until smooth, then chill the mixture in the fridge.
Asparagus with goat’s curd and green olive tapenade
Serves 2 as a starter
>> Table salt
>> 1 bunch green asparagus
>> 1 bunch white asparagus
>> Ice cubes
>> 1 tsp honey
>> 1 tsp Dijon mustard
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
>> 60 ml extra virgin olive oil
>> Sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
>> 1 small clove garlic, peeled, halved
>> 1 small ficelle baguette or 2 dinner rolls, sliced into 2 mm-thick ovals
>> 50g castor sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
>> 25 ml hot water
>> 50g walnuts
>> 1/3 cup soft fresh goat’s curd
>> ½ baby basil sprigs nasturtium leaves (optional), to serve
For Green Olive Tapenade
>> 140g pitted green olives
>> 2 tsps salted capers, rinsed
>> 2 white anchovy fillets (these are anchovy fillets that have been marinated in vinegar)
>> 2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
>> For the green olive tapenade, place the olives, capers, anchovies, and olive oil in a food processor and blend until smooth. Makes 125 ml. Leftover tapenade can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to seven days
>> Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil with a good pinch of salt
>> Pre-heat a fan-forced oven to 180° C
>> Trim the asparagus by removing the woody ends (approx 2 cm). Use the tip of a small knife to remove the little spurs up towards the head of the asparagus. Place a handful of ice in a bowl and cover with 250ml water to refresh the asparagus, then set aside ×Carefully remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to the iced water. Leave to cool thoroughly, then remove from the ice water, drain and set aside on paper towel
>> Mix the honey and mustard in a small bowl, then add the lemon zest and juice. Mix well and slowly whisk in 40 ml of extra virgin olive oil, adding it one drop at a time. Add a pinch of salt and a twist of pepper and set aside.
>> Rub the garlic clove onto the slice of bread and place on a baking tray, then drizzle or brush with the remaining olive oil. Bake for four to five minutes or until light-golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside
>> Mix the sugar and hot water in a bowl to form a thick paste (slurry). Place the walnuts in the sugar mixture and stir to coat evenly, then drain. Place the drained walnuts on a baking tray lined with baking paper, then sprinkle with extra sugar. Bake for 10 minutes, stirring or moving around once or twice; they should become shiny and sugary. Remove from the oven and leave to cool
>> Cut the asparagus into four cm lengths, reserving the tips, then toss with a little of the honey mustard vinaigrette
>> To serve, spread the tapenade liberally onto a serving plate or dish and top with the asparagus. Spread the goat's curd on the toasted bread and arrange around the asparagus. Sprinkle with the candied walnuts and drizzle with a little of the vinaigrette. Toss the baby basil with a little vinaigrette and scatter carefully on top of the asparagus salad, then add nasturtium leaves, if using. Serve immediately