Sexy chef: Jason Roberts, Key Foodplay Ingredient: Salt

Sexy chef: Jason Roberts, Key Foodplay Ingredient: Salt


Celeb Chef Jason Roberts is a dear friend and an internationally known chef with a unique flair and cooking style. A native of New Zealand, Jason grew up in a family of food professionals and discovered a passion for food at a young age.  He spent seven years in Sydney as an executive chef and TV host in Australia.  Best known for his charismatic smile and “cheeky” personality, he is now living in New York and is a host of “The Chew” on ABC.

We were fortunate enough to catch up with Jason while he was briefly in Sydney at Salt Meats Cheese in Waterloo, immersing ourselves in his key foodplay ingredient SALT…

Jason… when did you experience your first Foodgasm?

The first time I had an oyster!!

How have you found Foodgasms in New York compared to Sydney?

I have had some memorable meals in NYC, but never a foodgasm.  I find American chefs add one ingredient too many.

I love and miss the Australian food scene…  I miss the array of fresh ingredients, the incredible calibre of chefs and food! and, the variety and freshness of south east Asian ingredients.

Where is your favourite ‘HotSpot’ to experience Foodgasms when you’re back in Sydney? 

Tonight I am off to Longrain for oysters and betel leaves… this is a staple foodgasm when I come back to Sydney.  I also love Golden Century for steamed baby abalone with ginger and shallots.

You’ve chosen SALT as your key Foodplay ingredient.  What secret techniques can you teach us in using Salt to ‘Hit the Spot’?  

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Salt defines a chef from a home cook.  In my career I have come to realise that salt is not just for flavour… it is a texture, it is a preservative, it is character building.. and definitely a way to transcend your average meal.

Salt flakes, and coarse salt can add incredible texture.  My mum was the person who would boil vegetables for 45 minutes, hence why we needed to add salt and tomato sauce!… but I am into low moisture cooking where vegetables retain their goodness, so the salt I use is for texture.. and to add additional flavour.

Salt can also totally transform taste… we added a touch of aged balsamic salt to a scoop of delicious gelato, and what a difference.  Salt in desserts is definitely worth a try.

Your Foodgasms recipe - SALT Crust Chicken with Creamy Polenta and Beurre Noisette

jasons chicken

Salt crust cookery is an ancient technique, which seems to have its origins in Chinese cookery where poultry was packed in pure salt and baked. The method I have given is commonly used in France and uses a flour and salt dough shell to preserve the moisture and texture while intensifying the flavour.  This method of cookery also lends itself to various game, fish and certain cuts of beef.

Ingredients

The Salt Crust

  • 1kg (2lb) butchers salt*
  • 1kg (2lb) plain flour
  • 670ml (1 1/4 pints) cold water

Knead the above ingredients together to form a smooth dough and rest for ½ hour.

  •  2 bunches English spinach, stems removed and leaves chopped
  • 1 bunch sorrel or rocket (arugula), stems removed and leaves chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • Cracked black pepper
  • No.14  (1.4kg / 3lb) free range or organic chicken

The Polenta

  • 2 ½ cups (625ml / 1 pint) chicken stock
  • 100g (3 1/2 oz) white polenta (or yellow polenta if white is not available)
  • 40g (1 1/2 oz) butter
  • 30g (1 oz) grated Parmesan

Directions

1. Pre-heat oven to 220°C / 430°F.

2. In a saucepan wilt the spinach, sorrel and garlic until collapsed. Season with black pepper and refrigerate to cool.

3. Remove the chicken from packaging and drain well. If the neck is still intact, remove it using a sharp knife, being careful not to remove too much skin from around the breast. Slide your fingers, between the skin and the breast meat to form a pocket. Stuff the chilled, spinach mixture into the pocket. Tie the chicken with string to secure the legs.

chicken

4. Line a baking tray with a sheet of grease proof paper. Roll the salt crust dough out until 5mm (1/4 inch) thick and large enough to encase the whole chicken. Wrap the chicken in the dough, being conscious not to leave any holes. Trim away any excess. Place into prepared baking tray.

5. Roast chicken for 47 minutes. The best way to test if it’s done is to pierce the salt-crust with a small sharp knife near the thigh.  Remove knife and feel the blade with your fingertips, it should be quite warm. Remove from oven and allow to rest for a good half an hour before cracking open the crust.

The Polenta

6. Meanwhile, bring the stock to the boil in a saucepan. Slowly add the polenta, whisking as you go. Reduce the heat to low and stir for 15 – 20 minutes, or until the polenta starts to pull away from the side of the pan. If too thick, thin down with a little extra water.

7. Stir in the butter and Parmesan along with a good grinding of fresh pepper; be aware when adding salt because the Parmesan is already salty. Cover and set aside.

8. To serve the chicken, remove breast meat by running a knife down the centre of the breast then leaver the meat away from the breastbone. Slice each breast in two. To remove the legs, pull the thigh away from the carcass, and cut at the joint. Cut the thigh from the drumstick.

Beurre Noisette (Nut Brown Butter)

Don’t start preparing this until the polenta is cooked and the chicken is portioned.

9. Melt the butter in a small fry pan allowing it to gently reach a bubbly stage after which it should foam. The butter will start to take on colour once the foam subsides. At this point throw in the chopped parsley, a squeeze of lemon juice and season.

10. To serve, lay a piece of the breast and thigh on a little bed of the creamy polenta and nap with the beurre noisette.

* Butchers Salt is a high quality washed salt with a medium crystal size used mainly for food processing.

 How does the way SALT is used in this dish create Foodgasms? 

Salt in this dish, helps create a crust that not only imparts flavour but retains moisture (with the chicken encased in a sarcophagus of a salted dough).  As a result, the chicken doesn’t taste salty but definitely brings out the delicious minerals… so good.

If you had one chance to give someone the best Foodgasm of their life, what would you make for them? 

I would give them a walnut chocolate brownie with fresh cream and sauced with salted caramel!

And finally… What has been your most MEMORABLE FOODGASM?  

My most memorable foodgasm would have to be dinner with Damien Pignolet.   He cooked at his house – making Maggie Beer’s Barossa chicken, cooked on a rotisserie stuffed with tarragon butter, alongside a classic roast pilaf with fresh bay leaves.

For entree we shared harvey bay scallops with rockfort cheese, whitlof, hazelnuts, and a hazelnut vinaigrette.

This entire meal, rendered me to tears… because it was a simple meal, cooked by my mentor.. specifically for me.