MasterChef star Poh Ling Yeow has shared the ingredients you will always find in her kitchen – and her trade flavour secrets that will lift even the most basic of dishes.
The cookbook author – who’s a fan favourite to win MasterChef Australia: Back To Win – said the staples in her well-stocked pantry, fridge and freezer form the backbone of every budget yet delicious meal she makes.
‘Gourmet meals aren’t really a thing for me. All the food I cook is cultural, peasant style food,’ the 47-year-old Australian-Malaysian chef told Daily Mail Australia.
Scroll down for recipes
MasterChef star Poh Ling Yeow has shared the ingredients you will always find in her kitchen
The cookbook author is currently a fan favourite to win MasterChef Australia: Back To Win (pictured on MasterChef 2020)
Poh’s go-to tinned products
TOMATOES: Soups and sauces
CHICKPEAS: Hummus and stews
SARDINES IN TOMATO SAUCE: For eating on toast with tonnes of herbs
ANCHOVIES: Because you can add so much depth of seasoning with them – pop them into salads, make compound butters or cook them into sauces
TUNA: It’s a non-perishable protein and is so great for anything from sushi and salads to fried rice and sandwiches
Her stir-fry with oyster mushrooms, black fungus, snow peas, ginger, and rice
‘Cooking on a budget is about getting organised and keeping your eyes peeled for anything that’s on special, especially secondary cuts of meat but also vegetables for making soup in large batches for freezing.
‘If you’re not sure how to use them, Google recipes and find flavours you like the sound of. I pressure cook cheap meats in water, salt and pepper, then shred and freeze the stock and meat separately so you get two products out of one ingredient.’
Poh said anchovies, parmesan cheese, capers, herbs and stock powder are her simple secrets for lifting a dish.
‘Anything that’s salty and full of umami like anchovies, parmesan cheese and capers are great for adding complexity to seasoning and flavour,’ she said.
‘I also love herbs – they’re great for adding vitality to potentially dull dishes. Also, don’t be afraid to use good quality stock powders. A half teaspoon in any stir fry or two teaspoons in a soup can take the flavour to the next level.’
A well-stocked pantry is a must for Poh who always ensures she has rice, flour, tinned tomatoes, chicken stock powder and capers on hand.
‘Rice because being Chinese, this was at the centre of all my dinners growing up. I once suspected I had some food allergies and my first thought was, please let it be anything but rice, or life wouldn’t be worth living,’ she said.
‘My favourite brand is SunRice as they produce high quality rice.’
She said she always uses flour for baking, making noodles and dumplings because ‘it’s in my DNA’.
‘My favourite staples are flour, eggs and sugar because with them you can make so much from scratch,’ she explained.
To make a ‘lovely, fresh base’ for sauces, soups and stews, Poh said tinned tomatoes are ‘economical and flavourful’.
She said she uses flour for baking, making noodles and dumplings because ‘it’s in my DNA’
Her pumpkin sage and cheddar soup with roasted purple cauliflower
Poh said chicken stock powder can go a long way in cooking.
‘A little teaspoon will fill those holes in flavour you sometimes come across if you haven’t had enough time to build flavour. They are also so handy when you get caught out without any liquid stock,’ she said.
She said she also includes capers in her cooking because they ‘add such a lovely punch of salt and sharpness to things like sauces, salads and are great for a quick brown butter sauce’.
‘Add a squeeze of lemon and pour over pan fried fish or chicken – delicious and takes just a few minutes,’ she said.
Her other favourite pantry staple is dried ingredients such as Chinese black fungus and shiitake mushrooms.
‘They are brilliant for adding texture and fullness of flavour especially if you’re not using a protein,’ she said.
Poh said the staples in her well-stocked pantry, fridge and freezer form the backbone of every budget yet delicious meal she makes (pictured on MasterChef 2020)
Back in the day: Poh rose to fame on MasterChef back in 2009, where she battled Julie Goodwin (left) in the final, but finished runner-up
What’s Poh’s food storage tricks she uses at home?
Never leave vegetables unprotected in the vegetable drawer: They dry up and get wasted. Store veg in clear plastic bags so you can see what’s inside and don’t forget they exist
Refrigerate nuts and spices: Anything that contains oils will turn rancid if there are fluctuations in temperature
Keep dry goods in dark canisters: For maximum freshness and longevity – light deteriorates ingredients
In her fridge at home, Poh said she always keeps wombok, parmesan cheese, cream, butter and eggs.
She said wombok, which is a Chinese cabbage, can last ‘forever’ in the vegetable drawer.
‘It’s so great for when you realise you have no other vegetables – it’s excellent raw in salads and great for stir-fries and Asian style hotpots,’ she said.
The ambassador for SunRice said parmesan cheese can ‘bring to life the most basic pasta dishes’.
‘It’s full of umami and it’s also great as a snack with crudités,’ she said.
She said cream can add a ‘touch of luxury’ to sauces and for crème Chantilly to have with scones, dessert and on ‘naughty mornings’ in coffee.
Poh said eggs can create simple yet flavoursome meals.
‘Eggs because when all else fails, a fried egg on rice with some of Mum’s belachan and hack sliced cucumber is my favourite solo comfort meal in the world,’ she said.
She also keeps butter in the fridge to use in her cooking.
‘I love cooking French and am also a mad baker. I’ve also started to use it for things like stir-fries because it adds a beautiful creamy base for Asian seasonings to build on,’ she said.
The Australian-Malaysian chef said she spends a bit of time at first to prepare her homemade chicken stock or braise meat and freeze them down so she can use in her cooking later
Poh said she likes to use leftover ingredients to quickly whip up a delicious meal
Poh said her well-organised freezer includes homemade chicken stock, ginger, fish tofu and chillies.
She always spends a bit of time at first to prepare her homemade chicken stock, and freeze them down so she could use to quickly whip up a meal when she needs it.
‘For rice and soup or noodles, just add homemade chicken stock, browned garlic, ginger and spring onions, then any vegetable, protein and fresh herbs you like, and you have dinner in 10 minutes,’ she said.
She always freezes ginger because it’s ‘expensive and a sin to waste’.
‘Young ginger also turns very quickly so if I know I won’t be using all of it, I clean it, bash it and freeze it in Ziplock bags to use for making chai or ginger tea for when I’m feeling run down,’ she said.
She said anchovies, parmesan cheese, capers, and stock are simple secrets for lifting a dish (pictured on MasterChef 2020)
She also keeps a bag of fish tofu for soupy noodles.
‘It’s my favourite quick but still healthy dinner. You can also slice them up and use them for stir-fries if you’re caught out without a protein,’ she said.
Poh said she grows chillies in her garden so she tends to freeze them for later.
‘I’ve also been growing them and can’t keep up with the eating. Their flavour doesn’t suffer from the freezing at all, so I pull them out for curries, stir fries or just sliced in soy sauce as a condiment,’ she said.
Over winter, she also spends time to braise meat so she can use in her cooking later.
‘I pressure cook cheap meats in water, salt and pepper, then shred and freeze the stock and meat separately so you get two products out of one ingredient,’ she said.
‘During winter, I love nothing more than throwing a few basic vegetables like, potatoes, parsnips, carrot, celery, onions and tinned tomatoes into a pot.
‘When they’re tender, I add the pre stewed meat, then, hey presto, what would have been a two-hour slow cook is now only taking 30 minutes.’
Poh’s simple home recipes using basic ingredients
MUSHROOM AND SPINACH RISOTTO
Her mushroom and spinach risotto
One of my winter favourites is mushroom and spinach risotto.
- 1 large brown onion chopped
- 60g butter
- Picked leaves of 10 sprigs of thyme
- 400g button mushrooms
- Optional: Dried porcini and porcini liquid (umami boost is incredible)
- 4 cups of finely sliced spinach
- 350g arborio rice (Italian short-grain rice)
- 1L chicken OR veg stock
- 400ml milk
- 1 cup white wine
- 100g Parmesan cheese
Combine onion with butter and thyme in a large heavy based saucepan, over medium-low heat. Cook until onions are fragrant and translucent.
Add button mushrooms, then chopped dried porcini and porcini liquid* and cook until ever so slightly browned.
Add spinach including stalks and cook until softened. Add rice and stir through. In another pot combine stock, milk and wine and bring to a very low simmer, covered
Stir in 2 ladles of hot stock mixture into rice at a time, adding more only when the liquid has been mostly absorbed. Continue until the rice is tender but with a tiny grain of bite at the centre.
Turn the heat off and stir in parmesan cheese. Serve immediately
*Soak dried porcinis in 1 cup boiling water for about 20 minutes.
Super easy meal: Her rice, lentil, lemon and tomato soup made with leftovers
My rice, lentil, lemon and tomato soup is cheap, quick, versatile and so delicious (think spicy, sour and hearty) – a perfect recipe for adding leftovers or any slightly sad bits and pieces you might have in the vegetable drawer and in this case, leftover rice.
- 1 large onion, diced 5mm
- 3 cloves chopped garlic
- Dried chilli flakes
- 100g of diced bacon or ham
- 2 peeled and thinly sliced carrots
- 1L stock
- 1 tin tomatoes or 4 fresh ones, diced 2cm
- 1 tsp yellow mustard powder
- 1/2 cup red split lentils
- 1 lemon juice and zest
- Olive oil
- 1/3 cup of cooked rice
- Salt and pepper
- Garnish with chopped mint, parsley or coriander and a dollop of Greek yoghurt
Simply sweat onion, garlic, a sprinkle of dried chilli flakes and bacon in plenty of olive oil until fragrant and soft.
Add carrots, stock, tomatoes, mustard powder and lentils, then simmer until the lentils are tender. Add the zest and lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste, then ladle over cooked rice per serve.
Garnish with mint, parsley or coriander and a dollop of Greek yoghurt wouldn’t go astray.
Poh tip: Mustard powder in this recipe is imperative but if you don’t have any, use a teaspoon full of Dijon mustard. Vegans and vegetarians simply omit bacon.
BACON AND EGG FRIED RICE
Bacon and egg fried rice by using leftover ingredients from her fridge
- 1/2 chopped red onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 heaped tbsp chopped fresh ginger
- 1 cup finely sliced bacon
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 4 whisked eggs
- 2 cups of cooked brown rice
- 1 cup of frozen peas
- 1/2 tbsp of oyster sauce
- 1 tbsp Shaoxin rice wine
- 1 tsp dried chilli flakes or 1 chopped long red chilli
- 1 cup roughly chopped coriander
- Light soy or fish sauce
Combine about red onion, garlic, ginger and bacon with olive oil in a large non-stick frypan or wok and stir-fry until everything is slightly browned and fragrant.
Add eggs to cook until brown, chopping them up with the spatula as it cooks
Add cooked brown rice, frozen peas, oyster sauce and Shaoxin rice wine, then mix to combine. Next add chilli and coriander. Taste at the end and season with light soy or fish sauce. Enjoy!
Poh tip: If you’re using a white variety to make fried rice, refrigerate it first to get a nice separation and avoid a mushy mess. Brown rice is more robust because it still has its bran layer attached, so using it fresh works a treat.
Source: Food Recipes and News