Tag Archives: Chrissi

MasterChef 4 recap: T-Bones and Live Birds (S4E19)

(PLEASE NOTE: This blog contains the IPA-soaked rants of a former MasterChef survivor who has practically no inside knowledge of how this season was produced.  It’s not fit to be read by anyone.)

So we’re back up to 7 contestants, now that Bri is back.  And it’s time for a mystery box.  Krissi tells us, “I need to step up my game to a whole nother level.”  I just HAVE to pause here to correct what is probably the most rampant abuse of the English language in modern American culture.  And, yes, Krissi…I’m guilty of using it, too.  There’s no such word as “nother.”  That word doesn’t exist.  Yet, I’ve even seen “a whole nother” on a bulletin board on I-35 near downtown Dallas.  I’m not sure who the first person was who uttered “a whole nother,” but if I met him, I’d strangle him with my bare hands.  Or at least give him a tongue lashing.

The writer in me must tell you that there are 2 proper ways of saying that phrase, and they are as follows:

“A whole other level.”


“Another level.”

But “A whole nother level” isn’t English.  It’s something else.  So don’t ever say it again, please.  Just for me.  🙂

Back to MasterChef…

The T-bone steak, with the larger NY strip steak on the left side, and the smaller tenderloin steak on the right

Beneath the mystery box is one of my favorite steaks…a T-bone.  This lovely steak is actually 2 steaks in one…a New York strip and a tenderloin, separated by the T-shaped bone which is part of the lumbar vertebrae in the cow’s spinal column.  The T-bone steak and the Porterhouse steak are actually practically the same steak…but the T-bone is cut from the loin closer to the front of the cow, and the Porterhouse is cut closer to the rear.  So Porterhouse steaks contain a larger ratio of tenderloin to strip, while T-bones contain a smaller tenderloin.  The unfortunate consequence of this is that the tenderloin part of the T-bone tends to overcook, because it’s a smaller muscle.  Porterhouses tend to have a better balance between the meat on both sides, so they’re easier to cook.

Since we can already predict this episode is gonna be more about drama than cooking, let’s pause for a sec and discuss beef.  There are 2 kinds of beef cuts…tender cuts and tough cuts.  The tender cuts are equivalent to the white meat on a chicken: muscles that rarely get used, so they tend to be tender.  On a cow, these are the muscles along the spine (or loin) that flank each side of the spinal column and never actually do much work.  These cuts are renowned for tenderness…but not really much flavor.  So the flavor comes from how you cook it.

The tough cuts on a cow, however, are the muscles that get the actual work…the front and back legs and the abdomen.  Equivalent to the dark meat on a chicken, these cuts are the ones that actually TASTE good…but because the muscles get a lot of exercise, they tend to be tougher.  This is why a perfect burger will taste better than any prime tenderloin ever can…because it tastes like BEEF.  Tenderloin tastes like whatever you season it with, and melts in your mouth like the butter you slather on top of it because it has very little flavor of its own.  So in the quest for the perfect steak, if your primary concern is tenderness, then the T-bone is a fabulous choice…but if your primary concern is good, beefy flavor, you need to look to the tough cuts like skirt steak, flank steak, brisket, chuck roast, and round roast.  These cuts need to be either barely cooked and sliced across the grain to keep them tender, or they need to be braised or smoked low and slow for an eternity to break down all the collagen and connective tissues, so they melt in your mouth.

Walmart is back in the house, and you can tell how excited Joe is to be the first to talk about it.  I’ve ranted enough about the Walmart-MasterChef relationship in previous blogs, so I’ll spare you.  (Just be it known that I DO shop at Walmart…at least twice month.  I don’t ever buy beef there.  Actually, I very rarely buy beef.  What I buy at Walmart are their organic products like milk and eggs…well, before I had chickens in my backyard.)  I absolutely LOVE how “enthusiastic” Joe is as he reads off the cue card “Walmart sells the highest quality choice beef which is inspected by the USDA for quality.”  Poor Joe, I know exactly how pissed off he was to have to say that.  And, for the record, EVERY piece of beef you buy in the grocery store in this country is inspected by the USDA for quality.  Again, Gordon is remarkably silent when it comes to discussing Walmart.  He never says it once.

Gordon says, “T-bone steak, a chef’s dream.  But tonight, we wanna see this T-bone steak elevated, we do not wanna see just meat and potatoes.”  When he asks Graham what he would make, Graham replies, “A simple rub, not too spicy…grill it, and with it: a potato salad.”  I chuckled at that one.  Exactly what Gordon said not to make.  Though, honestly…if you mess with a steak too much, you detract from its beauty.  Simplicity and perfection is key to presenting a great steak.

Time is up, and it’s time to taste the 3 best dishes.  Jordan is first, and he’s never won a mystery box challenge.  Jordan has decided to separate the NY Strip and the tenderloin from the bone.  (Luca also did this, but he served both steaks, Jordan only serves the Strip.)  This is a puzzling choice.  It certainly gives the chef better control over each piece of meat…meaning you can cook each one to perfection, which is something you CANNOT do when it’s on the bone.  However, when you separate those two cuts of meat, they simply become two separate steaks.  And that bone is the key to incredible flavor and juiciness.  I almost never buy a roast or steak that is boneless.  Wanna impress the MasterChef judges?  Separate those steaks and cook each one perfectly.  Wanna BLOW AWAY the MasterChef judges?  Present them with a bone-in T-bone steak cooked beautifully.  Because THAT is hard to do.  Jordan’s steak is served with a celery root puree.  If you’ve never tasted celery root…also called celeriac…you need to.  It’s pretty miraculous.  Like a cross between a rutabaga or turnip and celery.  Bold, earthy, nutty flavor…it’s downright divine.  Jordan has also made a compound butter with which to top his steak, consisting of parsley, bleu cheese, and lemon zest.  (yum)  He’s also got caramelized onions and fried squash breaded in parmesan cheese.

(Quick pause here.  “Parmesan” is the English word for a cheese produced in the same style as the cheeses produced in the Parma and Reggio Emilia regions of Italy.  The cheese made there from raw cow’s milk is called “Parmigiano Reggiano.”  All other cheeses made around the world in that same style are called “Parmesan.”)

The judges are very impressed with Jordan’s plate.

Luca is next, and like Jordan, he has removed the bone from his steaks.  But he is serving both of them.  He grilled the filet and served it with haricot verts (French green beans), and roasted potatoes with Parmesan cream sauce.  The NY Strip he pan seared and served with caramelized onions and a pan sauce.  The judges are very impressed.

The final dish comes as a surprise to some of the contestants…it’s Krissi.  And boy, did she take her cooking to a whole nother level!  Krissi had the balls to leave the T-bone whole.  (Good girl!)  She cooked it on cast iron, which she said is the way her grandfather used to cook steak.  And I can’t agree with them more.  There is NO better cooking method for steak than a cast iron skillet.  Certainly not a grill pan, which many contestants used.  (That only gives you sear on the lines where the grill pan meets the steak.  That may look pretty, but you’ve only got a tenth of the flavorful crust you’d get if the whole surface of the steak was in contact with the iron.)  Sometimes I’ll go for a steak grilled on charcoal, because you get some smoke in the flavor, but typically I save that for BBQ.  And don’t ever EVER cook a steak on a propane grill.  In fact, throw away your propane grill…it has no purpose.  If you’re going to grill, you’d better do it over charcoal.  Grilling on the stove is downright silly.  Grilling over a propane fire is the same this as broiling, it’s just upside down.  I laugh until I’m hyperventilating when I see how proud some guys are of their propane grilling skills. The propane grill is the biggest culinary scam ever inflicted upon mankind.  Sell it on Craigslist.  Spend 1/8 what you paid for it on a charcoal grill with cast iron grates.  Your taste buds will thank you.

On top of Krissi’s steak she’s got a compound butter, and she’s serving it with a crispy potato galette that she’s calling “pommes de Krissi.”  I love that.  A “galette” is a French style, crusty, round cake that can be either savory or sweet.  “Pomme” is the French word for potato, and Krissi’s potato cake is really stunning.  While the potato may be the humblest of all ingredients, cooking masterfully with it takes knowledge and incredible skill.  Because starches are far more finicky than proteins.  They turn to sugar at certain temperatures, and then they quickly burn.  Alongside her “pommes de Krissi” she’s got a caramelized onion and Brussels sprout salad.  What a dish!  I would eat the heck out of that.  The judges can’t praise her enough.

In fact, Krissi wins the whole challenge, and while there were probably some VERY stellar dishes we never even got to see, I’d have to agree with the judges on this one, at least with reference to the other 2 plates.  Krissi’s plate showed some really sophisticated technique.  And while the term “sophisticated technique” tends to give me a rash, and I’m not often DYING to taste something prepared with sophisticated technique, I’d have scarfed down every morsel on that plate because it was still familiar and authentic…two adjectives sorely missing from a lot of “sophisticated” food.

Back in the pantry, there are 6 massive burlap-covered boxes filled with “fresh food,” according to Joe.  One by one, the burlap is lifted, revealing a variety of live birds that we use for food.  The first is a quail…near and dear to the heart of every real Texan.  Our very favorite game bird.

Next is a pigeon, which we’ve already seen this season.  Called “squab” in fancy restaurants, pigeons are basically the same thing as doves, which are also much beloved by game hunters.

Graham next reveals a pheasant, which is the ultimate prize for many game bird hunters.  I’ve had the pleasure of cooking wild pheasant several times…the meat is dark purple, lean, and incredibly delicious.  Graham says, “If you don’t know what you’re doing with this bird, it’s impossible to nail it.”  The trick to pheasant…and ALL game birds, really, is brining.  They have so little fat that you need to get all the moisture you can into the meat before you cook it, to prevent it from drying out.

Next is, of course, a chicken.  That’s a Buff Orphington, by the way.  I have one in my backyard.  They are among the largest breeds of chicken, and just about the friendliest.  They love to be held and petted, they’ll respond to their name, and they make a far better pet than a cat, in my most-humble opinion.

Gordon pulls up his burlap to reveal a duck.  A White Pekin, to be precise.  This breed of duck is native to China, and for almost a century, virtually every domesticated duck eaten in the US was a direct descendent of the 9 Pekin ducks brought to New York from China in the 1800s.

Ducks are one of my favorite animals…I can’t help but laugh when I see them.  I had pet ducks when I was a kid, and I’ve rescued and raised MANY orphaned ducklings over the years.  One year, I rescued an entire nest of ducklings whose mother had been killed by a dog.  The sweltering summer heat continued to incubate the eggs and they began to hatch, but without the moisture from mama duck’s feathers, the inner membrane of the eggs had become too tough for the babies to peck through.  After it became apparent that the babies would die in their shells, I reluctantly helped them hatch.  We saved 4 out of the 7 quackers, and I raised them until they were fully feathered.  A few trips to a local park to teach them to swim were fascinating…the ducks thought they were people and followed me around the park, terrified of the other ducks.  Eventually I returned them to the pond where their mother had lived, and it was heart-wrenching to see how scared they were of the other ducks.  But I had to leave them to figure it out on their own.  A week later I came back to check on them, and all 4 recognized me and jumped out of the water and rushed up to me, quacking like crazy, jumping up and wanting to be held.  You should have seen the look on the other ducks’ faces when those 4 were jumping up and down, wanting me to pick them up.

I continued to visit them each week until the entire flock flew south for the winter.  When they returned the next spring, they had their adult feathers, and I couldn’t recognize which ones were “mine.”  And they didn’t recognize me, either.  So my job was done, after shedding a few bittersweet tears.

The last box contains, of course…a turkey.  I wish we cooked whole turkey more often in this country, because it’s absolutely delicious…when prepared properly.  (And you can rest assured that most turkey is NOT prepared properly.  For a good primer, start here and here.)

Krissi’s job is to assign one bird to each contestant.  They head back to the kitchen for their surprise, and each bird is wearing a medallion with an image of the contestant that will have to cook it.  Luca is adorably skittish of the birds, and tries to tempt his turkey with a big piece of lettuce.

When Natasha picks up her pheasant, you can see a fishing line attached to it’s leg…I suppose to keep it from flying up and roosting in the ceiling of the warehouse where MasterChef is filmed.

For a brief moment, the contestants believe they’ll have to slaughter the birds themselves, but that’s far too gruesome for the American audience.  Which, to me, is sad.  I don’t believe that ANYONE should eat meat if they’re not willing to dispatch the animal themselves.  Because we keep the slaughter of animals hidden away in mysterious buildings, and we only see it when it becomes hermetically sealed packages of pink meat in the grocery store, we’re more comfortable about the fact that we eat meat.  As a result, we’re likely to make horrible, irresponsible decisions when buying our meat.  Like buying $1.99 chicken breast from a chicken that lived its whole live in a tiny cage fighting with 3 other chickens, pumped full of antibiotics so that it grows at 3 times its natural rate, eating poop from the chickens in the 10 cages stacked above it.  When you actually kill the animal that you’re going to eat…you realize how important your choice to be an omnivore is.  You develop a respect for the animal that died to sustain you.  And you cultivate a desire to make sure that EVERY animal that unwillingly gives its life for your dinner plate lives a life according to its nature.  A chicken should wander around all day, scratching for seeds and chasing grasshoppers.  A cow should graze in green pastures and nap beneath a tree in the heat of the day.  A pig should wallow in cool mud and root in the dirt for acorns.  And very few of those things happen on massive, industrialized farms.  Which is why it’s one of the greatest acts you can do as a human to seek out a local farmer and buy from him.  Because you can meet his animals and see how they are treated.  And you sustain his family and your local community when you buy from him.  Yes, it’s less convenient than going to the corner grocery store.  Yes, it may cost a bit more than your $1.99 sale-priced industrial chicken.  (Though it will certainly cost less than buying “artisan” meat at Whole Foods or some other gourmet supermarket.)

But think about it…you make tough choices in your life right now based on things you believe are right, and they make your life harder.  Right?  Some of you go to church on Sunday.  That’s not easy.  But you believe it’s right.  Some of you are extremely involved with your children’s education…you personally know their teachers, you get involved with PTA.  That’s not easy.  Nor is it free.  But you do it, because you believe it’s important.  Say photography is a serious hobby of yours.  Are you gonna buy the cheapest point-and-shoot that Konica makes?  Of course not.

So why would you always stoop to the cheapest food you can find to sustain your very life, and the lives of the people who are most important to you?  Don’t you wanna know where that sh-t comes from?!?  In our country we’ve been spoiled and placated into a place of blissful ignorance about how our food ends up on our table.  And that’s not only gravely dangerous…it’s criminally neglectful when it comes to your kids and the people who trust you to care for them.  Start thinking about where your food comes from.  It is literally the MOST important decision you make on a daily basis.  Yet so many of us make it so flippantly.

*steps off soapbox*

The contestants are given 60 minutes to prepare the perfect dish, with their poultry as the hero.  And while that MIGHT be theoretically feasible for the lucky bastards with the quail (Jordan), pigeon (Bri), duck (James), and chicken (Jessie)…it’s impossible for the pheasant (Natasha) and the turkey (Luca).  Both those birds have dense, lean flesh that needs several hours of brining before you can even think about cooking them.  Granted, the quail and pigeon need to be brined, too, but they’re so small they’ll brine in 30 minutes, leaving plenty of time for cooking.  (For the record…apparently NO contestant brined their bird.  Which is really surprising.)

Time is called, and Gordon asks who thinks they have the best dish.  No one raises their hand.  On my season, Gordon asked this after every single challenge.  (He probably did on EVERY season, it just rarely makes it to the final edit, because on most challenges, EVERYONE raises their hand, and that gets boring.)

Jessie is up first for tasting.  She presents pan seared chicken breast with roasted garlic sauce, mashed potatoes, and summer veggie succotash.  Joe chastises her for being too “homey” and not gourmet enough…but with all the components on her plate, it’s as sophisticated as anything anyone has cooked on this episode.  He’s just sticking up his nose at Southern cuisine for being too primitive.  Her chicken breast, however, is too dry.  (Fancy that…a dry chicken breast!  If you’re a regular reader, you know what I have to say about chicken breast.  The ONLY time to eat chicken breast is when you roast a whole chicken.  If you’re buying parts and you buy boneless skinless breast, I don’t know who you are.  You are dead to me.  At the very least, buy bone-in, skin-on breast.  It’s cheaper, too.)  Graham messes with her mashed potatoes, which have gone gluey.  (To be fair to Jessie, they’ve probably been sitting on the plate for a couple of hours before she finally gets judged.)  However, she did make mashed potatoes from red-skin potatoes, which are “waxy” potatoes and DO NOT lend themselves to a good texture when mashed.  You want starchy potatoes for that, like russets, if you want them to be fluffy.  The judges are not kind.  And Jessie earns some Brownie points in my book for fessing up, rather than making excuses.  “There’s only 6 of us cooking and you can’t get away with simple.  I have no excuse.”  I’ve said it before…I think we’ll be seeing Jessie on Food Network soon.  She is supremely likeable.

Natasha is next, and she has pheasant breast with risotto, purple cauliflower, and white asparagus.  The judges are very impressed.  She used sumac as a seasoning for her pheasant.  Sumac is the ground seeds of a large flowering plant family that grows all over the world.  It is very tart and fruity, and it’s a common spice in Middle Eastern cuisine.  (Native Americans steeped sumac seeds in water to make a tart beverage.  Sumac is one of the first leaves to burst into color each fall and it grows wild all over the mainland US.)

James is next, and he has duck breast rubbed with togarashi…a Japanese chili powder.  He serves it with some “quick kimchee” which probably means he simmered the cabbage briefly in vinegar, rather than allowing it to ferment in a salt water brine.  He’s also got ginger scallion rice and oyster mushrooms cooked in duck fat.  Sounds divine, and the judges agree.

Luca presents his prosciutto-wrapped turkey breast with braised Swiss chard, sweet potato puree, sauteed mushrooms, and a red wine cranberry sauce.  (For the most amazing cranberry sauce recipe, click here.  You’ll never go back to the can.)  Joe loves it.

Bri brings her pigeon up to the judges, and we get a snarky comment from Krissi: “I hope it’s raw inside, cuz I hate her.”  I feel like most folks have simmered down on the Krissi attacks recently, but maybe I’m just out of touch.  If you follow Krissi on social media, you know that she and Bri are dear friends.  This is just more producers posturing contestants against each other in their interviews, and it’s not real.  So don’t get mad.  Bri has stuffed her pigeon with green apples, beet greens, sage, thyme, and goat cheese, with arugula, mushroom and cauliflower couscous.  I would order that on ANY menu over anything else if I saw it there.  That sounds incredible.  And she pulled it off.  Gordon continues to be puzzled about how competent Bri is when she cooks meat.  (Though people are speculating that Bri isn’t actually vegetarian based on her previous social media posts about cooking and eating meat…you can read my other blog and related comments on this issue, I don’t have time to get into it now, and it honestly doesn’t matter to me.)

Jordan is next, and his pan seared quail is served stew-style with root vegetables.  His quail is almost raw, but he’s not familiar with cooking it.  The judges are very upset.  And thank you, dear Gordon Ramsay, for suggesting that he should have brined it!

The top 2 dishes of the night are Bri, who celebrates with the line “Winner, winner, pigeon dinner!”  *cackle*  Against her as the second team captain in the next challenge will be, of course, Natasha.

The bottom 2 dishes belong to Jessie and Jordan…both of whom are VERY strong competitors.  And it’s a big shocker to see Jordan get the axe.  Lots of folks assumed he’d be the winner from very early in the competition.  Graham offers him a chance to stage (“intern”) at his restaurant, and you can tell when Gordon speaks that this was a hard elimination for him.  I definitely empathize with the judges.  The final elimination decision is not theirs, and they often have to deal with an elimination they don’t feel is just.  Though Jordan’s dish probably was the weakest of the day, he’s most certainly one of the strongest cooks in the bunch.  Sorry to see you go, Jordan.  (He gives mad props to Natasha as he leaves.)

The edit brings us back to the first time we met Jordan during his signature dish round, where we learned that his mom had recently passed away and he’s giving it his all in her memory.  Jordan is, in a sense, a perfect MasterChef contestant.  He knows a lot and has incredible skill and knowledge.  He is confident…but rarely cocky.  I predict that Jordan will do exactly what he wants to do with his life: open a dive bar that has 5-star food.  Follow Jordan on Facebook and Twitter.  And comment below about what you thought of this episode, particularly if you have a fond relationship with one of the game birds that were featured!

And, lucky readers, this is the LAST MasterChef blog I will write.  (Perhaps ever?!?)  I leave Saturday for my annual pilgrimage “home” to Burning Man, and a subsequent road trip across Idaho and Wyoming and back across the Southwest.  I won’t lay eyes upon a television screen for a blessed month, and it can’t come quickly enough.  Good luck to whoever wins MasterChef (I know you who are!!!), and I’ll touch base with you all on the final results in late September, but you WILL get plenty of updates from me on Facebook, and more rarely on my blog, during my great adventure to one of the most extraordinary things that happens on planet Earth.

MasterChef 4 recap: Surfers and Chicken Breasts (S4E14)

(PLEASE NOTE: This blog is not endorsed or approved by Fox or MasterChef, and you probably shouldn’t read it.  The information in this blog is limited to opinion, only, from a former MasterChef survivor.)

10 contestants left, and the judges are arriving at the beach on jetskis…well, Graham swims up in a skin-colored wetsuit, complete with abs.  A hundred and one surfers charge onto the beach to shred some, and the judges are giving the contestants an hour to make enough fish tacos to feed them all.  They have to choose just one fish: ahi tuna, cod, catfish, or mahi mahi.  (That’s a no brainer…AHI!!!!!)

Jessie was the only contestant selected to be a team captain, so she gets to pick 4 contestants in a row, leaving 5 remaining as a team, and Jessie will get to select their team captain for them.  A very interesting move.

Jessie selects James first, then Eddie, Bethy, and Natasha.  Leaving Krissi, Savannah, Luca, Bri, and Jordan as the other team, and she selects Savannah to head the team.

Savannah selects the cod and decides to first experiment on both battered and fried cod, and blackened cod.  Krissi takes ownership of the battering and frying, and Jordan takes seasoning duties for the blackened fish, and Luca is assigned to fish prep.  With only 5 team members, I’d be hesitant to go both ways and lose time deciding on which route to take.  The 2-taco serving must consist of identical tacos, so they can’t serve one of each.

Jessie wants to use mahi mahi for her tacos.  James is assigned to the sauce: a roasted pineapple and habanero sauce.  (DAMN that sounds good.)

Fish tacos is a dish near and dear to my heart.  I got my apron on Season 2 with fish tacos.  (Mine were a crispy panko-crusted tilapia, marinated in homebrewed pumpkin IPA and lime juice, with a purple cabbage and jicama slaw dressed in a pumpkin IPA vinaigrette, chipotle crema de Mexicana, and crispy fried pumpkin strings on homemade tortillas.)  But given those fish selections, I’d have jumped all over that ahi tuna.  No offense to cod (boring), mahi mahi (delicious, but is best cooked all the way through), or catfish (no way would I use catfish in fish tacos if we’re on the ocean).  But ahi is the king of all fish and offers several distinct advantages serving 202 tacos in an hour, not the least of which is that it should be served COMPLETELY raw, or barely seared.  You could go the Hawaiian route by making a quick poke (pronounced “poe-KAY”)…cube up the ahi and marinate it in soy, lime, and sesame oil, with chopped onion, jalapeno, garlic, some seaweed or sea asparagus, and avocado…then you can concentrate on an explosive sauce by reducing soy and molasses, garlic and ginger, and lime.  That in a tortilla is perfection…simple, raw, healthy, bursting with flavor, and laughably easy to turn out.  AND has its roots in Hawaii…the global mecca for all surfers the world over.  The more Asian route would be to crust it in sesame seeds and sear it off very quickly in sesame oil, so that’s it’s stone cold raw throughout 80% of it, with a delicious crust around the outside.  Slice it and heap it up with quick-pickled cabbage and radish and carrot, with a sauce of ginger, garlic, rice vinegar, chili flake, and maybe some red curry paste.  That would take a bit longer due to the partial cooking, but it’s still fast.  No way would I touch the other fish for this challenge.

On Savannah’s team, as she preps the cabbage slaw for the tacos, she seasons it only with lemon juice, and Jordan and Luca are nervous about that.  On Jessie’s team, James’s pineapple habanero sauce is supposed to be a “5 out of 10” on the heat scale, but Graham and Joe have their palates blown out by the heat, so he’s having to fix it.  (Habaneros are incredibly hot, yet have the most delicious flavor of all the chiles, and they can be VERY tricky to work with.)

On Savannah’s side, Jordan’s cilantro lime sauce is coming along nicely.  The team doesn’t like the flavoring of Krissi’s fried cod, so they decide to do it grilled and Krissi is assigned to charring the tortillas.  (A waste of your talents, Krissi, but it’s a critical task and somebody’s gotta do it.)  Tortillas GOTTA get charred for fish tacos!

Service begins and Jessie’s team isn’t keeping up with the demand as well as Savannah’s is, primarily because their fish isn’t getting cooked through quickly enough.  (Not a problem with ahi!)  “So much for the team of all-stars,” says Gordon, which means they’re probably going to win, magically, somehow.

As always, the roles reverse, and suddenly Savannah’s team is out of fish, and Jessie’s is doing fine.

Voting begins via the silly voting device of surfers leaping into colored surfboards, and the first 22 votes are ALL for Savannah’s team…not a single vote for Jessie’s.  Which means, of course, there’s been some very heavy manipulation by the producers…as is made very obvious when suddenly Jessie’s team catches up from 0 votes to 22 without a single vote in the opposite direction.  At a tie of 22 to 22, Jessie’s team surges ahead to 51 votes, with Savannah’s team only getting an additional 3.  Now what are the odds of that happening naturally?  And it’s plain from the look on Krissi’s face that she’s fed up with all the engineering.

Back in the MasterChef kitchen, Jessie’s team learns that they have an additional surprise for winning.  As they don baseball jerseys from their home city’s teams, Graham announces that their team will get to watch the big MLB All Stars game with him “next Tuesday” in New York.  Of course, this episode was filmed back in March and a lot can happen between now and then.  I’ll be curious to see if they all show up next Tuesday.

Savannah is now at the gallows, with Gordon pressing her to call out the weakest member of her team.  I recall Esther Kang being placed in the same position on Season 2, and as an attorney, Esther knows how to work around a question.  They grilled her and grilled her, insisting on an answer, and when it became apparent that she wasn’t going to give them one, they start asking questions like, “Who was in charge of grilling the sausage?”  “Ben and Adrien,” she’d reply.  “Who was in charge of casing the sausage?”  “Max and Christine,” she’d reply.  And then they suddenly had their magic sound byte…so in the final edit, Gordon asked Esther, “Who were the weakest links on your team?” and Esther immediately replies without hesitation, “Max and Christine.”  And the country immediately hates her for throwing her team members under the bus, which never actually happened.

Who knows what REALLY transpired on Savannah’s team, but her team members are ganging up Krissi, pointing her out for being the weak link because all she did was “warm tortillas.”  (Which is all she was asked to do.)  The team is sent back to the wine cellar to hash out who will be saved from the elimination challenge, and I’m surprised when they actually edit in Savannah calling out her team members for giving into the engineered drama.

“In the moment, we all agreed on everything.  But the minute we get in front of [the judges], everybody’s tune changes.”  Then Bri and Krissy have an all-out brawl, and the team decides unanimously that Jordan will be saved.  Leaving Bri, Krissi, Savannah, and Luca to battle it out on Challenge Chicken Breast.

I have to stop here for a second and ask all of you to promise me that you’ll NEVER buy chicken breast again.  It’s absolutely the most ridiculous of all meats.  Tasteless, tough, and dry with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.  And if you had half a clue about what has been done to those poor chickens to get their breasts to that gargantuan size in 2-4 months…trait selection favoring large breasts to the point that meat birds can’t even stand up because their breasts are so large…antibiotic loading which causes unnatural fast growth…you wouldn’t want to eat it anyway.  My chickens are 5 months old and they weigh half what a 2 month old commercial meat chicken weighs.

If you want lean meat, eat pork.  (Yes…most modern pork cuts have LESS saturated fat than chicken, which is a travesty of epic proportions, but that’s what the American public wanted from pork, so that’s the way it’s raised now.)  I haven’t bought chicken breast in probably 5 years, unless it was attached to a whole chicken.  I can’t think of a more boring protein.  I’d rather eat tofu.

At least the judges have left the contestants the skin…the only edible portion of a chicken breast.  And they have to prepare it 3 ways: sauteed, Southern fried, and stuffed with mozzarella and prosciutto.  And they have only 40 minutes to do all 3 preparations.  That’s not easy.  At all.

Because the ONLY way to make chicken breast edible is to brine the crap out of it, which takes an hour at the very least, before it even sees heat.  Poor Bri has never cooked chicken before at all.  (Can you imagine?)

The frying is really the only prep method that interests me, and I make a mean fried chicken.  (Of course it’s brined OVERNIGHT in rosemary buttermilk.)  But the secret to the perfect fried chicken crust ISN’T, as Graham said, to do two layers of flour.  In fact, you season your flour (I use cayenne, thyme, rosemary, garlic powder, onion powder, and black pepper in addition to salt), then you add a pinch of baking powder, and then you sprinkle in buttermilk and mash everything together until you have a bunch of coarse, damp crumbs.  Then you remove the chicken from the buttermilk it was brined in, press it firmly into the crumbs, packing them all around, and drop it into the oil.  These thicker, denser crumbs make a hard, crunchy crust, but the baking powder reacting with the acidic buttermilk and the heat of the oil causes those crumbs to expand as they set, resulting in a mouth-watering crust that shatters in your mouth delicately as you eat it.  THAT’S the secret to perfect fried chicken.  (Sorry, Graham.  You KNOW I love you!)

Begrudgingly, I will tell you how to prepare a boneless, skinless breast in the only healthy way that makes it barely tolerable, in 20 minutes.  Move your oven rack to the top position and preheat your broiler on high.  Place the breast on a foil-lined baking sheet.  If it’s VERY plump on one side and very skinny on the other, pound it a bit to make it more even.  Then season it with kosher salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder.  Let it sit until the broiler is screaming hot.  Then spray the top of the chicken breast lightly with olive oil.  (If you don’t have olive oil spray, brush the breast with olive oil before seasoning, but I prefer to spray just before broiling, as the oil is a barrier preventing the seasonings from journeying into the meat with the salt.)  Broil the breast for 6 minutes on the first side.  Remove, flip the breast, and broil it an additional 6 minutes on the other side.  Remove from the oven, tent loosely with foil, and let it rest 5 minutes.  Then slice it.  This preserves the moisture, requires the least amount of cooking fat, still delivers a browned, flavorful crust, and will give you a boneless, skinless breast that’s not really edible, but will do in a pinch.  (As you get to know your broiler, you may need to adjust the time per side.  Gas broilers don’t produce as much radiant heat as electric broilers, and will result in less browning.)

Savannah has chosen to go with a batter for her fried chicken, which is traditional in some parts of the world, but not in Southern frying.  And Bri is so flustered that, with time ticking down, she’s still staring at her chicken breast in the bowl of flour, and hasn’t put it in the fryer yet.  (Chicken needs to fry for awhile at lower temperature, like 300F or 325F, so that it cooks all the way through before the crust browns excessively.  It can even be cooked through at lower temp, removed, and just before serving, do a last fry at 365F for a minute or two to brown and crisp the crust.  If you rush a chicken frying, you’ll end up with raw chicken on the inside, and a dark brown crust.  I’ve done that PLENTY of times.  If you’re pushed for time, battle this by cutting the breast into tenders, or pounding or filleting it to an even, thin layer.)

Time is called and the dishes are brought down.  We get some snarky remarks from Krissi about Bri, no doubt very much prodded out by the story producers.  (They all but TELL you what they want you to say in the interviews…and sometimes they do, in fact, tell you exactly what they want you to say.  You always have the option not to say it, though.)  I know a lot of you hate Krissi right now.  That’s exactly what the producers want you to do.  That’s why they cast Krissi.  That’s why they held her hand all the way into this spot where the country is heaping hate on her social media.  They want this.  Because the more you hate Krissi, the longer you’ll tune in, waiting to be satiated when she’s finally eliminated.  Which will happen.  Because whatever villian they decide to create, they’ll never let win.  Because MasterChef is a “good” show…bizarrely enough.  While the throat-slashingest, bus-throwingest-under, ultimate supreme backstabber may win Hell’s Kitchen or Survivor, MasterChef hasn’t yet given itself over to that genre quite yet.  (Maybe next season.)  Even though all we’re being shown this year is savagery, someone we all love is going to end up winning.  Probably Jordan or Luca, since they’re not going to let a beautiful girl win for the fourth year in a row, or the audience will cry foul.  (I actually know who wins, though, so perhaps I’m leading you all astray!)  So Krissi has NO chance of winning MasterChef.  Not because she’s not the best.  But because she was cast  specifically to be the villain this season, and when she finally falls, she’ll fall so epic and so hard, and all of America will pounce on her like a pack of wolves, greedy for her blood.

DON’T you let yourself be played like that by a team of psychologists and story producers sitting in an RV outside the MasterChef studio, grinning smugly as they pull their puppet strings, thinking they’re smarter than you and you’ll follow anywhere they lead you.

Why not, instead of deciding that Krissy is the most awful bitch on the planet, refrain from making a character judgement on her until you’ve actually met her, and walked a mile in her shoes.  Until you’ve done that, I won’t listen to a single criticism you have to say.  I lived MasterChef.  I know exactly how fake it is.  The worst villain on my season is one of my closest friends in the world, and I don’t befriend awful people.  So I will NOT have this crucifixion of Krissi, folks.  Calm the f–k down.  You’re being played.

Savannah’s sauteed chicken breast is first for tasting, and Gordon says there is raw fat visible, the skin tastes fatty (ie not properly rendered), and the bottom tastes poached (ie boiled) rather than seared and browned.  Next up is her fried chicken that was battered, and Graham finds that it’s undercooked on the inside.  He says there’s no seasoning.  Her stuffed breast is last to be tasted by Joe, and he likes the flavor and the cook, but the sauce is “goopy.”

Krissi is next.  Her sauteed chicken looks great on both sides, but is “slightly pink” on the inside.  (Also perfectly acceptable if you’ve got quality chicken.)  Her fried chicken is a little dark, but cooked through with a crunchy crust, and Graham likes it.  Her stuffed chicken doesn’t have enough stuffing, but it is cooked properly.

Luca’s sauteed breast looks dry to Gordon.  It’s seasoned well, but overcooked.  Graham likes his fried chicken crust, but the inside is slightly under.  And his stuffed breast is very undercooked and Joe won’t eat it.

Finally, Bri, the vegetarian, has her very first 3 attempts at cooking chicken evaluated by the judges.  Her pan fried chicken needed 4 more minutes of cooking.  Her fried chicken batter is good, but the chicken meat is very raw.  And her stuffed breast is cooked through, but the sauce is excessively buttery.

So the judges have given these contestants an unreasonable 45 minutes to cook a chicken breast 3 different ways, and are upset that they were served so much raw chicken.  Fancy that.

Krissi performed the best out of the 4, so she is safe.  So is Luca.  And so is Bri.

Leaving Savannah to surrender her apron.  Savannah is sweet and kind.  She’s not nearly nasty enough to command the kind of airtime this season that the other contestants are getting.  So, frankly, we don’t know much about her.  And as she smiles optimistically through her parting tears, I start Googling to find out more about her.  She’s a special ed teacher, which immediately leaves a soft spot in my heart.  My mom was a special ed teacher for many years, and I know exactly how challenging that job is, and how much of a difference she is making in kids’ lives every day.  And she’s making the most of her summer, doing cooking demonstrations and teaming up with Lynn to do charity events.  She even got to meet Sam the Cooking Guy.

Something tells me Savannah isn’t going to completely ditch the classroom for the kitchen.  Not that she doesn’t have the skills.  She’s teaching cooking classes and doing catering, and you can learn more about this on her website, especially if you live in the San Diego area.  But Savannah seems like a hero to me, and something tells me she can’t walk away, cold turkey, from the students whose lives she’s changing every day.  Mad props, Savannah.  Follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and comment about this episode below!