Lessons from lockdown: Chef Peter Gilmore's top tips for home cooks

Don't be afraid of salt: Chef Peter Gilmore cooking at his home in Sydney.
Don't be afraid of salt: Chef Peter Gilmore cooking at his home in Sydney. Photo: Christopher Pearce

Does Peter Gilmore put the Quay in Quarantine cooking? You won't see the Sydney restaurant's pork jowl on the home menu, nor its malted barley crumpets, but there will be pancakes. When forced to swap his commercial kitchens for the home hob, the multi-hatted chef kept things simple. Like many of us, Gilmore leaned on family favourites during lockdown, making roast chicken, risotto, pasta and comforting Korean-style noodle soup. Here he shares some cheffy seasoning secrets to help lift your home cooking, whether you're still locked down or not.

Prep like the pros

First things first: get all your prep done really well, and then start to cook. "Where a lot of home cooks go wrong sometimes, is they are doing the preparation during the cooking process and try and play catch-up," says Gilmore. There's a reason why chefs do their mise en place (everything in its place) in commercial kitchens and have their veg chopped, herbs picked, and ingredients portioned.

"It means that when you actually get into the cooking, you can really concentrate on it, everything's to hand and you're not stopping to peel things and chop things halfway through." There's also less chance of you getting flustered, and more time to taste and tweak seasonings.

Season as you go

"Taste all the way through the [cooking] process, so when you get to the end you've got something that might be really beautiful and complex because you've actually given it some attention," says Gilmore. The chef says home cooks can have a tendency to under season dishes, but a little salt will make the overall flavour more pronounced. "Always remember salt can be your friend."

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FOOD: Made in Milan
Adam Liaw recipe - Risotto alla Milanese
PHOTO CREDIT: William Meppem Image rotated and reuploaded for online.

"A good risotto is going to benefit from some extra butter and parmesan at the end of the process, that's for sure," says Gilmore. Photo: William Meppem

Finishing school

If it's not quite right, there are little things you can do to correct and adjust seasonings at the end. For example, a squeeze of lemon juice will balance out a rich, slow-braised beef by adding acidity. In contrast, a knob of butter will add richness to risotto, braises, tomato-based pasta sauces and even scrambled eggs. "The thing you're striving for is deep flavour and balance as well. Not being too aggressive in any one particular flavour profile or ingredient," Gilmore says.

Take (and make) stock

"I often make a big batch of chicken stock and freeze it down in smaller [portions], so then when you're making a soup or something like that, you've always got a base handy," Gilmore says. Switch up the aromatics and additions to the stocks, too. Gilmore's home-style chicken stock has more of a Chinese influence, with ginger and spring onion; whereas at work he often adds dried shiitake mushrooms about halfway through, and kombu (Japanese seaweed) towards the end to give a big umami boost and a rounded savoury flavour.

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Neil Perry recipe : Korean Braised Beef Short Ribs
Photograph by William Meppem (photographer on contract, no restrictions) 

If you like the sound of Gilmore's Korean noodle soup, try Neil Perry's Korean-style braised beef short ribs with broth and noodles (recipe here).  Photo: William Meppem

Soup-up your soups

Now that you've got a stock as a base, don't be afraid to play around with your go-to soups. Gilmore was riffing on the Greek chicken soup, avgolemono, during lockdown.

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"You make that beautiful chicken stock and you add a bit of rice and chicken and then right at the end of you add lemon juice to egg and fold the egg through the soup and it gives it a beautiful thickness and richness."

Another Gilmore family favourite is a "potent and comforting" Korean-style noodle soup that Peter has been "mucking around with" for a few years. "I make it with kimchi and a whole lot of soy, fish sauce, garlic and a bit of fermented chilli paste … and add a whole lot of wheat flour noodles at the end."

Peter Gilmore is an ambassador for Australian Eggs and its meal to remember campaign. Quay restaurant has reopened but Bennelong remains closed.