He's the TV chef and restaurateur with the hyperactive personality and big grin. But for Miguel Maestre, the kitchen is the only place he's ever felt he truly belonged.
"I have always found it hard to focus in other settings, so I was very lucky to find my place through cooking," the Spanish-born Australian chef says in his new cookbook, Feast: 100 Generous Recipes to Share.
It was the physicality of the job that was perfect for Maestre: finally a place where he could channel all his energy.
Arriving in Australia when he was 21 years old, he found the generosity, big flavours and shared feasting of Spanish food translated perfectly to Australian palates.
"Australians are great travellers and always keen to embrace new flavours and ideas," he says.
Here, Maestre shares five generous recipes that are big on flavour and colour, and easy enough for anyone to cook for friends and family.
Jamon and manchego jaffles
I'm always looking for different ways to maximise the texture and flavour of ingredients in my cooking. I've never seen anyone make jaffles this way before and that's why I'm extremely proud of this recipe, my signature jaffle. The jamon wrapped around the outside becomes crispy, while the cheese inside melts and the grated tomato becomes juicy and fresh. Just don't eat it straight away as that tomato will be a million degrees and will burn your tongue. Jamon is such a rewarding ingredient. In Spain, there are shops that only sell jamon; it is quite mesmerising to see the butcher slicing it straight from the leg. Eat it by itself, or paired with manchego it is seriously one of my favourite flavour combinations. Your ham and cheese sangers will never be the same again!
- butter, for spreading
- 4 slices of white bread
- 2 ripe truss tomatoes
- 2 small garlic cloves, finely grated
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- salt flakes and freshly ground
- black pepper
- 150 g (1½ cups) grated manchego
- 6 thin slices of jamon
- 6 sage leaves
- Lightly butter the bread on both sides and get your sandwich press heating.
- Grate the tomato into a large bowl, discarding the peel. Stir in the garlic and oil and season well with salt and pepper.
- Spread half the grated cheese over one slice of bread. Top with half the garlicky tomato mixture and sandwich with another slice of bread. Repeat for the second sandwich.
- Wrap three slices of the jamon around each sandwich and arrange the sage leaves on top. Place in the sandwich press and cook for 5 minutes or until the sage leaves and jamon are crisp and the cheese has melted.
- Leave to cool for 5 minutes before eating – that hot tomato can be lethal!
Silky mayo and soft white bread are best for these sandwiches. Photo: Jeremy Simons/Plum
Posh chicken, herb and mayo finger sandwiches
These are the poshest chicken sandwiches in the universe. We made them for the Melbourne Grand Prix a few years ago, when I was executive chef. I was in charge of dining in the marquees and we needed to think of a fancy sandwich to serve, with the help of a local catering company. We made about 3000 of these. The secret to these sandwiches is to use a silky mayo, soft white bread and an old-school electric knife with a serrated attachment. This knife is a game changer because it means there's no pressure on the soft bread when you slice it. Don't skip the step of peeling the celery; when it's peeled it's like biting into cold water and elevates the sandwich even more. You can also add extra ingredients to make these sandwiches your own.
- ½ barbecue chicken, bones removed
- 45g (½ cup) flaked almonds, toasted
- 1 small celery stick, peeled and finely chopped
- finely grated zest of 1 lemon
- 160g (⅔ cup) Japanese mayonnaise (Kewpie)
- ½ bunch of chives, finely chopped
- handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
- handful of mint leaves, chopped
- salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 loaf sliced sandwich bread
- Cut the chicken into pieces about 1cm thick. The delicious roasted skin can be included or not, depending on your preference.
- Combine the almonds, celery, lemon zest and mayonnaise in a mixing bowl.
- Add the chicken and herbs and stir through, then season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Fill your sandwiches evenly with the chicken mixture, about 1cm thick. Trim off the crusts, then cut each sandwich into three even fingers. An electric carving knife is perfect for this to avoid squashing the soft bread.
Any variety and combination of tomatoes will work for this salad. Photo: Jeremy Simons/Plum
Tomato and burrata salad with parmesan wafers
Get creative with choosing your tomatoes for this salad. Any variety and combination will work, and all the amazing heirloom tomatoes we have available in Australia will really take your salad to the next level. The secret to this dish is having both the tomatoes and burrata at room temperature, so the fruit is full of flavour and the cheese is nice and oozy. Only break the burrata at the table – the theatre of it is the best part. Tear it open with your fingers in front of your guests.
- 200ml balsamic vinegar
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 50g honey
- 500g mixed heirloom tomatoes
- salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
- extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
- 1-2 burrata balls, at room temperature
- 2 slices of sourdough bread
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and halved
- ½ bunch of basil, leaves picked
- 100g (1 cup) grated parmesan
- For the wafers, line the base of a large frying pan with a piece of baking paper and heat over medium heat. Sprinkle one-quarter of the parmesan over the paper to form a 10cm round (or thereabouts) and let it melt and bubble for about 2 minutes. Carefully lift the paper and cheese out of the pan and drape both over a rolling pin to cool in a curved shape. Repeat to make three more wafers, reusing the paper.
- Place the vinegar, brown sugar and honey in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until reduced by about half. Set aside to cool.
- Slice the tomatoes into different shapes and sizes and place on a large platter. Season generously with salt and pepper and drizzle with oil, then gently toss to combine. Place the burrata on top.
- Toast the bread in a toaster, then rub with the cut side of the garlic while still warm. Drizzle with oil.
- Scatter the basil over the tomato salad. Drizzle with oil and the balsamic reduction and serve with the parmesan wafers and toasted bread. Break open the burrata at the last minute.
Perfect for using up leftover ham. Photo: Jeremy Simons/Plum
Creamy pea and ham soup
This soup is great to make after Christmas using leftover ham, but you can cook it all year round using ham hocks available from the supermarket. The secret is to add the frozen peas right at the very end, then use a powerful blender to quickly combine as the less cooking and heating time the better to maintain that vibrant green colour.
- 250g piece of fresh pancetta, diced
- 1 bunch of thyme, tied together with kitchen string
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 bunch of spring onions, white part only, roughly chopped
- ½ bunch of celery, roughly chopped
- 2 leeks, white part only, well washed and roughly chopped
- 2 white onions, roughly chopped
- 2 ham hocks
- 3 litres chicken stock
- 10 thin slices of pancetta
- 500g frozen peas
- 150ml double cream
- creme fraiche, to serve
- 40g pork crackle, crushed, to serve
- toasted sourdough, to serve
- Place the diced pancetta, thyme and garlic in a large saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until golden brown. Add the spring onion, celery, leek and white onion and cook for 5 minutes until softened. Add the ham hocks and stock and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2-3 hours.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180C fan-forced (200 conventional).
- To make crispy pancetta, arrange the finely sliced pancetta between two layers of baking paper, then place between two baking trays. Bake for 8 minutes, then remove from the oven, remove the top tray and paper and leave to cool and crisp up.
- When the stock is ready, pull out the ham hocks and remove and shred all the meat. Set aside. Discard the thyme bundle, making sure none of the woody stems have escaped.
- Add the peas and cream to the stock, then blitz with stick blender until smooth. To preserve the vibrant green colour, don't reheat the soup. Just stir in the reserved meat from the ham hocks and ladle into bowls.
- Finish with a dollop of creme fraiche and garnish with crispy pancetta and crushed pork crackle. Serve with toasted sourdough.
Purists look away, this Australian 'paella' is a proven crowd-pleaser. Photo: Jeremy Simons/Plum
Chicken and chorizo paella (The Australian way)
There is something very special about this flavour combination that makes Aussie palates go loco. Narrow-minded chefs and food connoisseurs will tell you that you can't add chicken and chorizo to this dish and still call it paella, but in my many years in the food game I can tell you it has always been the most popular way to enjoy it here in Australia. And in fact, the first recorded paella recipe back in 1857 contained both chicken and chorizo, and history doesn't lie! The truth is, there are many different ways to make paella depending on the region: arroz negro uses squid ink, arroz con costra uses scrambled egg to create a crust on top, arroz caldoso is a little runnier with more sauce, and arroz al horno is baked in the oven. The chicken and chorizo version here, using this particular method for making the sofrito, originates in the Maestre house in Sydney, but it's just another spin on this beloved Spanish dish. Try to use a proper paella pan and really push the cooking to the limit once all the stock is gone – this is how you achieve the famous crust on the bottom that will establish you as a real paella master.
- 250g skinless chicken thigh fillets, cut into 2.5cm cubes
- 2 chorizo sausages, finely sliced or diced
- 800ml chicken stock
- 250g (1¼ cups) Calasparra rice
- 50g (⅓ cup) fresh or frozen peas (or snow peas or green beans)
- salt flakes
- ½ bunch of chives, chopped
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
- quick aioli, to serve (see below)
- 4 oxheart or roma tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 4 large jarred piquillo peppers
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled
- ½ bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked
- ½ bunch of chives, roughly chopped
- ½ bunch of thyme, leaves picked
- 1¼ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon saffron threads
- 1½ tablespoons smoked paprika
- To make the sofrito, place all the ingredients in a food processor and process until chunky. If you don't have a food processor, roughly grate the tomatoes, capsicums and garlic and roughly chop the parsley, chives and thyme, then combine with the oil, saffron and paprika in a mixing bowl.
- Heat a 30cm frying pan or paella pan over high heat, add the chicken and chorizo and cook for 5 minutes until golden brown. Add the sofrito and cook for 3-4 minutes until the tomato starts to break down and become juicy. Pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Stir in the rice and bring to a simmer, then continue to simmer for about 18 minutes.
- When the rice is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed (there should still be some liquid in the pan), add the peas or beans and cook, without stirring, for another 2 minutes to form a nice "soccarrada" or crust on the bottom.
- Season to taste with salt and garnish with chives. Squeeze over the lemon juice just before serving with aioli. Olé!
- 1 egg, straight from the fridge
- 5 drops of lemon juice
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- pinch of salt flakes
- 250ml (1 cup) light olive oil
- To make the aioli, crack the egg into the beaker of a stick blender and add the remaining ingredients. Insert the stick blender, making sure it goes all the way to the bottom of the beaker, and blend until emulsified. Gradually move the blender up the beaker until your aioli is a nice creamy consistency.