MasterChef S9E13: Just for the Halibut


In this episode of MasterChef, the home cooks must master a tricky skill and then a shocking twist sends two cooks home!

The top twelve enter the MasterChef kitchen and learn they will have a skill test. Gordon leaves to fetch the mystery ingredient as Aaron tries to scare the contestants. “Be worried. Took four strong men just to tackle that deadly beast.”

Gordon returns with a fish the size of a toddler. Shanika exclaims, “What is that? This is a big ass fish. I have never seen a fish this big in my entire life!” The fish is a whole halibut, a versatile flat fish with white flesh.

The challenge for the cooks is to filet a whole halibut. Gordon demonstrates expertly. He begins on the top side of the fish. Making a cut along the underside of the head, he then turns and follows a line down the middle of the body. Using his fingers in the newly cut line to gently pull back, he runs his knife along the bone until he has one filet free. He does the same three more times- the other half of the top side as well as two halves of the bottom.

Next, he skins the fish, which requires carefully wiggling the knife to help you separate the skin from the flesh. He cuts his four filets into perfect portions, and lastly removes the cheek meat. The cooks will have just twenty minutes to duplicate this task. Many have never fileted a fish this large, and some have never fileted a fish at all.

MASTERCHEF: L-R: Contestant Emily, judges Joe Bastianich and Aaron Sanchez and host / judge Gordon Ramsay in the “Just for the Halibut” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Aug. 15 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2018 FOX Broadcasting.

As they all go wrestle a huge fish to their stations, Aaron comments that he only allows his sous chefs to filet fish because it is such a tricky skill to master.

Samantha, being from Iowa, has never fileted a fish before and she seems more nervous than I’ve ever seen her. Gerron has fileted fish, but only things like catfish and red fish, never a flat fish. Chelsea is in the worst trouble, it seems. She can’t find the bone that she needs to use to guide her knife and it goes downhill from there. Soon, she is nearly hyperventilating.

All too soon, time is up. Cesar is up first. Joe holds up Cesar’s fish carcass and it is so clean, you can see light through it. Joe tells everyone, “This is a master class in halibut filet. It’s perfect. It weighs nothing. It’s a feather.” He has also gotten twenty good portions from his fish as well as the cheek meat, though there is some meat left in his trimmings bowl.

Poor Samantha has to follow Cesar. Ragged bits of fish remain on her carcass, one filet is ripped and some filets have not been fully portioned. The portions she did finish are not consistent, some becoming too thin where her knife slipped.

Chelsea, for all her freaking out, has done fairly well. She has left some fish behind on the bones and trimmings, but she did manage to get some good portions as well as the cheek.

From there, we make quick work of other cooks, all while Emily has a voiceover. Emily is noticing that the judges are being very picky and she worries about her impending turn. Shanika has left two to three portions of meat behind. Farhan’s effort is a “disaster.” SJ has some gashes in his fish and has left too much behind. Gerron “effectively made fish sticks.” Bowen got a simple “not good.” Taylor left behind the whole tail portion of the meat. Julia missed a “shocking amount of fish.”

At last it is Emily’s turn. She does even better than Cesar, it seems. Her carcass is “immaculate.” Her skin and trimmings are perfect, with no extra fish left behind. Her portions are “textbook.” It is clear that Cesar and Emily have mastered this skill test.

MASTERCHEF: L-R: Contestants Emily and Bowen and judge Joe Bastianich in the “Just for the Halibut” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Aug. 15 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2018 FOX Broadcasting.

Ashley is last judged and has done the worst. She’s left six ounces of meat on the bones. She hasn’t finished all her portions, having only eight to show. Worst of all, she did not skin her fish, so her eight portions are “unusable. You gave us zero portions. You’re in trouble.”

To no one’s surprise, Cesar and Emily are safe. The remaining ten must cook in an elimination round. Everyone will cook with the fish they just portioned, so some people, like Ashley, are already in trouble. They have forty-five minutes to make a restaurant-quality halibut dish.

As the judges circulate, we get a sense of who might be in the bottom. Samantha is making a risotto- time consuming and very tricky to nail in competition. Joe tastes Farhan’s sauce and chokes. Farhan has brought the whole spice rack back to his station and his sauce is far too spicy. SJ and Ashley are making gnocchi, another tricky dish to pull off. With seconds left, Ashley plates frantically, her lack of time management catching up to her yet again.

Samantha is first before the judges with her pan-seared halibut with sun-dried tomato pesto and mushroom risotto. Sadly, her risotto is undercooked and her pesto is too rich and oily for the fish.

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  • Farhan restarted his sauce from scratch after Joe’s critique and it paid off. His coconut lemongrass sauce compliments roasted halibut with herb marinade and cauliflower couscous. He cooked the halibut in an unusual way- a 500 degree oven to mimic tandoor cooking. His new sauce is “provocative on the palate,” hitting sweet, sour, salty and savory notes. The cook on his fish is a “triumph.”

    SJ presents a pan-seared halibut with Parisian gnocchi, pickled pears, and pancetta cream sauce. The acid from the pears is a good choice for the fish, but his gnocchi are overcooked, his pancetta too salty, and his halibut is over-seared.

    Shanika is feeling good about her dish which she says is “colorful and sexy- everything that I am.” Indeed, her presentation is vibrant. Her pan-seared halibut with fennel, blood orange, and meyer lemon salad and brown butter vinaigrette is perfectly cooked and well-seasoned.

    Taylor seems to remain under a carrot puree curse. Her grilled halibut is well cooked but the side of Brussels sprouts is underdone and her carrot and ginger puree is grainy.

    Gerron, who has never eaten halibut before, has managed a good dish in his pan-seared halibut with spinach, onions, sweet potato puree and roasted red pepper coulis. Chelsea is not so lucky.

    Chelsea presents a pan-seared halibut with sautéed bok choy and a thai coconut curry sauce. Poor Chelsea has had a rough day. Her halibut is visibly pink and undercooked and her curry, frankly, sounds gross. Joe describes it as “a peanut butter cup on the front of your palate and just getting punched in the back of your throat with white heat.” Between her lack of salt and the heat in her curry, she has made “big seasoning errors” and her plate is “almost inedible.”

    MASTERCHEF: Contestants in the “Just for the Halibut” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Aug. 15 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2018 FOX Broadcasting.

    Ashley goes up last. She plated in the final seconds, but her dish is beautiful. Her pan-seared halibut rests on a bed of creamed spinach, and she has a little ring of gnocchi a la Parisienne around the fish. Atop the fish is a bright green pile of some sort of microgreen. Her gnocchi, made with pate a choux, is pillowy. The cook on her fish is perfection. Aaron calls her dish unbelievable.

    In the end, Farhan’s perfectly spiced sauce and tandoor-style fish earns him the win. Chelsea, Samantha, and SJ are called forward as the worst dishes. Everyone else is safe.

    I want to take a moment here to make a shout out to Julia and Bowen. They have not been featured in the last two episodes much, to the point that I went looking for them to be sure they were still around.

    With little build-up, the judges send Chelsea home. She leaves with a smile, a ray of sunshine to the end. Gordon tells the rest of the cooks, “Now we’re down to the top eleven. Next will be the top ten. That’s when this competition really takes off. And that milestone will happen…right now.”

    Samantha and SJ, thinking that they were safe once Chelsea was sent home, both look sick. While both had errors, SJ is sent home. The crazy thing is that SJ earned his apron cooking fish. His first dish was a panko crusted cod and cucumber kimchi.

    Gordon tells SJ to continue studying (he is a college student). “Graduate and when that’s done, call me. This food dream is not over. I am going to promise you that my door is open once you finish your studies.” That is an awesome offer, but I do wonder how SJ will contact Gordon. I am sure he does not have Gordon’s cell phone number. Hopefully Gordon will step up and help him in the future.

    And just like that, we are down to the top ten! I have never in my life typed the word carcass so much, and it frankly felt pretty weird. Also, halibut is not longer a real word for me.

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    Next week, they cooks will attempt to feed 100 US Air force airmen and they have a tag team challenge that seems to involve a lot of frustrated yelling. Hopefully we will see Julia and Bowen more. Also, if you are interested in being on the next MasterChef, check out the casting call. I think I am content to sit back and admire the home cooks that try out.