We just caught up with the latest episode of Heston’s Mission Impossible: British Airways on 4oD. Fun as always, and this time Heston’s food looked a lot more successful than in last week’s Cineworld episode.
We especially liked the Bento box, which Heston-geeks will have noticed contained both the Orange and Beetroot Jelly & Coconut Baccy from the Fat Duck tasting menu. But the stand-out dish had to be Heston’s Umami Shepherd’s Pie recipe, or “Shepherds Pie on Steroids”.
Blumenthal is a famous umami fan (having even contributed to a paper about it), and most foodies are too. A quick rifle through my cupboards revealed that I’m just as bad. I found at least one of every umami ingredient Heston lined up for his recipe experiments with Gate Gourmet Executive head chef Steve Walpole.
We worry an email to Gate Gourmet is more likely to result in a polite “piss-off” rathen than a PDF of the Heston shepherds pie recipe. So, a pack of mince and a bag of potatoes later, here’s our attempt at Heston’s shepherd’s pie on steroids recipe.
Blah blah blah, this is just my version etc, etc nothing to do with Channel 4 and so-on.
A bit of 4oD pausing shows the following list of umami foods:
- Soy Sauce
- Thai Fish Sauce
- Tabasco Sauce
- Oyster Sauce
- Horseradish Sauce
- Sushi Nori
- Parmesan Cheese
- Dried Shiitake
- Cherry tomatoes
There’s just enough footage of the dish being cooked, and the assembled ingredients, to give a few clues. Don’t think we didn’t spot that bottle of Geo Watkins Mushroom Ketchup.
I reckon we can get something close by crossing the umami-fest of the Perfection Bolognese, The Britishness of his Oxtail and Kidney Pudding recipe and the convenience of Heston’s Waitrose Chili Con Carne recipe. Our mashed potato is topping lifted directly from Heston’s Perfect Fish Pie recipe. For reference, I’m using a shepherds pie recipe from a chef I still like, even if most of you lot don’t: Gordon Ramsay.
I started by cooking everything off in stages in a frying pan and tipping them, one-by-one, into a large pot. Starting with the meat, then onions with star anise, caramelized diced carrots, quartered mushrooms with thyme, reduced red wine, and so on.
Tomatoes next, then beef stock and lots of umami seasoning, including that mushroom ketchup, Tabasco, Worcestershire and fish sauce (similar to the perfection Bolognese), then marmite and tomato ketchup (amazingly, there was still some left after the mess I made during the worm pizza fiasco) Soy and some chopped up sushi nori went in as well.
We forgot to take a photo, but we promise you the sushi nori is in there. You can see the black shreds of it being stirred in. It still looked pretty pale.
We stopped here and stored the filling in the fridge to complete the next day. It probably had 3 hours on the stove in total, by which time the nori had disintegrated completely (you’d never know it was in there) and the consistency was brilliantly thick. The long cooking and night in the fridge seemed to really improve it. My apologies, I forgot to take a photo of the finished filling. Just picture a fantastically dark, mouth-wateringly rich, meaty dish.
For the mashed potato topping you’re required to simmer the spuds at exactly 70°C for at least 30 minutes, a convention of Heston’s since the days of his favourite book of mine, Family Food. With nothing more advanced than a domestic kitchen this constant temperature can be difficult to achieve, but not impossible.
TIP: To help maintain the water at 70°C use the largest pan you can find and half fill it. Stand over the pan with a digital thermometer, a jug of ice cold water and freshly boiled kettle to hand. Your pan can be different temperatures in different places, hotter at the base than the surface, stir well before adding extra splashes of hot or cold water.
In Family Food Heston advises starting the water off at 80°C, as adding the potatoes will cause the temperature to drop.
The spuds are cooled off after the 70°C session, then boiled again as normal for 15-20 minutes. I may have undercooked mine (or used the wrong variety), but they were quite tough after the 2nd cooking and, even after using a ricer, needed to be forced through a sieve. This took ages.
A consultation with an experienced blogger (who’s already tackled the spuds) and a re-read of Family Food revealed they do turn out quite tough. I’d take more care with a longer second boiling next time.
With 150g butter, 100ml milk and various other liquid condiments the end result is an alarmingly smooth puree, a very French thing.
British Airways staff might only have mega-hot ovens, but at home we can avoid overcooking by warming the filling in the pan, topping with warmed mash and finishing under the grill.
So is my version of Heston’s umami shepherd’s pie on steroids recipe better than the one made by Gate Gourmet’s Head Chef? Of course not! He’s a trained, proper chef working to Heston’s exact recipe and I’m some fool in a suburban kitchen.
But, bloody hell! Savoury beyond belief, with a massive umami punch and spectacularly rich, meaty mouthfeel. Better than any other Shepherd’s Pie I’ve ever made. Careful amounts of mushroom ketchup, soy sauce and nori are likely to become regular additions to slow cooked pot dishes. They really work.
Sadly, the potatoes weren’t my thing, I prefer a fluffier, Englishman’s mash. And something less diabetes-inducing than thirty-percent butter.
With only two pie dishes, and an equal number of mouths, the pair of us thought we could finish this off. We couldn’t. This recipe will comfortably feed four (but make a bit of extra mash to give a nice thick topping). Broccoli & carrot would make perfect side dishes.
This experiment shows what I like most about Heston’s food. Not the dazzling stuff with dry ice and weird combinations, but the subtle ways that knowledge and technique can hugely improve what you make at home.
So, come round to mine for dinner if you ever want a meal that’s almost as good as airline food.
Whats your favourite way of boosting umami-flavour in your food? Let us know in the comments section…