Heston’s latest recipe book for the home cook under the microscope

It’s no exaggeration to say that we’ve been more excited about Heston’s latest recipe book than anything else he’s done recently, Dinner at the Mandarin included.

Blumenthal’s output over the past few years has been incredibly varied, ranging from sheer absurdity (Lickable Wallpaper in his Channel 4 series Feasts) to salads and Sunday roasts (Waitrose recipe cards). Heston’s outlandish dishes are what he’s most famous for, but it’s easy to overlook the pub grub and cinema snacks he’s also created.

The big question: which of the many Heston’s does this book bring into your home? The Michelin-starred lunatic with his crab ice cream, the gastropub landlord, or the supermarket chef knocking up dessert from tinned fruit and instant custard?

The answer: all of them.

 

First Impressions

A first flick through of this book reveals a bewildering array of recipes. As you’d expect from a chef with Heston’s CV the book takes in everything from staples like mushroom soup to the wacky stuff you’re hoping for.  Step forward beetroot lollipops.

The book is divided into 14 sections, with each one preceded by an intro / lesson / ramble by Blumenthal discussing some of the general techniques – e.g.  lifting pasta out of the pan rather than pouring, to avoid re-covering it in starchy cooking water.

 

Usability

These waffling sections are fairly short, informative and very well written. Easy to read and fun, while actually containing a lot of interesting information. Helpful, though not vital, to each section’s recipes. And applicable to all your future cooking.

A lot of what Heston has done in the past ten years is here in some form. At the easiest level that means nearly every recipe published for Waitrose, (barring the Boerewors burger and Cherry & Chocolate Pudding). At the other end there’s a complex variant on Tafferty Tart that seems to require several days’ work.

 

Variety

If you’re not as ambitious as Auldo at www.thebigfatundertaking.wordpress.com there are several Heston at Home recipes that are domestic versions of his more famous Fat Duck dishes. A salmon recipe that uses Haribo sweets and Agar to mimick the restaurant’s Liquorice-Poached Salmon (neatly failing to mention the torture of separating individual grapefruit cells).

Others include a Green Tea & Lime Granita similar to the nitro-poached palate cleanser that starts meals at the Fat Duck. Also the exact same Edible Cellophane Salted Butter Caramels they serve as petit fours.

There’s even a savoury parsley porridge that you could, if you wanted, as snails to. And, yes, an ice cream based on two very traditional breakfast ingredients.

Heston’s other restaurants are represented too: A chicken liver parfait pulls the same trick as Dinner’s famous Meat Fruit, but disguised as a Crème Brûlée. Arlette with Pressed Apple Terrine is Tafferty Tart by another name.

The Potted Duck and Chicken and Ham Pies come directly from the menu at the Hind’s Head, and Lemon Sole with Potted Shrimps is a twist on a dish from the menu at The Crown.

One recipe I was especially pleased to see, given how Heston has spent years describing it as his ultimate guilty pleasure, was prawn cocktail.

 

Television

Recipes from Heston’s telly career are abundant as well, including a simplified version of his Fish Pie from In Search Of Perfection (complete with sand and foam topping) and a Szechuan Broth reminiscent of the Peking Duck episode.

Several recipes here have their roots in Heston’s most gloriously bonkers series, Feasts. There’s versions of the Edible Garden Salad from the Victorian Feast (mercifully without the insects), a beetroot risotto similar to the Gothic Horror starter, Heston’s Ultimate Cheese Toastie recipe from the 1980’s Feast and even a mushroom jelly that pays homage to the Willy Wonka episode.

Eagle eyed readers might also spot the curry popcorn from the cinema episode of Mission Impossible, and the Shepherds Pie from the British Airways show (obsessive weirdos like me will notice that the Salmon with Bois Boudran sauce was one of the trial dishes for BA in that particular episode – presented here without rocket leaves atop). There’s even the sous-vide scrambled eggs from Big Chef vs Little Chef.

 

Technique

What the book also manages to do is provide several recipes that are Heston’s unique take on classic dishes (roast beef, and the like). After all, there’s hundreds of onion soup recipes out there, but only Heston’s could ask you to bake onions and star anise together for SEVEN hours.

Not all of the recipes require you to take a day off work though. A couple from the fish and pasta sections can be made in half an hour on a work night. And, for a chef who’s put so much effort into ice cream research over the years, (and who has a reputation for long-winded recipes full of obscure ingredients) it’s interesting to see ice cream recipes that require little more than milk, sugar and whipping cream.

Speaking of obscure ingredients, many dishes seem like Waitrose recipe cards yet-to-come. They’re the only supermarket where I’ve seen pearled spelt and giant couscous on sale.

 

Criticism

On the downside, there’s a few mystifying omissions, like Quaking Pudding, (or Christmas Pudding). And, disappointingly, not a single popping candy recipe.

Also, while triple cooked chips are included there’s not a lot of choice for side dishes. A few more pasta dishes might also have been welcome, and some of the sous-vide recipes are slightly underwhelming.

Some fundamental recipes appear to have been held back as exclusive content for Channel 4’s website, to promote the TV series that sort-of accompanies the book.

Impracticalities aren’t confined to the cooking times, either. A week of these recipes should speed you on your way to diabetes, given the vast quantities of cream and butter they use. Your wallet won’t be much healthier afterwards either, several of the recipes specify rare and pricey ingredients.

And despite this being a book designed for the home there’s still a few recipes that need stuff like sodium citrate and soya lecithin.

 

Dishes on Trial

We couldn’t claim to rate Heston’s latest book without trying a few of the recipes first. The easy ones at least. They’re in separate posts:

Crispy Lemon Sole with Potted Shrimps and Cucumber

Chamomile Panna Cotta

 

Verdict

Heston’s recipes aren’t really meant for every day. These are mostly special occasion dishes, distilling over 10 years of originality and creativity into a book full of exciting things to try at home.

The downsides are the loss of iconic recipes from Heston’s back catalogue, the unhealthy and time consuming nature of a lot of the content, plus the obscurity of some ingredients.

It’s not a definitive collection by any means, but even when you get bored of the recipes on offer there’s plenty to inspire your own imagination. Heston’s recipes have always been for people who enjoyed mucking about the kitchen, and this book has a lot of reasons to go there and start having fun.

 

Update:

Since I wrote this we’ve been enjoying trying out other recipes from the book.

Heston’s Pumpkin Soup recipe was one we made for Halloween, and has the distinction of being the only pumpkin soup we’ve ever eaten that actually tasted good.

Heston’s recipe for Sea Bass with Vanilla Butter is another one that’s easy to make even on a week night (cooking time: 90 seconds!) with ingredients you can find in many supermarkets.

2nd Update:

Heston’s new series, How to Cook Like Heston, aired on Channel 4 in the UK early in 2012. Part of his deal with them must’ve been to provide some original content not featured in the book, so it’s only on their website that you’ll find some more exciting recipes related to this book. Including: Heston’s Oxtail and Kidney Pudding recipe, Heston’s Exploding Chocolate Gateau recipe and even Exploding Potato Donuts.