Possibly Heston’s quickest ever recipe, ideal for weeknight gastronomy.
Heston Blumenthal recipes are famously long. The Mad Hatter Tea served at the Fat Duck takes about a week to prepare. Heston’s perfection roast chicken recipe for a Sunday afternoon is best started on Friday night.
We’ve been going nuts lately for his new recipe book, Heston Blumenthal at Home. It’s a fun and varied collection. The key thing being that most of the dishes in it could realistically be made by the home cook (roast chicken is down from 2 days to 3 hours).
The absolute easiest thing in the book has to be Heston’s Sea Bass with Vanilla Butter recipe, which can be done in under 180 seconds.
Recipe: Couldn’t find any links to a recipe, but it’s so simple you don’t need one.
Special Equipment: None
Special Ingredients: Vanilla pods
Time: Under 5 minutes
Cost: Under £5
Difficulty: Very easy
STEP 1: Vanilla Butter
OK, so this bit isn’t included in the 180 second limit. It’s still pretty quick though. Apart from the fiddly (and expensive) business scraping out the seeds from three –THREE- vanilla pods. Very fiddly if your brittle vanilla pods have dried out in the 2 years since you stockpiled them on the cheap from eBay.
It’ll take even longer if you need to wait for your butter to come to room temperature (the home cook’s equivalent of watching paint dry). When you’re ready just dump the seeds onto 125g of butter and blitz them together using a hand blender.
If you’re making this at the same time as the fish you can use it straight away. Or chill it into a beautifully speckled log and store it in the fridge / freezer.
STEP 2: Frying the Fish
This is the 180 second bit. Fry the sea bass in groundnut oil: skin-side down for 90 seconds, then flip and fry for another 60. Eyes fixed on the sweeping second hand of the kitchen clock.
Let’s talk about this absurd-looking ramekin arrangement. Heston’s idea is that the weight of the ramekin prevents the fish from curling as it goes in the pan, ensuring evenly crispy skin and an attractive flatness.
This is probably fine if you’re the Fat Duck and get free cast iron ramekins from Staubbs. Our 90-pence jobs from Sainsbury’s don’t work quite as well. Your hands are a more-effective, daredevil option. Or if you’re cooking several fillets together you could maybe use a large pan to press them all down at once.
Cute & surprising fact from Heston: Vanilla isn’t a sweet spice at all, but savoury. Years of it being used in pastries & desserts have just conditioned us into thinking its sweet. This sort of ongoing education is what makes it fun for the layperson who follows Heston’s recipes.
Brilliantly, in this instance. The vanilla butter pairs beautifully with the fish, giving the dish a mellow creaminess that matches the flavour of the sea bass. The crispy skin and still-moist flesh have prefect texture.
It’s healthy too. We served ours with rice and some broccoli (also from the book). Pat the fish dry after frying and you’re not taking in much more saturated fat than the 5g – 10g of vanilla butter. Sea bass isn’t outrageously expensive either, and relatively easy to find at the supermarket, so this recipe wins even more points on price and simplicity.
And I love the smell and taste of vanilla. If you do too then don’t leave the vanilla butter on the table or you’ll be tempted to use your whole supply in one sitting.
Less simple was the dessert. After the success of the chamomile panna cotta recipe we tried a variation suggested by the book: Earl Grey panna cotta. For the full Heston-effect we served it in these dinky Aumbry-style china cups with some of Heston’s caraway biscuits (recipe also in the book, don’t buy the overpriced Waitrose ones). Leftover biscuit dough also freezes really well.
We meant this as a twist on the Earl Grey ganache they serve at the end of your meal at Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental. It’s even better than Heston’s Chamomile Panna Cotta recipe that we’d already tried.
There is literally nothing we’d change about this recipe. Make sure you keep a supply of the butter in the freezer. It seems to last practically forever. You can buy vanilla pods in bulk on eBay for much, much less than the supermarket price.
Covalent Cooking – Bloody hell! These people are my heroes.