Is cooking at home faster and cheaper than Heston’s Waitrose ready meal recipes?
Last week we gorged our way through Heston’s new range of ready meals for Waitrose.
Some were shockingly bad, others decent enough – as far as ready meals go, and faster than cooking their counterparts from the Heston at Home cookbook. And they’re a healthier meal-for-one than oven chips and a pint of Haagen Dazs.
But, at £5 a go, would it be cheaper and easier to cook & freeze your own meals made from the book?
We chose Heston’s Cauliflower Macaroni Cheese recipe, because it’s the most tolerable product in the Waitrose range.
Here’s the rules of our challenge:
- Time limit. The round trip from Leigh to the Spinningfields branch of Waitrose is about an hour. The Mac n’ Cheese takes 30 minutes to reheat. We need to cook our meal inless than this total time of 90 minutes to be faster than Waitrose.
- Cost. The recipe says it serves 6, but we’re estimating 4 hearty portions. Our shopping list needs to cost less than 4 of the Waitrose ready meals. £19.56.
- Recipe. There’s a cauliflower macaroni cheese recipe in the Heston at Home cookbook. This is the one we’ll be using.
I’d love to say that we did this like a Top Gear race, with one of us driving off to the shop while the other was frantically at work in the kitchen. But have you seen the price of petrol these days? We just set a timer running.
The standard RRP for Heston Waitrose ready meals is £4.89. Multiplied by 4 that’s £19.56.
Our shopping list: 1 cauliflower, £0.90. 500g Macaroni, £1.00, 1 pint whole milk, £0.56. Tesco Finest Gruyere Cheese, £2.92. Parmigiano Reggiano, £3.40. Sodium Citrate, £5.49. Unsalted butter, £1.40 Total: £15.67
The Waitrose version adds breadcrumbs & truffle oil, which we had in the cupboards. (We had parmesan as well, but the recipe’s 120g is enough to make it worth listing).
You can only really buy Sodium Citrate online. We already had some in preparation for the Perfection Hamburger recipe. UPDATE: Days after making this we found unflavoured sodium citrate at Superdrug. It’s cystitis medication!
0 minutes: What should’ve been a relaxed 90 minutes actually became an elaborate mess thanks to some atrocious planning on my part. Basically I grated the cheese first, which I should have been doing while the cauliflower was on.
5 minutes: The chopped & weighed cauliflower needs to simmer in milk for 35 minutes. Instead of starting on this bit I’d inexplicably decided to grate the cheeses first.
15 minutes: Finely grating these cheese took ages, but the idea was it’d melt quicker. Hadn’t bought enough Gruyere so made the rest up with Comte.
19 minutes: Eventually I got round to chopping weighing, dividing and finally simmering the cauliflower.
24 minutes: Things seemed so simple with just one pan on the stove (cauliflower). Make that four once you start on brown butter, fried cauliflower and the macaroni.
46 minutes: After filling every available hob, and making a mess of all the work surfaces, the 3 additional ingredients were ready. Somehow the cauliflower wasn’t too badly overcooked. Tossed the pasta with some of the truffle oil.
No photos of this debacle. I’m sure you know what melted butter and cooked pasta look like. Plus I was behind schedule and basically forgot to take them.
48 minutes: The (by now very tender) cauliflower and it’s cooking milk are easiest to blitz in a jar with a stick blender. This way you can just sieve it back into the cooking pan and save on washing up.
54 minutes: Time to break out the molecular gastronomy. Specifically, 12g of sodium citrate.
60 minutes: Waitrose meal goes in the oven.
63 minutes: Adding the cheese in stages eventually produces a smooth, viscous and weirdly elastic sauce.
75 minutes: In the ten-ish minutes we’d left the sauce to stand it had developed a strange, glue-like quality, adhering to every possible surface.
Pasta added. And a splash of milk to thin the sauce too.
85 minutes: To match the Waitrose dish we added a good handful of breadcrumbs. Then under the grill it went.
90 minutes: Both finished dishes side by side.
It turns out these dishes are similar in name only.
We’ve already reviewed the Waitrose Mac n Cheese. We liked the creamy sauce, sharp tang of cheddar, crunchy crumb topping and bite of al-dente cauliflower. But comments on under James’ Guardian reviews suggest the sauce is too thin.
The Heston At Home recipe has the opposite problem. It’s already thickened with blended cauliflower. The addition of sodium citrate, (used to make Kraft cheese slices), gives it a plastic-y texture and the adhesive properties of primary school glue.
This book’s macaroni & cauliflower cheese recipe is heavy going. It’s meant to be comfort food but it feels like it might be your last meal. In fairness , that might be because we did serve the 6 portions as 4.
Because so much of the cauliflower is blended into the sauce there’s very little left to add fried / raw to vary the texture. Frying the cauliflower seemed a waste of time, it’s just mushy and doesn’t add anything to the dish.
The 10 minutes the sauce was left standing probably it firm up too much, making it stodgy rather than smooth. Even so, the Waitrose version was creamier and we preferred the flavour of mature cheddar to the book’s Gruyere.
We’re confident you could still make a better dish at home (probably by using Heston’s Channel 4 macaroni cheese recipe), just adding raw florets to the pasta water halfway through cooking.
But we’ve still got two monstrous homemade portions of in the freezer which need using, so it might be a while before we’re making mac n’ cheese again.