Heston’s Perfect Spaghetti Bolognese recipe is the easiest to make from his series In Search of Perfection. And since our aim is to cook every single one of those recipes we thought it was time to have another go at it.
Regular readers (both of you) might notice that every time we test a Heston Blumenthal recipe we do a “Next time” section, a list of shortcuts or improvements we’d use if we made a particular dish again. We did this for Heston’s Perfect Spaghetti Bolognese recipe, but the last time we made that was over 2 years ago.
The ultimate aim of this blog has always been to make every single one of Heston’s Perfection recipes (each as part of a two-course meal, at what has now become known as the “10pm Supper Club” –we never plate up on time!).
Our goal is to have made all 16 of these dishes by the end of the year. So to warm up we’re re-doing the easiest (and one of the cheapest) of Heston’s In Search of Perfection recipes.
We’ve already made Heston’s Perfect Spaghetti Bolognese recipe as close to the exact instructions as possible in our previous attempt. This time round we’ll be using every shortcut we think we can get away with.
That means passata in place of fresh tomatoes (especially making this in February, when UK tomatoes are far from their best) and beef shin in place of oxtail. Not quite the same unctuous flavour and texture, but it will be a hell of a lot easier to turn into mince.
Oh, and while we’re going to all this effort we’ll be doubling the quantities in the recipe for storage in the freezer (and to have a go at making a Heston Blumenthal Lasagne Recipe).
Dessert will take the form of Heston’s Liquid Centre Chocolate Pudding recipe from Heston at Home – alongside a similar offering from Gordon Ramsay, allowing us to complete our Heston V Gordon: Chocolate Fondant recipe challenge as well.
Here’s the episode of In Search of Perfection where Heston develops and cooks his Perfect Spaghetti Bolognese recipe:
Special Equipment: Muslin
Special Ingredients: None
Time: 1 -2 days
Cost: £16 approx (for a double portion)
Serves: 6, (or 4 very hungry people)
Step 1: Prep
I’m fond of referring to Andy G’s observation that Heston hides an awful lot of hard work for each recipe inside his ingredients lists. Case in point: Heston’s In Search of Perfection Spaghetti Bolognese recipe asks for a total of 1.2 kilos of onions to be chopped before you can even think about starting to cook. 1.2 kilos!!!
Bear in mind we’re doubling this recipe. That means slicing our way through around two-and-a-half kilos of onions, about a kilo of carrots and the same again of celery – there’s more laborious chopping than you’d see sitting through Quadra-Cut Knights of The Round Materia.
Thankfully, we have access to a Magimix, so we just churned all of our veg through that. It still took 4 full loads (in a preposterous 5200XL, usually too large for domestic use). Bonus points for shouting “Get to the chopper” in your best Arnie voice each time you fill the food processor. Hint: reserve the leaves from the celery for later.
The next bit of prep (remember, we’re still just assembling our ingredients list) is to mince half a kilo of beef shin. Boning and mincing oxtail by hand was a soul-crushing task last time round. We had a much easier time of it with the shin, using our Cast Iron Mincer (referred to in certain Twitter circles as “Stu”).
As it happens, you still have to cut the shin up into very small cubes to fit them in. Also, the sinew can easily clog the grinding plate. The whole thing is a right mess to clean up afterwards as well. At least the pre-sliced pork shoulder from the supermarket was a little easier to dice.
Step 2: Cooking the Sofforito
This is the point where flaws became apparent in our “make double the recipe” plan. The sofforito vegetables, carrot, celery plus around half the onion, would barely fit into our largest pan and took twice the prescribed 20 minutes to soften.
Step 3: Caramelising the Onions
The onions and star anise were a little easier. If you use whole star anise you don’t need to bother fiddling around with muslin, just fish them out once the onions are done.
Step 4: Browning the Meat
While all this is happening heat up your thickest, heaviest pan to start browning the meat. Obviously do this in batches anyway, to ensure the meat browns rather than stews.
Hint: For the best results leave your pan on the hob for a minute or two between batches to allow it to come back up to full temperature.
Drain the meat into a collander then deglaze the meat pan with white wine. A full bottle of it in our make-double case. We used a Teflon pan so, disappointingly, there wasn’t much deglazing to be done.
Step 5: Stewing
The sofforito vegetables, caramelised onions (minus star anise), seared meat and wine can now be combined in a pan with milk and just enough water to cover. Simmer for 6 hours. It will look, and probably taste, like the worst stew you have ever made.
Heston says not to worry if the milk goes grainy. Ours did, it was fine.
Step 6: Tomato Compote
Tomatoes time! Our last attempt at Heston’s Perfect Spaghetti Bolognese required us to skin over a kilo of tomatoes. It was the second least enjoyable part of the whole recipe (after stripping the meat from the oxtail) so rather than repeat it we’re just using supermarket cartons of passata. Totally allowed, Heston’s Crab Lasagne recipe in Heston at Home says you can use this as a substitute.
Begin by frying more onions, then dumping in the passata. The recipe prescribes two hours here but we went for 3, given the increased quantities we’re working with.
Now, up until this point there’s been no use of a single grain of salt or pepper to season the recipe. Quite different from the teachings of Gordon Ramsay – who insists on seasoning at every stage of cooking.
Instead Heston asks us to tip in 6 different condiments to season the dish, these being:
- Worcestershire Sauce
- Tomato Ketchup
- Sherry Vinegar
- Tabasco Sauce
- Soy Sauce
- Fish Sauce
Those last three might sound like especially weird additions, but they’re all ingredients famous for being rich in umami.
I found our brand of fish sauce while prowling round a Chinese cash & carry in Glasgow. Quite literally a must-buy, if only so I can say: “I never expected to make a Heston Blumenthal dish taste better by putting my Cock in it!” Ho ho ho!
Oh, along with the diverse sauces you have to add a muslin bag (tea infuser, on our case) of coriander seeds, star anise and cloves. Also a bouquet garni of very specific fresh herbs. We just used a generic bag from the supermarket.
After a good three hours Heston asks you to tip in loads of oil (100ml) to add a “fried note” to the tomato compote, then pour this off. Good luck with that. After much tipping we barely got a small drizzle of the 100ml to leave the pan. Save as much of this tomato oil as you can.
Step 7: Combining the Meat and Compote
This was where we had the biggest problem with the make-double plan. None of our pans could hope to contain the full volume of the combined stew and compote, so we had to weigh out half portions of both components and then cook them separately.
After that it’s 2 more hours of gentle, lidless simmering on the hob. Ideally until the resulting ragu is so thick you can stand a teaspoon in it. BEHOLD!!!
Note: Even at a gentle simmer ours was bubbling away like a cauldron, casing no end of splatter on the surrounding surfaces, tiles, extractor hood etc. Just look at the lid of our bread bin a mere 60 seconds after wiping it down:
Step 8: Finishing and Infusing
It wouldn’t be a Heston dish without a ton of butter being chucked in. Later Heston perfection recipes devise all manner of complex methods of adding artery-clogging dairy fats to your diet, but Heston’s Perfect Bolognese recipe simply has you chuck 100g or so into the finished dish.
This along with a fair amount of parmesan cheese and then some herbs (dried, in our case) and celery leaves to infuse some more subtle flavours. You can also season with salt and pepper at this point, and add a splash of sherry vinegar to “cut through the richness”. Our advice would be to go very easy on the sherry vinegar. We needed a good grind of pepper but salt was completely unnecessary.
Step 9: Spaghetti
When we made this 2 years ago Heston’s Perfect Spaghetti, made by artisan Italian producers Rustichella, was almost impossible to source in the Greater Manchester area. We’d have had to get it posted, meaning paying around £10 for a pack of spaghetti. Not a chance. Besides, no telling how the fragile stalks would fare in transit.
Enter Booths supermarket at MediaCity. A Lancashire-based chain who quite frankly take a dump all over Waitrose in terms of quality. They’ve a massive shelf full of Rustichella pasta on the left hand side as you go in, opposite the spuds and onions. Three quid for a pack of spaghetti is still a bit on the pricey side, but a lot more acceptable than a tenner. Sold!
Rustichella spaghetti has a very rough surface, ideal for gathering up the sauce. Surprisingly it also features a hollow centre in each stem. This gives the spaghetti a wonderfully bouncy mouthfeel with each bite.
We really liked this. Rustichella is expensive, and hard to find, but if you can source some without too much hassle we’d definitely recommend it. Otherwise any of the luxury brands of pasta will be fine. Check the blurb on the back of the pack to make sure they are air-dried and cast from bronze dies (standard pasta is cast in plastic dies, giving it a smoother surface that doesn’t hold the sauce as well).
Once boiled (1 litre of water and 10g of salt per 100g of pasta, ta) Heston would like you to lift the pasta out of the water, rather than tipping it into a colander. The reason for this that pouring just means covering your spaghetti in more of the starchy water you’ve just removed it from. It’s a fiddly job, best to pour most of the water away first to make life easier.
Then coat your pasta in olive oil to stop it sticking and, surprise surprise, more butte
Step 10: Assembly
Having spent so much time and effort on making Heston’s Perfect Spaghetti Bolognese recipe it’s worth the effort to make it look good on the plate.
Heston suggests winding your spaghetti around a carving fork and laying it down in a line, with a ridge of Bolognese on top. All well and good, but you do need to snip away loose strands of spaghetti with scissors or a small knife to get the presentation absolutely perfect. Take too long over this and you risk the food going cold.
A final drizzle of the reserved tomato oil, and a spine of shaved parmesan across the top and you’re ready to tuck in.
Heston’s Perfect Spaghetti Bolognese recipe was incredible last time, and was still excellent even with all our shortcuts.
We did notice a subtle difference in quality though, so all those complex steps and specific ingredients Heston calls for are there for a reason. Oh, and our Magimix’d veg was a little too fine, meaning the ragu didn’t have quite as much texture as we might have liked. I really ought to learn how to use the dicing plate.
We’d still included most of the proper steps and ingredients. The resulting Bolognese was rich and complex, an elevated version of the dish that the Heston Perfect recipes are all about. Not perfect, but very bloody good. Which made us glad we had made double after all.
Oh, and Heston’s Liquid Centre Chocolate Pudding recipe made a perfect dessert.
Not a lot of changes we’d make, though due to the complexity it’s unlikely we’ll find ourselves repeating the entire recipe for a while. Our next Bolognese will feature the following steps:
- Finely chop the shin – the hassle associated with the mincer means fine chopping might be easier.
- Chop the veg more coarsely – we missed the texture.
- Use dried herbs in the compote – a pinch of each, just for convenience.
- Leave out the tomato oil – we didn’t get much benefit from this.
- Add less butter – just to try and live a bit longer.
Have you made this recipes, or have you got a favourite Spaghetti Bolognese recipe of your own? Let us know in the comments section below.