Heston’s Minced beef: the perfect cold weather comfort food for your slow cooker.
It was about 1am the other night while I was re-reading the comments on Heston’s Minced Beef and Dumplings recipe on the Waitrose site when I realised I really needed to get a life. So I booked a weekend flight to Moscow to go boozing with my mate Clos, who works over there.
By 1.13am I was happily back reading Waitrose recipe comments. Heston Blumenthal’s latest Waitrose recipe is for traditional mince and dumplings, and those Waitrose commenters seriously don’t like what he’s done with it. In about 4 years only Heston’s Lemon Tart recipe and Braised Pork Belly recipe have ever got quite as much abuse.
The commenters make some fair points. Mince and dumplings should be a dish that’s as cheap as it is hearty. Heston’s version’ll cost you £32 to make if you have to buy in every last ingredient, including a fiver’s-worth of fancy beef stock.
But other Waitrose commenters have some great ideas too, such as replacing specific ingredients like Heston from Waitrose Finishing Jus for Beef and the Shin with Marrowbone with cheaper oxtail to maintain the sticky richness of the dish. They also suggest using a slow cooker to get a really tender result.
We’ve stolen all of these ideas, but still used a single bag of Heston’s pricey Finishing Jus. Served with Heston’s Treacle Sponge recipe for dessert it’s the perfect comfort food double-bill for a cold winter’s day.
Recipes: Heston’s Mince and Dumpling recipes
Special Equipment: None, but a slow cooker is handy
Special Ingredients: Heston from Waitrose Finishing Jus for Beef (optional)
Time: 5 – 10 hours
Here’s a video showing you how to cook the dish we found hidden on Waitrose’s YouTube channel. It’s introduced by Heston, but cooked by Johnny Lake, the head chef at the Fat Duck. Our co-blogger Andy G has actually met him (and been fed by him!).
This is a much better video than the evocative and manipulating lifestyle-porn that Waitrose broadcast, which was just half a minute of falling leaf footage followed by Heston sniffing some mushrooms.
Step 1: Slow Cooking
Heston’s Mince and Dumplings recipe recommends you use two packets of his finishing jus for beef, which would set you back about £5. We’ve made a steak sauce with this ingredient, and it’s fantastic stuff, but five quid for gravy is a bit steep.
Heston uses oxtail to enrich his Bolognese, so we followed the Waitrose commenters advice and used it in place of the Shin with Marrowbone.
In fact, see that white core in the middle of the oxtail? The slow cooker will go to work on that releasing all the rich sticky goodness from it and giving your mince and gravy a rich, sticky consistency making this the perfect comfort food. Just don’t try sawing through it to break it up, we promise you it’s not worth the effort.
First, though, we need to fry it to add lots of roasted flavours. Be warned, this is a messy business, with bursts of fat exploding all over your countertop and forearms. If doing this again we’d roast the stuff in the oven. Easier and safer.
Next fry the mince. Although preferably not this skinny-strand Morrisons mince that we’re using. You want to brown it, but if the strands of mince are this thin then it’ll end up crispy all the way through. Avoid.
Then flame the wine. I was properly chuffed with the pyrotechnics on display, way better than the feeble glimmer we got making Heston’s Braised Chicken with Sherry and Cream recipe from Masterchef Australia recipe keyword spam.
After this just add your Heston From Waitrose Beef Jus, if you’re using it, and water. We’re using beef stock in place of water (I say “stock”, actually the deservedly mocked salt-paste from Marco Pierre White). Tip everything into your slow cooker along with star anise and a bouquet garni.
You’re meant to cook this in the oven for 2 hours at 120°C. As we’re using a slow cooker, and to help break down the oxtail, we’ve decided to cook it on the lowest setting overnight.
Step 2: Dumplings
If you’re using the oven-method to cook Heston’s Minced Beef with Dumplings recipe you can do this while they’re cooking. Since we’re using a slow cooker we made these the night before.
They’re pretty simple. Just combine flour suet herbs and lemon zest in a Magimix™ or similar food mixer.
To relax the gluten and improve the texture of the herb dumplings you should chill them in the fridge for half an hour (or overnight in our case).
To make 24 even balls we chopped the dough in half, rolled out two logs and kept cutting them in half until we had our even portions. They looked a bit on the small side so we hoped they’d puff up during cooking.
I completely forgot to fry these in butter before cooking.
Step 3: Vegetables
On the surface this looks like a really simple recipe, but the amount of time you’ll spend on the vegetables will literally amaze you. (At least I found the hour-and-a-bit they needed amazing. I’m easily impressed).
We sliced half the onion and diced the other half for variety of texture. Carrots were done quickly using a mandolin and the mushrooms were laboriously quartered.
With the prep done you just keep adding ingredients to a frying pan over the course of the next hour, starting with the onions and star anise and finishing with ten minutes of simmering passata.
Remember to remove the star anise when you’re done to avoid a Russian Roulette scenario for whoever you’re feeding.
Step 4: Finishing
Get that slow cooked oxtail out of the sauce and start shredding it. You might have to untangle some strands of mince but eventually you’ll have a gorgeous pile of delicious meat.
Stir it back into your slow cooker then add the veg, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and Mushroom Ketchup. (Plus some seasoning, but go easy on the salt if you’re using Knorr stock).
We saved half of this in the freezer, but if you’re serving the whole dish at once then a slow cooker is a huge asset here. Just lift out the ceramic pot, arrange all the dumplings on top and give it 30 minutes, uncovered, in the oven.
Congratulations, you’ve just made Heston’s Traditional Minced Beef and Dumplings recipe from Waitrose. But was it worth all that extra work?
As we all know, Heston’s recipes for the home usually fall into two categories
- Weird and wacky. Like his recipe for Black Pudding Nutella that we made a while back.
- Absurdly complex. The In Search of Perfection recipes are the best example of this, like the Perfect Bangers and Mash recipe that took us a day and half to make.
This recipe definitely falls into the second category. It’s not perfect but thanks to the oxtail and Waitrose Finishing Jus for beef, as well as the slow cooking process it’s tastier than your bog-standard minced beef and dumplings. It’s the way a lot of Heston recipes go, unexpected ingredients or little tricks all adding together to take a recipe to the next level.
Downsides? Well there was as much oxtail (or shin) as there was mince, which makes a mockery of the name. And if we were being picky we’d say diced carrots would be better than these sliced ones to give each mouthful of food a more even consistency.
Passata was divisive, it adds rich umami flavours and thickens the sauce, but it’s not the traditional flavour we recognise from our youth. Oh, and the star anise flavour is way too strong. Heston usually goes with 1-per-onion, but three of our four taste-testers described this as being “Chinese flavoured”. They should know since all three grew up in a Chinese household. We reckon that second star anise is best left out.
Those dumplings were a tad crumbly, we prefer a chewy texture. If you feel the same we’d suggest replacing more of the flour with suet. Maybe 50 – 75g. I think I added a bit too much parsley as well, some of those dumplings had a harshly bitter edge. And we forgot to fry them. If you made this recipe and you did fry them let us know if it makes a difference, please.
In fact, this became a suet double-bill, as we served Heston’s Treacle Sponge recipe for dessert, it’s a great way to use up the leftovers from his In Search of Perfection Treacle Tart recipe and is rib-stickingly fantastic.
If you tailor the steps for Heston’s Minced Beef and Dumplings to your preferences then all those extra touches help make this is an absolutely fantastic mince and dumplings recipe. Which it ought to be for all that time and effort.
UPDATE: To maximise the flavour of this recipe while making it even more practical we’d recommend you follow John Lister’s exact method in the comments section below. His is a genius adaptation that’ll give you an exceptional recipe for £27 less than Heston’s version.
Below are our original suggestions for ways to improve the recipe. We’ve kept them in because they’re our initial personal recommendations, but in our opinion John’s suggestions would be even better.
- Use thicker strands of mince
- Less star anise!!!
- Double the amount of mince to make a really meaty dish
- Dice the carrots instead of slicing them
- Leave out the expensive beef jus but keep the rich, sticky oxtail
- Add in some bone marrow if we can get hold of it
- Replace more of the flour in the dumplings with suet
- Add frozen peas for bursts of colour, flavour and freshness
Do you think Heston’s Minced Beef and Dumplings recipe is worth all this effort? Or do you agree with the Waitrose critics that it’s too much hassle and expense for a simple dish?We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section…