Our quest to cook all of the In Search of Perfection recipes by Heston Blumenthal continues with Heston’s Perfect Steak and Salad recipe.
Since visiting the Fat Duck in 2008 we’ve wanted to re-create the thrill of our meal there. And to do that we’ve been trying to make all of Heston’s In Search of Perfection recipes.
We’ve actually been working away at the Perfection project for a few years now, which is why I’d like you all to say hello to this gigantic slab of bone in beef rib we bought back in 2009 when we first tried to make Heston’s Perfect Steak recipe.
Now say goodbye, because that’s the last time you’ll see it.
We absolutely ruined that £43 piece of meat by failing to fully blowtorch the outside. This meant lingering bacteria which bred like wildfire in the barely lukewarm 50°C oven specified by Heston’s Perfection Steak recipe.
Our old fan oven would only settle around 42 – 48°C. That’s a warm day in the desert, rather than an acceptable cooking temperature for beef. After 24 hours the entire house smelled like inside of an old wheelie bin. The steak, though marvellously tender, stank like nothing I’ve ever encountered on a dinner plate before.
This is the photo of the recipe in the book, showing you what Heston’s Perfect Steak and Salad with Mushroom Ketchup recipe should look like:
We were determined we’d get it right for our second attempt, as part of a two-course meal at the 10pm Supper Club (named after the late hour you’re forced to eat at when attempting all the steps of a Heston Blumenthal Perfection recipe) with Heston’s Cheesecake recipe for dessert.
Oh, and coz we’re gluttons (for punishment and food) we also made Heston’s Triple Cooked Chips recipe as a side dish. Steak and Chips sounds like a much better combination to us than just salad. These lads from the 80’s agree:
Did we succeed this time? Let’s find out…
Here’s the episode of In Search of Perfection where Heston Blumenthal researches then makes his Perfect Steak and Salad recipe:
Recipes: Heston’s Perfect Steak and Salad recipe, Heston’s Triple Cooked Chips recipe
Special Equipment: Muslin, DIY-style blowtorch, 2 digital temperature probes, reliable oven
Special Ingredients: None
Time: 2 – 3 days
Cost: £40 upwards
Step 1: Blue Cheese Butter
To replicate the aged steak aroma in the home, and because no Heston Blumenthal Perfection recipe would be complete without a finishing slab of novelty butter, we’re infusing some with the aroma of blue cheese.
Slice up loads of Stilton and a full block of butter then layer them together. Leave in the fridge for a couple of days and: butter with a subtle hint of that blue cheese aroma and flavour.
As for the remaining Stilton? Why, simply throw it away! This is a Heston Perfection recipe. Wastefulness seems to be one of the goals.
The more practical amongst you will obviously blitz the two ingredients together to make Heston’s Blue Cheese Butter recipe from the Heston at Home cookbook. Or just make the In Search of Perfection-style butter and then eat the cheese.
Note: we found a potato masher works better than a food mixer when making this. Yes, even our Magimix.
Step 2: Mushroom Juice
Part of us likes this nod to Heston’s love of food history, Fat Duck / Dinner-style – this mushroom ketchup is based on a 400 year old recipe. Also: Mushrooms = loads of umami.
Then the other part of us thinks this is just a deliberate affectation that helps pad out a 30 minute television show. But since it’s part of Heston’s Perfect Steak and Salad recipe we’re obliged to include it (though you can all forget about ever seeing us do that mushroom espresso that goes with the risotto).
To make the mushroom juice you just blitz loads of mushrooms in your food processor (as with Heston’s Perfect Bangers and Mash recipe and Heston’s Perfect Treacle Tart recipe this is another Heston Perfection recipe that’s also a Heston Magimix recipe).
Now mix in lots of salt. An alarming amount, in fact.
As you mix it through the finely chopped mushrooms you’ll start to see the moisture coming out of them. This is the mushroom juice you’re after.
A sieve lined with muslin (or a disposable hairnet –as recommended by The Big Fat Undertaking’s Auldo) can be used to suspend the mushrooms over a bowl, into which you collect the juice. It’ll take at least 24 hours to draw out enough juice to make Heston’s Mushroom Ketchup recipe.
Step 3: Pickled Mushrooms
This step also needs to be done the day before. The pickling process will take at least 24 hours.
Just measure sugar and red wine vinegar, then boil and pour over cleaned button mushrooms.
Don’t forget the recipe’s instruction to quarter them! We did, hence this rescue attempt with a sieve after they’d been sitting for 30 minutes.
Step 4: Searing the Steak
This is where we messed up last time. Armed with a bigger, better blowtorch (crème brûlées now quake at our approach) we set about searing the rib joint.
I was gonna video this so you could hear my Daffy Duck-like yelps as each pocket of fat ignited, but to be honest left-handed blowtorching didn’t seem like the safest thing to do. I just don’t have the same level of left-handed cooking skill as How To Basic.
Anyway, our blowtorch is like something off the arm of a Jaeger, but it still took good eight-or-so minutes to fully sear the outside of the beef. We didn’t want to leave a single living organism on that meat. A sort of scorched earth / scorched steak policy.
We gave the steak a solid first pass on either side then re-did the whole thing just to be sure. Use tongs to peel back any flaps and make sure you get into all the nooks.
Step 5: Slow-Baking the Steak
This step is effectively going to artificially age the steak, by creating conditions that accelerate all the processes that occur as steak is aged. It’ll darken on the outside, shrink and become more tender.
Depending on how good your oven is this might be the trickiest part of the recipe. Ours falls into the “abysmal” category. No option to turn the fan off and a very haphazard dial. It’s dreadful at low temperatures.
Heston’s recommendation is to try wedging the door open a crack. With about an hour’s experimentation and the aid of the kitchen bin we managed to get a roughly stable 48°C.
Heston does say 50°C, but this step is about accelerating an enzyme process within the steak that’ll tenderize the meat. This process stops above 50° so we didn’t want to risk ruining all our hard work with a too-high temperature.
Ram one temperature probe into the centre of the meat and lay the other in the tray the meat is sitting on. Now sit back and leave it for a full 24 hours while you go play (the disappointing and underdeveloped) Rain on the PS3.
You might also prep Heston’s Triple Cooked Chips recipe and Mushroom Ketchup recipe during this time.
After the beef has finished it’ll look like this:
A roasted Kaiju head? Diamond Weapon after a shot from the Junon Cannon? This frankly hideous affair now needs to be covered and rested for 4 hours before you’re ready to cook the actual steak.
Heston says you can get away with 2 hours resting, but we did the full 4. It was still warm even then.
Step 6: Mushroom Ketchup
Once you’ve got enough salty mushroom juice making the actual ketchup is quite easy.
Weight out shallots, cloves, mace and red wine vinegar. Then add these in a pan to the mushroom ketchup.
Bring the lot to the boil then simmer it a bit to infuse the flavours.
Strain out the spices and shallots.
Then mix cornflour with a bit of water and whisk it into the flavoured mushroom juice until you get a ketchup-like consistency.
Step 7: Triple Cooked Chips
Heston’s Triple Cooked Chips recipe isn’t really part of his Perfection Steak recipe (although it is vital to Heston’s Perfect Fish and Chips recipe).
Rather than waste our word count here we’ve discussed Heston’s triple cooked chips recipe in a separate post. With a step-by-step guide that’ll hopefully help you avoid all the mistakes we’ve made. In 4 years of trying this was the first time we ever got close to right with them.
Step 8: Trimming the Rib Joint
This is an utterly heart-breaking bit.
We’ve often noticed how Heston’s recipes require you to throw away a lot of perfectly good ingredients (and money!). Remember how Heston wanted us to bin 250g of Stilton earlier on?
Beef isn’t cheap. Good beef like this (from Booths Media City) even less so. We’ve no idea if the blackened outer pieces are actually edible. Maybe you could make a stock with them and the rib bone?
Either way you have to trim every bit of blackened crust off the steak until there’s nothing but rare roasted meat in sight. We were only using a single rib joint (to feed two) but Heston’s Perfect Steak recipe says you should aim to get steaks around 5cm thick. Massive Flintstones-like slabs of meat.
I could not bring myself to weigh this pile of trimmings and find out just how much we’d had to discard. It’s an appalling waste.
Step 9: Frying the Steak
Before you begin frying the steak needs to be seasoned. Modern Heston recipes explicitly forbid adding pepper at this stage to avoid scorching it.
Back in 2006 Heston took a more Hawksmoor-like approach of dredging the steak through a combination of crushed peppercorns and salt. It seems like a daft amount of seasoning, but Heston’s Perfect Steak recipe, much like Hawksmoor’s steak recipe, calls for a crust of seasoning on the outside.
We got a cast iron pan ages ago (£12 from Viners using somebody else’s staff discount) but it’s so heavy and cumbersome it usually lives in the bottom cupboard under our collection of cake tins. For this recipe we dug it out and the ability of cast-iron cookware to hold on to heat makes a huge difference.
You need to heat the pan for around 10 – 20 minutes to get it hot enough. It’ll be nowhere near Josper temperatures but as good as you’ll get in a domestic setting without lighting a barbecue.
Heston’s Perfection Steak recipe calls for the steak to be flipped every 30 seconds (now revised down to 15 – 20 seconds). It’s a difficult job with such a huge and heavy piece of meat. Even harder if you’re struggling to take pictures at the same time. At least that’s my excuse for this blurry image.
Once cooked (about 4 minutes in total) the steaks should be rested. A good time to finish the chips and assemble the salad.
Step 10: Salad
Note we said “assemble”, not “start”. Before the steak went in you ought to have iced your leaves. This trick really does work in bringing some life, and crispness, back to lettuce leaves. We’ll be using it a lot more often from now on.
With the tomatoes quartered the next bit is probably simpler than every other salad recipe you’ve ever made. Just whisk up 4 parts groundnut oil to 1 part white wine vinegar then toss the leaves and tomatoes in it at the very last minute.
Step 11: Serving
Once rested you’ll need to cut the steak into hefty slices and brush it with the blue cheese butter (best if this is at room temp).
More salt, pepper and that smoked salt later and it’ll be ready to eat. Mix the pickled mushrooms and mushroom ketchup together, put a portion of salad (and Triple Cooked Chips, if you’re making them) on the side and you’re done.
Congratulations! Heston’s Perfect Steak and Salad recipe from In Search of Perfection (with Heston’s Triple Cooked Chips) is ready to eat.
This is an awful lot of work and even worse amount of waste for a steak recipe. We shudder to think what it costs to keep the oven running that long. With all that in mind we expected Heston’s Perfect Steak recipe to be a life changing experience. Sadly it wasn’t.
That’s not to say it isn’t good. We liked the notions of using smoked salt and blue cheese butter (though it’s been nearly a decade since this recipe was published and those ideas hardly seem revolutionary) but the finished steak wasn’t what we think of when we think of steak.
For starters there’s the soft, almost pâté-like texture of some of the beef. Pleasantly yielding, but not what you or I evolved a set of incisors for. Also, we like our steak to come in one fat slab. Slicing it up is like having your food cut up for you as a child. And nobody’s had to do that for me since I turned 23. It felt more like eating a very rare piece of roast beef. Which is essentially what this recipe creates.
The salad was crisp and clean, but bland. At the very least we’d have liked to see a bit of Dijon mustard in the dressing. This simplicity might be a nostalgic nod to the steak dinners of the 70’s, but there’s a damn good reason we’ve all moved on from those.
The mushroom ketchup was horrendous. “Salt ketchup with a hint of mushroom flavour” would be a more accurate description. The pickled mushrooms were fine, but to be honest we’d rather just have a grilled Portobello sprinkled with Thyme leaves.
I’m glad we made this recipe, and I’m glad it worked this time. But the effort really isn’t justified by the end result. We’ll never cook steak this way ever again (although some similar experiments may occur if I get that Sansaire I’ve been hinting about for Christmas).
Heston’s cheesecake recipe, on the other hand, was spectacular.
For something so simple there’s a lot of bloody complex lot of ways to cook steak. Tech enthusiasts sous-vide it, Modernist Cuisine freezes it, blowtorches it, then transfers it to a low oven. All these approaches have their merits and drawbacks. One of the easiest and simplest methods is suggested by the Guardian’s Felicity Cloake.
We’d combine her minute long initial sear one each side with Heston’s 30-second flips. And use his trick of a temperature probe. A slightly adjusted Heston’s Perfect Steak recipe from the TV series How to Cook Like Heston, which we ruined a while back with Heston’s oily Beef Tagliata recipe. Which would also give us our perfect rocket and parmesan salad.
One thing we did learn is that using a cast iron pan really helps get that perfect seared crust on your steak. We’ll definitely be making the effort to lift ours out of the cupboard more often.
In fact, after screwing up Heston’s Perfection Fish and Chips recipe I wanted to give the triple cooked chips another go. We made exactly the meal we described above, as you can see in the picture below:
As for the mushroom ketchup? If you absolutely have to make a mushroom ketchup recipe could just go to a posh supermarket, buy some Geo Watkins Mushroom Ketchup and some Xanthan Gun (you’ll find it in the gluten free bit) and add them together. Much easier.
Though instead of using salt we don’t see why Heston couldn’t just specify using a vegetable juicer. Not that we particularly want to buy one (our kitchen is full of enough crap already), but it seems like a safer bet than dumping all that salt into your food.
What’s our perfect steak recipe? And what tips would you give us if trying to make the perfect steak at home? Tell us in the comments secion.