One chef. Two books. Five years. Sixteen recipes. Here’s how we made every last one of Heston Blumenthal’s In Search of Perfection recipes.
It was our first visit to Heston’s 3 Michelin-starred restaurant, the Fat Duck, that started us on this ridiculous project. We had such an incredible experience at the restaurant that we wanted to find a way to recreate the same magic at home.
Not as brave as Auldo of The Big Fat Undertaking, we took the “easy” way out and decided to make every last one of Heston’s In Search of Perfection recipes. Documented in two books and a pair of BBC television series, this is a set of 16 dishes that all take the techniques and ethos of the food served at the Fat Duck and apply it to the kind of traditional, home-style meals that many Brits grew up with.
Every one of Heston’s 16 In Search of Perfection recipes, no matter how complicated, is designed so that it can be made in your home. Our goal was to cook all of them, as closely as possible to the full recipe and instructions Heston specifies, taking as few shortcuts as possible. Our only deliberate compromises would be with ingredients, where cost or availability would sometimes prohibit what was available to cook with.
What follows is an almost six year odyssey as we enthusiastic but untalented cooks, with no formal training and practically zero experience of fine dining, set about making every single one of Heston Blumenthal’s In Search of Perfection recipes in their entirety.
The Heston Blumenthal In Search of Perfection recipes are listed below in the order in which we tackled them. We began with the simplest, Heston’s Spaghetti Bolognese recipe and worked our way through to completing Heston’s first In Search Of Perfection book before starting on the second, Further Adventures In Search of Perfection.
This helped us build up our skills as well as our stock of kitchen gadgets. Heston’s Spaghetti Bolognese recipe needs nothing more than knives, chopping boards and pans, but by the time you move on to the second book pressure cookers are the norm, sous vide is a major benefit and you’re being asked to bring in meadow hay and house bricks as part of the cooking process!
We’ve put this together for you as a handy reference. And because we thought it’d be nice to see all the idiocy in one place.
Series 1 recipes
Heston’s Perfect Spaghetti Bolognese recipe was the best place for us to start, since it’s the “easiest” of all the Heston Perfection recipes to make (meaning it only takes about ten hours, features just the two obscure ingredients and merely the one soul destroying cooking technique). You don’t need any complicated kitchen kit like brine injectors or pressure cookers either.
Heston’s Perfect Spaghetti Bolognese recipe is the absolute best place to begin if you want to start cooking all of Heston’s In Search of Perfection recipes. Read on to see how easily you can make it yourself. Or click here to see why it was so good we had to make it a second time.
Heston’s Perfect Roast Chicken recipe comes from his well-documented love of Sunday lunch, and the Fat Duck chef has spent many years developing and refining the Perfection Sunday Roast Chicken recipe. We’re sad to say that the results of this recipe are about as far from “perfect” as we can imagine.
Awkward and long-winded, the meal you’ll end up with is completely underwhelming. When you read the post you’ll get to see the utterly ridiculous things you’re asked to do with a whole chicken and a frying pan, and find out why Heston’s cooking technique leaves half the meat inedible. Worst of all, after two days of cooking there’s still no gravy!
Some of the elements of Heston’s Perfect Roast Chicken recipe are worth the effort, however. Read on to see which parts were so good we use them every time we make a Sunday roast now (and to see which of Heston’s tips to ignore when cooking your actual chicken).
We tried making Heston’s Perfect Roast Chicken recipe a second time, with major changes- it still wasn’t perfect. Heston Blumenthal is a great chef, but he’s not the man to ask for a roast chicken recipe.
Heston’s Perfect Pizza recipe, developed by researching the very best pizzas that Naples has to offer, aims to create exactly the classic, thin crust pizza of your dreams in mere minutes –and without the need to build a wood fired pizza oven (though had this recipe featured in Heston’s second book we wouldn’t have put that past him).
Heston’s Perfect Pizza recipe marks the point in this series where you need to start spending serious money on kitchen kit. To make the full version of Heston’s In Search of Perfection Pizza recipe you’ll need a decent pressure cooker and one of those large, pricey large cast iron pans (also good for the steak).
As you’ll see from reading onwards, the results are exceptional – as long as you follow the advice to not burn the basil. It might not be the ideal recipe for feeding a crowd, but you’ll see just why Heston’s Perfect Pizza recipe is well worth trying if you have the time and the equipment.
Heston’s Perfect bangers and Mash recipe is exactly the kind of recipe this series excels at.
It might be another one that requires complicated equipment (this time a sausage stuffer and a return of the pressure cooker) and the ingredients can be awkward to source, natural hog casings and butchers rusk being difficult to track down.
But, with it’s gorgeous sticky gravy, rich buttery mash and sausages that taste like everything a banger should be, Heston’s Perfect Bangers and Mash recipe is a dish that, as you’ll see when you read on, is the perfect example off all that’s best about Heston’s In Search of Perfection recipes.
Heston’s Perfect Treacle Tart recipe, another recipe synonymous with the Fat Duck chef, made up the second half of the Bangers & Mash episode.
While the recipe for Heston’s Perfect Treacle tart with Dry Ice Ice-Cream isn’t all that longwinded it is a definite challenge for your pastry skills.
We skipped the dry ice ice-cream first time round, but it really is so much of an essential part of what makes Heston’s Perfect Treacle Tart recipe work that we had to go back and do it properly. The results are more than worth it.
Heston’s Perfect Fish & Chips recipe isn’t one we can class as “uncomplicated”, seeing as it uses a whipping siphon and requires you to learn how to make Heston’s Triple Cooked Chips recipe, which is fiendishly complicated and temperamental. But, chips aside, this is one recipe that you can do in (more or less) a couple of hours.
It actually took us four long years of failure to perfect those chips. From all those many mistakes we tried to provide a definitive guide on how to cook Heston’s Triple Cooked Chips recipe.
Sadly we still make mistakes from time to time, so click here to see how we made a revoltingly bad version of Heston’s Perfect Fish and Chips recipe – utterly failing through a few simple mistakes.
Heston’s Perfect Steak and Salad recipe is a funny one. We don’t think there’s an awful lot you can do complicate Steak and Salad, but being complex enough to fill 30 minutes of airtime and a large chunk of a cook book is exactly what Heston’s Perfect Steak and Salad recipe needs to do (as well as taste delicious).
A lot of time gets spent discussing sourcing, and the science of meats and proteins, and the end result is a ridiculously impractical affair where you “cook” and artificially dry-age the steak via 24 dangerously low-temperature hours in the oven.
It’s a fine idea but, as you’ll read, there are an awful lot of drawbacks to Heston’s Perfect Steak recipe. And don’t get us started on the Mushroom Ketchup!
Oh dear God.
Heston’s Perfect Black Forest Gateau recipe is a phenomenal undertaking. It’s well over a year since we made this and I am still scarred by the experience. Even compared to the more intricate recipes of the second In Search of Perfection series, Heston’s BFG is dauntingly complex.
That’s to be expected. After all Heston is asking you to make a home version of the exact same showpiece dessert you’d be served at the Fat Duck (Where Heston’s BFG recipe used to be a regular feature on the menu).
To achieve this you’ll be using whipping siphons and paint spray guns, building your own makeshift vacuum chamber and spending 3 or 4 long days and up to £100 making a small but tasty chocolate cake.
It might be an experience you’ll never again want to repeat in full, but you’ll see from reading the report that there’s a few elements worth trying yourself, and a couple you will know to avoid when making Heston’s Black Forest Gateau recipe
Series 2 recipes
Heston’s Perfect Cheeseburger recipe, even at 2 days long and requiring you to master advanced dough-handling techniques, is the simplest of the recipes in the second series, so it made an ideal starting point. Besides, we figured if they could knock this up in 3 hours on Masterchef Australia then we could do it in a spare weekend.
Heston’s Perfect Cheeseburger recipe pre-dates the current gourmet burger craze, so we thought it could end up seeming dated by today’s standards.
Click and read to see why, in spite of its odd stacking arrangement and a questionable cheese slice, Heston’s Perfect Cheeseburger recipe, still stands up today. And just wait until you hear about those brioche burger buns.
Here’s a recipe even worse than the roast chicken.
Heston’s Perfect Baked Alaska recipe, we personally think, was more about balancing the overall recipe list of the series (as well as allowing Heston a chance to visit his mates and then fly to New York on expenses).
Baked Alaska wasn’t a significant part of our, or many people’s, nostalgic childhood desserts -but then we can’t think how Heston, or anyone, could fill 30 minutes of airtime or 40 pages of a book talking about Arctic Roll or Rhubarb Crumble.
When you read about Heston’s Baked Alaska recipe you’ll see why we absolutely hated it.
Heston’s Perfect risotto recipe didn’t start off as an exciting prospect. Until we started writing this blog we’d never have described ourselves as huge risotto fans, at least not at home.
Yes, they can be gorgeous, but the amount of time and attention you need to make a good one at home often seems too much effort, no matter how delicious the end result might be. And that’s just for a standard risotto; imagine how much extra time and effort you’d need for Heston Blumenthal’s Perfect Risotto recipe.
Even for Heston it’s hard to over-engineer, the risotto making experience. Though he does make a valliant attempt by asking you to include with the recipe a mushroom “cappuccino”, salt and Horlicks “sugar cubes” and toasted rice biscuits to serve alongside it. We decided these were all unnecessary affectations, so we just skipped making them. (I suspect we will probably cop some flak for that, and for not having truly “completed” all 16 recipes).
What’s left is a recipe that’s part lesson, part essay. As you’ll see Heston’s Perfect Risotto recipe teaches you some vital lessons about making the best possible stock to base your risotto on, while educating you about the subtle variations in the flavour of different varieties of rice.
Heston’s Perfect Fish Pie recipe seems to take inspiration from one of the most famous dishes served at the Fat Duck: The Sound of The Sea. It’s a seafood dish served with an iPod playing a loop of seashore sound effects. The iPod, and the presentation of the recipe as a whole, is based on Heston’s theory of multi-sensory perception – using scent, sight and sound as well as taste to enhance a dish.
It’s this very idea that’s brought into play with Heston’s Perfect Fish Pie recipe. Okay, so there aren’t peas and mashed potato in the Fat Duck’s version of the fish, but the principles behind it are exactly the same.
As insanely complex and expensive as it was, Heston’s Perfect Fish Pie recipe was a moment of revelation for us. It was while making this recipe that we finally understood what the entire Perfection Project sought to achieve.
Looking, tasting, smelling and, if you play the right track on Youtube, sounding like the sea, this dish really does feel as close to perfection as it’s possible to get.
Heston’s Chicken Tikka Masala recipe is a great way of teaching you how all the tiny elements of a dish can come together to enhance the whole.
In Heston’s Perfect Chicken Tikka Masala recipe you really do notice all of those complicated hoops the Fat Duck chef makes you jump through, from the toasting of the garam masala spices, to the chargrilling of the chicken, every aspect shines through in the finished dish.
That’s not to say we advocate you using a small pile of housebricks to build a tandoor in your back garden, (although Heston certainly does), but this recipe showcases the quality and finesse that typifies the Heston Blumenthal In Search of Perfection experience.
Heston’s Perfect Trifle recipe seems like a natural fit for this series, judging by Heston’s recipe archive and restaurant menus Heston Blumenthal is clearly a massive fan of this Great British dessert.
The one small glass of dessert that you’ll end up with by making Heston’s Perfect Trifle recipe requires a frankly insane amount of work: baking biscuits from scratch, simmering fruits for four hours to make your own jelly… and let’s not even start on the six separate recipes you’ll need to make for the toppings.
But all that work, and the incredible range of flavours, combines to form something utterly unique. It’s certainly one of the more complicated recipes, from either series, but if you dare to make it (or take the easy option of reading our report) you’ll just why we think Heston’s Perfect Trifle recipe is one of the very best of Heston’s In Search of Perfection dishes.
Heston’s Perfect Chilli Con Carne recipe is probably the dish most responsible for making us want to start cooking all 16 of Heston’s In Search of Perfection recipes. Mainly because Heston’s Perfection book was open to this recipe on the upstairs shelf when we first visited the Fat Duck.
Like the Fish Pie, Chicken Tikka and Peking Duck recipes, just looking at the ingredients list and the many, many pages of cooking instructions is daunting. It’s this intimidating complexity that led to novice, unskilled home cooks needing over 5 years of practice work their way up to making these dishes.
This is why we left making Heston’s Perfect Chilli Con Carne recipe until near the end of this project. It’s by far one of the most complicated, with over twenty elaborate steps to take you from a pile of ingredients bigger than the kitchen worktops to the final rich, compact dish.
Read on to find out if we thought Heston’s Perfect Chilli Con Carne recipe was worth the £140 pricetag, and what it taught us about Perfection overall.
Heston’s Perfect Peking Duck recipe, like the Fish Pie, sums up the entire In Search of Perfection ethos. And almost every lesson and skill you’ve learnt during this adventure is going to come into play when you make Heston’s Perfect Peking Duck recipe.
Bringing together modernism and tradition, Heston’s Peking Duck recipe is an epic story of balance, intricacy and respect for ingredients. And of making your food too salty.
With three courses and eight separate components (though we’d dispute that as five) this is probably the most-demanding of Heston’s In Search of Perfection recipes.
That’s why we left it until last to make it. But, as you’ll read, it’s the taste and the experience of making it that made us glad to finish with Heston’s Perfect Peking Duck recipe.
What We Thought
It’s impossible (and pointless) to rank all these recipes in order of quality. Besides, dishes like the Burger, Tikka and Peking Duck are all equally amazing.
Instead, and with the benefit of hindsight, here’s some arbitrary awards summing up the best, the worst and the most absurd of what Heston’s In Search of Perfection recipes have to offer
Butter Moments: Finishing Heston’s Spaghetti Bolognese with huge chunks of butter, injecting chicken-fried butter into Heston’s Perfect Roast Chicken, making butter jelly with agar to decorate Heston’s Perfect Bangers and Mash, pouring nutty melted butter into Heston’s Perfect Treacle Tart mixture, infusing blue cheese into butter to slather onto Heston’s Perfect Steak recipe, adding melted butter to the bread mixture to make Heston’s Perfect Cheeseburger recipe, frying the sponge cake in butter for Heston’s Baked Alaska recipe, infusing butter with saffron to decorate Heston’s Perfect Risotto recipe, the crazy amount of butter you add to the mashed potato for Heston’s Perfect Fish Pie recipe, a final few lumps of butter to enrich Heston’s Perfect Chicken Tikka Masala recipe, the buttery caraway biscuit layer of Heston’s Perfect Strawberry Trifle recipe and, finally, the Bloody Mary butter used to finish Heston’s Perfect Chilli Con Carne recipe.
Have you tried to make any of Heston’s Perfection recipes at home, or do you not have several spare years to make them? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below…