Cookbook Review: Heston Blumenthal at Home, with Photography by Angela Moore
Difficulty Level: Professional
Being Heston Blumenthal: Take a tour inside the chef’s brain. For instance, on how he came up with the white-chocolate-and-caviar pairing: “Although some people initially considered the dish strange, it actually came from a logical train of thought. A sprinkle of salt enhances chocolate (as it does many sweet things), so I began to explore whether other salty ingredients might have the same effect on chocolate.”
Chapters: Stocks; Soups; Starters; Mains; Salads; Meat; Fish; Sous-vide; Pasta and Grains; Cheese; Sides and Condiments; Ices; Desserts and Sweets; Biscuits, Snacks, and Drinks; Specialist Kit.
A Few Select Recipes: Garden Salad with Sauce Gribiche; Marmite Consommé (Yanks beware); Konbu-cured Halibut; Liquorice-poached Salmon; Fennel in Smoked Duck Fat; Quinoa Sushi; Mustard Ice Cream; Bacon-and-Egg Ice Cream; Whisky Gums; Negroni with Orange and Prosecco Foam.
There are some who believe that when chefs use modern technology and gadgetry, the romance is taken out of their cooking, leading to a stale, sterile culinary love instead of the flushed, finger-prodding, sweaty sort. Not Heston Blumethal. He thinks toys have a place in the kitchen and can only inflame the passion cooks have for their product. In Heston Blumenthal at Home, the British darling makes you want to slip into a luxurious sous vide water bath, or, trembling, grab for the nearest digital probe to test one’s meat. It’s a dream read for those who are turned on by both (as Heston himself writes) “intuition and emotion” and “careful probing.”
The book reads like a perfect union between The French Laundry Cookbook (full write-ups and beautiful photos of the dishes, amidst Heston’s full-frontal bespectacled stares) and On Food and Cooking (an in-depth discussion about the science of flavor, a section on the Maillard reaction), with a little Joy of Cooking (i.e., explanations of basic techniques) on the side. One can’t help marvel at both Blumenthal’s preference of ice filtration instead of egg rafts when clarifying a consommé or his use of pressure cookers to obtain more flavorful stocks. For the less technical (but who still want to show off a nifty trick), he includes a section on how to make the best grilled cheese—using a fresh sponge to keep the interior of the bread moist while toasting the exterior!
That’s not to say that only experts and culinary technicians can get in on the fun. After all, this is supposed to be Heston at home, not running the pass at The Fat Duck or Dinner. There are British comfort staples here—done more elaborately than the typical Food Network recipe, yes, but not out of reach—such as Shepherd’s Pie and even Chili con Carne, as well as the expected foams, sous vided meats, and flash-frozen custards. While reading about Blumenthal’s mastery of those techniques fascinates, the true joy is reading his account of simple things—his description of “meltingly unguent cheese,” for one, or that “a good roast chicken is one of the glories of the weekend.” Fancy toys or just pure culinary passion, Heston Blumenthal at Home is certainly an inspirational read.