Friday 21 August 2009

If this had been April 1st...

...then it might have made some sense. But it wasn't - and the recent piece of deathless prose which appeared under Heston Blumenthal's byline in The Times online left me fairly speechless, and reaching for a calming glass of something. Hard to believe, but the following (paraphrased, in the interests of sanity) is his method for making what is essentially a rich beef tea:

Step one is to make a standard beef stock, sautéing industrial - but peculiarly precise - quantities of meat and vegetables (21.25 kilos of meat, along with 7.5 kilos each of peeled carrots and onions and - although, surely some mistake here ? Ed. - 7.5 kilos of star anise!), which is all then deglazed using 7.5 bottles of red wine. Not 7.62 bottles, or 8.3 bottles, but a definite 7.5...(At this stage I began to wonder if we were in James Hamilton-Patterson territory, and like 'Cooking with Fernet Branca' the whole thing was just one enormous spoof; but it would appear not).

In step two, this 5.625 litres of liquid is reduced by 2/3 to become 1.875 litres, thus removing 3.75 litres of water - but immediately you then add 28 litres of water...which leaves me wondering why you'd bother with the initial reduction, and not just add 24.25 litres of water instead?

In step three, you make a mushroom stock, using 400 ml of Madeira as the deglazing agent, which you then reduce to 50 which you then litres of water - so why did he not just skip the earlier reduction, and merely add 2.65 litres of water? And in any event, soon after this he reduces the liquid again to 30% of its earlier volume, thus removing 2.17 litres of the water he's just added. Hmmm.

Then you mix together the two stocks and freeze them to make rectangular slabs, which you then sieve very slowly through a fine strainer, which allows you to separate most of the remaining water from the concentrated juices ...which you then re-freeze and then centrifuge (we all have a centrifuge in our batterie de cuisine, right?) in order to get rid of the frozen water...and then , just to be on the safe side, you put the stuff into your centrifugal evaporator (I think that's that thing at the back of the cupboard, just behind the chip pan and to the left of the cheese fondue set) and leave it there for about four hours, to make sure there's absolutely no water left at all, leaving you with half a litre of thick beef syrup.


But, there's more. At some subsequent time, the syrup is mixed with madeira and gelatine, and allowed to set into a jellied lump....which, according to Blumenthal, for presentation purposes, is brought to table and served in a teacup, along teapot of boiling water, which you use to reinvigorate your jellied lump of beef syrup, and turn it into a cup of beef tea. (So, you can cross out all those centrifugal evaporators from your Christmas lists, since it seems that everything from the point where you made your frozen rectangular slabs of combined stocks onwards was a complete waste of time.)

Now, an uncharitable interpretation of all of this might be that HB feels the need to distance his cooking methods from those of us lesser mortals by all these ....yawn....impressive and complicated machinations, in order that he can keep the prices and the queues at The Fat Duck firmly in place. A (marginally)less cynical view might be that this is just a bored child playing with his food...

We relayed the whole process to the lady cook of one of the local restaurants here, and her response was somewhat pithier. Having listened , hands on hips and frowning with concentration as she digested the process, her comment, thrown over her shoulder as she made her way back to her busy kitchen, was merely : "Che Cretino!"

If you want to read the original Blumenthal article, then it can be found here.

Tonight's Dinner:

Tuna Tartare.

Rabbit and Garlic, with braised Fennel.

Fresh Peach ice cream.

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