It’s a beautiful book. Heston Blumenthal’s new testament to British cooking, Historic Heston is 416 pages and comes in a wine-colored cloth slip case. It’s peppered with incredibly imaginative photos by Romas Foord of the dishes than can be described as no less than pure fantasy. The recipes are often 6 page epics, Blumenthal’s modern interpretations of scraps of recipes from old dusty books. A recipe for “Compost” runs 4 pages and looks like a beautiful smattering of dirt and flowers on a plate when in fact, it’s an incredibly complicated combination of little bites of mushroom, pea, citrus and others. Paul Levy’s review for The Guardian pretty much sums it up.
Flipping through the book is truly a feast for the eyes. And the histories that accompany each recipe are actually well-written and more often-than-not, reveal some weird facet of British history. I spent a solid two hours pouring over the book. But after two hours I came to the stunning conclusion that there is absolutely nothing in the book that I could actually make at home. Not one single thing. Not even one single sauce or garnish since almost every recipe calls for the use of a sous vide machine or molecular gastronomy powders. Now I’m not saying that the recipes are impossible for a home cook. There are plenty of home chefs dedicated to the complicated art of molecular gastronomy. Thanks to NYC-based chefs like Wylie Dufresne (WD-50) and David Chang (Momofuku) molecular gastronomy is now accessible to us plebs, whether we get treated to a dinner by our expense account-carrying friends or by attempting “miso foam” from the easy-to-follow steps in their cookbook.
If you are into that sort of thing, than Historic Heston is the book for you. But I found my eyes crossing with disbelief at the complexity of each recipe. You’d be hard pressed to find wood pigeon, cockles or brambleberries at Brooklyn Kitchen.
Any by no means is it impossible to attempt molecular gastronomy in your own home. A low-end sous vide machine can be had for about $400. For those of you going what the hell is “Seuss Vida,” let me explain. Sous vide (soo-veed), or “water oven” cooking is popular in many Michelin star-seeking restaurants because it is a slow gentle way to cook meats and vegetables without loosing any of the “naturalness” of the food. The piece of meat, fish or veg is vacuum-sealed in a plastic bag and submerged in barely warm moving water. Thus, meats come out perfectly medium-rare all the way through.
Now I’ve had my fair share of sous vide-cooked meat and vegetables in Michelin-starred restaurants and I’m not going to say it’s not delicious. Sous vide duck tastes like duck-flavored brown butter and sous vide asparagus perhaps tastes even better than nature intended. But to me, the flavor of sous vide meat can’t compare to the smoky char of a grill or the sweet caramelization of a hot oven.
I actually ate in Heston Blumenthal’s grand restaurant, Diner, at the Mandarin Oriental in London. It was a show-stopping meal and the food (and the lots of drink that accompanied it) was nothing short of perfect. The power went out halfway through the meal, which ended up being completely gratis, but that’s a story for another day.
So….how does one actually cook anything from Historic Heston? With a little creativity, you can use this visual masterpiece as a guide and inspiration to more humble endeavors. I love the idea of his famous “Meat Fruit,” a liver mouse disguised as a fresh tangerine (the tangerine is made of edible gelatin). The pictures are stunning and the clever playfulness is exactly my style. I thought the same effect could be achieved on a more realistic level using a real piece of citrus and tiny lemon-flavored meatballs. My “Meat Fruit” is nothing like Heston’s, but it’s delicious and is sure to make your unsuspecting diners chuckle. I used turkey meat because I’m on a health kick. Cooking and eating should always be done with a sense of humor.
“Meat Fruit” or Mini Lemon-Meatballs and Rice
You will need:
5 whole lemons (the largest you can find)
1 lb. lean ground turkey meat
3 large cloves garlic
1 small roll or 1 slice of crustless bread
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1 medium onion
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 Tablespoons flour
4 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup pino grigio (or other dry white wine)
1 cup chicken broth (or use bullion cubes)
1 teaspoon butter
1 cup white rice
parsley to garnish
1. Make the meatballs first. Peel and roughly chop the garlic and onion and add to the bowl of a food processor. Zest 1 of the lemons and add the zest to the garlic and onions. Pulse until finely chopped.
2. Add the onion mixture to a large bowl. Pulse the bread in the food processor until you have fine breadcrumbs. Measure out 3/4 cup and add the the onion mixture. Then add the turkey, Parmesan, salt and pepper. Mix with your hands until completely combined and form into mini 1-inch meatballs.
3. Bring 2 cups of water to boil in a small saucepan with a lid. Add the rice, cover and reduce to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes until fluffy. Set aside.
4. To cook the meatballs, spread the flour on a regular dinner plate. Heat 2 Tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat in a large non-stick pan. Roll each meatball in flour before cooking and add about 15 meatballs at a time. Use a wooden spatula to move the balls around they are cooked trough-about 5 minutes total. Transfer to a plate and keep warm, repeat until all the meatballs are cooked.
5. To make the sauce, add the wine to the same pan and use a spoon scrape up all the nice burned bits from the meat. Cook the wine for 2 minutes and then add the broth. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Return the meatballs to the sauce and cover. Cook at a simmer for 10 minutes.
6. Then remove the meatballs once more. Add 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice (from the zested lemon), a pinch of flour, a pinch more salt and pepper and the butter.
7. Slice each lemon in half carefully by lining your knife up at the two points (slice it vertically). Then use a spoon to scrape out all the pulp, so you have two hollowed-out halves.
8. To serve, place the bottom half of them lemon on each plate (you may want to slice off a tiny bit so it lays flat). Spoon a tiny bit of sauce and add two meatballs. Place the other half on top to cover it so it looks like a plain lemon on the plate. Serve it to your guests just like this for the drama. Then have the rice and extra meatballs and sauce (separately) on the table. Garnish with parsley.