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By the Book: Heston Blumenthal at Home

December 4th 02:12pm, 2012

To cook with it or not? That is the question when a beautiful cookbook worthy of championing the coffee table gets into our hands. Normally for this column, we’d pick a recipe and describe our experience in preparing it. This month, however, we’ve chosen hefty, hardbound tomes written by culinary gods. Being that we’re prone to making messes, we’d prefer to give the winners of the cookbook giveaway untainted copies. Moreover, with a book at hand like Heston Blumenthal at Home, it would be such a disservice to write about just one recipe.

Blumenthal is a self-taught chef, owner of the highly acclaimed The Fat Duck just outside of London, and recognized for the progressive nature of his cooking. In the foreword, he explains his habit of “questioning everything” and “constantly challenging the orthodoxy.” While Blumenthal’s new cookbook includes recipes for familiar-sounding dishes, they are not prepared like Mom made them. Rather, he uses tools like a liquidizer or sous-vide machine “to make the cooking easier and more accurate, or to create flavours and textures that would otherwise be difficult.” His view on modern gadgets and gizmos: “Technology is a part of cuisine to be embraced rather than shunned.” Flip to the back of the book for a summary of such tools and ingredients. Upon obtaining them, like Blumenthal, you too can become a culinary “specialist.”


{Scottish egg, a starter}

The 400-page, full-color publication is comprehensive, with recipes divided into sections that include: stocks; soups; starters; salads; meat; fish; sous-vide; pastas and grains; cheese; sides and condiments; ices; desserts and sweets; and lastly, biscuits, snacks and drinks. Were I to have cooked from this book, the first one on my list would have been The Ultimate Cheese Toastie: A grilled cheese sandwich gone decadent with melted Gruyere and Comté cheeses, shredded ham, an onion compote and truffle oil.

{The Ultimate Cheese Toastie}

Home cooks seeking a cooking lesson rather than just a recipe will find this book highly useful since Blumenthal gives tutorials for improving your basic culinary skill sets. For instance, in the fish section, you’ll learn his preferred ways to brine, sear and poach fish. In addition, he explains his reasoning behind unconventional processes and atypical ingredients. (Why thicken sauces with agar-agar instead of a starch? The latter can mute the flavors.) Where so many cookbook authors make you guess at their logic, Blumenthal does not.

{poaching fish}

Many of these recipes, but not all, require a kitchen that is modestly stocked with modernist culinary implements and ingredients. A requisite for preparing every recipe – should you decide to cook with this book instead of just ogling over it – is a scale that gives weights in metric since Imperial measurements aren’t provided. The rest of the world has gone by the way of the gram, so why shouldn’t we?

What modern culinary tool ranks highest on your wish list and why? Tell us about it in the comments section below for a chance to win a copy of Heston Blumenthal at Home by Heston Blumenthal. We’ll announce the winner in next week’s By the Book column.

And now, we’d like to congratulate Brad, whose comment on last week’s By the Book has won him a copy of Tartine Bread. Brad, keep an eye out for an email from the Sauce crew.

By Ligaya Figueras

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11 Responses to “By the Book: Heston Blumenthal at Home”

  1. Karin Says:
    December 4th, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    I’m a fairly minimalist cook. I prefer to cook with fire, a fork, and a slab of metal or stone. If a modern tool was handed to me, I would hope it was a sous vide. I wouldn’t mind giving that a shot. Either that or the gel refrigerator or some other concept from the Electrolux Design Lab contest…once any one of those concepts becomes a reality.

  2. Stephanie Says:
    December 4th, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    An electric smoker would be fun!

  3. Hugh Anderson Says:
    December 4th, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    Induction burners top my list for their portability, rapid heating, and partly “just because”. I also wouldn’t turn down a chamber vacuum sealer or Pacojet.

  4. Amanda DuBoise Says:
    December 4th, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    A Chiller Paddle!! I am a first time mom to be (due in April 2013) and I am currently collecting recipes that I can make ahead of time and refrigerate or freeze until I am ready to use them. These recipes include a lot soups, sauces, etc., and a chiller paddle will get the temperature down quickly while preventing dangerous bacteria growth.

  5. Hao Says:
    December 4th, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    I really can’t pick one! If i had all the space in my kitchen, I would stock it full of all sorts of toys! To keep things simple, my top three modern tools would be (in no particular order):

    1) a sous vide machine to make juicy tender meat over many hours. that way, i can start something in the morning or on my lunch break and have it ready and delicious. it’s like a fancy crockpot with temperature control. WIN!

    2) a whipped cream maker/foam maker. I would make so many things into foam: sweet things to freeze away like ice cream, basil flavored whipped cream over strawberries, cilantro flavored foam to put some sort of limey fish over… i would experiment with agar-agar based foam to see how it chills in the fridge. so many possibilities here!

    3) tubes and droppers to make agar-agar based caviar. I love the texture and taste of caviar and I also love the fruity bubbles they have at Orange Leaf and other froyo places. The idea of little beads popping as i eat them is so much fun! I want to try making half my soup into these things.

  6. katie meyers Says:
    December 4th, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    I’m very much hoping for a foam maker for Christmas. It’s on my list, and major kinds have been dropped.

    I’d also be very happy with a copy of Modernist Cuisine At Home.

  7. Kimberly Says:
    December 4th, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    Since our home kitchen already contains a sous vide machine, a stovetop smoker, and even a “smoking gun” (yes, we truly are culinary nerds), I think the molecular gastronomy kit from Uncommon Goods ranks highest on my wist list. Spherification! Squee!

  8. Emily Barklage Says:
    December 4th, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    I really want one of those fancy Blendtec blenders

  9. Emily Barklage Says:
    December 4th, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    I forgot to say why :) … Because I haven’t found a blender powerful enough!

  10. Chris Says:
    December 5th, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    The more ‘gadgets’ and tools I have the more fun cooking becomes. They allow me more time to do handcraft techniques. What I really need is MORE ROOM to cook. I run out of counterspace way to fast. I’d love a book like Heston’s as well or the “1111 Madison Park” coffetable book (‘food porn’)

  11. Earen Hummel Says:
    December 8th, 2012 at 7:13 pm

    I haven’t even begun to experiment with “modern” kitchen gadgets. I am still having fun being creative with the more traditional ones. Either way, what I find indespensible is a well-seasoned cast iron pan. Mine was my great-great-grandmother’s and is the most important thing in my kitchen.

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