Heston at Home (Anglais) Relié – 3 octobre 2011
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This book is (mostly) practical. There are some recipes that call for things I promise you don't have on hand. Some will call for sous vide equipment or dry ice or Glycerine. Some will require attention and time that may not really seem worth it. But the reality is that all of these dishes really, truly can be done at home. The most exciting part is the presence of several Fat Duck recipes that have been overtly simplified into practical recipes. Interspersed are various traditional and unique recipes (eg, prawn cocktail, or Quinoa sushi).
Each section (soup, salad, meat, etc) begins with a few pages of important information that delves into a bit of science (to be expected, and appreciated) that is of practical use to the home cook. These pages, along with the introductions to each recipe, make this cookbook one worth actually reading. There are tips on everything from how to dress lettuce greens and how to poach fish. It runs the gamut from soups and starters down through desserts and drinks.
For those who looked at the Fat Duck Cookbook and said "cool, but no thanks," this book is what you need. While for most home cooks there are still some recipes that are beyond reach, the majority are approachable. But the real target of this book may really be us professional cooks who love to ogle glitzy and expensive cookbooks, but never really cook out of them ourselves. This book is fantastic recipes that require a bit of skill but are going to have fantastic results.
True to the type of food the author has done in the past we get modern takes on British dishes as well as some more general modern dishes (a bit of French and Italian, and a very slight touch of fusion in some cases).
The author wants the encourage the cook to be more scientific: Every ingredient is measured in great detail, but he also suggests that you could make changes to the measurements and write down the results. So try maybe five different combinations and then pick the best. This is off course outside the recipes, but it is the approach to cooking that the author would like to promote. The book also starts with an interesting chapter on taste and flavour. Most of us probably already knows about this, but what I like are the different experiments that the author recommends us to perform (e.g. take tonic water and gradually put salt into it and observe the changing tastes).
To be negative, I think the book feels a bit rushed. The writing is somewhat uneven. At times the book seems the product of a ghost writer and at other times the writing is much more specific so it must be the author's writing. I really dislike most ghost writing, because if the author is too busy to write the book, he is probably also too busy to put a lot of time into the content of the book. If you check the web you already see posts about some inaccuracies. (The book has been available in the UK for some months.) This is unacceptable for a book, in which the author makes a big song and dance number of using precise measurements. One example is how the author tells us to put spices in gin and then put it to boil to infuse the gin with the spices (p 383). Wouldn't it be better to heat it up to a degree lower than boiling? I am under the strong impression that boiling gin will remove the alcohol. (If this is wrong, the author could have made a comment, because I think most of us are afraid to boil alcohol!)
Still there are much worse examples of ghost writing so I don't think this should keep you away from buying the book. At other times the writing contains very useful bits of information. The author has for instance done a small experiment to see whether fresh mushrooms soak up water. Received wisdom has it that you should not wash fresh mushrooms because they soak up water. When he weighs the mushrooms after washing, he find that they have not gained any weight.
I give the book four stars. It is written by a top chef, but is targetted towards non-professionals. Since the author is self-taught his approach is also likely to stimulate the non-professionals to question established views and try out loads of experiment. The author wants you to trust your own senses.
UPDATE: Other choices? At the time of writing this was a great choice. It still is good, but I would recommend Modernist Cuisine at Home as your first book.
Finally, don't confuse this book with Adria's The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adria. That book has 100% traditional dishes.
Title aside, this book is fantastic. It takes home-style dishes, things like roast chicken, meat pies, chili, potato leek soup, and it elevates them. There's a reason roast chicken is such a well-recognized dish, and the recipe in this book will remind you of that reason. Roast potatoes are likewise a simple thing, but truly fantastic when executed properly. That is what this book is about, and it delivers. Those two dishes went over very well at a recent dinner. I haven't had the book long enough to cook all the recipes, but reading them over is pretty thrilling. The titles of dishes may sound plain, but reading through the recipes shows that there can be much more to a chili than just beef, beans, tomatoes and a spice packet. There are a lot of Heston-esque touches, like star anise to increase the umami notes in beefy dishes. If you've read any of this other books, this one will seem familiar. A lot of explanation and science is peppered throughout the recipes, explaining why things work the way they do or how he arrived at a particular dish/ingredient/technique.
Also worth keeping in mind that this is a British book, so you'll see some different dishes and metric measurements - do not be alarmed. For those who have a couple of his other books, you might see some similarities, especially when he gets to his rant about "sealing in the juices".
Overall, this is a very exciting book for someone who knows their way around the kitchen and wants to perfect their techniques and flavors, but it's not for everyone. As someone who has several of his other books, I was a little annoyed with the overlap between books - I'd like to get added value out of my loyalty, not repeat content.
He does recommend quite a range of cooking tools. Equipment that your typical cookbook will not ask you to ever consider. However, if you "like" kitchen gadgets, this book provides you with a certain latitude for your interest/obsession. It's much easier to buy an inexpensive instrument that measures sugar content if you can compare that purchase to the kind of equipment that Blumenthal employs at his restaurant. "Me? No, I'm not addicted to kitchen toys. Hester Blumenthal is a real addict - I'm not that bad." So far, I've only allowed myself to purchase a hardware store blow torch, which Blumenthal takes beyond its typical use for creme brulee.
I'm slowly working through recipes with my 22 year old niece and 13 year old niece-ette. We first tried Blumenthal's macaroni & cheese recipe. We used the version from the television series that is associated with this book, since my hard copy was on order at the time. (There are some variations between the t.v. series recipes posted on the BBC Television site and those in this book, but I think that is a bonus. It provides ideas for alterations.) I never really liked mac & cheese, but I'm a convert. Unbelievably lovely & tasty. I had to make a second batch the next day because my family wanted more.
What I find shines through the most from the narrative sections of the book is Blumenthal's commitment to informing the reader about what he has learned over the years. And, again, he does so in an organized fashion where you will read about why he uses star anise with onion before you'll find a recipe that pairs those ingredients, for example. He provides information about what he has found works best for his taste, but also how to intentionally alter his recipes. (Here I'm thinking specifically about how he arrived at his own technique for making ice cream, but how home cooks can vary the ingredients to create a finished product according to what they want in their bowls or cones.) In other words, he seems to respect his readers, and this cookbook often feels like a silent collaborator in the kitchen. It generously offers possibilities, insights, information and technique.
And, of course, the tastes of these dishes are special and memorable.
I haven't told my young relatives about my plan to buy dry ice (as Blumenthal recommends) to have an ice cream making party this summer, but I'm sure it's going to be a hit. I also can't wait to make the tomato tart with basil mascarpone, but I'm holding off until my own tomatoes grow in the garden. In the end, what excites me about this cookbook is that it encourages, informs, and somehow, almost subversively, spurs readers to make their own experiments at home.
Can you tell that I'm excited to pop down to the kitchen right now?