Ahh, Heston Blumenthal, a name that divides opinion more sharply than probably almost any other in the food world. Love him or loathe him (I blame the snail porridge for 99% of the haters) you can’t escape him these days, between Waitrose adverts, the ongoing debate about the merits of Dinner, scandals in the press and his various TV projects. I’d planned to try some of the recipes from Heston’s latest series anyway, and with a chance to win a tour of his lab on offer at lovefood what did I have to lose? I threw caution to the wind and rolled up my sleeves to melt cheese according to his ‘groundbreaking’ method.
Heston does a couple of variations on his cheese sauce (one involves infusing parmesan rinds into the wine, which I wished I’d remembered as I have a freezer full of the things) , all of which make quite a small amount, so I used a double quantity of the recipe as done for cauliflower cheese. As with other recipes of Mr Blumenthal’s I’ve tried (spag bol, chilli con carne, chicken tikka masala, all from the In Search of Perfection series), I’ve found that the predominant problem for home cooks is not actually the techniques, or even the availability of the ingredients, but the cost, and once again I was blown away with how much money he assumes the average Joe (even the average foodie Joe) is willing to spend on dinner at home. Reducing nearly a whole bottle of good quality wine (there’s no point using a cheap bottle – it’ll taste like rancid vinegar by the time it’s reduced sufficiently) to make half a pint of cheese sauce feels like a painful extravagance to me, particularly given the current economic climate (which I must assume is not affecting Bray).
Heston Blumenthal’s ultimate cheese sauce (adapted from the original)
This double quantity made enough sauce for a lasagne to feed 6.
1 litre quality chicken stock
600ml white wine
240g grated cheese (two-thirds hard cheese, one-third soft goat’s)
40g sour cream (Heston uses soft cheese but I didn’t have any)
Knob of butter
First reduce your chicken stock to 400ml in a small pan (if you do it in a large pan you’ll be cleaning burnt stock off the sides for weeks). In a separate, even smaller pan, reduce the white wine to 60ml. This takes quite a while so get it started nice and early, but make sure it is still warm when you continue to the next step.
Add the reduced wine to the reduced stock. Mix the grated cheeses and cornflour then stir into the liquid on a low heat until melted (following Heston’s advice as given on the show I added the hard cheese first, then when that was melted I added the goat’s cheese, which just as he said doesn’t melt totally). Finally stir in the knob of butter and the sour cream/soft cheese.
This was definitely the least complicated of Heston’s recipes that I’ve come across, and not much more faff than making a proper Mornay sauce, but was it worth the expense and the washing up? (Pans used for meat reductions tend to need what my husband calls ‘overnight soaking’ – i.e. leave it in the sink until someone else gets sick of the sight of it and scours it herself!) The flavours of the cheese certainly came through bright and true, so much so that I realised how much they are lost in a classic cheese sauce, and the texture was indeed intensely velvety. However I felt it wasn’t a total success: The sauce is seriously intense from the reduced chicken stock, and I imagine if you used shop-bought cubes it could be quite overpowering; this is definitely one for your homemade stock. When I used the sauce in my standard beef lasagne recipe I also found I missed the calm creaminess of a normal cheese sauce, that dense blanket of bechamel and cheese. The sauce IS delicious though, which begs the question….what would I use it for? Heston’s suggestion of cauliflower cheese I feel would also suffer from the lack of milk in the sauce, so thus far all I can think of is to use it as fondue….in very small quantities! Suggestions on a postcard….
P.S. If you look closely at the credits for ‘Heston at Home’ you’ll notice the illustrious name of Harold McGee listed as ‘Food Science Consultant’. Not familiar with Harold’s work? Reacquaint yourselves with Mr B’s first series and he pops up quite a lot, as the man who gives Heston most of his ideas, or at least the scientific basis behind them. For a fascinating read into all the ‘whys’ behind Heston’s ideas give Harold McGee’s ‘McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture‘ a go.