Okay, I admit it: Over the years, I’ve done some downright insane and over the top things when it came to cooking.. There was a time I thought Lasagna from scratch was a real project, now things such as veal stock, six hour chili con carnes, demi-glace or dinner for ten made in the comfort of Tina’s studio apartment and tea kitchen pop to mind..
Basically, hand me a complicated cooking task and I’ll be all wound up about it for days on end, researching, comparing notes, checking tips and techniques.. And of course twisting things to my own liking because following a recipe is just plain boring (right? No? Oh well..). This obsession with food and food preparation confuse and bewilder a lot of people, it pisses some people off (because I don’t usually use measurements of any kind and just generally cook things till they’re done, thus making my dishes hard for others to replicate).. But, in the end, it also makes a lot of people happy because they get to enjoy some (usually) good food.
Anyways, I think I have finally found my evil overlord in the field of food science geekery and attention to detail.. In the shape of one Heston Blumenthal. In case you’ve never heard of him, he’s the head chef and owner of the Fat Duck restaurant outside of London which is supposedly one of the best restaurants in the world and one of the few to be awarded three of them prestigious Michelin stars.. On top of this, he’s also insanely funny, knowledgeable, geeky.. And super attentive to details about food. He did a show a few years ago called “In Search Of Perfection” in which he goes looking for the origin of some of Britain’s favorite dishes, spent a few months deconstructing them completely before coming up with his own so-called “perfect” versions of the various dishes. The results are some very entertaining shows containing more food facts than you could shake a stick at, interesting cooking tips, downright geeky explanations of the chemistry of cooking.. And some fuck off complicated versions of classic dishes to boot!
His general concept is that people should be able to recreate the dishes at home. And I guess people could.. But after seeing his version of chili con carne that takes two days to cook or his Tikka Masala recipe using a home-built Tandoor oven, I doubt anyone ever would.. Except me, of course! Because, well, we all know I’m not to be outdone by anybody.. So, while I have employed some of his tips and skills in various other recipes for a while now, trying one of those monster contraptions of his has been a dream of mine for a while now..
The first problem in this grand plan was, of course, figuring out what the hell to cook of his. I’m already well on my way to perfecting a chili con carne recipe of my own, so I couldn’t go into that. His pizza looked too dull for me to try as I already make pretty good pizza myself. There was no way in hell I’m gonna build a Tandoor oven for the sake of cooking Tikka Massala.. Well, I would.. But I’d hurt myself in the process and then Tina and Zascha would be mad.. Then I’d go on to burn myself and they’d be even more mad.. So no! I don’t eat duck, so Peking duck was out of the question and chicken was, again, too dull.
In the end, the only dish I wound up with that seemed both suitable, likable, interesting and doable was.. Spaghetti Bolognese! Now, Spaghetti Bolognese is something I’ve felt very strongly about ever since finding out that there’s actually no such thing as Spaghetti Bolognese.. It’s apparently called Ragu alla Bolognese (after the town of Bologna and the fact that it’s a stew (or ragout)) and is traditionally served over tagiatelle or fettuccine pastas, not spaghetti as spaghetti and heavy, meaty sauces are generally very incompatible. Also, it’s traditionally a very simple dish so the fact that a three star chef would make it utterly complicated.. Well, it at one point both confused, appalled and fascinated me.. So SpagBol it was!
Of course, I’m not about to let just any three stared chef tell me how to do things, and I am, by the way, driven by my firm promise to myself never to strictly follow recipes developed by others.. So my quest started out not with shopping.. But with reading up on the recipe (which by the way is available here if you’re feeling courageous or stupid), reading up on reactions on the recipe, comparing other more traditional recipes, spending more time than I’d like to disclose about considering meat to tomato rations and onion to celery dittos.. And all sorts of jazz! All in all, the research portion of this project alone took me a full day to complete.
Shopping was an entirely different issue all-together. The ingredient list for this dish is grotesque: It features over a kilo of onions, a half kilo of carrots, a kilo of fresh tomatoes, over a kilo and a half of meat (if you do like me and screw up and buy veal instead of beef and thus end up adding both pork, veal and beef to the ragu).. Oh and a splash of Oaked Chardonnay (a bottle ought to do). Heston also goes bonkers and adds things such as tomato ketchup and Nam Pla, which.. I’m sorry.. But.. No! The concept alone of a three star chef adding ketchup to a dish, well, I wasn’t gonna have any of that! Nam Pla I sorta did understand, but I’m adding a lot of salt already, also in the shape of bacon, something Heston strangely enough have chosen to leave out.. Either way, let’s just say that shopping was extensive even if I was rather shocked to find out that I actually had many of the ingredients at hand already.
The cooking process? Well, sheesh.. There was no blood this time around but sweat and tears? Dear God yes.. Slicing and dicing a kilo of onions? It was horrible.. And the pressing heat in the kitchen didn’t make things much better.. The process started some time just around moon and at the time of this writing (8 PM) it still has about an hour of simmering to do. It hasn’t been as tough as I’d actually expected it to be, it’s been mostly a matter of sweating (vegetable, I mean), browning, caramelizing, reducing and waiting.. As well as doing a ton of dishes. The most involved parts have actually been all the chopping.
So, days of planning, extensive shopping and nine hours of cooking aside, I can safely say it hasn’t actually been that bad.. And I’ll (hopefully) soon have another over the top cooking story behind me..
I sure am getting hungry sitting around waiting for this to finish, though, what with the smell of bolognese having filled the house for the past seven odd hour or so.. Maybe it’s time for a drink… Yes, I rather think it is..