As much as I loved to watch Heston Blumenthal in Search of Perfection, I didn’t really feel like trying any of his recipes. Maybe because I’m not British and I just don’t care about bangers & mash, fish & chips or chicken tikka masala. Or because I don’t want to go through so much trouble creating something that will still taste like something familiar, something not so exciting. I want to try new things, new combinations and new ingredients.
But I wanted to try at least one of his recipes. And when I saw oxtail at my local maroccan butcher I remembered he used it for his perfect spaghetti bolognese. So I decided to just go for it and make Heston’s spagbol this weekend. Oh man, haha, it’s all very easy, anybody can do it, but next time I will take a few shortcuts for sure. I will buy minced meat, try to chop the vegetables in my kitchen machine and probably use tinned tomatoes instead of fresh ones. Hopefully, that will shorten the process with 2 days. Yes, that’s right, 2 days! Because, this time it took me 3 days. :-)
Okay, not three full days and I had more or less doubled the quantities, but still, it’s not a quick recipe. And trust me, it’s not just me, there are others that have gone before me.
On day 1, in the evening I deboned and minced the oxtail.
On day 2, I chopped all vegetables and made the meatsauce and tomato compote, especially the chopping took a long time. I even have a blister from cutting all these vegetables!
On day 3, late in the afternoon, I combined the two, simmered it for another 2 hours and finally ate it.
And the result? It was great spaghetti bolognese. Really. I can recommend it to anybody who has enough time on their hands. ;-)
I tried to follow the recipe to the letter, but I have to admit I’ve changed the proportion between meat and vegetable. First I had too much oxtail and decided to double everything. But then I ran out of onion and I got scared of the amount of carrots I was dicing. I don’t like carrot, so I cut down on it a bit. Finally, “frying” of the compote was too much for me. I normally cook with as little oil as possible, so I was already hyperventilating because of the amounts of oil and butter I had to use and this frying of the tomato compote was just too much to handle. I skipped it. ;)
I’ve written down exactly what I did, but you can find the original recipe written down here.
PART I – THE MEATSAUCE
Finely slice the onions. (or misread and dice them instead, like I did) Place a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan over a medium heat for 5 minutes. Crush the star anise and bag it up in a square of muslin. (I didn’t) Add this to the pan, along with 25ml oil and the sliced onions. Cook for 20 minutes, or until the onions are soft and caramelised, stirring occasionally. Set aside.
4 cloves of garlic
475 gr diced onion
390 gr diced carrot
300 gr diced celery stalk
50 ml extra virgin olive oil
Finely dice the onions, carrots and celery. Mince the garlic. Preheat another large, heavybottomed frying pan over a low heat for 5 minutes. Pour 50ml oil into the pan, then tip in the garlic, onions, carrots and celery and cook this soffritto over a medium- low heat for about 20 minutes, or until the raw onion smell has gone. Transfer the soffritto to your preheated crockpot and wipe clean the pan.
For the meat
50ml extra virgin olive oil
455 gr oxtail, boned and minced
280 gr pork, also grinded, although Heston used cubes
284 gr veal, minced (my addition)
650 ml Oaked Chardonnay (Chardonnay Reserve 2007, Viu Manent)
500 ml whole milk
Place the pan over a high heat for 10 minutes. Pour in 50ml olive oil and wait until it starts smoking: it must be hot enough so the meat browns rather than stews. Add the minced meat. Stir until browned all over. (To brown properly, all the meat has to touch the surface of the pan. If it doesn’t, do it in batches.) Tip the browned meat into a sieve over a bowl (to allow the fat to drain off), then transfer the meat to your crockpot. Deglaze the pan by adding a splash of wine, bringing it to the boil, and then scraping the base of the pan to collect all the tasty bits stuck to the bottom. Once the liquid has reduced by half, pour it into the crockpot containing the meat.
Remove the (bag of) star anise from the caramelised onions and then tip the onions into the crockpot containing the meat. Add the remaining wine and deglaze the frying pan. When the wine has reduced by half, pour it into the crockpot. Add the soffritto to the pot as well.
Pour in hot milk and enough hot water to cover entirely, and simmer on “Low” with the lid half on for 6 to 8 hours. At all times the ingredients should be covered by the liquid, so be prepared to add more water. (Don’t worry if the milk becomes slightly granular: it won’t affect the end result.)
PART II – THE TOMATO COMPOTE
1966 gr ripe tomatoes
1 tsp salt
200ml extra virgin olive oil
6 large cloves of garlic
340 gr finely diced onion
2 heaped tsp coriander seeds
2 star anise
8-10 drops Tabasco
8-10 drops Thai fish sauce
3 tsps Worcestershire sauce
2 heaped tbsp tomato ketchup
60ml sherry vinegar
1 bouquet garni (consisting of 7 sprigs of fresh thyme and 1 fresh bay leaf)
1. Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Fill a large bowl with ice-cold water. Make a cross with a sharp knife in the underside of each tomato. Blanch the tomatoes by dropping them into the boiling water for 10 seconds and then carefully removing them to the bowl of ice-cold water. Take them out of the water immediately and peel off the split skins.
2. Cut the tomatoes in quarters. With your knife, scrape/scoop/cut out the seeds, the membrane and the cores. Roughly chop the seeds and membrane, then tip them into a sieve over a bowl. Sprinkle over the salt and leave for 20 minutes to extract their juice, after which you can discard the seeds and membrane, reserving only the juice.
3. Roughly chop the tomato flesh and set aside.
4. Meanwhile, place a large, heavy-bottomed pan over a low heat. Add 100ml of the olive oil. Mince the garlic, then put it into the pan along with the onion. Cook for 10–15 minutes, until soft but not coloured.
5. Crush the coriander and put it in a muslin bag (or herb container), along with the star anise and the cloves. Add it to the softened onions and garlic.
6.Take the juice drawn from the tomato seeds and membrane and add it to the onions and garlic along with the tomato flesh.
7. Add the Tabasco, fish sauce, Worcestershire sauce, tomato ketchup and sherry vinegar. Drop in the bouquet garni and cook over a low heat for 2 hours.
8. To add a roasted note to the compote, add the remaining oil and turn up the heat to high. Fry the compote for 15–20 minutes, stirring regularly to make sure it doesn’t catch, then pour off any olive oil not absorbed by the compote. Set aside a little to coat the cooked pasta. ( The rest can be stored in a jar and makes a great base for a salad dressing. The compote itself will keep in the fridge for a week.) I just didn’t trust this part and I was getting tired, so I skipped it. *oeps*
PART III – FINISHING THE SPAGHETTI BOLOGNESE
1 batch of tomato compote
1 batch of meatsauce
100g good quality spaghetti per person
sherry vinegar, to taste
Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano)
1 bouquet garni (in a sheet of leek, wrap 6 tarragon leaves, 4 sprigs of parsley and the leaves from the top of a bunch of celery)
extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Stir the tomato compote (including the bag of spices) into the meat-sauce and cook over a very low heat for a final 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
2. Transfer as much sauce as you need this time to a baking pan and fry until all the excess liquid, as shown on the photo on the right has vapourized. Put the rest in freezer bags to freeze.
3. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil for the pasta. For every 100g of pasta, you’ll need 1 litre of water and 10g salt. (If you don’t have a large enough pan it’s essential to use two pans rather than overcrowd one.)
4. Put the spaghetti into the pan, give it a stir, then bring back to the boil and cook until the pasta is just tender but with a bite. Check the cooking time on the packet and use that as a guideline, but taste it every few minutes as this is the only way to judge when the pasta is ready.
5. Before taking the Bolognese sauce off the heat, check the seasoning and then add some sherry vinegar (tasting as you go) to balance the richness of the sauce. (I think I was too cautious here, I was afraid, after 3 days of cooking, I would ruine the sauce, hihi. Next time I will add a little extra) Add a generous grating of Parmesan (but not too much, as it can make the sauce overly salty) and remove the sauce from the heat. Take out the original thyme and bay bouquet garni and the bag of spices. Replace these with the parsley and tarragon bouquet garni, stir in 100g of unsalted butter and let the sauce stand for 5 minutes.
6. Once the pasta is cooked, drain, and rinse it thoroughly. Return to the pot to warm through. (Since the ragù is not going to be mixed with the pasta, it needs to be rinsed to prevent it becoming starchy and sticking together.) Add a generous knob of butter (about 50g per 400g of pasta) and coat with olive oil and the reserved oil from the final frying of the compote. To serve, wind portions of pasta around a carving fork and lay them horizontally in wide, shallow bowls. Top with the Bolognese sauce and finish with a grating of Parmesan.
7. Eat it! And serve the oaked chardonnay that went in it. I was quite surprised how well that combined. I really loved it.