iLoveMyGrub’s editor Helenka Bednar talks to Heston Blumenthal, to find out how 9 months of research into sherry inspired a clutch of simple and accessible recipes.
Heston Blumenthal is known for experimenting in his kitchen, with a handful of science thrown into the mixing bowl for good measure. Here he talks to iLoveMyGrub’s editor Helenka Bednar, about how 9 months of research into sherry has inspired a clutch of simple and accessible recipes.
When it comes to his kitchen, Blumenthal is more often associated with complex scientific techniques rather than taking a simple approach. But it seems that after nine months of researching sherry, Blumenthal’s findings have inspired a streak of simplicity in his methodology. The chef, who earned his third Michelin star back in 2004 at The Fat Duck, has been studying the make-up of sherry this year, on a hunch that there might be a particular reason why it’s such a successful wine to match with food. Considering Blumenthal has a penchant for using liquid nitrogen in his kitchen, the collection of recipes he has put together is surprisingly simple. He attributes this accessible recipe style to the audience they’re aimed at. “They’re not Fat Duck dishes, they’re not Hinds Head dishes,” he says of the recipes. “They’re dishes that are designed to be cooked at home - all of them. If you say 'well how is this done?', I’m not going to say well you need a freeze dryer and a vacuum desiccater!”
Blumenthal’s fascination with sherry first came about when he noticed how well it worked with particular foods. He found that the flavour of foods that were rich in umami (one of the five basic flavours we taste), such as Parmesan and Shiitake mushrooms, were greatly enhanced when they were paired with certain sherries. “If something works and its works so well, there’s got to be a reason – there has to be,” says Blumenthal. For nine months now, Blumenthal has been researching this fortified wine with the Institute of Sherry and Reading University, with a view to finding out more about it. “I had this hunch that there might be umami in sherry, but it was just a hunch,” he explains. “To my disappointment there was no umami found in various styles of sherry. But not one to give up, we continued the research, and what’s come out in the last few months, is a group of compounds called DKP’s, which are responsible for enhancing the taste of umami-rich foods. It’s amazing how many things we do in the kitchen intuitively, and science just really acts mainly to support why we do this and to give reason to it.”
For fans of Blumenthal who are ready to shake a Bunsen burner and some liquid nitrogen at a handful of ingredients - well, this isn’t your moment. These new recipes from the perfection-seeking chef are refreshingly straightforward. He’s keen to emphasise that the scientific lengths he goes to, in his research and his cooking are tools that he works with, rather than the main focus of what ends up on the plate. “From my point of view, its still really intuitive and I use the science to support the intuition.” Blumenthal’s main aim with these sherry-inspired recipes is to get people drinking and using sherry a whole lot more. “On the one hand you can stick to the favourite tipples, which are the cream and sweet ones,” says Blumenthal. “But it really comes into its own when it’s paired with food, and the sherry and food become one.”
He’s also quick to point out that all the ingredients used in this new collection of recipes, are available from the supermarket (with the exception of the sodium citrate he uses in his Gruyere fondue recipe, which is readily available from pharmacies). What these recipes really demonstrate is the way in which sherry really helps to bring out certain flavours of the food we eat. Blumenthal was particularly struck by some of the results of his food and sherry matching experimentations over the last year. “There’s a compound that gives cloves their characteristic,” he explains. “It’s also in sage and some of these other types of herbs. We thought, okay, well let’s try a bit of ground clove with a fino – it was fantastic. It’s almost as if the ground clove acted as a trigger for some of the notes in the sherry that you don’t pick up on its own.”
Another revelation for Blumenthal was matching peaches with sherry. “It was the way that the sherry made the peach get bigger, and the peach softened the acidic notes of the sherry as well”, he marvels. "Again it’s an example of how we do things intuitively - it’s quite traditional to use peach kernels in a ham cure, so it’s backing up what we’ve done for years, but it’s also throwing light on new possibilities. The key thing about this is that it’s a work in progress,” he says of his recent research. “This is a whole new exploration of pairings with sherry.” To try out Heston Blumenthal’s experimentations with sherry and food in your own kitchen, try out his recipes below:
- Gruyere fondue with fino sherry and clove
- Crab salad with paprika and toasted country bread
- Mackerel rillettes
- Quails egg scotch eggs
**Written by:** Helenka Bednar