I feel like the biblical David taking on Goliath … and the giant in question goes by the name of … Heston Blumenthal. Katie Parla who gastronomically writes as an expert not just on her own but also on the ‘Scattidigusto’ blog, recently gave a blow-by-blow encomium/account all about her gastronomic experience at his famed The Fat Duck restaurant. And we all look on with reverence at what this 1966-born chef has managed to create, produce and ‘be’. Professional chefs like Ferran Adria and Heston Blumenthal are what make the art of restaurant-cooking exciting and awe-inspiring – they innovate, they lead the way, they open new doors for the palate. Hats off to them – they are artists and expert ‘chefs de cuisine’. They make life a little more exciting for all of us.
I belong to the world of home cooks … and home cooks will always have a lot to learn from such professional kitchen trail-blazers. This said, our way of cooking comes alive at a completely different level of experience … ours is mostly about making do with whatever ingredients are available according to season, according to budget and according to time constraints. The tendency, then, is one that leans towards a conservative kitchen … recipes handed down from generation to generation, dinners looking to comfort food as an inspiration as opposed to creativity for creativity’s sake. It is the food and the meal of every day, as opposed to the once-in-a-lifetime meal.
In this sense, I hasten to make very clear, there is no contest, no rivalry … only kitchen ‘chivalry’ … respect … and noblesse oblige appreciation.
So, it was with a smidgeon of what’s-all-this-about?-surprise, a few days ago, that I took in Heston Blumenthal cooking for a Waitrose (a UK supermarket brand) TV advertisement. The title? “Heston’s Tagliata”.
Whoa. HESTON’S tagliata?
What differentiates Heston’s tagliata from mine, or from any other home-maker in Italy or any other middle-level trattoria or restaurant? Frankly, my response upon viewing this TV ad was: “E’ arrivato Heston!” … which is Italian, totally tongue-in-cheek irony for something equivalent to, in translation, “My God! WHAT would we have done without Heston! Thank God Heston arrived!”
And this is where I get all hands-on-hips about Heston and chefs of his ilk who would invade the home-maker’s kitchen. We, the home-makers, would never dream of intruding upon their territory … so please can they stop their condescension when it comes to our own, very quotidian, line of eating and cooking.
Especially when it’s, dare I say it, wrong …!
If there is one reason, one reason only, why I simply adore Italian food above all others … it is because there is a quasi-religious code of simplicity about it. The ingredients are usually very few and it is almost always about a dish being delicious because ‘less is more’. To be honest, that’s why most Italians look askance at other people imitating their dishes and meals … because these ‘others’ will add a host of ingredients to what was ALREADY a perfect dish without adding one iota of taste to it.
So, says little David me taking Heston Goliath on, what were you thinking with YOUR tagliata?
We have, as ingredients go over and above the meat itself, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, rosemary, parmesan shavings, wild rocket (arugula) AND horseradish.
Garlic and lemon would have been enough. Garlic and rosemary would have been okay too. Not so sure about the parmesan shavings, since we already have the protein in the meat. But WHY the horseradish as well … why why why why why? Why not add mayonnaise and ketchup while you’re about it!
Secondly, and I know I have the law of thermodynamics on my side, WHY does he advise us to ‘remove the steaks from the fridge just before cooking’. Mmmmm.
The first thing I have always taught in my Italian home-cooking classes is that meat should ALWAYS be at room temperature before cooking. Isn’t it logical? If meat is freezing cold or just out of the fridge cold when you cook it, it will take a lot longer for it to cook on the INSIDE … duh! So my advice is to remove the meat from the fridge about two hours before cooking it, depending on the weather.
This is how I teach tagliata. You oil the meat itself. You do NOT oil the cooking pan. Hot, very hot burning oil is NOT good for you! So don’t cook your meat this way.
Oil the meat with a minimum amount of extra virgin olive oil on both sides, lightly massaging it in. Turn the heat on and put the saucepan on the heat. After a couple of minutes, put the meat onto the searing saucepan. Add some salt and pepper. Let it cook until beads of blood start ‘bubbling’ on the side facing upwards – this will take anything between 3 and 5 minutes depending on how thick the meat is cut, on how large the slice of meat is.
At this point, turn the meat over onto its other side, and turn the heat off! In other words, you only turn the meat over ONCE.
Put a lid on the cooking pan, for about 2-3 minutes, allowing the meat to ‘rest’. This way it will release some very juicy juices.
Enjoy … and you won’t need horseradish or lemon zest or rosemary or anything else if the meat is really good quality meat … just a dollop of exquisite extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper. And maybe, just maybe, one or two drops of real balsamic vinegar.
Heston’s tagliata indeed !!!