Monday, November 10, 2008

In search of perfection: Spaghetti Bolognese

A while ago there was a series on the BBC on Heston Blumenthal's search of perfection. In the series, Heston tries to "perfect" 8 traditional dishes. About a year ago, a friend of mine brought these series to my attention, but in fact, I've never watched them. That's why I bought the books (in the meantime there have been 2 series) and yesterday, I tried to make Heston's version of Spaghetti Bolognese.

I will not go into detail on how to make the sauce, it is a lengthy process that takes about 8 hours. Instead, I will talk about some of the modifications I've done to Heston's recipe.
There were some ingredients I couldn't find:

  • The star anise: According to Heston, this is the most important ingredient for the sauce, because combined with the onions, it enhances the flavor of the meat.
  • Boned oxtail
  • The coriander seeds
  • The Thai fish sauce
  • The sherry vinegar

Apparently the star anise has a concentrated anise flavor, so I replaced it with 3 tablespoons of Ricard, which is an anise flavored liqueur. I am not sure if it worked though, but it was worth a try.
I couldn't find boned oxtail. Instead, I used oxtail with the bones and boned it at the end of the recipe. IMHO this is even better, because meat always tastes better when it's cooked on its bone.
Instead of coriander seeds, I used coriander herbs, which are in essence dried coriander leaves. Not sure if this changes anything. I haven't used coriander seeds before, so I don't even know how they taste.
I didn't bother buying the Thai fish sauce and replaced this with 2 tablespoons of soybean sauce, which has an oriental salty flavor. To add the fish taste, I stirred in 6 fillets of salted anchovy on oil at the end of the recipe.
The cherry vinegar was replaced by xérès vinegar, but IMHO you can use any good quality, good tasting vinegar.

With all of the above modifications, I am not sure if my end result tastes the same as Heston's idea of perfection. But I have to say, it tastes incredible, and it was definitely worth 8 hours of cooking.

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