'How to cook like Heston' challenge: Fiona Maclean

Updated on 11 January 2012 | 0 Comments

Last week while watching `how to cook like Heston', we put the challenge out to find people who would actually attempt the recipes. Well the first results are in

So who watched ‘how to cook like Heston’ on Channel 4? Well we did, and found ourselves thinking 'would anyone actually try to cook these recipes? So we put the challenge out to our twitter followers to find willing volunteers. This would prove that the delightful Mr B’s techniques are achievable in a normal domestic kitchen by an average person. Neil-Hennessy-Vass and Qin Xie both attempted Heston's steak technique which you can read here and here

Meanwhile Fiona Maclean bravely accepted the challenge to cook chilli con carne with cornbread muffins 'like Heston'. This was probably the most difficult and time consuming recipe on the show, here's how she got on.

Fiona Maclean

I don’t very often take part in food challenges. But, cooking like Heston – well that’s a real challenge for anyone and this is the only way I would have tried one of the recipes. They look complicated and there always seem to be ingredients and equipment I don’t have. The last time I saw a pressure cooker in action was at my grandma’s house at least 30 years ago. And I didn’t inherit it.  So I’m owning up right now - I cheated.

Back to the challenge

I had to go shopping to make this dish. Perversely some of the things I didn’t have were staples in my mum’s house – marmite, tomato ketchup and cayenne pepper. I was surprised to find buttermilk and broke my own ‘lean meat rule’ to buy 10% fat beef mince. There’s something about following a ‘Heston’ recipe that makes you feel you need to stick to it by the letter.

Spiced butter sounded quite achievable. But the recipe suddenly switched from ‘cayenne pepper’ to ‘chilli powder’. I’d already bought my cayenne pepper and am pretty sure that Heston intends pure cayenne rather than chilli powder (a blend of cayenne and various other ingredients). But in a world of exact cookery science such things are worrying!  I browned my spices as instructed and then blinked to find a pan of smoking ashy stuff.  So I tried again and got a fragrant slurry to blitz with butter, more spices and a cocktail of marmite, tomato sauce and Worcester sauce.    

Brown the mince

frying the minceI batch browned the mince rather grumpily. Browning a pack of mince normally takes me about 3 minutes, this took more than 12. But, the end result was very different.  There were absolutely no meat juices in the pan, or in the bowl of worm-like mince bits. All I could drain off was a very little fat. I deglazed as per Heston – again something of a revelation with a gravy-like mixture to add back to the mince. After sweating of the vegetables and making up the ‘sauce’ I struggled a bit removing the star anise and it’s worth being very careful that none of the ‘petals’ are wobbly when you take it out. A whole star anise is easy to find, the little bits are NOT. But, they are very pungent, so I really didn’t want to leave them in there. I also found that my tomato puree was just too dense.  It did make the mix a satisfactory brick red, but it started to dry up really quickly (I added water). Eventually I had a pan of gloopy mince mixture bubbling away on the stove.

Bring on the beans

The ill-fated kidney beans were next. I’d already soaked kidney beans overnight in brine, but wasn’t totally convinced. They were wrinkly skinned and not puffed up at all. I checked the packet. Use by July 2008.  I googled. Apparently old kidney beans don’t work. So, here’s my version: I made a tomato sauce using cherry tomatoes in a heavy-based pan. No pressure cooker meant the mix probably didn’t get cooked enough for Heston perfection, but I was concerned about potential burnt cherry tomatoes so cooked until I had a thick tomato mush then infused the stalks as instructed. Finally, I added in a can of kidney beans and cooked for a further 10 minutes. A simpler version of Heston’s Chilli elsewhere on the net uses canned beans, so I was reasonably relaxed.


muffinsThe muffins were great fun to make. There’s a witch cauldron frothing effect when you add buttermilk to baking powder, so although I am not a great baker I might try those again. I blitzed the polenta in the spice grinder to get finer cornmeal which I suspect helped.

By this point my kitchen was full of dirty bowls, measuring spoons and jugs.  And I was just a little irritated, finding that the peppers were meant to have been skinned.  My fault, they are listed in the ingredients as ‘de-seeded, roasted and peeled then chopped’ but I tend to shop and then ignore the ingredient list till needed. Google to rescue, I stuck the peppers under the grill and then into a plastic bag to cool down a bit and found the skins rubbed off pretty easily.  I didn’t find I needed any more butter and two limes were plenty for my taste. One caveat about the ‘exact’ Heston style of cookery is that spices vary tremendously in flavour depending on source and age.  And although the butter is a reasonable way to adjust seasoning, of course once it’s made up the proportions are fixed.  So do make sure you use good quality, fresh spices or you won’t get the right effect. And taste as you cook!

And the result?

The end result was glorious. I’m sold on spiced butter, browning my meat in tiny batches and using lime and star anise to lift chilli. I will cheat a bit more by making the muffins in advance and warming them through in the microwave in future, I might also cheat a bit less and try using a pressure cooker (already on my kitchen wish-list). 

Want to join in?

If you want to join in just pick a recipe from the show, attempt it, and let us know how you got on by sending some pics and a few 100 words to ‘contactus@lovefood.com’.

More from Heston

Heston triumphs in mince pie test 

Ashley Palmer-Watts: Heston's protégé's life in food

Best of three: Smoked salmon




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