After a couple of false starts, I finally got round to watching Heston Blumenthal's In Search of Perfection on BBC2 the other night. I chanced upon last week's edition, focusing on pizza, on my saved programmes - and then managed to find out how Heston cooks his Sunday roast this week (clue: it doesn't involve a microwave, or Tesco Finest pre-prepared veg).
It's incredibly easy to scoff at Hesty B, especially in this series where he seems intent on taking straightforward dishes and rendering them impossible to cook outside a physics lab or in less than a week.
If I've not bored you before with my perfect recipe for bangers and mash (pork and apple sausages; mashed potatoes made with creme fraiche and Cracker Barrel cheddar in a ricer, NOT a sieve; Oxo 'special gravy' with winter berry and shallots at 67p a throw), then you've been very lucky. But if I had ever, ever thought I was fussy, then I must take it back. Because Heston's sausages need back fat smoked on a barbecue, not to mention my favourite ingredient - toast-flavoured water. First, catch your toast. Then let it soak in water for, I don't know, a few days. Simply strain, et voila - eau de toast. Oh, and he likes the sensation of unmelted butter on top of the sausages, so goes into his laboratory to create heat-resistant gelled butter. (Did you read that carefully? The man has a laboratory. It's covered in gleaming stainless steel and instruments of unfathomable purpose, and looks generally what people in 1950 thought the future would be like.)
In the second programme I watched, he opines that putting a chicken in the oven at 180 degrees will hopelessly overcook it and instead favours roasting at 50 degrees for several hours. But there's one problem - no crispy skin. So we watch Heston attempt to deep fry his bird, causing a respectably sized fire in the process. He eventually settles on frying it lightly in a pan.
I think it was the deep fryer that converted me, actually. I suddenly realised I wouldn't have been surprised to see him pop up in Lausanne and announce: "To create the perfect crispy skin, I'm going to use this particle accelerator to make this chicken collide with another chicken, thus creating dark chicken
." As he inspected his hopelessly cremated poultry with a rueful acceptance, I thought: this man's a maniac. Awesome.
I stopped carping about the total insanity of his methods and the chances of anyone ever recreating them at home, and began to enjoy the programme for what it was: a window on to one man's obsession. Looked at that way, it's all rather fun. What's wrong with the pursuit of perfection, even if most us will happily settle for just above mediocre? I know I'll never wear a couture dress, or own a Magritte, or drive a Bugatti Veyron, but I'm glad they exist, somewhere, out there.
Anyway, I think Heston should be given enough money by the State to spend the rest of his life pottering round his laboratory, trying to create the purest essence of chicken to spray over his Sunday roast. Because he's an artist, and art isn't reasonable or practical, it just is.
(If you aren't reviling me as a total pseud or muttering seditiously about starving indegenous peoples and vowing never to read this blog again, then do check out the BBC website
to see the man in action.)