Where I totally poach a cooking scheme from Heston Blumenthal – no liquid nitrogen needed.

So a few weeks ago, I was in London and I went to have lunch at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal.
(Recipes by the man, actual cooking done by somebody else: Ashley Palmer-Watts.)
(A hoax, you say? I believe it is called a concept.)
(Semantics? Well. What wrong with that? I couldn’t make a living without semantics. I certainly couldn’t afford to eat at Dinner without semantics too.)

A very nice lunch it was too, with dishes inspired from old traditional English cook books. The oldest dish I had that day was, in its earlier avatar, traced back to 1390 while the most recent one stemmed from 1720 (clearly an upstart, though there are recipes on the menu which are as recent as the 19th century).

One of the dishes I had that day was this:

Nettle Porridge (c.1660)

Which is a nettle porridge (c.1660) garnished with frog's legs, girolles, garlic & fennel (attributed to “The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected” by William Rabisha, 1661).
The nettle porridge itself tickled my curiosity and I knew I would have to play with the idea of a savoury oat porridge not necessarily cooked in water or milk. And not reduced to mulch.

The recipe as served is actually – I believe – also a spin on Heston’s Snail Porridge, a dish from his Fat Duck restaurant which – lucky for me – made it into the pages of The Big Fat Duck Cookbook. Which I have in my - not negligible - cooking books library.
While I had bought the book mostly because of Dave Ms Kean’s art in it – the book is enormous, which make it a tad difficult to use as an actual cookbook – I was happy to resort to it in order to figure out the dynamics of that particular porridge.

Heston makes a rather complex recipe of his snail porridge, but I was able to extract some very basic tips for my own private play time:

An amount of porridge oats
Three time that amount in liquid
Three time that amount in flavoured butter (!)
Some aromatic purée
A VERY short cooking time.

The recipe more or less runs like this:
You boil the liquid, add the oats, let them absorb the liquid stirring, add the butter, adjust liquids if necessary.
Take off the heat.
Add the puréed stuff.

Voilà. Less than 10 minutes (more like five, really: the longest point must be getting the liquid to a boiling point).
Except that the original recipe involves making chicken stock, blanching and puréeing nettles, bringing together a parsleyed butter which is far more complex than what I would have envisaged from just reading those two words. And snails.
While mine didn’t.

So what was my take on it?
For now, tomatoes.
(You can’t get more Italian and seasonal than this).

What I did was to slice thinly some tomatoes and add salt so they would render their water.
Since the salad I later did with the flesh bits was rather tasteless (we’ve had too much water, I fear, for the tomatoes to really be any good), I could have just juiced the tomatoes so I would suggest you do just that, if you have the tools to do so.


Dear Heston uses 10 grams of porridge oats for 2 persons (for a starter) but I weighted that much in a bowl and thought “Naaah. That’s never going to feed my mad cyclist!” so upped the proportion to 50 grams for a primo. I could have used more – the portion was rather lean – but I was concerned about not having tomato water (using 50g of oats meant having to use 150g of liquid). Besides the recipe is fairly rich, so a little goes a nice way.

Porridge oats

The next bit to prepare was the flavoured butter.
By laws of proportion, I should have prepared 150 grams of it but I decided to keep the level of fat at about 50 grams instead (about. I didn’t weight it) on the basis that it should be already plenty and I wanted to garnish the porridge with stracciatella di burrata and a splash of olive oil.
I melted some unsalted butter, torn some basil and let the lot do their mingling magic away from the heat.

Basil infused butter

About an hour later…

Once the table was set, I boiled the tomato water, added the oats and stirred until they had absorbed the water. Since keeping a bright green colour was not on my list of priorities (as it would do if – like Heston – I had worked with puréed nettles which would have turned to a yucky green if cooked more), I left the pan on the stove and added first the flavoured butter and then some tomato sauce, table spoon by table spoon, stirring until the consistency was that of “a runny rice porridge” as per Heston’s instructions. Think risotto consistency.
Five minutes maximum all in all unless you want your oats to be thoroughly mushed.
Called the cyclist to come and eat. NOW!

Dressed the porridge in two plates, added cracked pepper, a splash of stracciatella di burrata cream, a coma of stracciatella di burrata, and a semi colon of the best olive oil I have.

Tomato porridge with stracciatella di burrata

I could totally have that for breakfast every day (for a week at least). The mad cyclist would have preferred pasta.
Next experiment will involve beetroot and blue cheese. That should be plenty colourful and tasty too.


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