My sherry amour

Sweet, sickly and something only your toothless gran would knock back? Not so, says sherry fan - and Britain's lord of molecular gastronomy - Heston Blumenthal
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Indy Lifestyle Online

We've been big supporters of sherry at the Fat Duck for the past six or seven years. We had a problem with the image that sherry had in England, which was that most people considered it to be something that your great-gran would drink. Sweet and sickly. I'm not talking about people who knew their stuff, but the general public. So what we did was to stick loads of sherries on the front of the wine list, so people would open the list, see all the sherry and think, "it's got to be there for a reason", and order one. In terms of a gastronomic restaurant taking this interest in sherry, I think it was pretty much a first in England. But putting all those sherries on the list did make people realise that we take it seriously.

We've been big supporters of sherry at the Fat Duck for the past six or seven years. We had a problem with the image that sherry had in England, which was that most people considered it to be something that your great-gran would drink. Sweet and sickly. I'm not talking about people who knew their stuff, but the general public. So what we did was to stick loads of sherries on the front of the wine list, so people would open the list, see all the sherry and think, "it's got to be there for a reason", and order one. In terms of a gastronomic restaurant taking this interest in sherry, I think it was pretty much a first in England. But putting all those sherries on the list did make people realise that we take it seriously.

The first dish we did was a scallop dish with a jelly of Oloroso. The idea was that the dish started from the jelly, and from nuances that we found in the sherry. We found that the bigger, older sherries tend to go best with the dishes rather than lighter ones. Whether it was a Manzanilla, an Amontillado, or the Olorosos, it was the older sherries, that were less delicate but no less complex for it. I remember having an Oloroso which went fantastically with sweetbreads roasted with hay and pollen. Some sherries work well with certain chocolate dishes.

Sherry is entwined in Spanish culture. It's seen more as a drink, but the younger chefs do use it as an ingredient. I think in general the Spanish are open minded when it comes to trying new things. There are lots of young Spanish chefs coming up doing wonderful stuff. The catalyst has been the work that El Bulli (Ferran Adria's acclaimed restaurant near Barcelona) has been doing. I think the whole atmosphere in Spain is one much more ready to embrace new things, and to be experimental. It's something that's happening here, but slightly slower.

Sherry's been intertwined in our approach at the Fat Duck since before we had a Michelin star. I only went to Spain for the first time this year, so it wasn't me going there on holiday and coming back trying to recapture the memory of having a fino in a tapas bar somewhere. Sherry really is a wonderful drink. It just has a bad reputation. I suppose it's the same thing with some German wines, but the quality is always there.

It used to be quite tricky to find a decent sherry here but it's easier now. If you look for the most expensive sherry you can find, you're hard pushed to find anything above £25. That's still a lot of money for a bottle of wine, but you can find great stuff at really surprising prices.

It would be great to walk into a pub and get a glass of sherry but it has an image problem: few men want to be seen drinking a glass of sherry in a pub. But if you had English tapas, that image could be transformed. Angels or devils on horseback, for instance, would be ideal - because of the smokiness and the bacon, they'd go wonderfully with some sherries. To be able to have a glass of sherry and nibble on something like that would be great.

For more information about sherry and food matching suggestions visit www.tenstartapas.com

Ballotine of foie gras, jelly of cream sherry, eucalyptus toast

Serves 5

500g/1lb 2oz foie gras, softened, de-veined, cut into 2cm slices
95ml/31/2fl oz Sauternes
95ml/31/2fl oz white port
25ml/1fl oz Armagnac
Pinch of caster sugar
Pinch of grated nutmeg
Pinch of cinnamon
3 whole cloves
Pinch of allspice
5 slices of pain du campagne
A handful of eucalyptus leaves

For the cream jelly

1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns
75ml/21/2fl oz cream sherry
11/2 leaves of gelatine

Place the spices in a piece of muslin and tie up. Combine with alcohol in a pan, bring to the boil and remove from the heat. Leave to cool.

Place the foie gras into a sous-vide bag with 150ml (5fl oz) of the spiced marinate and seal. Leave for two hours before placing in 60C (140F) water for 40 minutes.

Remove and place in a bowl of iced water for 10 minutes. Open the bags and remove the foie gras.

Weigh it and calculate 15g ( 1/2oz) of salt per kilo of cooked foie gras. Sprinkle evenly over the top.

Place six sheets of clingfilm, 45cm by 30cm (18in by 12in), one on top of the other. Lay the foie gras on top along the front edge of the work surface in a line 20cm (8in) long. Using all of the clingfilm, roll the foie gras as tightly as possible. Tie each end of this ballotine tightly. Leave in the fridge for 48 hours.

For the cream jelly, soften gelatine leaves by placing in a bowl of cold water for 10 minutes. Place sherry in a pan, bring to boil and reduce to 260ml (12fl oz). Remove from heat and infuse with peppercorns for 30 minutes. Pass through a sieve. Add gelatine and put in the fridge to set.

To serve, toast the bread and rub with eucalyptus leaves. Slice the ballotine, season with fleur de sel, black pepper and a little pollen to taste (optional) and place on a plate with the jelly and toast.

Manzanilla and elderflower mousse cocktail with basil seeds, candyfloss, sherry and camomile tuile

A rather challenging recipe for even the most experienced molecular chef, but a great way to exploit the joys of sherry.

For the candyfloss

50g/2oz granulated sugar
10ml/1/2oz cream sherry

For the tuile

100ml/31/2fl oz Manzanilla sherry
18g/3/4oz Maltodextrin
1g gellan gum
10g/1/2oz icing sugar
Pinch of camomile flowers

For the elderflower mousse

250ml/8fl oz apple juice
10ml/1/2fl oz Manzanilla sherry
1 leaf gelatine
4g/1/4oz chopped elderflowers
10g/1/2oz caster sugar
0.5g malic acid

For the sherry fluid gel

330ml/10fl oz Manzanilla sherry
0.4g gellan gum
80g/3fl oz caster sugar
20ml/1fl oz water
3g citric acid
15ml/1/2fl oz Manzanilla sherry
0.2g calcium chloride
A handful of basil seeds
Ginger beer to serve

Pour the sugar and sherry into a candyfloss machine, spin and gather into a regular shape.

For the tuile, heat oven to 80C/176F. Place the sherry, maltodextrin, gum and icing sugar in a pan, boil, remove from heat and cool over a bowl of ice. Blend and spread on an oven sheet. Sprinkle on the camomile and put in oven for 10 minutes. Remove and cut into rectangles. Separate the tuiles and return to oven for 25 minutes. Remove and press a cocktail stick into each to form a lollipop. Return to oven for a five minutes. Remove and cool.

For the mousse, dissolve sugar, acid, elderflower, sherry and apple juice. Leave to infuse for 10 minutes. Pass through muslin. Add the gelatine and stir to dissolve. Place into a cream whipper and cool in the fridge.

For the sherry gel, place the sugar, gum and sherry in a pan. Bring to the boil, whisking until dissolved.

Dissolve the calcium and citric acid in the sherry. Add to the liquid. Bring to the boil and cool to 40C/104F over ice, mixing continually.

To make the drink, place the basil seeds in water for 30 minutes. Strain. Place three teaspoons in each glass. Pour 60ml (2fl oz) of the sherry liquid gel on top. Pour in 30ml (1fl oz) of ginger beer. Spoon on 30ml (1fl oz) of mousse. Serve with candyfloss and tuile.

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