My idea of Hell's Kitchen

... is cooking the Heston Blumenthal way. The man from the Fat Duck has just been hailed by his peers as the best chef on the planet, but in her Clerkenwell galley, Janet Street-Porter discovers that life is just too short to spend hours making his snail porridge, or chicken in a salt crust with blow-torched hay


Considering my cookery lessons ended after one term, I think I've done well. I can read a recipe with the best of you. After a shaky couple of years subsisting on tinned soup, I've graduated to producing normal, filling, non-threatening food. When television viewers saw me cutting up eels and stewing mutton birds on I'm a Celebrity..., it was the part of my incarceration I enjoyed the most.

Considering my cookery lessons ended after one term, I think I've done well. I can read a recipe with the best of you. After a shaky couple of years subsisting on tinned soup, I've graduated to producing normal, filling, non-threatening food. When television viewers saw me cutting up eels and stewing mutton birds on I'm a Celebrity..., it was the part of my incarceration I enjoyed the most.

Friends come round to eat the kind of food you can't get in swanky restaurants - nothing arranged in a stack or dished up in a large bowl, no designer salads composed of a few leaves with a mingy bit of warm meat on top, and no little dribbles of balsamic vinegar around my chops. I dish up simple, joyous meals - and I've received the highest accolade: the food writer Jonathan Meades has eulogised in print about my fish stew!

When Heston Blumenthal's weird "molecular gastronomy" got him voted the top chef in the world by his peers last week, I just laughed. He's a likeable fellow, utterly involved in his topsy-turvy world of sardine sorbet and leather chocolate - not dishes most of us would fancy. It's not even a cuisine I find sexy. Restaurants serving food that's barely warm because it's had more nips and tucks between the oven and the table than Pamela Anderson's torso are so pretentious. Sometimes I've looked at a plate of food and wondered if it wouldn't look better worn as a hat. The cuisine of Heston and his mates is a long way from the style of cooking most of us employ; we need food that can be produced within an hour or so, that doesn't involve every utensil in the kitchen and ingredients that require a trip to a Chinese supermarket.

When I got the order to cook some of Heston's award-winning dishes - including his famous snail porridge - I rose to the challenge. After all, I've improvised with smoked wallaby, baked chunks of crocodile and even barbecued kangaroo. Bacon and egg ice cream? No problem. Every weekend I go through the ritual of cutting recipes out of supplements and Mr Blumenthal's menus have filled a whole plastic folder, getting dusty in a kitchen drawer, unread and unused. I can never find anyone who wants snail porridge rather than fish stew.

I started with bacon and egg ice cream. Heston puts this on a brioche with tomato and red pepper compote and wild mushrooms and a cup of jellied Earl Grey tea - breakfast with a twist - served as a dessert. I had to combine a busy day filming with cooking so I dashed home at lunchtime hoping to rustle this up and try it out on my friend Piers. We could have it as a little treat with our champers. First I roasted a load of smoky streaky bacon in the oven, and Heston's recipe didn't say anything about what to do with the resultant fat. I took an executive decision and patted my bacon dry with kitchen paper. I was supposed to leave it in a pint of full fat milk (more fat - ugh!) to marinate overnight, so I popped it in the fridge till teatime when I blended egg yolks (the recipe called for 24 but I don't want a heart attack, so I just did 12), added copious amounts of something called liquid glucose (like sugary glue) and a load of caster sugar. I couldn't find a thermometer to test when I'd heated it to 85C, so I stuck my finger in and guessed. I had no ice cubes to cool it, but chucked it back in the blender and liquidised it with the milk and bacon and skimmed milk powder. (Sorry, I really don't get the logic of that.) It was a very unappetising sight and the smoky bacon flavour combined with the milk and sugar made me feel quite nauseous.

Then I sieved the gunk from the blender, producing a pinky yellow thick custard. Heston told me to "churn" it, but as I am a broadcaster and writer rather than a milkmaid, I stuck it in a plastic container in the freezer and embarked on my next challenge, balsamic mousse.

This involved beating egg whites so I used the white plastic paddle affair that came with the blender. Soon I had gorgeous white stiff foam into which I folded fromage blanc and really expensive "aged" balsamic vinegar and gelatine. It looked the colour of baby poo, and had the same consistency. According to Heston, balsamic mousse is "light, delicate and incredibly moreish". He serves it with raspberry jelly, which you make using home-made raspberry juice.

I heated up the berries and, as I didn't have any muslin, took his advice and strained my fruit through a clean J Cloth. Then I came to the phrase every cook dreads: "next day". What do you mean, Mr Blumenthal? How much time do you think women of Britain have at their bloody disposal to make a sodding jelly? I was incandescent.

All this measuring out of ingredients to the exact gram was exhausting - why can't the man talk my language of spoonfuls and pints? I rushed home at 5.30pm and wrung out my J Cloth to extract the maximum juice, adding it to the gelatine and pouring it into a couple of cocktail glasses to set. The mousse part still looked like baby poo, but slightly firmer. By the time Piers arrived at 7.15pm I had spent almost four hours cooking, washed up about 10 pans and the kitchen in my minimalist house looked like a De Kooning action painting. Every surface was covered in egg white, cling film, stained J Cloths and bits of butter. As the jelly hadn't set, I unveiled the egg and bacon ice cream.

Piers, who is an excellent cook, went ballistic and started shouting: "This is thoroughly decadent, a complete waste of good ingredients! It's overcomplicated and the end result isn't worth it! This smacks of a desperation to be different!!!" I had to admit the smell was loathsome, and the taste too sickly for words. To get over the experience we went for dinner to Fergus Henderson's St John (number 10 in the world's best restaurant list) where we ate roast pork. Wonderful ingredients cooked simply, no messing about with J Cloths and balsamic vinegar.

Next day I got up at 7am to attempt snail porridge. I had first to get the garlic stuffing out of the snails (we couldn't get them any other way) so I chucked them in a pan of warm water and then spent 20 minutes fishing the little buggers out of their shells and rinsing them. As John Humphrys was wittering on the radio I removed a couple of snails from my right foot.

I made stock by cutting up chicken wings (not easy on a hangover), bringing them to the boil, rinsing them and then simmering them with various veg, snails and herbs. The stock was supposed to cook for three hours; I only had one. According to Heston snails have a fascinating sex life, with a penis under one eye. As I chopped about 30 of the little buggers up I tried not to think about their willies.

There was a tiresome 20 minutes spent blanching cloves of garlic in boiling water and mashing up butter, parsley and ham, and then I was ready to pull together my porridge, mixing oats with snail stock and snail butter, adding chopped-up snails, and not letting it boil. Quite frankly it looked disgusting. Grey, granular, slimy, exactly like the stuff we eat every morning. As my long-suffering partner sat down I placed a dish of snail porridge before him adorned with little strips of fennel. Next to it was the raspberry jelly topped with dollops of brown balsamic mousse, and my pièce de résistance, a plate of bacon and egg ice cream. "What the hell is happening here?" he moaned. "Where's my normal breakfast?"

I explained we were eating breakthrough cuisine devised by the world's leading chef. Gingerly, he took a spoonful of the porridge. "This is great." Then the ice cream. "I really like this." Finally the baby poo mousse. "Not bad at all." There's no accounting for taste. One spoonful of the porridge and I nearly retched. The smell of the ice cream is still an unpleasant memory. But he took a tub of the porridge to work, and the chaps loved it. I didn't embark on chicken cooked in hay, because I would have had to cover my table with the stuff and then flame it with a blow torch. Call me feeble, but I don't fancy being incinerated along with snail porridge.

Smoked bacon and egg ice cream

300g sweet cured bacon

50g Alsace bacon

1 litre full fat milk

25g milk powder

24 egg yolks

125g liquid glucose

Roast the bacon in an oven at 160C until slightly browned. Chop the bacon into small pieces. Add to the cold milk, add the milk powder and leave to marinate overnight. Tip the milk and bacon into a casserole and add the milk powder, put the egg yolks, glucose in a mixing bowl and using an electric whisk mix at high speed until white and increased in volume. Heat the milk mixture to simmering and pour a little of it on to the eggs, while still mixing. Add this back to the pan with the rest of the milk and cook to 85C. Hold for 30 seconds and remove from the heat. Cool down by stirring over ice. Pass through a chinois sieve to remove the bacon. Put in blender and liquidise until smooth. Finally, churn in an ice cream maker.

Snail porridge


72 cooked snails (to serve six people)

10g Parma ham

1 small fennel bulb

200ml snail stock (or a stock cube, or water)

60g good porridge oats

70g snail butter

Salt and pepper

1 tsp sherry vinegar

3 tsp walnut oil

Roughly chop the snails and set aside. Finely shred the ham. Slice the fennel as thinly as possible and set aside. Heat the stock in a pan over a high heat and, once simmering, add the oats. Stir until all the liquid has been absorbed. Remove from the heat and beat in the snail butter and the snails. You may find you have to return the pan to the heat, in which case be careful: if it gets too hot, the butter will split, causing the porridge to become grainy. Season generously. Spoon the porridge on to six plates and top with ham. Toss the fennel with the vinegar and walnut oil, season, place on porridge and serve.

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