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.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Shine Night Walk 2014 - 'On the night' volunteer roles

Unpaid Voluntary Work : Cancer Research UK: We need motivational volunteers to...

Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable & Accounts Receivable)

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable...

Senior IT Trainer - Buckinghamshire - £250 - £350 p/d

£200 - £300 per day: Ashdown Group: IT Trainer - Marlow, Buckinghamshire - £25...

Education Recruitment Consultant- Learning Support

£18000 - £30000 per annum + Generous commission scheme: AER Teachers: Thames T...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Why black cats make amazing pets, and take good selfies too

Felicity Morse
Children of a bygone era  

Kids these days aren't what they used to be — they're a lot better. So why the fuss?

Archie Bland
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star