RECIPE – Heston Blumenthal’s perfect spaghetti bolognese

After a bit of a breather, I’m back onto creating another of Heston Blumenthal’s recipes from his In Search of Perfection series.

For more of my Heston Blumenthal recipe attempts/restaurant experience, click here.

Today (well over several days, really), it’s Heston’s perfect spag bol.

Perfection – spag bol ala Heston Blumenthal

This is a big ask, it looks fairly time consuming especially as I decide for some reason that I’m going to do twice the quantity of sauce. My rationale is, coz it’s so time consuming, might as well make it worth my while & make double so that I can freeze some for later. And I had a CRAZY idea that I was also going to make Heston’s perfect risotto AND then from the leftovers from both dishes, I was going to make my perfect arancini balls.

Phew! What an effort.

I decide to consult the web for some advice – the most common words of wisdom from those who have tread before me were:

  • Do NOT use oxtail, use a less fiddly meat such as beef shanks
  • Use a food processor (or bring in a processing monkey) to slice and dice all the necessary veggies
  • Use canned tomatoes instead of peeling, deseeding & chopping them yourself

Website after website gave me that same advice – did I heed their words? NO

AND I was doubling the recipe, so double as much deboning of oxtail, kilos & kilos of sliced & diced veggies, so many tomatoes, so, so many tomatoes. I think I might have PTSD – my body involuntarily clenches as I think of all the prep work I had to do over those days.

In fact, I chopped & chopped & chopped so much that I ended up getting blisters on my index finger where I put pressure on the knife & guided my dicing…on both hands. Yes, there was so much chopping & chopping & chopping, that I thought I’d practice chopping with my non-dominant hand – just to get through the lot when the blister pain became too much.

*sigh* Just in case it wasn’t clear, if you decide to take on this epic challenge, I most definitely recommend the 3 shortcuts above.

Anyway, enough of my mental breakdown, on with the show.

The recipe can be found here.


Keep in mind these quantities are for the most part double as I was making 2x spag bol sauce.

Sauce base

  • 125ml extra virgin olive oil (Comment: This is the original quantity. Didn’t double this because it seemed like heaps)
  • 500g oxtail
  • 500g pork shoulder, cut into 1cm cubes (Comment: I used pork loin as my butcher didn’t sell shoulder in less than 2kg bits)
  • 750ml oaked chardonnay
  • 2 star anise – broken & tied muslin with twine
  • 4 large onions (about 900g), finely sliced
  • 4 large cloves of garlic
  • 4 large onions (about 450g), finely diced
  • 6 large carrots (about 800g), finely diced
  • 6 celery stalks (about 250g), finely diced
  • 500ml whole milk

Tomato compote

  • 1950g ripe tomatoes
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 100ml extra virgin olive oil (Comment: This is half the original quantity. I didn’t double this, I actually halved it as I thought it’d be too much – I would recommend you use the required amount because the tomato oil afterwards is fantastic)
  • 6 large cloves of garlic
  • 2 large onion (about 450g), finely diced
  • 2 heaped tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 star anise
  • 6 cloves
  • 10 drops Tabasco
  • 10 drops Thai fish sauce
  • 4 tsps Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 heaped tbsp tomato ketchup
  • 60ml sherry vinegar (Comment: I couldn’t find Spanish vinagre de Jerez so French had to do)
  • 1 bouquet garni (consisting of 14 sprigs of fresh thyme and 2 fresh bay leaf) (Comment: I used dried bayleaf)

Finishing touches

  • 1 batch of tomato compote
  • 100g good quality spaghetti per person (Comment: I didn’t use spaghetti because I couldn’t find one with the rough edges that I wanted)
  • sherry vinegar, to taste
  • Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano)
  • 1 bouquet garni (in a sheet of leek, wrap 12 tarragon leaves, 8 sprigs of parsley and the leaves from the top of a bunch of celery) – (Comment: I forgot the leek, it sat in my fridge forlorn)
  • unsalted butter
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. So I prepped all the veggies the day before (oh, the pain, but at least I was practicing my knife skills…). I am a big onion cry baby so I have 2 solutions for you, one that sort of works & the other that definitely works but turns you into a fashion tragic.
    Option 1 = peel onions, then soak them in water to release crying chemicals (can still result in tears)Option 2 = onion goggles, fashion tragic, but money back guarantee that they’ll work
  2. Cubing the pork loin was easy enough but the oxtail was a pain.It’s because of the shape of bone, there are random bits jutting all around the bone core. I thought I could just cut in a circle around the core – NOT happening, you have to slice it all over. I did contemplate just cooking them as is & then shredding it afterwards but decided I’d try and plow through it. I also decided NOT to mince the oxtail as I didn’t have a mincer and couldn’t bother doing more than cubing.

My hackjob & the oddly shaped oxtail bone

Sauce base

  1. Heat 2 tbs of oil in a large pan on medium heat. Throw in the first batch of sliced onions & the muslin of broken star anise.
  2. Cook onions until caramelised, stirring occasionally. This took me about 1.5 hours (no joke). Comment: Next time I’ll cook on medium-high (stupid electric stove), rather than medium-low (no medium setting, stupid electric stove)
  3. In a big-ass pot, heat 100ml of oil on medium-low, then add garlic, onions, carrots & celery, cooking the sofrito until the raw onion smell disappears which is about 25 mins.
  4. While the onion sweats, I concasse the tomatoes while continuing on with the rest of the sauce base – 3 burners going, aren’t you proud of my multitasking abilities?
  5. In a separate pan, heat 2 table spoons of olive oil on high heat until smoking, then brown pork & oxtail meat in batches so the pan isn’t crowded.Add more oil for the next batch if required.
  6. Once onions are caramelised, and meat has browned, chuck it all into the pot with sofrito. Don’t forget to remove the muslin bag of star anise which was in the onion pan before chucking the onions in sofrito.
  7. There’s so much crusty goodness on both the onion & meat pans which we don’t want to go to waste. Turn up the heat on both pans, put half of the wine in each & bring to a boil until reduced by half. Make sure you scrape the botton of both pans to make sure you deglaze all the goodness from the pans. Pour the reduced wine & deglazed bits into your giant sofrito pot.
  8. Put the giant sofrito pot on a very low heat, add milk & top up with water until all the ingredients are covered. Simmer without a lid very gently for 6 hours – if liquid gets low, add a bit more water. Stir occasionally & skim off any froth that bubbles up.Comment: My bad, but I accidentally added too much water at the start. I wasn’t paying attention & didn’t realise that meat could float so I was trying to add enough water to cover – and it just wouldn’t cover 😦 Oops.

Tomato Compote

  1. Concasse – cut a small, shallow X on the underside of a tomato’s skin, blanch in boiling water for 15 seconds, then plunge them into a bowl of ice water. Peel the skin off the blanched tomatoes, take out the core (seeds & membrane) & reserve, then chop the tomatoes.
  2. Roughly chop the reserved seeds & membrane bits, the put them in a sieve over a bowl. Sprinkle over salt & leave for 20 mins for the juice to be extracted. You can then discard the seeds & membrane.
  3. Heat 50ml of olive oil in a pot on low heat then add garlic & onions. Cook until soft but not coloured which took me 30 mins.
  4. Crush up your coriander, then wrap it with star anise & cloves in muslin cloth & add to your onion pot.
  5. To the pot, add the juice extracted from tomato seeds & membrane, concassed tomatoes, Tabasco, fish sauce, Worcestershire sauce, tomato ketchup, sherry vinegar & bouquet garni (thyme & bayleaf). Then cook for 2 hours on low.
  6. After 2 hours, you’re ready to fry up your tomato compote for that roasted flavour. Max the heat, you want things rip roaringly hot for this. Add the oil & stir constantly, frying for 20 mins – watch out for splashback coz this will be smokin’.Comment: I have a dodgy electric stove, so before the 2 hours of simmering were up, I ramped up another burner to build up the temperature needed to fry the compote.
  7. Once done, pour off any excess oil that wasn’t absorbed into the compote and reserve. Comment: I find the texture & colour of the compote has changed after frying. Not to mention that it’s friggen delicious – I may take shortcuts for other bits if I attempt this again in future, but I will not change this. So very, very tasty – definitely my perfect compote (now to figure out what else I can use it in)

Finishing touches

  1. Pour the roasted compote into your big pot of sofrito & mince. Keep it on a low heat & cook for a further 2 hours.
  2. Cook your pasta of choice as per packet instructions but don’t trust the timing stated. Comment: When choosing your pasta, Heston recommends your pasta be pressed through bronze dyes. Just make sure it has plenty of rough ridges so that the sauce can cling to it.
  3. Taste your big pot & adjust with cherry vinegar if required. I added 200g of Parmesan, then removed the pot from the heat.
  4. Dig out bouquet garni and the bag of spices & add parsley & tarragon bouquet, then stir in butter.
  5. Once pasta is done, drain, rinse then return to pot to warm through. Add some butter (Heston says 50g butter for 400g pasta) & a bit of the reserved tomato oil & stir.
  6. It’s time to plate (I’m excited because that means meal time is closer). Heston rolls his pasta around a tuning fork – I use spaced chopsticks. Although thinking about it, a wooden spoon would’ve worked just as well. Add a line of sauce then sprinkle over grated Parmesan.  Drizzle over some more tomato oil for decoration & voila!

So, would I make it again? Yes, with shortcuts – I might even throw in store-bought minced meat – I definitely will NOT be deboning oxtail ever again. I’d most definitely make roasted tomato compote without shortcuts again & again. It’s an unusual but rich flavour combination.

Tasty, decadent, rich but with balance from cherry vinegar. All round great meal, it’s quite sweet (the carrots maybe?) but I liked it.

It really wasn’t too hard to make, just time consuming and would be really simple if you took the above mentioned shortcuts. After prep, you just need about 10 or so hours of cooking time is all…

5 Responses to “RECIPE – Heston Blumenthal’s perfect spaghetti bolognese”

  1. Well done for blogging the whole thing! Hard work isn’t it? I wasn’t enamoured with it as much as other recipes, my attempt is here:

  2. […] RECIPES:Heston’s Perfect Spaghetti Bolognese recipe […]

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