heston blumenthal’s sound of the sea

When people think of the food of Heston Blumenthal dishes like Snail Porridge and Meat Fruit come to mind. But the Sound of the Sea crystalizes everything about Heston’s approach to food and eating. The diner is presented with a wooden box filled with sand, topped with a glass lid. On top of the glass is a sea scene in microcosm. Edible sand, seashells, shellfish and sea foam make the ‘plate’ of food. But in addition they receive a conch shell. Inside this shell is an iPod. In the headphones is the final element: the literal sound of the sea. The diner will hear waves crashing, seagulls, distant chatter. All in the service of bringing back powerful memories of playing on the beach, summer holidays, being with friends and family. That sound along with taste, sight and smell bound together creates powerful emotions.

Heston Blumenthal's sound of the sea

The Sound of the Sea is the ultimate representation of Heston Blumenthal’s style of cookery.

I’m going to prepare the Sound of the Sea as listed in the 2008 book The Big Fat Duck Cookbook. However, there are a couple of changes I’ve made – not because I think it’s better! – but because some items are difficult to get hold of, and even I need a few concessions to stay sane. I am indebted to the incredible blog Big Fat Undertaking which cooked every recipe in the Big Fat Duck Cookbook, detailing his triumphs and obstacles along the way. His notes on the sound of the sea were invaluable and I recommend you give them a read. Him admitting that he had to draw the line somewhere gave me the confidence to do the same.

There are a few ingredients I just couldn’t obtain, or procuring them would add inordinate cost to the dish.

  • Brown carbonised vegetable powder – this is not referenced or described but I assume this is what it says: ‘burnt’ vegetables, blitzed to dust. A tiny amount is needed, for what I believe is seasoning. It’s a tiny amount so I don’t think we’re losing much.
  • White soy sauce – like Big Fat Undertaking, I’ve struggled with this one. Online shops, specialist retailers… this just doesn’t exist to normal humans like me.
  • Codium cpp seaweed – again just impossible to source in domestic quantities.
  • Sodium caseinate – not impossible to obtain, but only required in a restaurant setting to stabilise the sea foam for service. I can live without that and soy lecithin, which is a much easier buy, does enough of a job.
  • Dulce seaweed – this isn’t that difficult to obtain, but on the days I went shopping for it I just couldn’t get it. We’d had a lot of rain in the UK and fishmongers told me conditions were too bad to go out and get some. I’ve substituted much-easier-to-find kale which absolutely isn’t the same, but is vegetal, briny and savoury. There’s also that old story that some disreputable restaurants give you fried cabbage instead of seaweed, so we’re not a million miles away are we?
  • N-Zorbit M tapioca maltodextrin – apparently you can get samples of this; I’m guessing they got annoyed by Heston fanboys asking for it as they ignored me. It changes the texture of the sand.
  • Fresh Japanese Lily Bulb – I could only get dried.
  • And a shortcut: there’s a recipe for ponzu at the beginning of the recipe, a salty citric liquid you create accentuate sea flavours and retain freshness. However, there are many good ponzus available from Japanese stores of different flavour profiles so I feel this is a sensible substitution. I liken this to using good store-bought stock versus making your own at home. The ponzu also takes a month to marinate so I don’t feel too bad about this short cut.

At The Fat Duck they rotate the fish depending on what’s in season. I chose cockles and mussels, as they were a big thing to me growing up, and difficult to mess up! Plus an oyster because, why not?

One thing I couldn’t answer until I made it – is this a dish served hot? Eventually I served it at room temperature, but I’d be keen to know if the restaurant version is served warm.

Here’s a video version of this recipe, with background on me travelling to Mersea Island to source some fish:

After having tried it, would I make it again…? Probably not. It is a lot of work for an admittedly tasty plate of food, but I think you can get similar results with less effort. I think the sand is terrific, a really sweet / savoury crumble that would work on white fish dishes. And discovering edible lily bulbs, which are like a cashew, and coating shellfish in ponzu before serving as a seasoning works on every level. But the whole thing is a massive deal at home that you can effect much easier.

The sound thing – you really have to try it. If you have any memories around being at the sea, or the beach, try it with fish and chips. Or a lemon sole. Or a dressed crab. Or actually one that works for me is an egg mayo sandwich, I can keenly remember having egg mayo sandwiches with yes, a little gritty bit of sand in at a beach picnic. The sound reinforces the memory and bonds the taste with the experience.

sound of the sea

sound of the sea

Gary @ BigSpud
My version of Heston Blumenthal's famous dish. Have the sound on an iPod or tablet.
Prep Time 4 hours
for the miso oil marinating 2 days
Course Main Course
Servings 2 people


For the miso oil

  • 125 g red miso paste
  • 50 g white miso paste
  • 125 g rapeseed oil

For the pickled kale

  • 20 g water
  • 7 g white wine vinegar
  • 20 g rice wine vinegar
  • 15 g sugar
  • 1 g table salt
  • 25 g kale

For the 'sand'

  • 10 g grapeseed or groundnut oil
  • 10 g shirasu
  • 5 g kombu
  • 15 g ice-cream waffle cone ground
  • 15 g panko breadcrumbs fried in grapeseed oil until golden brown, then lightly ground
  • 1 g blue shimmer powder
  • 70 g reserved miso oil
  • sea salt

For the hijiki seaweed

  • 75 g hijiki seaweed
  • 12 g 'thin mouth' soy sauce usu kuchi shoyu
  • 10 g mirin

For the 'seashells'

  • 20 g dried Japanese lily bulb
  • 2 g ponzu

For the 'sea'

  • 75 g carrots peeled and finely sliced
  • 75 g onions finely sliced
  • 40 g fennel finely sliced
  • 25 g leek white and pale green parts only, finely sliced sliced
  • 50 g white wine Chardonnay
  • 25 g shallots finely sliced
  • 5 g garlic finely sliced
  • 12 g vermouth
  • 150 g mussels
  • 100 g cockles
  • 1 kg water
  • 10 g kombu
  • 8 g flatleaf parsley leaves and stems

For the oysters

  • native oysters 1 per portion

For the final sauce

  • 400 g reserved 'sea'
  • Reserved oyster juice
  • Ponzu
  • table salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

To serve

  • 10 g soya lecithin
  • trimmed samphire


For the miso oil

  • Fold all the ingredients together then cover and refrigerate for 48 hours. Strain through coffee filter paper and reserve the oil (the miso can be used again).

For the pickled kale

  • Place all the ingredients, except the kale, in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.
  • Add the kale to the cooled liquid, transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for 24 hours before using.

For the 'sand'

  • Place the grapeseed or groundnut oil in a small sauté pan over a medium heat until hot. Add the shirasu and sauté, stirring constantly, until they are golden brown. (If they are too dark, they will be bitter; too light and they won't be crisp enough. They will continue to brown after being removed from the pan.) Strain off the oil and drain the shirasu on kitchen paper.
  • Grind the kombu to a fine powder with the panko. Add all the other ingredients except the miso oil and salt, and combine.
  • Drizzle the miso oil and stir to obtain a wet sand consistency. Season with the sea salt and store covered until needed.

For the hijiki seaweed

  • Season the seaweed with the soy sauce and mirin. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

For the 'seashells'

  • Microwave the bulb petals in a couple of tablespoons of water for 1 minute. Toss in ponzu. Set aside until needed.

For the ‘sea’

  • Put the vegetables, vermouth and white wine in a saucepan and simmer until translucent. Add water if necessary to prevent the vegetables from catching.
  • Add the shellfish and cover with the water. Bring the liquid up to 85°C/185°F, then cover and infuse for 25 minutes at this temperature.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and add the kombu and parsley. Re-cover and allow to cool to room temperature. Skim off any impurities that have risen to the top. Pass the stock through a sieve lined with kitchen towel.

For the oysters

  • Clean the outside of the oysters with cold water. Using a short, wide-bladed knife, carefully open each oyster. Strain off and reserve the oyster juice and put the oyster back in it’s shell. Cover and keep refrigerated.

For the final sauce

  • Place the sea and oyster juice in a container and adjust the seasoning as necessary with salt, pepper and ponzu. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
  • Place the 'sand' on a plate and sprinkle the shirasu on top.
  • Place the lily bulb petals on the sand. Place separate piles of the hijiki and kale.
  • Drizzle the ponzu over the seafood pieces, then place them on top of each pile of seaweed.
  • Place the final sauce in a container, add the soya lecithin and foam the mixture using a hand-held blender. Spoon around the seafood to resemble the ocean: crashing on to the beach. Garnish the dish with samphire and drizzle a bit more ponzu over the top. Serve with your generic fruit-based device.


Keyword fish

Here’s a super-stripped back version I made, beached salmon: https://bigspud.co.uk/beached-salmon/