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Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Adventures in Molecular Gastronomy, Part 1

What is Molecular Gastronomy? It's a culinary trend that started around 1992 — a style of food preparation that blends physics and chemistry to transform the tastes and textures of food. It borrows tools from the science lab and ingredients from the food industry to make foods we think we know behave in a totally different way. Two of the big superstars in this weird world are Wylie Dufresne, who runs a trendy East Village establishment called WD-50 (which will soon be closing due to real estate issues), and Ferran Adrià, chef at Spain's now-closed 3-Michelin star elBulli which was voted the best restaurant on the planet a few times. Some of the things you can do with this technology are make liquids into foam, gel, pearls, or crusty bits. Some people find this amazing, I always found it kind of disgusting. Flavored saliva has never been a goal of mine.

So with this totally biased outlook, I never really explored this technique, but was secretly curious how it worked (I like to know how everything works). And then, much like other trends, it passed from the realm of ultra-haute cuisine into the realm of DIY, so I figured now was my time to try it out. In stepped Uncommon Goods, an online catalog full of all kinds of cool stuff from earrings to housewares, and they sent me a molecular gastronomy starter kit to review.

For those who don't want to read the whole thing, here's the TL;DR version: It's cooler and more fun than I expected. But I need to try some things again, because, apparently, I'm incapable of reading all the instructions first. I'll post a follow-up review next week.

So, the well-designed and beautifully packaged kit costs $65.00 and comes with everything including sachets of chemicals, a DVD, a beautiful recipe book (there's a $49 version that comes without the book) and even some cool tools (which I did not open because I did not recognize them until half way through my tests). There is enough stuff to do lots of different experiments so I will continue my tests and will post again when I make something actually edible with my bits. In the meantime, here are the results of my first 3 tests.

All recipes are from the pamphlet that comes with the kit. A note about that little booklet – I started at the beginning and started making the first recipe, which was confusing, but I forged ahead anyway. It wasn’t until later that I realized that along further in the pamphlet were more explicit instructions, including troubleshooting tips and technical points. I should have read the whole thing first!

Reverse Spherification - Yogurt Ravioles

2 cups water
1/3 cup milk
1/2 cup 2% plain yogurt
Sodium Alginate 2 grams (1 sachet provided)
Calcium Lactate 2.5ml (1 sachet provided)

In a flat-bottomed bowl, dissolve the Sodium Alginate in 2 cups of water using a hand held burr mixer. Set aside for 15 minutes. Dissolve Calcium Lactate in milk and yogurt using a spoon. Fill one measuring spoon with the mixture and drip it into the sodium alginate bath. Stir the spheres for 3 minutes to allow the membrane to form. Using a slotted spoon, remove the Ravioles and put into a bath of water to rinse.

My problems
I apparently do not follow instructions well. I used low-fat yogurt and fat-free milk, I think this was why things were so wobbly and gooey. I also could not figure out how to get a smooth, round ball. It wasn't until I realized there were tools provided in the larger box which would make this job easier. Needless to say, I will redo this test and repost results later. The other problem is the instructions say do not let them touch while you are stirring them, does this mean you need to make one at a time? I did however make a cool-looking Michelin man out of yogurt!


Emulsification - Lemon Cloud

2/3 cup water
2/3 cup lemon juice
2 g Soy Lecithin (1 sachet provided)

Combine Soy Lecithin, lemon juice, and water and, using a hand blender, whip it up to produce foam.

My problems
I did not get much foam. Then I read the technique notes which said the best way to use the hand mixer is in a flat-bottomed bowl with the hand blender at a tilt with it partially submerged. Okay, but what do you do with the foam?


Gelification - Balsamic Vinegar Pearls

4 cups cold vegetable oil
3/4 cup Balsamic vinegar
2 g Agar Agar (1 sachet provided)

Place the oil in a tall glass and put into freezer for at least 30 minutes. Combine Agar Agar and Balsamic vinegar in a small pot and bring to a boil. Remove oil from freezer. Using the pipette provided, pick up some balsamic mixture and drop it into the oil. Pearls will form and drop to the bottom. When you are done, strain out pearls and put into a bowl of water to rinse. You can reuse the oil. The pearls look just like caviar!

My problems
Whoops, I had none! This recipe was by far the winner! These are cool and delicious and would be great in a salad, on a piece of fish, or with some cheese, or a beautiful garnish on an hors d'oeuvre.


In conclusion, I had fun with this kit. It’s always good to learn something new. I plan to doing more experimentation and will start to find recipes (using the big book provided) that hopefully create products that are tasty, not just strange, and will post again next week.

Thanks again to Uncommon Goods! Check out these links for these cool wine glasses and wine-related gifts!

1 comment :

Bram said...

Didn't you ever do that exercise in school where you were given a bunch of instructions that said "read all the way through before starting" and they were all sorts of weird, absurd, embarrassing things — but the last one said "ignore all the instructions before this and do nothing?".