Molecular Dinner Party
Posted by Degan on June 12th, 2012
On Friday I wrote about our experience with Molecul-R‘s Molecular gastronomy cocktail kits, but we also had a chance to experiment with the culinary one and it’s hard to say which we enjoyed more. While the molecular cocktails feature spherification and pearls (smaller spheres), these techniques can also be used in cuisine; likewise, the foams and sheets in the culinary kit can be used in cocktails. Each kit comes with a slightly different set of tools and additives, aligned with their most common uses.
There has always been science in food but Molecular Gastronomy came into being in the 90′s through experimentation by Hervé This and Nicholas Kurti (to whom this excellent quotation is attributed; “I think it is a sad reflection on our civilization that while we can and do measure the temperature in the atmosphere of Venus we do not know what goes on inside our soufflés”) and like it or not, has contributed significantly to making food more interesting and inventive. I love eating this kind of food – the ability to be surprised with texture and flavour in new ways is delightful as a diner and our minds have been blown by recent meals at Diva at the Met at several restaurants in Spain – Tickets, Commerc 24, El Cellar de Can Roca, Zelai (posts are coming!!) where molecular techniques are used to add creativity to a dish. It becomes a completely new way to enjoy food.
At El Cellar de Can Roca we had dish, modestly named Moluscada, the “shellfish platter”, that paired a piece of local seafood with a character of Albariño wine (small clam/apple, cockle/grapefruit, mussel/smoke, clam/bay leaf, oyster/grapefruit) inside a molecular sphere, and then coated the whole thing over with an iridescent pearl wine sauce, meant to represent the minerals in shell and soil. Unlike some of the spheres that made us laugh out loud, this one brought us close to tears for its beauty.
What I hadn’t expected was how delightful it was going to be to make some of these dishes. Like the cocktail recipes, they are mostly easy to make (arguably even easier), easy to extrapolate on and definitely add interest to your meal. We were having some friends over for an Indian meal so we book-ended a couple of curries with prawns baked in garlic and butter and topped with curry foam and mango “verrines” (essentially a thick, delicious jell-O made with real mangoes served in glass jars) and suffered no stress from adding these elements in with no practice or prep beforehand.
Foam in particular is a culinary technique that has been around for a while (to the point that has been criticized for overuse at times, but I was surprised to learn how easy it is to make (just add Soy Lecithin and incorporate with a hand blender!) and by how much the foam retains the flavour. I thought we would have to add curry to the prawns as well but the flavour of the curry foam was perfect and we immediately wanted to try a hundred other things with it. The drawback is that it doesn’t last long so you pretty much have to plate and serve.
Coffee foam did not disappoint, but to add complexity and test our chops, we created a gelatin sheet out of BBQ sauce and Agar Agar and filled it with pulled pork to make a little burrito. The wrap was more slippery than we expected (too bad because I would love to make a hand-held appy version of these) but the flavours were spectacular.
Balsamic Pearls with Potatoes and Saffron Aioli
1 sachet of Agar Agar from the Molecul-R cuisine kit
2 C (approximately) of olive oil
as many yellow potatoes as you want to make, but pick small, round ones if possible
Perforated spoon from the Molecul-R cuisine kit
Pearl extruder from the Molecul-R cuisine kit
Make the aioli. I used this recipe and added 5 saffron threads to it, but we found the garlic too strong in it so maybe make it ahead of time so you have a chance to adjust.
Roast the potatoes for an hour (stirring to coat occasionally) with some Spanish olive oil and sea salt.
Leave them to cool on the stove top and when they’re cool enough to handle, slice them in half horizontally so that they sit flat and don’t wobble (cut a flat spot on the bottom if you need to) then carve out a small divet with a spoon.
Put a measuring cup of olive oil in the freezer for 30 minutes so that it’s nice and cool for the vinegar.
When it’s close to coming out, mix the Balsamic vinegar with the Agar Agar in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
Pour into a glass bowl and using the extruder, squeeze droplets into the olive oil. The olive oil is cold, so you don’t need to be as careful as you do with the coke pearls but the same technique applies – the steadier and slower you are with the vinegar, the more consistently and perfectly formed your pearls will be.
Stir with the perforated spoon and then rinse the pearls in a water bath (although for this recipe, a bit of the olive oil coating the pearls is a nice touch with the aioli).
Warm the potatoes for a few minutes and then assemble – a dollop of mayo followed by a dollop of pearls – and then serve.