As the sun was setting over the mountains last night and I was beginning to settle in, an unsuspecting package arrived via UPS that I’d forgotten was coming so soon.
What could be lurking inside such a small corrugated cube other than a miniature arsenal of powdered Hydrocolloids that will allow me to begin the actual experimentation I’m looking for outside the conventional box of supermarket fare. Previously I’ve played around with Gelatin, Pectin, and Xanthan Gum which are pretty much readily available in most places. Now as I’ve broken out of the box I will be playing with Sodium Alginate, Calcium Chloride, Lecithin, and Caregeenan.
First up will be Lecithin:
This substance has mostly been derived from egg yolks in the past but can also be found in plant tissues. Its most common use is in creating and stabilizing emulsions.
Carrageenan – Kappa
A derivative of a Red Seaweed found in abundance off the coast of Ireland, Carrageenan is a powerful gelification device. What makes it unique is that you add it in cold and then bring it to a boil for the gel effect to begin. Unlike like most gelatins, it can be served hot and still holds it form.
Calcium Chloride and Sodium Alginate
These two unusual products and very lab rat sounding indeed produce, in tandem, quite a unique effect known as Spherefication. Sodium Alginate gels in the presence of Calcium and with such a reaction one can drop any liquid that has been thoroughly mixed with Alginate into a Calcium solution and you have spheres of any liquid that comes to mind. The most well known version of this technique was developed by Ferran Adria when he made his own olive spheres.
In due time, I will have versions of all of these experiments including follies and successes. In due time……
After reading an article entitled “Chasing Perfection” by Francis Lam, I was happily comforted by the fact that I’m not alone in certain searches for “perfection”. In some ways when I think about why I left New York and moved into the country, at least a city dwellers version of it, my main motivation was perfection driven. There were greener pastures in my mind outside of the hustle of a concrete jungle, something greater but in many ways so much simpler. We all define ourselves, and our lives through multi-faceted definitions that are tirelessly arguable, and ultimately all correct to a degree…although, it’s the variations and combinations that make all these versions so interesting. That’s why this is just me, and my small shaken snow globe version of it.
The article that I found so close to heart was in search of a perfect omelet, this search only came about after having a truly great omelet for the first time. A moment like this can be quite startling, most notably because we often pride ourselves with the knowledge that we do certain things very well. Almost everyone has something food related they make “well”. This can be a pasta dish, sandwich, soup, cocktail, etc. But when all of the sudden we try something we’ve made a million times and it pulls the rug out from under us, there are usually two things that happen. Give in and accept defeat or enlist in a journey for the conquest of such an epiphany.
Eggs are a perfect example of such a subject simply because it’s almost impossible to think of someone who hasn’t handled an egg at one point in time. Not to mention, eggs may quite literally be one of the most versatile ingredients on the planet. Few things can tout being a paramount component at all meal times, and let alone stand alone doing it unlike such staples as salt and pepper. Whats even more satisfying, on a selfish note, is that we have access to some of the best eggs I’ve ever come in contact with here in the Berkshires. These are produced in a very small scale free range format by our friend Billie Best. She works tirelessly as an activist fighting to save our farming culture as well as tending to her pampered flock. Furthermore, after recently purchasing a book known simply as Egg with photographs by Grant Symon, I was blown away by some of the innovations using this beautiful ingredient by some of the worlds best Chefs. Just when you think you know something, you can still stand to be surprised:
All of the following photos are borrowed from the book Egg and were taken by Grant Symon:
***if you’d like a little more practical information on the subject of eggs and are comfortable in learning that you probably don’t eat good egg, check out what this little Birdy has to say.
If I could, I would go ahead and treat myself to many strange and unusual things. Money is tight right now and therefore I stare wide-eyed and dreamily into my laptop screen.
That magnificent and equally frightening looking machine on top is known as a Thermal Immersion Circulator. What it does, very expensively I might add, is keep water at exact temperatures for as long as you’d like in order to cook food that has been previously vacuum packed. What you end up with is food that is cooked to the exact, up to a fraction of a degree, temperature you were going for. This particular method of cooking known as Sous Vide has spawned an entirely new realm of cooking and has lent to some wonderful inventions. Many restaurants have adopted this technique, most notably there is El Bulli, Per Se, WD-50, French Laundry, and Blue Hill. Below the Thermal Circulator is a non contact thermometer which can take temp readings at pin pointed locations from safe distances….very useful.
The straining spoon above comes from Ferran Adria’s company FACES. Not many people carry this line and everything they make is quite extraordinary. Ferran Adria is a revolutionary chef who has teamed up with a Swedish industrial designer in order to create high end cooking gear. Following the spoon is a classic siphon used mainly for whipped cream, but these days finds itself in professional kitchens creating foams out of just about any flavor with the help of Hydrocolloids.
Lastly, so I can actually learn to bring some of these things into practice, I would love this book.
Definition of a Hydrocolloid:
A hydrocolloid is defined as a colloid system wherein the colloid particles are dispersed in water. A hydrocolloid has colloid particles spread throughout water and depending on the quantity of water available can take on different states, e.g., gel or sol (liquid). Hydrocolloids can be either irreversible (single-state) or reversible. For example, agar, a reversible hydrocolloid of seaweed extract, can exist in a gel and sol state, and alternate between states with the addition or elimination of heat.
Many hydrocolloids are derived from natural sources. For example, carrageenan is extracted from seaweed, gelatin has bovine (cow) and fish origins, and pectin is extracted from citrus peel and apple pomace.
Jell-O (trade mark Jell-O), the well-known dessert, is made from gelatin powder, another effective hydrocolloid. Hydrocolloids are employed in food mainly to influence texture or viscosity (e.g., a sauce). Hydrocolloids are also used in skin-care and wound-dressing.
****more simply put they are substances that form gels when in contact with water.
Here is a link to recipes for the curious minded, it was put together by a fantastic blog on the subject known as Khymos:
Hydrocolloid Recipe Collection