Mar 6 2008

Excuse me while I powder my nose….

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……

Mar 3 2008


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.

Thermal Circulator Thermometer

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.

Straining Spoon iSi

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.

Feb 24 2008

Hydrocolloids 2 – Continuing Consomme’s

Ok…so I’ve been exploring the very basics of Molecular Gastronomy and so far I haven’t pushed myself any further than just working with Gelatin at the moment. Even something like gelatin that we are so used to using in kitchens, or at least familiar with the concept of its use in foods (i.e. jello) can produce some interesting results applied in different ways.

I posted earlier about a “Suspended Tomato” dish that was essentially an extremely refined Jello of sorts via a rigorous clarification process in an attempt to produce a potent tomato flavor or essence without the accompaniment of any solid particles. This essentially involved making a puree of chopped tomato and basil along with a bit of white balsamic for acidity, then taking the pulpy mess and allowing it to slowly, very slowly, strain through a Chinois (otherwise a ridiculously fine mesh strainer from France). After this process you have a realtivley clear liquid with a highly concentrated flavor of fresh tomato and basil. Next step, heat, activate with gelatin and set in mold…wait. Now you a have a process to turn anything into bursts of flavors in jello molds.

Now, assuming you are still paying attention to this post, there is another process I’ve tried recently using gelatin that can be viewed as sort of an inverted version of what I just explained and is instead a way creating consommes out of anything one could desire. Only until recently have consommes been relegated to the confines of clarified broths from such things as chicken, beef, or fish. For those of you not familiar with a Consomme:

A consomme is a crystal-clear, flavoursome broth made from a stock (most commonly beef, veal, or poultry, although one occasionally sees a fish consomme as well) that is cloudless because it has been clarified of impurities.

What has naturally created the phenomenon of a consomme is the presence of something known as aspic which exists in the bones of animals and is released when cooked for long periods of time and eventually turns into jelly when left to set in a cool place. Now, after reading Harold Mcgee’s , On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen” , I’ve learned about a method that creates the same effect of a consomme, sans bones. Therefore you now have an open door to clarify anything you could ever want into a seemingly innocent clear liquid that has a hell of a flavor. Yes, to some of you this isn’t very exciting and if you’re still reading this we have more in common with each other than originally imagined and should probably hang out more.

In any case, here it is…..Make a liquid of just about anything you can imagine, in this case I took left over soup and pureed the hell out of it, then heat it gently and dissolve gelatin powder into it. How much gelatin? Well, according to H. Alexander Talbot from Ideas in Food, one should apply .5% gelatin to the base amount of what ever it is you’re working with. After this quickly freeze until solid then line a Chinois or mesh strainer with cheesecloth and put the frozen block into it, then let it thaw and strain in the refrigerator. The thawing process could take up to 2 days, so be patient.

Consomme 1

Consomme 2

At the end of it all you will have a clarified liquid with every bit of flavor that ever went into what you froze solid. The reason this process works according to McGee is that when you freeze gelatin as it’s setting with all the other liquid, the molecules that make up gelatin stretch and create a fine web that traps all other particles except for the ice crystals that formed first in the freezing process. Therefore, when you are thawing out your frozen liquid mass in the fridge, the ice crystals will thaw first and then filter through the web created by gelatin and then ta-da!…consomme.

Consomme 3

Now with all of this work and newfound appreciation for gelatin, I still have no clue what to do with this stuff. I even have a butternut squash, burnt butter and mint version in the freezer as well. Once I do come up with a use I will let you know. Until then……