Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The Final Frontier

Not until recently had I had the chance to get to play around with a very small portion of what the culinary world is calling Molecular Gastronomy.

My chance came last week when I got a very brief but informative how to from one of my Chefs in regards to creating "Caviar". Now most of us know what real caviar is by now, if you were alive during the 70 and 80's you probably could go your whole life without seeing another fish egg and die happy. But for the uniformed Caviar is:

An elegant and expensive appetizer of sieved and salted fish Roe (egg).

The "Caviar" I’m talking about is not harvested from fish, but rather naturally occurring chemicals often found in seaweed and algae.

What on earth am I talking about?

If you remember my post involving the Egg That Wasn’t an Egg you’ll have a better idea of where I am headed.

Now bare with me cause I’m about to get all scientific on you, but Ill explain it in basic terms when I’m done.

To create basic "caviar" your going to need two naturally occurring chemicals, both of which are perfectly food safe so don’t worry. You’re going to need Calcium Chloride and Sodium Alginate. When combined together the two create a gel like substance, but you don’t want to mix them together alone.. Defeats the purpose.

Now three things you need to be aware of when doing this.

1- Measurements need to be as exact as possible. We are talking about a scientific chemical reaction here. Too much or two little of one thing will end in a failed product.

2-The PH level of the "Juice" you’re using needs to be about middle of the road. If you don’t know what I’m talking about here, just remember the "juice" cannot be too acidic or too salty (Alkaline). The reason for it is either end of the PH scale will start to break down or hinder the chemical reaction.

3- Measurement for this is done in metric.

Now to start with your going to need that "Juice" I made mention of. By juice I mean any product you can puree, strain and maybe thin with water or stock. The easiest thing I can think of to use as an example would be Cantaloupe.

When you have your "juice" prepared and ready you’re going to sprinkle (very important) the sodium alginate solution: 1 to 1.5% sodium alginate and 0.3% sodium citrate (by weight) over the top. The higher percentage of sodium alginate, the thicker the liquid will become. When you sprinkle the mixture over the liquid allow it roughly two minutes to "Set".

What you’re doing is basically the same process as blooming gelatin. You’re allowing the molecules in the mixture to absorb and adhere to the liquid your using and by doing so allow them to begin the chemical reaction needed. After those 2 minutes is up use an immersion blender to mix in the mixture to the liquid. Make sure you blend it well.

Now take your Calcium Chloride and mix into water. You’re going to need 1% calcium Chloride, by weight, to water. Example: 5 grams of Chloride in 500 ml of water.

You will now need a fine mesh strainer, a third bowl of fresh cool water, and a third empty bowl.

By now your head is probably swimming, and I know it seems confusing but don’t worry its really very simple. Now we get to the fun part.

You should have a nice plastic syringe (the kind your mom used to give you medicine with as a kid will work great, just make sure it’s got a wider opening on the needle) and draw into it a tiny bit of air. Then draw in some of your "juice" with the Sodium Alginate mix into the syringe. Wipe off an excess and position just above the surface of the Calcium Chloride water. Drip slowly into the water and watch as the chemical reaction happens almost instantly.

What you’ll notice is the juice does not disperse into the water. Rather the two chemical compounds create a jelly like shell around the juice creating a nice spherical object that will settle on the bottom of your bowl. After you’ve made a few allow it to sit for a minute more in the water then strain through the mesh strainer keeping you water (hence the second empty bowl). Rinse off your "Caviar" in your clean water set aside and there you have it!

This procedure, among many others along the same lines, were perfected by Albert and Ferra Adria of El Bulli fame, Godfathers of Molecular Gastronomy.

While I can’t say they created this process they are most certainly responsible for bringing it to the forefront of the culinary field. Molecular Gastronomy is still a hot bed of debate; many chefs don’t even acknowledge it as cooking at all but rather food science. In many ways they are correct, but by using what we learn more and more about food and what makes us the things we eat we are left with many new possibilities.

Nothing new has been done in regards to food in a very long time, no matter what anyone tells you. The same processes have been used for centuries, only they have been perfected, dissected, and recreated and called "New".

What we are witnessing with the rise of Molecular Gastronomy I honestly believe is the final frontier of food. It will be one of the, if not the, last new and exciting fronts in the world of cooking.

For more in depth information about the products check out:
Chef Rubber

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