Molecular Cooking – my new true passion

Chemistry in the Kitchen

The first time I’d seen or even heard of Molecular Gastronomy was the now infamous episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations “Decoding Ferran Adria.” I had no idea who Adria was, nor had I heard of his world renouned restaurant ElBulli, neatly tucked away in Roses, Spain. The episode changed my entire perception of how creative you can actually be in the kitchen. And being creative is all I’m ever after, in everything I do. It’s the one reason I’m as addicted to cooking as I am, and that includes brewing.

Originally filmed for his Food Network show “A Cook’s Tour” (and apparently only ever airing on Food Network Canada) “Decoding Ferran Adria” is now the most talked about episode of No Reservations. It was so popular, the single episode appeared on DVD within a month of it’s release. You can buy it on Amazon.com here or watch it online here. Shortly after the episode aired, I watched it again, and again, and again.

I sat in awe as he ate things I’d never even heard of. carrot air, pasta-less pea ravioli, apple caviar, cured tuna belly sliced so thin you need tweezers to eat it. And as far as I knew, the only way to ever experience food like this was a reservation to ElBulli, which – as it turns out – is harder to get than an admission of guilt from OJ Simpson.

So imagine the ray of sunshine that shined upon me the day I read this post from Jo at My Last Bite, a blog dedicated only to good food, not bad. Like most of us, Jo is a very good home chef in her own right. And after taking a class on molecular cooking, she posted photos and recipes from it. I couldn’t believe a class like that even existed, let alone available not that far away from my door. Jo posted links to online stores that sold the special food-grade chemistry that’s needed to accomplish these dishes, as well as her step-by-step instructions on how to actually do it in your own kitchen.

If you’ve listened to Episode 30 of My Life as a Foodie, you know the rest. I’m out to try this myself. And if I’m successful at it, dinner parties may never be the same again.

Chemistry in hand, equipment at the ready, I recently attempted my first dish using the tricks and theories laid out by Herve This, Ferran Adria, Grant Achatz, and the like. Apple Caviar seemed like the most approachable thing to try. Jo had already created Pink Grapefruit Caviar, the steps were there, as was her recipe.

Since I wanted this to be a bit different, I decided to infuse 9 ounces of fresh apple juice with sprigs of fresh rosemary from my garden. This sat all day, making sweet sweet rosemary/apple love.

Rosemary Infusion

I separated the rosemary from the apple juice, tasted a bit of it to make sure the balance was right, then added 1 gram of Sodium Alginate to the juice and blended it with an immersion blender in a bowl for a full minute. The result was a foamy, gooey liquid that seemed to resemble the slimy stuff from Ghostbusters, but smelled like rosemary and apples.

Once strained, I let it set until the foamy stuff settled. Then I put the mix into a plastic squeeze bottle. Per Jo’s instructions, I mixed 3 grams of Calcium Chloride with 18 ounces of cold water. This is the calcium bath that will make the outsides of the finished caviar hard enough to hold the goo together. It seems that alginate makes a gel out of any juice it’s mixed with, but on it’s own it’s just a gel. In the presence of Calcium, it holds together.

OK, kids – everyone in the pool!

Making Caviar

Some of you who are old like me will remember Sea Monkeys when you were a kid. If you do, you’ll recall the excitement of staring at that little jar of water that you’ve added dehydrated brine shrimp to, waiting for the little shrimp to come to life and start dancing around in the water. Well, if you recall the excitement of that, you’ll know just how excited I was as I dropped these balls of apple gel into this calcium bath and started seeing these perfectly round balls forming. It actually works.

After a minute in the calcium bath, I used my small metal strainer to carefully fish the caviar balls out of solution, and into a bowl full of fresh, clean water. This rinses the calcium off of the finished caviar. Out of that bath, gently dried on a clean towel, and into a serving spoon. I garnished it with a small rosemary flower.

Finished Caviar

They were gentle balls of rosemary goodness that squirted apple juice in your mouth as you ate them. It was magic, and I was instantly hooked. Sure, there’s attention to detail involved, and patience – but it’s all worth it. Anytime you’re doing something you really love doing, and you’re being creative – that’s not work. It’s a genuine feeling of zen for me.

I plan on doing this again, with less of an infusion (just a bit too much rosemary this time). After that, I’m going to patiently wait for the next molecular cooking class being held in Los Angeles (February 22nd) so I can get some hands-on professional training from Chef Michael Young. After that, it’s on to foams, pea ravioli, and God knows what else.

Stay tuned, and check out Jo’s blog for her continued adventures in Molecular Cooking. And by the way, don’t ever hire a cat for a sous chef. They’re worthless in the kitchen, and they sleep on the job.

Clarke is not a chef

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