Granted, it’s really hard to call anything not made with any glutinous ingredients a noodle. Wheat, rice, even mung beans are used for noodles found in everything from Italian cuisine to my favorite of all Asian soups – Pho.
So, sure I had a hard time calling my latest excursion into molecular cooking at home “noodle making.” Yet, there they are at the top of this post in all their glory – “noodles” made of nothing but the juice of fresh cucumbers and agar-agar. And I’d have never even thought of tackling this had it not been for the Spaghetto Kit, given to me as a gift from Peter and Jo (who else?).
As I said, the ingredients for making noodles in this manner are straightforward: 250 ml of juice (any juice or broth will work) and 4 grams of agar-agar. This is brought to a boil, chilled, then injected into tightly wound coils of plastic tubing using a squeeze bottle filled with the juice/agar-agar mixture. Once the plastic tubes have been filled with the juice mixture, you drop them into a bowl of ice water for a few minutes, then push the noodles out of the tubing using a CO2 charged whipper, pump, or whatever you happen to have that has the pressure required to release the noodle.
I will admit to you right now that everything I’ve attempted leading up to this has been a literal cake walk. This, my friends, was tougher than fruit caviar, reverse spherification, ravioli, or the coconut-mango egg. Had a video camera been rolling on me during this experiment, you’d have heard curse words not known to man.
Sometimes my rationale for not doing something the right way parallels the decisions that kept me out of the good schools when I was younger. I say this because I think it’s time for me to break down and buy a juicer.
Seriously, this was ridiculous. Juicing anything without one is time consuming, and a lot of work. Ready to hear how I did this?
I peeled, sliced, and seeded 4 fresh cucumbers purchased from our local farm in Cypress. This went into a food processor until they were nearly liquified. I then strained the cucumber puree through a big piece of cheesecloth and squeezed out enough juice to give me 350 ml. That’s some hand made juice, my friends. To this, I added 1 teaspoon of salt.
You may note that I only needed 250 ml of fluid, as noted above. The reason I collected 350 ml of juice was because I fully intended to reduce this down to 250 ml to concentrate the flavors a bit. Cucumbers, as you may know, are 95% water and (for the most part) flavorless.
Into the cucumber reduction went 4 grams of agar-agar, which is a form of gelatin derived from seaweed. This is another reminder to those who think molecular cooking items are “inedible”. Agar-agar is one more ingredient made from something found in the sea. Please feel free to let me know when things found in the sea have suddenly become inedible after thousands of years. I’ll be here.
The cucumber/agar-agar solution was then brought back to a boil, chilled to room temperature, then poured into the squeeze bottle and squirted into the plastic tubes. These were then dropped into a bowl of ice water, and left to chill until completely set. I did this for 4 minutes, then 5 minutes, and finally 7 minutes.
Trial and error, kids. I had some righteously squishy noodles burping out of those tubes at 4 and 5 minutes. Once held at the 7 minute mark, the agar-agar really set, resulting in a firm noodle that held on the fork very well. It had the consistency of a well cooked pasta noodle, yet fell apart in your mouth. Exactly the texture I was shooting for; it just took some time to get there. And to push the noodles free, I used none other than the syringe I used for the caviar. It worked perfectly.
I’m not sure why I was expecting a more intense flavor from the noodle. It was, after all, cucumber. My reduction of the juice had to help a little, along with the salt. It was cold, refreshing, and tasted of cucumber. The instructions said to make sure the juice had an intense flavor, as the agar-agar and process of squeezing the mixture into the molds tends to mute it. I wish I’d tasted the cucumber juice prior to reducing and mixing, just out of curiosity.
Next time, I’ll aim for a more intense flavor profile. Beets, perhaps? I thought of chicken noodle soup, sans the soup. It would be an intense chicken stock reduced down to demi-glace territory, then mixed with agar-agar.
The possibilities are endless, really. I’ll try this again soon.