As Americans who live outside the U.S.A., the day of American Thanksgiving holiday (which is tomorrow) has special significance. It’s the day we gather with a few close friends who are half-American (one member of each couple is American, the other is Dutch) and their multi-cultural children, share food everyone has prepared and brought with them, and generally have a wonderful, relaxed day.
Of course, the day involves lots of eating, lots of shooting the breeze (an American euphemism for spouting off, er, random intellectual discussions), and utilizing each other as culinary guinea pigs. (Oh, I wasn’t supposed to say that out loud?)
My contribution to tomorrow’s feasting are the following items:
A turkey injected with and brined with a savory sour orange marinade, from a recipe provided by La Caja China – it’s the mojo criollo marinade, and then roast in my Weber grill.
A cranberry cinnamon rum ice cream, with rum included because it will keep the cream soft in the freezer (since I use Splenda instead of sugar, and that produces a very solid cream otherwise), and, of course, because rum tastes good.
A cranberry compote ice cream for those who don’t like rum (with guar gum to keep it soft).
Orange juice caviar (small spheres of alginate filled with orange juice – just because I had leftover orange juice from the marinade described above).
Cranberry relish pearls (larger alginate spheres using a cranberry orange relish puree that Linda made yesterday) – should be a nice topping for turkey and other treats tomorrow
Cranberry powder – I first had this at Mark’s American Cuisine (great restaurant, by the way) in Houston a few weeks ago with a foie gras dish, and decided I needed my own tart dusting powder. Required my dehydrator, cranberries, and an awful lot of patience.
Garlic mashed cauliflower – made with lots of butter and cream and a touch of white pepper, and virtually no carbohydrates
Linda is making a peanut butter pie and a pumpkin pie, Krystyana is making a garlic parmesan mayonnaise vegetable casserole, our friends Caren & Frans are providing more veggies and Dutch apple cake, and our friend Dan is bringing a turkey smoked in his Big Green Egg.
All in all, it should be an interesting experiment meal tomorrow!
Yesterday morning a sense of anticipation was pervasive in our home. I had made a date with our favorite chef on Bonaire, Andrea, to experiment on creating some interesting molecular gastronomy (now being called, more appropriately, modernist cuisine) items so Andrea could see how the process worked.
The menu was a bit haphazard as we wanted inspiration and creativity to guide us. The only thing that was certain was that we wanted to try making olive spheres, a la Ferran Adria (whom I had the pleasure to meet in Spain in early October at his world famous elBulli restaurant – but that will be the subject of another post here soon). A version of that recipe and discussion of spherification is here.
My daughter Krysytana joined Andrea in the kitchen, and we were off, trying to figure out the best way to create olive spheres. I had already made up the olive juice blended with calcium chloride and Xanthan gum a day before, as well as the sodium alginate bath, so the real trick we were trying to perform was make the olives look round as we submerged a spoon of the treated olive juice in the alginate bath. It’s a lot more difficult than it looks, but at the end Andrea had perfect a technique which involved submerging the spoon with the olive juice in the bath and then slowly turning it over to let gravity pull the juice out of the spoon. The rolling action created minimal tearing and both Krystyana and I were able to duplicate his results (Krystyana better than I). After a few minutes in the bath we took out the olives, rinsed them in water and added them to seasoned olive oil (garlic, fresh rosemary, peppercorns, lemon zest).
Here’s the result:
The thought had come across at some point to make a Caprese (tomato, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, basil, and mozzarella) salad, so I worked on creating mixtures to make balsamic vinegar spheres, also referred to as caviar due to the small size. The first attempt was to try to make them via reverse spherification, like the olive spheres, but that failed miserably. So I went the other way and made a balsamic alginate solution and then created spheres by dripping the alginate into a bath of water and calcium chloride. Much better results. Again, after about a minute we rinsed them in fresh water, and voila, balsamic vinegar caviar.
Next we needed to reconstruct mozzarella somehow. Thanks to some suggestions in the wonderful book “Cooking for Geeks” by Jeff Potter, we managed to create a decent mozzarella liquid (we had to strain the solids out first though), and using reverse spherification, created mozzarella spheres.
We were almost there. We were going to use fresh tomato and basil, but still wanted to provide some sort of treatment of pure olive oil. Attempts to create olive oil spheres failed as well, so I decided to create an olive oil foam using my nitrous oxide injected iSi pressurized creamer. In order to get the olive oil to foam, however, I needed to add an emulsifier, which I did in the form of glycerol monostearate (8% by weight) into heated olive oil so it would dissolve. After putting it into the creamer and pressurizing it with the nitrous oxide I managed to create olive oil foam – intensely flavored. Interestingly, if it sat long enough, it turned into an olive oil butter, which created nice contrasting textures.
With this last ingredient in place we witnessed Andrea’s culinary creativity as he created three different approaches to a Caprese salad with modernist influences. For the last one I also experimented with creating an air/foam using balsamic vinegar and soy lecithin which Andrea then used to creative a piece of edible art.
We were all very pleased with the results, and learned a lot from each other and our experimental successes and failures.
In fact I felt so inspired that I attempted to make an olive gel (failed) and a tomato gel (success) using agar agar after Andrea left. You can see images of that result along with more photos of the day on Flickr.
This morning’s kitchen science experiment was making hazelnut caviar. More specifically, caviar using hazelnut syrup (sugar free, of course). It involves using sodium alginate and calcium chloride, but I will save the details for later.
For now, let me tease you with a photo:
Why, you might ask, is the caviar green? The short story is that we weren’t sure the process was working because our hazelnut syrup, water, and sodium alginate mixture was almost the same color as the aqueous calcium chloride bath, so we wanted to add some color to make the process more visible. Green food coloring was the closest food color at hand.
Suffice to say that the above pictured caviar and pearls release a rich sweet hazelnut flavor when you chew them.
I spent a couple of weeks last month performing experiments in my kitchen using a cooking technique known as “sous vide” (means “under vacuum” in French).
In sous vide cooking you generally vacuum seal (or use inert gases to supplant oxygen) foods and then cook them for a long time at low and consistent temperatures (typically in the range of 50-72 degrees Celsius / 122-158 degrees Fahrenheit).
Sous vide cooking is quite equipment intensive, as it requires, at a minimum, a decent vacuum sealing device, and a way to cook at specific temperatures with a high degree of accuracy (.1 degrees Celsius accuracy is desirable). While there probably are some passable low-priced solutions, if you’re serious about doing a wide range of sous vide cooking at home, I would strongly suggest budgeting about $5,000 for the two key components you will need – the vacuum sealer being one, and the other discussed below.
The common way to achieve the accurate temperature needed is via a device known as an thermal immersion circulator, placed in a water bath. The immersion circulator sucks in water, and then jets it out, heating the water in the process. A highly accurate thermometer built into the immersion circulator is used by the device to ensure the water is not over-heated, but instead kept at the exact temperature programmed into the device. Thermal immersion circulators originated as a piece of laboratory equipment for chemical and biological work, and the original idea to use such a device stems from the “bain marie“.
For my kitchen, I had invested in a C-100 vacuum sealer from Multivac, based on a recommendation and contact information provided by Wiley Dufresne, chef at wd-50, New York’s landmark molecular gastronomy restaurant (although they call it “New American” cuisine on the web site).
Interesting side note: Unbeknownst to us, Wiley sat behind us at a presentation on cooking with liquid nitrogen in New York City about 16 months ago, and by coincidence recognized us from that class when we dined at his restaurant the following night. Wiley invited us into the kitchen for a tour after dinner to show us his modern kitchen and equipment, including containers with all of his “ingredients”, and described some of the cooking techniques he uses. All I can say, other than “Thank you Wiley!”, is that you should not miss an opportunity to try wd-50 the next time you’re in New York City!
A web site on sous vide pointed us to some sources for immersion circulators. We ended up going to the Cole-Parmer web site, which offered a number of options for immersion circulators. I opted for the TechneTE-10D (pictured further above), which features a digital display (and settings), and also a screw clamp which can be used to mount the immersion circulator onto a large pot which holds your cooking medium (water), and which is turn is used to cook your vacuum sealed bags of edible goodness.
Sous vide, as a form of culinary artistry, is still evolving. Its origin in food preparation came from a desire to seal food away from the things that cause it to go bad, such as oxygen and the bacteria that need oxygen to multiply (although there are anaerobic bacteria that could cause problems). At some point someone tried cooking vacuum sealed food while still in the plastic bag and found it could make a dramatic improvement in juiciness, as well as retention of flavor and nutrients. Part of that is because the food is not exposed to air while it cooks. Air will oxidize meats and change their color (brown, typically) and flavor, and similarly, vegetables will lose flavor when cooked in water, steam, or in a pan with fats of any sort.
However, in a vacuum, that’s not an issue – the meat cooks in whatever marinade you have it stored in, as well as its own juices, which would otherwise evaporate. Further, by being able to cook meat and other foods at exact temperatures, you can select the proper level of done-ness throughout instead of the temperature variations that oven-based cooking produces – namely higher heat and thus dryness on the outside going into the meat, and cooler temperatures and less done-ness inside at the center.
What I find fascinating about this process is that it combines science with food, as you need to learn and know at what temperature various foods change states. For example, the proteins in egg yolks firm up at just around 65 degrees Celsius (149 degrees Fahrenheit), but the several different parts of egg whites coagulate at different temperatures, both higher and lower than the egg yolk. And beef is a perfect medium rare (as far as I’m concerned anyhow) at 54.5 degrees Celsius (130.1 degrees Fahrenheit).
One of the cautions with sous vide cooking is that the same low temperatures at which you cook meats are the same temperatures at which bacteria thrive, so if your food source or preparation are not properly hygienic, you could be breeding organisms which lead to food poisoning. There are a number of ways to minimize or remove the risk, including thoroughly cleaning and washing foods before sealing them, searing the outside of meats at high heat in a broiler or pan to quickly kill off any unwanted guests, or using alcohol in your sauces or marinades. More details on this subject can be found here.
A book I am reading about Sous Vide right now which promises to be excellent (and some say it’s the “Bible of Sous Vide”) is the difficult to obtain and unfortunately expensive ($160 and up) “Sous-Vide Cuisine” by Joan Roca and Salvador Brugués. I bought mine here. Thomas Keller of French Laundry and Per Se fame also has a book out on sous vide cooking, “Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide” which has some fascinating recipes but does not really address basic sous vide experimentation. And finally, no discussion of food science would be complete without a recommendation of Harold McGee’s most excellent “On Food and Cooking, 2nd Edition“.
In order to not make my posts novella-length, I’ll address actual sous vide cooking experiences in another entry to be posted early next week. For now, let me leave you with a photo of a sous vide cooked egg – creamy, custardy whites with a thick gooey full-flavored yolk. Trust me. It was delicious.
Nice article over at the Boston Globe on how Jell-O works, explaining the science of food.
This same sort of food science is what is a core component in the fascinating field of molecular gastronomy, but that will be a subject of other posts in the future.
One thing I found interesting in the Boston Globe article, however, is that if you put certain fresh fruits, such as papaya, in gelatin, the gelatin won’t set. That’s because papaya and pineapple, among other fruits, contain enzymes which break down protein. Which is also why papain, a papaya enzyme, is helpful in reducing the sting of jellyfish and related stinging organisms – the papain breaks down the proteins of the stinging toxins, rendering them inert. Food as a type of medicine. Cool!