Nov 17 2010

Inspired by elBulli – Modernist Cuisine at Home

November 17th, 2010 at 3:49 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

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.

Getting ready for modernist cuisine experimentation in my kitchen

Getting ready for modernist cuisine experimentation in my kitchen

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:

Our collection of olive spheres

Our collection of olive spheres

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.

Caviar of balsamic vinegar, made using spherification

Caviar of balsamic vinegar, made using spherification

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.

Caprese salad - revised first version, close up

Caprese salad - revised first version, close up

Caprese salad - second version

Caprese salad - second version

Caprese salad - third version, using Balsamic air, close up

Caprese salad - third version, using Balsamic air, close up

We were all very pleased with the results, and learned a lot from each other and our experimental successes and failures.

Jake - food scientist, Andrea - chef and creative talent, in front of our combined handiwork (Photo by Krystyana Richter, our other important contributor)

Jake - food scientist, Andrea - chef and creative talent, in front of our combined handiwork (Photo by Krystyana Richter, our other important contributor)

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.