The molecular gastronomy trend is astounding. The understanding of different thickeners, thinners, foamers an emulsiers has allowed chefs to push the creative boundaries.
The amazing thing? You can make dishes like this at home!
Here are a few trends in Molecular Gastronomy:
The act of turning liquids such as fruit juices into gelled balls. The reaction is created when Sodium Alginate, an algae based gum, comes in contact with a water solution containing calcium (usually calcium chloride or calcium lactate) the two compounds automatically create a barrier wall between them. This wall turns whatever delicious liquid you have the Sodium Alginate dissolved in into a sphere. The size of the sphere is only limited by the amount of liquid you can lower into the calcium solution.
1/2 cup water (bottled water with a low mineral content is best as some tap waters contain calcium which will cause your Sodium Alginate to thicken your puree)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
2 peaches, peeled and pitted
1/2 teaspoon Sodium Alginate
5 cups water
1 Tsp Calcium Chloride
Combine water, sugar vanilla and salt in a saucepan. Heat until all ingredients are dissolved. Add peaches and cool.
Put peaches and syrup into a blender. Add Sodium Alginate Blend until combined, then strain. Reserve the strained peach liquid. Let it sit for a few hours to remove air bubbles.
Combine water and Calcium Chloride. Let the solution sit for 5 minutes, until the calcium is dissolved.
Using a spoon, syringe, or sieve, carefully drop the peach solution into the calcium solution. Only do about 1/2 of the mixture at a time. Let the peach caviar soak for 1 minute for smaller caviar, 2+ minutes if you’re making larger spheres.
Using a strainer, transfer the caviar to a bowl of plain cold water and soak for a couple of minutes to wash off the calcium chloride.
Foams aren’t new to the world of culinary arts. Meringues, marshmallows, and whipped cream are all examples of foams. However, with new techniques, such as the incorporation of soy lecithin, foams can be made out of virtually any liquid. Imagine a honey balsamic glaze whipped up into a delicious and airy foam on top of a pork chop, or an airy lemon foam over roasted fish. In general, add 3-4 grams of soy lecithin to every pint of liquid and then whip with an immersion blender. Scoop the foam off the top as it is produced.
1 1/2 cup lemon juice
1 cup water
4 grams soy lecithin
Mix all 3 ingredients in a narrow but tall container.
Run your immersion blender up and down the liquid to make sure it’s well mixed.
Once combined, keep your immersion blender in the top portion of the liquid, so that the blades will incorporate as much air as possible.
Collect the foam as it forms and serve over fish.
Breaking down of “connective tissue”
This is not a new concept. You’ll hear TV chefs referring to the breakdown of connective tissue when working with tough cuts of meat. This connective tissue, called collagen, is what holds active muscles together. The more active the muscle, the more collagen needed to hold it together. Here’s the challenge when cooking tough cuts of meat: Collagen doesn’t start to melt until approximately 140 degrees. But at this temperature it breaks down very slowly. The hotter you cook the meat, the faster the collagen breaks down. However, the higher temperature meat is cooked to, the more moisture is released by the protein in the meat. In order to break down collagen and get tender meat, you typically have to give up juiciness. But if you want to maintain juiciness, you end up with a rubbery steak.
What IS new in the world of meat cooking is the development of consumer friendly water ovens. These contraptions were once extremely expensive, only affordable by restaurants with a very specific need for the equipment. However, more and more consumer focused water ovens are hitting the market, some as low as $299, such as the Sous Vide Demi. By cooking your meat in a water oven, typically done in a vacuum pack to retain moisture, you can control the precise temperature at which your meat cooks. So even though collagen melts VERY slowly at 140 degrees, it’s possible to put a cheap cut of meat in at that temperature, cook it for 24 hours, and end up with a cut of meat that tastes like it cost 10 times what you paid for it.
A few things to keep in mind when working with a water oven:
Safety is VERY important. The Clostridium bacteria families (including botulism) will multiply if the middle of your meat doesn’t reach 130 within 6 hours. Thinner cuts of meat are always better as they reach temperature much quicker. A doubling of meat thickness results in a quadrupling of time it takes for the center of your meat to reach safe temperatures.
In the lower range of sous vide temperatures, your steak will still look raw. The gray/brown look of meat doesn’t happen until the meat is heated to 160+ degrees. Therefore, most cooks will brown meat cooked in a water oven immediately prior to serving.