If you count yourself among the very fortunate to have eaten at Ferran Adriá’s ‘El Bulli’ restaurant, then you truly understand what a dinner experience feels like. Although the beautiful seaside restaurant was closed in 2011, not all hope is lost. Many lectures and culinary sessions later, molecular gastronomy has opened up for our very own kitchens as well.
The creative techniques are no longer hidden secrets, nor for the exclusive few. Already smaller efforts can turn your cooking into a molecular fine dining experiment. No matter if you like to entertain your friends at home, consider yourself a hardcore foodie or simply like to cook – molecular gastronomy has the potential to reinvent the way we cook food.
Molecular Gastronomy for Beginners
Molecular gastronomy is essentially investigating the science of cooking and understanding how different foods behave when they are subjected to different temperatures or when we add various chemicals to the mix. This sounds more scientific than it has to be. Not everything needs to be followed to the T and this is why the meaning of molecular gastronomy diversified beyond the point of scientific investigation. Molecular gastronomy was essentially a rebellion against the standardised food industry – which means that you too can break all the rules.
Crispy, Edible Manhattan Cocktails – Dehydration
How about snacking some cocktails before we drink some canapés. In the world of molecular gastronomy this totally makes sense. Just imagine your guest’s faces when you serve welcome drinks in the form of crackers. It is easier than you think – just pick a drink.
How it’s done:
Let’s go for some Manhattans. For one cocktail you will need 25ml of sweet vermouth, 45ml of bourbon, a dash of bitters and a cherry to garnish. Do the maths – depending on how many guests you will serve. Perhaps try it in smaller portions first to get the quantities right.
Mix the cocktail and choose an ingredient that can soak up the liquid. This could be crackers, some kind of bread or even Rice Krispies cereal. Let the drink soak up completely and put it into the dehydrator. You don’t have one at home? Don’t worry, you can use your oven too. Put the soaked crackers (or whatever you used) on an oven tray, set the temperature below 90 degrees Celsius and leave it in there for at least one hour. Make sure you check regularly. Once your cocktails have reached an edible form, they are ready to serve and impress.
Make Noodles of Anything – Agar Agar
I know you may be wondering as to have I lost it? Agar agar is an excellent stabilising and thickening agent and it creates gel shapes from liquefied food.
How it’s done:
Blend any kind of food with water until the mix becomes slightly more liquid than a puree. Pour the mix into a saucepan and mix it with a small pack of agar agar powder. Bring the mixture to boil while stirring it continuously. Pour it into another bowl and fill up a plastic syringe (which you can get at any toy shop). Inject it into a tube-like vessel or simply into a straw. Set it aside into cold water for about three minutes. Use the syringe to extract the noodle-shape from the straw.
Use it to decorate a dish or mix into a salad – once you see how simple this technique really is, the ideas of what can be done with it will come automatically.
Caviar Balls – Spherification
This is perhaps the most common association with molecular gastronomy and fine dining. You can pretty much turn any liquid into edible caviar-like balls without much effort, nor will you need a science degree. This can be watermelon balls for your ice cream decoration or vodka balls to go along with salmon.
How it’s done:
Prepare a bowl with a water-calcium chloride combination. Already a few drops of calcium cholide will be sufficient. Don’t worry all of this is save to eat. Mix any of your preferred liquids (lime juice, gin, …) with a few drops of sodium alginate and mix it well. Absorb this second mix with a syringe and pour drops into the prepared bowl. You will see the immediate reaction – small caviar-like balls will form in the water. The chemicals react and form a sphere around the liquid.
Do you want some help with your molecular experiment? Clubvivre works with experimental, molecular and traditional chefs. Get some inspiration with these menus: Artsy Molecular Canapés by Tim Ross-Watson, Barcelona by Jean-Philippe Patruno, Japanese-European Canapés by Dallas Cuddy and more.
Hot Ice Cream – Gel Food Gum
It may sound counter-intuitive, but it will definitely be a surprising finish for your dinner. If you never have been much of a baker and are somewhat too lazy to go through complex dessert recipes, then this might be an alternative. It can easily be prepared in advance before dinner – it only takes a few minutes.
How it’s done:
Whisk the same amount of plain yoghurt with cream cheese. Add any flavouring you like, be it vanilla essence or maple syrup. Bring sugared water (100ml for every 500g of yoghurt and cream cheese) to boil, turn off the heat and whisk in small amounts of methocel food gum (7g for every 100ml of water). To be fair, methocel food gum might not be available in every local convenience store. But already a little research will help you on your way. Combine then both of the mixes, whisk for about a minute and leave this ice cream mix refrigerated for at least 3 hours.
Before you are about to serve it, you need one more final touch. Bring water to a simmering temperature and scoop the ice cream into the water. Let it simmer for 1-2 minutes, take it out and serve the hot ice cream. The methocel forms a gel when heated and begins to melt when it cools. There goes your hot ice cream.
Can You Do It?
Concerning the question, whether you can do it or not – I would never spend time learning a certain type of food science, if I couldn’t implement it. Molecular gastronomy might seem like rocket science, feels like rocket science, but isn’t. All you need is a little creativity, the right knowledge and voila you will be able to spruce up your food recipes and make the food look out of this world.