I haven’t tackled a big recipe in a while, so it was time to consult The Work and give it a shot. I was having guests over and thought the Hungarian Beef Goulash from Volume Five would do the trick. And as usual, it was a lot of work and all sorts of unseen problems presented themselves. From procuring ingredients to equipment breakdowns, timing issues and even a poorly focused camera (as you’ll see – sorry about that), this one barely made it through. But made it through it did.
It’s been a long time since I’ve tried my hand at spherification, and I thought it was time to revisit the technique. I’ve done it three times before: the first meeting of Jet City Gastrophysics, my cooking session with Chef Ian Kleinman, and another time when I made some coffee caviar. One of the iconic photos from Modernist Cuisine is their Tomato Basil Spheres, so that seemed like a perfect place to give it another go around. It’s basically an Insalata Caprese that’s been liquified. Welcome to the future.
This is effin cool. We centrifuged a can of pumpkin to yield a few tablespoons of a clear, orange pumpkin-flavored liquid. We saturated it with sugar and spiked it with pumpkin pie spice, then heated the mixture to 300F and cast it into hard caramel molds. Then, we spun the hard caramel in a cotton candy machine to make 2” puffs of pumpkin-flavored cotton candy. Then, we squeezed the puffs into the shape of a skull and cut out triangles for the eyes and nose. Finally, we put it on a stand with a candle behind it. Presenting the pumpkin cotton candy jack-o-lantern, as interpreted by Jet City Gastrophysics.
This one is always touted as an easy introduction to Modernist Cuisine. It has two main ingredients: carrots and butter. It has two steps as well: pressure cook carrots in butter for 2o minutes. Then add carrot juice, puree, and season. Voila.
Strange thing is, well, my version, it took me most of the day.
“Modernist Cuisine” is not for most home cooks.
- Michael Ruhlman
“[Modernist Cuisine] looks cool and would be fun to flip through,” he said. “But I don’t need to spend six hundred dollars on a cookbook — I already know how to cook.” This led to my next question — in his opinion, were these techniques even appropriate for the home cook? “Sous vide is great for cooking vegetables and meat,” he replied. “But home-cooked meals are home-cooked for a reason. They’re meant for the home.”
- Domestic Divas
The truth is that this stuff is for the pros.
- New Yorker
Man, do these people bore me. How uninspired. How defeatist. How sad, pathetic, and totally lame.
0 To 60 in 90 Days
I started to cook in December 2009 – about 18 months ago. I had no knife skills, didn’t know anything about Anthony Bourdain or Iron Chef, much less Mugaritz. My refrigerator was empty save for old condiments. I didn’t even notice the front right burner on my stove was larger than the others because I had never used it.
But once I started, I got way into it. Within weeks, I had discovered avant-garde food. By February 2010, I had ordered my first ‘molecular gastronomy’ kit and contacted Scott and Eric to form Jet City Gastrophysics. By March, I spherified my first liquids. By August, I made the red cabbage gazpacho from The Fat Duck. And in October, just 10 months later, I began cooking from Modernist Cuisine, which wasn’t to be published for another five months. I used their PDF excerpt.
Now, brethren, let us turn to Book Four, Chapter Fourteen, Page Ninety-Five of The Work, and construct ourselves a tasty little omelet. Three components need to be prepared in particular: the eggs, the cheese, and the butter. Ah, the wonderful world of dairy gels. We shall go in reverse order.
Recently, in a laboratory outside Seattle, I ate a piece of buttered toast that I will remember for the rest of my life. The bread itself was not extraordinary, but it was spread thickly with the brightest-green butter I’ve ever seen. It was not true butter, but rather an extract of pure green peas. Fresh peas are blended to a puree, then spun in a centrifuge at 13 times the force of gravity. The force separates the puree into three discrete layers: on the bottom, a bland puck of starch; on the top, vibrant-colored, seductively sweet pea juice; and separating the two, a thin layer of the pea’s natural fat, pea-green and unctuous.
- Paul Adams, Future of food: Drinkable bagels and beyond
As the first reviews began coming out from the 30 course dinners held by the Modernist Cuisine team, everyone mentioned the pea butter in particular. A pretty simple recipe, you take pureed peas and spin them in a centrifuge to extract the pea fat. I gave it a shot at my house, taking a can of peas, blending them, and spinning them for 30 minutes. Nothing good came of it and the layers did not seem to separate. I was stumped.
Luckily, I was able to talk with chefs Maxime Bilet and Anjana Shanker at the Modernist Cuisine book launch and they were able to clarify a few things for me:
- Use frozen peas
- Blend them with nothing else
- Spin for 90 minutes
That seems simple enough. So I went home and went at it.
Visualize Whirled Peas
The chefs recommended a bag of high quality organic peas. My local store had Kroger brand. Well, hey, I gotta start somewhere. I brought home a bag and threw them in the Vita-Mix for their first spin of the day. It ended up being a very bright green frozen powder. I put the pea dust into one of my centrifuge containers and filled the rest of the containers with water as counterweights.
When talking with Chef Shanker, I asked how powerful their centrifuge was that she used for the pea butter, and she said it was 10,000 g’s. So I had to calculate how long mine would spin at, since my centrifuge only goes to 1520 g’s. Since the relationship is linear it’s straightforward to figure out:
10000/1520 = 6.58
6.58 x 90 = 592 min.
592/60 = 9.9 hours
Ten hours in the centrifuge? Mm. I started around 3pm and didn’t feel like waiting until 1am to see the results. So I decided 5 hours was plenty.
She also mentioned that it was good that I had a refrigeration unit attached. The reason is two fold: 1) so the food doesn’t cook; and 2) it keeps the pellet together, providing better separation. I checked my centrifuge temperature with and without the refrigeration unit. Without, the chamber got to 124F. With the unit turned on, it was at about 70F. So a significant difference to be sure.
And after five hours, I pulled out the peas and saw the results. Three separate layers: a pellet of pea meat, a thin layer of pea fat and a supernate of pea water.
One thing to note is look at the bottom of the container as compared to the photo of it prior to spinning. Five hours in the centrifuge completely distended and reshaped it. Luckily, it didn’t crack open.
I scraped off the fat and put it on a piece of bread. Pure bright pea flavor. It’s really, really good. The pea pellet and pea water were also striking in their own way as well.
I’m a little concerned about the wear and tear on the centrifuge since I will be needing to be spinning it for long periods of time to get their results, but it performed great for a five hour run. Cooking of all types teaches you patience, and in this case as in others, the wait is well worth it.