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.
Jethro and I were asked to create a dish with “wow factor” for a group of scientists for an upcoming event. We wanted to craft a bite that’s first and foremost delicious, but also illustrates some of the hallmarks of modernist cooking: textural transformation, surprise, and use of unconventional techniques to refine and reinterpret something traditional. It also had to be practical and economical, since we’ll be serving nearly 200 people in two hours. This meant quick plating time, low portion cost, and minimal prep. After some brainstorming, we decided that a cryopoached (liquid nitrogen-frozen) puff would fit the bill. Jethro had already made the Fat Duck’s Cryopoached Green Tea Sour (which I recognized from Modernist Cuisine), but we wanted to make a version that was our own, and frankly, one that was simpler and cheaper.
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.
A few months back I bought the cookbook Ideas In Food: Great Recipes And Why They Work, but hadn’t cooked anything out of it yet. It has two sections: recipes for the home cook and recipes for the professionals. As I don’t believe in such restrictions (the point of this whole blog, really), I immediately turned to the “professional” section. What can I make with what I have on hand? I settled on the Popcorn Gelato. And I’m glad I did – this is a really cool recipe. Actually it’s really, really cold.
Having gone over the price ranges of the tools and gadgets of Modernist Cuisine, let’s look at specialty ingredients next. The food additives used in Modernist Cuisine are considered safe. The names might be ‘science-y” and therefore unpalatable, but if you have no problem with sodium bicarbonate (baking powder) and ascorbic acid (vitamin C), you should be fine with these.
So I’ve been going through a lot of Modernist Cuisine recipes and thought I would go back and visit some other cookbooks I have on my shelf. I’ve had my eye on the apertif that opens up The Fat Duck Cookbook and thought I’d give it a shot. It’s a light, sour-sweet flash frozen meringue. It requires the usual things – things like high methoxyl pectin, malic acid, matcha tea powder and liquid nitrogen. Ah, modern cookery. Part science, part cooking, part detective work.
If you’ve ever been in an upscale restaurant and ordered a sorbet or ice cream with a consistency that seemed to defy the laws of physics, it was probably made in a Pacojet. This $4000 machine is a staple in many restaurant and hotel kitchens for its ability to produce exceptionally smooth and creamy desserts and savory dishes. However, if I’m going to drop four grand on a kitchen machine, it damned well better take voice commands and wear a skimpy outfit.
My method uses dry ice for instant freezing and Xanthan Gum, a popular soy-based gluten substitute, as a thickener for a more velvety texture. In addition, I’ve added a small amount of Versawhip, which creates a subtle but stable foam, giving the finished product the unexpected lightness usually associated with mousses. You can substitute the sorbet base of your choice, following the same basic steps.
Makes: about 6 cups
Total kitchen time: 10 minutes
- 20 oz. canned pineapple (crushed, slices, or chunks), including juice
- 6 oz. fresh raspberries
- 1 oz. (a small shot) St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur (optional)
- 3 tbsp. sugar
- 2 tsp. Xanthan gum (also available in the baking aisle at better grocery stores. Look for the Bob’s Red Mill label)
- 1/2 tsp. Versawhip
- 1 lb. dry ice, crushed into 1/2” or smaller chunks
- Combine the pineapple (including juice), raspberries, St. Germain and sugar in the bowl of a large food processor. Process for one minute or until smooth.
- Add the Xanthan gum and Versawhip and process until combined.
- With the food processor running, add the dry ice and continue processing another 1-2 minutes, or until the sound of the dry ice cracking has stopped.
- Remove from the food processor and serve, or store in the freezer. Can be made 2 days in advance.
It is true that the Pacojet doesn’t require any added thickeners to achieve its magic consistency. However, it does require you to freeze your sorbet mix at –20C for 24 hours before churning. I’d love to do a blind taste test comparison between this method and the Pacojet. As soon as I trip over a pile of cash, I’ll let you know how the test turns out.
Earlier this month the Hunger Intervention Program in Seattle held Feeding The Soul 2010. For just a $25 donation, an eight course meal was served by chefs Brian McCracken and Dana Tough from Spur Gastropub and the culinary team from Intellectual Ventures – Maxime Bilet, Grant Crilly, Sam Fahey-Burke, Anjana Shanker and Johnny Zhu. The chefs from Intellectual Ventures are, along with Nathan Myhrvold and Chris Young, behind the upcoming “cookbook” Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking, due for release next March. A chance to eat their food and meet them as well? Done deal.
The food was delicious and I had a chance to briefly speak with all of them. I introduced myself and told them about this blog and how we at Jet City Gastrophysics are planning to cook our way through the entire cookbook. There were some eyebrows raised and a “good luck” thrown my way. True, I don’t have a freeze dryer or a rotary evaporator, but that doesn’t mean I can’t at least acquire access to one somehow. Where there is a will, there is a way.
And, true to my word, I have begun to cook my way through it.
It’s not published yet – how is that possible? On August 13th, they put out a 20 page excerpt of the massive tome available for download from their website. I’m sure like me, gastronomes across the world downloaded and quickly got to reading the first pages of the 2400 that will be available in March 2011.
The excerpt is from the fourth section of the first chapter of the first volume, entitled The Story Of This Book. It goes into detail of the origins of Nathan Myhrvold’s research into sous vide techniques online to the development of a full time cooking staff and publishing house to put out the work. Next they explain the photography, a step by step review of each volume, and then on to the recipes they developed and the special format that they are in. And to illustrate, they printed some example recipes. Recipes waiting to be used.
There are three recipe examples: Sous Vide Instant Hollandaise, Making a Smooth Puree, and Monkfish with Mediterranean Flavors. Each recipe is an example of the three types of recipes found in the book: Example, Parametric and Plated Dish. Example recipes are considered the shortest and simplest, intended as components for other dishes. Parametric recipes focus on a particular ingredient or characteristic – or, as they call it, a parameter. The idea is to take a concept in its simplest form and show, at-a-glance, the variations of that concept (I was in web development for years, and their application of design for visual information is excellent. I wonder if they had Edward Tufte consult on the project). Finally, the plated-dish recipe brings it all together so you can create an entire dish from a single recipe.
From the three examples, the monkfish recipe calls for components that they did not show: Pâte à Choux, Zucchini Blossom Beignet, Fish Spice Mix and so on. So that left the other two. I decided to start with the shortest and simplest: Sous Vide Instant Hollandaise.
Making Of A Modernist Sauce
I collected the ingredients necessary and started in. The format is really straightforward and easy to understand. Of course, that meant I had to screw it up immediately.
As per the recipe, I put together the white wine, white vinegar and minced shallots in a pan and began to reduce them down to a syrup-like consistency. But, it wasn’t getting syrupy. The liquid kept dissipating, but the onions weren’t breaking down. And soon I had a thick gop of caramelized onions and nothing else. How did this happen?
Oh. Um, yeah. So I did it again, and pulled out 20g of onion flavored wine reduction.
Next up I took four egg yolks and blended them with the reduction and water. I did not measure out the egg yolks by weight. The recipe gave me an easy out by offering four large egg yolks as a measurement, and I took it. I put the mixture in a bag and vacuum sealed it. It fit in one of the small bags I have, and it sealed just in the knick of time before the ingredients boiled over into my vacuum sealer, creating both a big mess and having to start again from scratch.
I plopped the sealed bag into the sous vide bath for 30 minutes. For the butter, I used what Chef Richard Blais calls one of the more underutilized kitchen instruments: the microwave. In 40 seconds my melted butter was ready. I took the packet out of the water, mixed its contents in with the butter, then added salt and malic acid.
What is Malic acid and what is it doing in my hollandaise sauce? Malic acid is the main acid found in unripe apples, cherries and many other fruits and vegetables. As an ingredient, it is supposed to add a distinct sourness, has a lower melting point than other acids and is more soluble than citric acid, which is also a sour flavor enhancer. Why it is specifically included in this recipe? I have no idea. We’ll all have to wait until the book comes out. But in the meantime, you can find it a your local vitamin supplement store. This means you’ll have a lot of Malic acid lying around – 100 tablets worth. It is also supposed to stimulate metabolism and increase energy production, so if you work out a lot, maybe it will help you burn calories. I don’t know, just a thought. I mean, after all this hollandaise sauce. Anyway.
I poured the mixture into my ISI Thermo Whip and placed it back in the bath to keep it warm. Next on the example recipe is something called a two-stage fried egg, which references another part of the book. So having no idea (yet) what a two-stage fried egg is about, I decided to poach an egg, fry some ham, toast a muffin, and spray some hollandaise.
Is is not creamy like your usual hollandaise, but a thick foam. The texture is definitely different and calls for unique plating or pairing. When you have a traditional dish like the one above and one of the textures is not what you expect, it jumps out at you. I’m curious how it will taste with a two-stage fried egg.
Also, the name is a bit misleading. You can make traditional hollandaise in 10 minutes with a blender. This took 30 minutes for the sous vide alone, plus another 15-20 minutes for the rest. It is instant in the fact that you can just walk up with your cream whipper and blast out sauce on demand. At least for 90 minutes – that’s the maximum time you’re supposed to keep the cream whipper hot. Once again, the example recipe is all we have at this point – I’m sure the supporting text will provide the context.
Regardless, it is delicious. I loved it. The recipe does yield a large amount – something like 1 1/2 cups. And that’s prior to foaming up – I could have served 10 people with all that I made. I sprayed the rest into a container and put it in the fridge. Then it gave me a little surprise: it settled, cooled and made an awesome hollandaise flavored whipped butter. I had it today on some toast as a little snack. Scrumptious.
So the first step in the thousand mile journey of cooking through Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking has been taken. I’m looking forward to the adventure.