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.
This turned out to be one of the more dangerous machines I’ve ever built. The goal was to make a cotton candy machine out of parts I had lying around. The finished product was an aggressive, 1/2 horsepower, 4000°F beast of a machine that lasted long enough to prove itself before dying of awesomeness.
If you want to build a cotton candy machine at home, all you need is:
- A tin can, like a tuna or dog food can
- A drill with a very small drill bit
- A motor (ex, your drill, an old CD player, a blender)
- A heat source, such as a propane torch, a lighter, or the coils from an old toaster
- A bucket to catch the cotton candy, or alternately a sheet of paper to wrap around the assembly
Follow the steps in the video to see just how easy this machine is to build. Oh, and don’t forget… safety first. My favorite part of this project was setting up a blast shield in front of the camera before we turned on the machine.
Special thanks to Victor (@sphing) for filming!
The season of giving is upon us, and that means it’s time to start Christmas shopping for the food geek in your life. Let’s face it: he (or she… but who are we kidding, it’s a he) is hard to shop for. He already owns 4 kinds of microplanes, he’s got more cookbooks than Barnes & Noble, and his spice rack is organized by atomic weight. A waffle iron just isn’t gonna cut it this year.
For just that reason, I’ve rounded up the best and geekiest kitchen gifts of 2010. And, if you’re feeling extra generous, I also threw in a few “luxury items” sure to induce a Christmas morning nerdgasm.
2010 was a great year for cookbooks. In fact, all of the books below are new this year, with the exception of Modernist Cuisine, which is available for preorder but won’t ship until March. At $475, it’s not exactly a stocking stuffer, but you can spread out the joy by wrapping each of the five volumes separately.
- Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet – $475
- Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes by Harold McGee – $19.23
- Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine by René Redzepi – $32.97
- Sous Vide for the Home Cook by Douglas Baldwin – $25.95
- Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food by Jeff Potter – $20.71
- Modern Gastronomy: A to Z by Ferran Adria – $43.90
Modernist Cooking “Ingredients”
If the food geek on your Christmas list is dying to pull off the latest techniques, he’ll need some ingredients. I’ve found the WillPowder brand to be a great value for the price.
- For spherification (you’ll need all three): Sodium Alginate – $27.69, Calcium Chloride– $15.08, and Sodium Citrate – $13.62
- For gels: AGAR AGAR – $52.35, Methylcellulose F50 – $28.64
- Thickeners: Ultratex 3 – $13.42, Ultratex 8 – $18.12
- For foams: Versawhip 600K – $36.08
- For powders: Tapioca Maltodextrin – $14.13
Essential Kitchen Gear
Who doesn’t like playing with new toys? Over the last year, prices of induction cooktops have plummeted. They are a great way to expand your stovetop capacity, and they’re extremely energy efficient for heating small quantities of food.
- Max Burton 6000 1800-Watt Portable Induction Cooktop – $99.99
- Whip-It! Professional Cream Whipper – $49.99
- Infrared Thermometer – $47.96
- Distilling Apparatus – $55.12
- Bernzomatic Self-Igniting Torch – $20.89 (fuel sold separately)
In My Dreams…
Some guys dream of sports cars, some guys dream of rotor/stater homogenizers. Here is the equipment in the kitchen of my dreams.
- Torbeo Hand-Held Homogenizer – $841.00
For blending sauces into a consistency that is unachievably smooth using a conventional blender
- Ultravac 250 Vacuum Chamber Packaging Machine – $4600.00
Step aside, FoodSaver, this is a vacuum sealer for the big boys.
- Polyscience Sous Vide Professional – $799.95
Hands-down the best sous vide machine I’ve ever tested.
- Vacuum Rotary Evaporator – $9230.00
For distilling and extracting essential oils. No more store-bought vanilla extract!
- PacoJet – $3950.00
Best known for making extraordinarily smooth and creamy desserts.
- Freeze Dryer – $2,000-20,000
DIY astronaut ice cream!
- Centrifuge – $7000
For separating and clarifying stocks and sauces.
- Laser Cutter – $30,000
For making templates, etching and cutting foods
Thank you, Spain, for one of the best flavor combinations on earth: chorizo, Manchego cheese, and olives. Any combination of the three yields an irresistible tapa (Spanish snack), and this recipe is no exception. Turing the chorizo into a savory meringue is a nod to the textural transformations that Spanish chef Ferran Adrià pioneered, and which are now a hallmark of modernist cooking. Plus, it’s crunchy!
Makes: about 50 pieces
Total kitchen time: 2 hours (20 minutes working time)
- 1 dry-cured chorizo (available in the deli sections of finer grocery stores)
- 6 egg whites
- 1/4 tsp. Cream of Tartar
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2 tsp. cornstarch
- 2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 lb Manchego cheese
- 50 Spanish olives
- Preheat your oven to 300°F and set the top rack in the middle position. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and dust with flour (adding a little cooking spray to the parchment helps the flour stick).
- Cut off about 4” of the chorizo and slice thinly. Use the remaining chorizo for a snack while you’re cooking – you deserve it. Blend the sliced chorizo in a small food processor until it is broken apart. This should yield about 1/2 cup.
- Add the egg whites and cream of tartar to the bowl of your stand mixer, with the whisk attachment installed (you can use a hand mixer, but mixing times may vary). Beat the egg whites on medium-high for about 2 minutes, or until they hold soft peaks.
- Whisk together the sugar, cornstarch and salt in a small bowl. With the mixer running on medium-high speed, slowly drizzle in the sugar, cornstarch and salt. Continue mixing until the egg whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks. Finally, mix on high speed for 45 seconds until the egg whites are stiff.
- Carefully fold the ground chorizo into the egg white mixture. Spread the mixture in an even layer on the prepared baking sheet until it is about 1/2” thick (this will occupy nearly the whole baking sheet).
- Bake at 300°F for 90 minutes, or until the top is light brown and firmly spongy to the touch. Remove the meringue and transfer to a cooling rack. Let cool 10 minutes.
- Slice the meringue into 1 1/2” squares and top with a thin slice of Manchego and an olive.
I was hoping to find a way to make the meringue using my whip cream charger instead of the stand mixer. I did come close by rendering the oil from the chorizo and adding it to egg whites and cream of tartar. It foamed on its way through the charger, but without the sugar, the foam just wasn’t strong enough to hold up in the oven. Oh well, that’s the fun of experimenting!
Care for a drink and a smoke? How about a smoked drink? After a friend inquired about a “smoked beer” she saw on a bar menu, I decided to grab my Smoking Gun* and take a shot at smoking a handful of beverages.
I smoked each of the beverages below by submerging the Smoking Gun’s rubber tube in the liquid. In the case of the wines, it served to both smoke and aerate the drinks (BTW, I never understood why it should be impolite to blow bubbles into your wine – if someone complains, tell them you’re “helping the wine open up.”) I ran the smoker for about 30 seconds for each beverage, then blew away any lingering surface smoke before tasting.
The results were surprising…
The nice folks at Polyscience were kind enough to loan me their new SousVide Professional heating immersion circulator. This is the first circulator that they have designed specifically for sous vide cooking, and it performs exquisitely.
After a few weeks of intense use, I found the temperature accuracy to be precise (eggs are a great test!) and the stability to be very reliable. The powerful circulating motor is a little noisy, as you can hear in the background of the video above, and I often wished it had a low-speed setting – instead, there is a valve you can adjust to regulate flow.
The video below displays the results of a heating and temperature stability test I ran. The machine is heating three gallons of water to 65.5C with no lid on the water bath. The video is sped up by 20x so you aren’t bored to tears (and because a watched pot never boils becomes delightfully tepid).
Low and slow… it’s true for sous vide, and its definitely true for smoking. And, if you live in Seattle, you probably know that one of the worlds best smoked foods is salmon. Smoked salmon has a wonderfully rich and concentrated flavor, but unfortunately it also has the texture of wet leather. For this recipe, I used a Smoking Gun – a remarkable little device that creates a cold, concentrated smoke that can be captured in a container, or in this case, a vacuum bag [Disclosure: the Smoking Gun I used was a demo unit provided by PolyScience.] The result: instant smoky flavor. Then, we delicately cook the salmon to just above rare, which retains the fish’s buttery texture.
Total kitchen time: 25 minutes
- 2 salmon fillets, about 15mm thick
- 1 tsp. smoked salt
- 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat your water bath to 45.5°C. [Note: Consuming undercooked fish blah blah blah. Some people will cook their salmon at 39°C, but that’s a little rare even for my taste. If you’re squeamish, crank up the temp to 52°C.]
- Remove the skin from the salmon fillets (reserve for frying, if you want.) Divide the salt and pepper between the fillets and coat both sides. Place the fillets, together or individually) into vacuum seal bags, but don’t seal them yet.
- Prepare an ice bath large enough for the salmon fillets in their bags.
- Load a Smoking Gun with hickory wood shavings. Insert the exhaust hose into the open end of the bag and fold over the open edge to partially seal the bag.
- Turn on the Smoking Gun and light the wood chips. Smoke the entire bowl into the bag, retaining as much smoke as possible.
- Holding the open end of the bag up, submerge the bag into the ice bath for a few seconds to condense the remaining smoke. Seal the open end in the vacuum sealer.
- Cook the salmon in the water bath for 15 minutes. Remove and serve.
Given the soft texture of the salmon, I thought it would be good to pair it with something crunchy. I fried kale leaves in grapeseed oil for a few seconds per side (look out for major oil splatter!) and roasted asparagus with olive oil and rosemary salt. I also fried the leftover salmon skin until it was slightly crispy and used it to wrap the asparagus. This is one of my new favorite salmon preparations, and I can’t wait to see what else I can instant-smoke!
[Originally posted at SeattleFoodGeek.com]