In the world of crispness, it’s all about the bubbles. Or at least, the sound of bubbles popping. Studies at Oxford University have shown that when we bite into a surface filled with small brittle cells, each fracture releases a quick burst of high-frequency sound. The more fractures in a bite, the more bursts of sound, and the more crispy the food seems to be. So how do we make things super crispy? Why, we add bubbles. Through carbonation to be exact. Let’s try it out with onion rings.
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.