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.
I was talking with chef about a month ago about tapioca maltodextrin and how cool it was. Take something with a fat content and mix it together and you can create powders! Even something without a fat content can be transformed, it’s amazing! I was selling the idea to him like it was a late night infomercial and he said, “alright, show me”.
So the next day I brought in my tub of maltodextrin into work and proceeded to spin some clarified butter with it and I had him taste it. He grinned and told me, “alright, are you sure you can do this with the chorizo”. I said, “yes, of course”.
I gave him a list of things I needed and when I asked for chorizo I wanted three pounds and he gave me five and said he didn’t want to run out. The event we were planning for was the Seattle Food and Wine Experience. I covered it last year as “media” and this year I would be at the event working behind the scenes (awesome!)….and not only would I be working the event I would also bring Mindy along to help out and unleash my chorizo powder creation on the world!
First run: I sliced the chorizo really thin, about 1/16 of an inch then placed it in the ovens at work but the problem was that the ovens at work can’t be set to the setting I needed them to be….200F minimum. I knew this would be a problem because I would be cooking the hell out of the chorizo. I did it anyway and told chef that I would be able to control the chorizo at a lower temperature with my dehydrator. He wasn’t very happy with the first run but he let me do it anyway after I convinced him I would get it to work.
So why cook it?!!!?!? Well, this idea is pretty much what I like to call Modernist Bacon Bits. Bacon bits are pretty cool but they are so 1990…..we need an update! The thing I like about bacon bits is they are crunchy…..I needed a way to make the chorizo crunchy but without losing a lot of color so off to the meat slicer and off to the dehydrator.
8 hours in the dehydrator and at a certain temperature these little pieces will keep their color and become crunchy! The only problem I had was that I had a four tray dehydrator and I could only fit about 1/4# of chorizo at a time so I spent a few days cycling the chorizo through (ugh…). After the chorizo comes out of the dehydrator it goes to the refrigerator to cool down.
The next step was to send it through the food processor and create bits. I had to do these in batches too and I had to make sure the bits going in were cold. After they came out I started doing small batches again of chorizo bits with maltodextrin. I tasted it and it needed a bump in flavor so I took left over pieces chorizo and rendered them in clarified butter then processed that with the maltodextrin then combined the bits and the clarified butter mixture.
After combining I laid everything out on two sheet pans and refrigerated them for a few more hours then sent them through a tamis to create a smaller powder.
Pack it up and get it ready to take to work now.
When I went into work then I transferred the powder into shakers so that way we could finish off the plates we would be serving up for about 1100-1500 people at the Seattle Food and Wine Experience. No pressure! Chef tried the powder as I was placing it in the shakers and he grinned again and said, “You know, I was a little worried about the outcome but you nailed it”.
So off to the show!
POWDERED CHORIZO!!!! IT’S ON THERE!!!! HOW COOL!!! The fun thing about this dish is that it was pretty elaborate. Two sauces: Piquillo pepper puree and an aji amarillo sauce, rye bread crisp, pickled shallots (says red onion on the card but chef opted for shallots…they’re better for this application), crispy chick peas tossed in a fennel seasoning, fried parsley, and in-house hot smoked Neah Bay black cod. There are days of work into this and the person that walks by and just grabs the dish will just eat it in two seconds and walk to the next booth…..that’s how it works! However, we had people stopping in their tracks and asking about everything on the plate. The sauce, the chickpeas, the cod, the powder, everything! It was a success!
Do that 1100-1500 times…every time!
The best part is that Mindy came along for the day to help out so it was nice to really show her the madness of what I do. She had a great time! She’s also a natural at plating so that helped out tremendously!
(Mindy and Chef Kevin)
During the event chef told me that he wanted to do more stuff like this in the restaurant so I have a green light to bring my crazy ideas into the restaurant now and we’re now brainstorming the Voracious Tasting in April which will be the same kind of atmosphere but more restaurants will be featured. We’ve tossed a few ideas around and in the next week I have to put these ideas in front of him so we can start a first run and do it all again.
It is undeniably fashionable, these days, for an upscale restaurant to serve “their take” on macaroni and cheese. I’ve seen it prepared at least a dozen ways: with wild mushrooms, with truffles, with bleu cheese, with cave-aged gruyere, in mini-cocottes, on oversized platters, broiled, baked, and deep fried. For the record, there’s nothing wrong with any of these preparations. In fact, we served a wild mushroom and truffle oil mac & cheese at my wedding! However, I wanted to take the concept to the extreme and produce the most hyperbolic, modernist version of the dish I could… just to see what happened. The result: maltodextrin-powdered Beecher’s cheese with a tableside hot cream to make an “instant” sauce.
I originally thought I’d post my results as a joke – an over-the-top preparation that was to comfort food what the Dyson Air Multiplier is to climate control. However, I was delightfully surprised to find out that this mac & cheese actually tasted fantastic! The flavors are extremely pure and the consistency of the instant sauce was perfect. Watch out, Kraft… you’ve got competition.
Makes: 2 snobby servings
Total kitchen time: 4 hours (45 minutes working time)
For the Powdered Cheese:
- 100g Beecher’s Flagship (or Smoked Flagship, if you prefer), grated
- 30g water
- .4g sodium citrate
- 200g (+15g) tapioca maltodextrin
- Preheat your oven to its lowest setting (180-220°F).
- Combine the cheese, water and sodium citrate in a small saucepan. Heat on low until completely melted. Stir to ensure evenness.
- Transfer the cheese mixture to a small food processor and add 200g of tapioca maltodextrin and process until it forms a paste. If you can’t fit all of the tapioca maltodextrin at once, add half and process, then add the remainder.
- Spread the paste in a thin, even layer onto a silicone baking sheet. Bake until dry and brittle, 2-3 hours.
- Crumble the cheese mixture into a food processor, or preferably a clean, electric coffee grinder. Process until the mixture becomes a fine powder. If necessary, add an additional 15g of tapioca maltodextrin. The mixture should have the same texture as the powdered cheese in instant macaroni and cheese.
For the dish:
- 1 cup pipe rigate (or any other type of macaroni you’d like)
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- Hawaiian black lava salt
- 2 sprigs thyme
- Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the box.
- Meanwhile, heat the heavy cream to a simmer. Just before serving, divide the cream into two mini sauce pots (I used glass port sippers, shown in the photo).
- To plate, sprinkle a two tablespoons of the cheese powder into a small bowl. Top with pasta, sprinkle with a pinch of black lava salt, and garnish with thyme. To finish the dish tableside, pour over the hot cream and stir well to make the cheese sauce.
I owe a big thanks to Maxime Bilet (author of Modernist Cuisine) for giving me a hand with the powdered cheese recipe. If you aren’t up for ordering a pound of maltodextrin online, you can also use my simplified powdered cheese recipe from the Beecher’s Cheddar Cheetos article I wrote for Seattle Weekly. However, tapioca maltodextrin (N-Zorbit) is pretty handy stuff for turning liquids into powders, and is a staple in modernist kitchens.