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.
After I tackled the ham and cheese omelet last week from Modernist Cuisine, I was ready for the next step: their infamous striped mushroom omelet. I had to go online and to four grocery stores to collect the ingredients necessary. About $75 later I was ready to go. This had better be a good omelet.
The recipe calls for several preparations: a brown chicken jus, which goes into a mushroom marmalade, a mushroom puree and the omelet base. A scrambled egg foam was also made, but I ran out of N2O chargers for my cream whipper. So the sous vide scrambled eggs sit sealed in my refrigerator until I can go to the store and pick some up. We’ll skip that step.
About a month ago the team at Intellectual Ventures put up an interesting blog post about frying watermelon to make watermelon chips. With nothing more fancy than a vacuum sealer, this seemed like a perfect recipe to try out at home.
The concept behind the watermelon chip is that starch is what makes a chip a chip, whether it’s corn or potato or even parsnip and taro. Fruit, however, does not have the high starch content that these vegetables have (yes, a potato is a vegetable). Using vacuum compression, starch can be infused into the fruit, and make it suitable for frying. They settled on watermelon. I decided on dragon fruit.
The steps are simple enough:
- Thinly slice the fruit
- Apply a starch slurry to the fruit
- Vacuum seal and let rest for 30 minutes
- Deep fry
I went to my local Asian supermarket and nabbed a dragon fruit. I then had it thinly sliced on a meat slicer. Here I pulled some strings: I don’t have a slicer at home, so asked my best friend who owns a bar if I could come in and borrow his for a minute. I’m sure I could have just cut it thinly myself, but I wanted to nail it. Sometimes it’s more fun to make it more complicated.
Next up was starch. In the blog post, Chef Zhu says he’s using something and water. Did he say Crisco? Or maybe Cryscoat? One check on the web and it turns out that Cryscoat is a “nickel-containing zinc phosphate for steel and zinc-coated steel, applied by spray or immersion prior to painting”. So, probably not that. Screw it I thought – I’ll just use the cornstarch in my cabinet. Sometimes it’s easier to not make things too complicated.
I took the dragon fruit slices, which were awfully thin and delicate, applied the starch to either side, and placed them in a sealing bag. Which I then sealed up.
After 30 minutes I fried them up on the stove. They liked to stick together so I found it easier, though more time consuming, to only do 2 or 3 at a time.
And after I let them dry out and crisp up, I had some amazing dragon fruit chips. The sweetness of the fruit came through, with the added texture of the seeds, which also imparted a sesame-like flavor to the chip. Excellent and delicious.
I’m looking forward to their completed cookbook to see what other ideas they have for transforming foods into flavors and textures they’ve never been before. In the meantime, however, I’ll just try and cook the examples they keep throwing out at us.
Eric, Scott and I met for our eighth meeting at the end of November to start putting together everything we’ve learned together over the year for a master project. A thesis project, if you will.
We’re pretty excited about it and we’ll post more about it in the future. Otherwise, I was the happy recipient of the latest version of Scott’s DIY immersion circulator. This one is cased in aluminum, otherwise known as ‘Jethro Proofed’ because of my unique ability to break things.
We also exchanged other early Christmas gifts as well as distributing our collection of foodstuffs amongst ourselves: fresh ceylon cinnamon from Costa Rica, homemade chocolates, transglutaminase, sodium alginate, Ultratex 3 and maltrodextrin. Teamwork has its benefits.
Our next few meetings will be concerned with our developing thesis project, so we’ll wait to post on the project as a whole instead of meeting updates. We’re looking forward to it!
Last month I began to cook my way through the upcoming Modernist Cuisine cookbook by using their PDF excerpt they made available for download. Out of the three recipe examples given, only two have enough information to make them in their entirety. First I created their recipe for instant hollandaise. Next up: their selection of recipes for smooth purees. Out of the five fruits and vegetables listed, three are prepared sous vide. I decided to do those first, because any chance to use my vacuum sealer makes it worthwhile for it to take up a huge chunk of my counter space. The saute recipes will be covered in Part II.
The recipe for pureed fruits and vegetables is an example of what they call a parametric recipe. This type of recipe gives a basic concept with several variations in an at-a-glance format. This way you can understand the basic concept and run with it. As they say in the excerpt:
We feel the parametric recipe is a strong concept for an instructional cookbook. Such a recipe does more than merely suggest methods for making one dish the same way again and again— it reveals the pattern and reasoning behind the chosen ingredients and methods, and thus makes it clearer how to apply those lessons in other circumstances. The parametric recipe thus takes the master recipe to a more detailed level, and serves as a launching point that allows you to change ingredients and quantities in a number of ways to produce dozens of variations.
That’s right up my alley – taking these new techniques and understanding the fundamental idea behind them, so they can be applied to whatever I’m cooking. I love this book already, and it’s only a PDF file.
Well, wouldn’t you know it. Artichokes are out of season around here at the moment (the peak season is August through October). But we have a variety of different grocers; there must be someone who has some. Sure enough, Whole Foods had some packaged baby artichokes available. Is one package enough? I eyeballed it and thought it looked OK to me.
The process was simple enough: get the hearts out and thinly slice them, vacuum seal them with vegetable stock and olive oil, and drop them in a sous vide bath. The scaling directions are so great. You set the veggie to 100%, and add the other ingredients in the correct proportion, no matter how big or small the quantity. In my case, these baby artichokes didn’t give up much in the way of meat, but I dutifully went ahead and prepared them.
After sitting in the water bath for 45 minutes, I put them in the blender, and promptly had my first puree fail.
Turns out that you really need more than a few baby artichokes to create the volume necessary for the blender to blend well. I’m just a guy cooking at home and this recipe is aimed at culinary professionals who need to crank out 400 covers a night. The recipe just doesn’t account for single servings. Fair enough. I’ll have to wait until they’re back in season and try it again. It was a decent enough spread and I ate it within a few bites.
Undaunted, I moved ahead to the next one on the list (and conveniently needing the same temperature water bath). Once again, the first part of the directions was simple enough: peel and thinly slice some beets.
The next ingredient was interesting: cooked beet juice. Why cooked beet juice? As the book isn’t published yet, I don’t know. Well, OK then. I juiced a beet and cooked the juice. All this fuschia foam developed and floated on the juice. Should I discard it? Probably. So I skimmed the top, added the juice to the beets with butter (all carefully measured with a digital scale of course) and sealed it up.
After an hour in the sous vide bath, I pulled it out and put it in the blender, where unlike the artichokes, it did its magic well.
I had my first puree of sous vide beets. It definitely had that earthy beet flavor, and an intense bright color , but the texture was a bit…oh, grainy? Maybe sandy is a better word. Somehow I was expecting a texture like pudding – perfectly smooth. Is this the correct texture? Perhaps when the recipe calls for a commercial blender, they mean a Vitamix or Blendtec mixer. Most likely it’s meant as a base for something else, and not meant to be eaten alone. I don’t know for certain, but certainly, it isn’t bad at all – just not what I was expecting. As a matter of fact, I see a borscht in my near future.
So the final recipe that called for sous vide was the apples. These required no other ingredients. Just slow cooked apples. I like the simplicity. I chose a mix of Red Delicious and Granny Smith apples. Peeled and quartered, I sealed them up and put them in.
After they were done I blended them together and…wow. Sous vide apple sauce. So smooth, so creamy. Just ridiculously good.
It’s funny how the texture improved with each progressive recipe. I felt like Goldilocks – “Ahhh, this porridge is just right!” And now, because of the parametric recipe, I know how to apply it to other fruit and vegetables like pears and carrots as well. I am loving this cookbook that isn’t published yet. Awesome.
Aw yes, lobster mushrooms. They look like cooked lobsters on the outside and they have a nice meaty texture when cooked…..
Put some salt and pepper on the oxtail and braise it with some veal stock and smoked ham hock…..yes, excellent. It’s going to be a ragout for the pasta.
Make some fresh rosemary pasta then cut it and work on something else. (Duck eggs, rosemary, “00″, Semolina, Contadina, Water)
Mushrooms, golden beets, and butternut squash go into bags so they can have a meeting with the immersion circulator for a while. I made a terrine with that carrot ginger soup using agar, took about 3 hours to set.
Well, I’m ready to go so let’s start cooking stuff!
First up is a brown butter brioche with sauce rouille and pickled vegetables.
Next is a carrot/ginger terrine with sous vide butter poached lobster mushrooms, golden beets, butternut squash, and shaved fennel served with a caramelized fig sauce with reduced sherry and contadina extra virgin olive oil.
Finally, an oxtail and smoked ham hock ragout over rosemary/duck egg pasta.
Another successful dinner at my place. See you next week!
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.
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).