Chioggia Beet – gel and pickled
Parsnip – centers sous vide and fried strands
Cocoa Nib – cooked in sherry vinegar
Russian Blue Potato – steamed
Swiss Chard – pickled
Rutabaga – powdered
Rosemary – fried in potato starch
Turkey Consomme (poured over once presented)
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.
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.
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.
A friend of mine told me about Pure Cote B-790 and the work that Alinea was doing with it. I looked at this link (click) and my mind started racing with ideas of the things I could do with this.
I was cooking Thanksgiving dinner and I made a cranberry puree and had the skins and the other spice residues (tonka bean, black pepper, other things) left-over from the puree that I decided to dehydrate in order to work it into the pure cote b-790.
After I dehydrated it completely then I turned the cranberry into a powder then mixed. I weighed everything then tried an 11% use per weight ratio of pure cote. I heated the isomalt, glucose, cranberry, and pure cote to 160F then poured it over the silpat, let it dry overnight and then checked it out the next morning.
Success! There are a couple things I want to do to clean it up a little bit (strain mixture before pouring, use acetate to make thinner sheets, etc…) and maybe increase the rigidity of the final product but that can be addressed with the Ultra-Tex as recommended in the link or maybe I’ll shoot for something else when I get some time.
The goal is to create very thin sheets of this so I can make something that resembles stained glass. I also have an idea for a sheet of ice and see through ravioli (as seen in the link but with a different filling).
We’ll see what happens!