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MASTER MOLECULAR GASTRONOMY

­Even if your culinary repertoire doesn’t go beyond boiling an egg or pasta and dumping on some store-bought tomato sauce, you are sure to have heard at least some cooking rules in your lifetime. For instance, while you were boiling the aforementioned pasta, you may have heard of one the following three rules: add olive oil to the water to prevent the pasta from sticking, throw pasta on the wall if it sticks, it’s done and rinse pasta after its finished draining. But have you ever stopped and wondered why exactly these techniques work time and again? Perhaps you’ve thought there must be some science behind it. Well, the fact is there is quite a bit of molecular transformation and interaction going on while you cook, and there is a whole discipline of study dedicated to it called molecular gastronomy.

If you haven’t heard of molecular gastronomy, Chef Heston Blumenthal or cooking terms like spherification and sous vide, this is a great place to start. In this article, we’ll get you up to speed with this fascinating discipline and if you’re up for some culinary experimentation, we’ll even show you some simple molecular gastronomy techniques you can try at home with unique spins on old favourites.

Chef Hesten Blumenthal's Bacon and Egg Ice Cream.

What Is Molecular Gastronomy?

It all started with the temperamental soufflé that wouldn’t rise. Long before the bizarre culinary marvels of chef Heston Blumenthal in his 3-Michelin star restaurant, The Fat Duck, there was chemist, Hervé This and the frustrating soufflé. After several kitchen mishaps, This became obsessed with this dish and started to question the time-honoured rules behind cooking. He theorised that there must be a whole world of undiscovered cooking ‘precisions’ to explore and he was right. Just like everything else, food molecules obey specific processes that describe the behaviour of solids, liquids and gases, and if properly researched this new way of thinking about food can revolutionise cooking. Thus, together with Nicholas Kurti, This created the academic discipline of molecular gastronomy.

Chef Hesten Blumenthal's Snail Porridge.

At first, their new field of study had very little interest of the outside, however, as soon as it was discovered that their understanding of the science behind cooking could lead to new and creative culinary creations, the world of fine-dining changed forever. This transformation led to the development of several well-known, shocking but supposedly delicious meals like snail porridge, meat fruit, and egg and bacon ice cream that has become the obsession of foodies from around the world.

How Does Molecular Gastronomy Work?

Molecular gastronomy uses special techniques, ingredients and cooking principles to encourage favourable chemical reaction to occur. These reactions produce surprising new flavours and textures that you never thought were possible. Though it may seem overly scientific, there is actually a range of molecular gastronomy techniques that you can easily try at home, for instance cooking meat sous vide.

What Is Sous Vide?

Sous Vide is a French term that means “under vacuum”. The idea behind this cooking technique is to prepare meat without losing all of its delicious natural moisture. Basically it involves cooking meat in a vacuum-sealed container by submerging it into a temperature-controlled water bath after which it is opened and finished off in a hot frying pan. The result is a cut of meat that is juicy, tender and supremely delicious.

How To Prepare Steak Sous Vide

Ingredients:

  • 400g boneless steak of about 40mm thickness
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • 3 sprigs rosemary
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Rub steak on all sides with garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper and place in a steak bag. Lightly bruise rosemary and thyme to release their oils and place them in the steak bag.

Vacuum seal or partially close the bag and completely submerge it in a hot water bath of 130°C. Cook the steak in the water bath for 2½ hours at a constant temperature of 130°C.

Remove the bag from the water and let it rest for 15 minutes to absorb some of the juices. Remove the steak from the bag and pat dry with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper, and let it air dry for a few minutes.

Heat a large cast-iron skillet, add the olive oil and cook the steak on all sides for 1-2 minutes or until a nice crust forms around the meat. Slice the steak against the grain, season and serve!

Steak sous vide.

How To Prepare Salmon Sous Vide

Salmon sous vide with lemon and lettuce.

Ingredients:

  • 650g salmon fillet (scaled, trimmed and cut into 4 pieces)
  • 500ml ice water
  • 60ml olive oil
  • 30ml kosher salt
  • Finely chopped fresh dill
  • Finely chopped fresh chives
  • Lemon wedges

Method:

First, you need to prepare a brine for the salmon. Dissolve salt in ice water and combine it with olive oil in a Ziploc bag. Add salmon with some dill and pepper for flavour. Push as much air out of the bag and seal. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Remove salmon, pat it dry and transfer it to another bag along with 15ml olive oil. Again, remove as much air from the bag as possible and seal.

Immerse the bag in water preheated to 50°C and cook for 1 hour at a constant temperature. Stir every 7-10 minutes to prevent hot and cold spots.

Once cooked, remove the salmon fillets from the bag and sear skin side for 45 seconds over high heat.

Garnish with chopped dill and chives, and serve with lemon wedges.

What Is Spherification?

Described as beads that explode in the mouth with a juicy pop, spherification involves the distillation of flavour into delicious caviar-like spheres. This cooking process relies on a simple gelling reaction between calcium chloride and alginate, a gumlike substance extracted from seaweed or algae. Spherification can be used to create an array of dishes with spectacular flavour combinations, for example, fresh oysters with passion fruit caviar and molecular mojito spheres.

How To Prepare Fresh Oysters With Passion Fruit Caviar

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ⅓ cup passion fruit juice puree
  • ¼ teaspoon agar-agar powder
  • Freshly shucked oysters

Method:

Chill the vegetable oil in a tall glass.

Mix the passion fruit puree and agar-agar in a saucepan and bring to the boil.

Simmer until the agar-agar dissolves and cool for 5 minutes.

Take a straw and fill it with the cooled mixture and drop droplets one at a time from the straw into the cooled oil.

The caviar droplets will form on contact with the oil.

Strain the caviar out of the glass and rinse with water.

Pop on your fresh oysters and serve!

Oysters with passion fruit caviar.

How To Prepare Molecular Mojito Spheres

Molecular Mojito spheres.

Ingredients:

  • 4 wedges of lime
  • 5ml sugar
  • 30ml white rum
  • 60ml soda water
  • 24 fresh mint leaves
  • 1ml calcium lactate
  • 12 small mint leaves (for the mold)
  • 500ml water
  • 2,5ml sodium alginate

Method:

In a glass, smash calcium lactate, sugar and lime together with a muddler. Add rum and soda, and stir until the calcium lactate dissolves. Strain.

Fill every mold of your silicone tray with one small mint leaf and the mojito mixture. Freeze.

Blend together the water and sodium alginate in a bowl and set aside for 15 minutes.

Remove frozen mojito molds from the silicone tray and add them to the water bath leaving enough space between them so that they don’t stick together. Allow them to set for 3 minutes while gently stirring.

Transfer the transformed spheres from the bath using a slotted spoon. Give them a quick rinse and serve immediately.

What Is Flavour Juxtaposition?

Flavour juxtaposition is yet another molecular gastronomy technique and is perhaps one of the most important tenets of the discipline. According to Hervé This, juxtaposition can be used to intensify a more flavourful ingredient by pairing it with a much less flavourful ingredient. You can also intensify the flavour of two dominant flavours by pairing them together, for instance, chocolate and orange. The science behind this technique is that foods with similar volatile molecules (those that leave food as a vapour and waft to your nose) taste good together. This has led to some daring but delicious pairings like avocado and coffee, bacon and pistachios, and watermelon and black pepper – a must-try for summer.

How To Prepare Watermelon Salad With Feta And Black Pepper

Ingredients:

  • 12 cups cubed watermelon
  • ¼ olive oil
  • 3 juiced limes
  • 1 cup fresh mint
  • 1½ cups crumbled feta cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Chopped cucumber (optional)

Method:

Skin the watermelon and cut it into cubes.

Chop the cucumber (optional)

Whisk together olive oil, lime juice, salt and pepper to prepare a dressing.

Place watermelon in a large salad bowl, top with chopped mint, cucumber, salad dressing and crumbled feta.

Stir to combine and grind some extra black pepper on top.

Watermelon and feta cheese salad recipe.

How To Prepare White Chocolate Discs With Caviar

A white chocolate disc with caviar served on a spoon.

Ingredients:

  • 125g quality white chocolate
  • 30g Sevruga caviar

Method:

Melt the chocolate carefully using a bain-marie or microwave until the chocolate is liquid and completely smooth.

Spread the chocolate on a sheet of parchment paper using a pallet knife, place on a flat surface and refrigerate till it hardens.

Once hard, cut the chocolate into its desired shape using a knife or circular cutter.

To serve, spoon some caviar on top of the disc and eat.

The sensation of this flavour juxtaposition is heightened if you place the entire disc on the tongue to melt. This way the flavour and tasting sensation changes gradually with the introduction of caviar to melted chocolate.

How To Prepare Peach Tarts With Goat Cheese

Ingredients:

  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry
  • 450g ripe peaches, pitted and cut into wedges
  • 120g goat cheese
  • 30ml honey
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method:

Preheat oven to 210°C and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cut the pastry into 6 squares and place on the baking sheet. Use a fork to prick the pastry all over. Spread a spoonful of goat cheese on each square and top with peaches. Season with black pepper.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through to ensure an even bake. The pastry is done once its puffed and golden, and the peaches are soft.

Drizzle with honey before serving.

Mini peach tarts with goat's cheese.

Though it may seem strange at first, the key to molecular gastronomy is experimentation. There are so many interesting flavour and texture combinations out there to surprise and stun your guests. Invest in quality kitchenware from Core Catering Supplies and start with something simple like sous vide and with time and the right kit you’ll quickly work yourself up to the truly marvellous and miraculous. It pays to keep things fresh and exciting, so start crafting new and creative culinary creations today!

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