Touch of magical science
Hennie Fisher talks about molecular gastronomy
COOKING at the molecular level encompasses techniques such as the solubilisation of sugars, emulsification, creating soy lecithin mousses, spherification and many more as described by Anne Cazor and Christine Liénard in their book “Molecular Cuisine, Twenty Techniques Forty Recipes”.
Ferran Adrià, widely hailed as “the greatest chef in the world”, has changed the face of gastronomy and inspired countless imitators and admirers. His inventive modernist cooking at El Bulli in Spain constantly challenged diners’ expectations. In the late 1980’s he and his business partner initiated the tradition of closing El Bulli for half the year, partly because of economics but also to allow his “budding culinary team” to learn more about food and try creative experiments.
What we have come to know as molecular cuisine as a movement developed after I underwent my cookery training. Therefore, upon being requested to cook a breakfast inspired by molecular cuisine a while ago I felt the need to acquaint myself with some of the principles of the discipline, thinking that it may be all very well to pop some chemicals and other components into food but wondering whether the menu would make sense and whether the food would still taste good.
Up until recently the media hype surrounding molecular cuisine has left me somewhat wary, not understanding why one would want to purée peas and then, through the action of sodium alginate and a calcium bath, create perfectly round pea “pearls”.
The final menu I opted to serve therefore consisted of the following courses, incorporating some of the molecular cuisine core techniques. Firstly, we served a Bloody Mary in test tubes with a froth of gelatine over medium heat. Pour the mixture in an electric mixer with the whisk attachment and whip at high speed for 30 seconds. Add all of the cooled milk in one go and continue whipping at high speed for 3 minutes. Add the oil and mix for a further 30 seconds. Spread the mixture to about 3 or 4 cm thickness in a tray lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, then cut into cubes and roll in sesame seeds. celery (made from soy lecithin and frothed onto the tomato cocktail from a cream canister). The first course was a composition plate that had at its core some smoked salmon, rolled like a red and white candy stick, with marinated courgette. This was offset by a delicious potato rosti — from Michel Richard’s book “Happy in the Kitchen”— which was baked in the oven the day before and then popped under the salamander shortly before service. Some interesting texture was provided by little blobs of tomato seeds scattered on the plate and tomato skin dried in the oven at a low temperature. Lemon juice was made into “caviar” using the straight (as opposed to the reverse) spherification method, and a small toffee apple cut into a perfect cube created visual as well as sensual interest. I also decided to serve a cube of savoury marshmallow from “A Day at El Bulli”. The original recipe was made with peanut oil, but I very successfully substituted sesame oil and dipped the end product in toasted sesame seeds, preferring a more robust flavour profile.
The main course was an adaptation of a dish from the pen of Brent Savage, consisting of sous vide cooked egg (cooked for exactly 1½ hours at precisely 63 C) atop a crunch of sourdough bread and almonds. Our version incorporated crisp fried bacon and chorizo sausage in the crunch, and was topped by a parmesan wafer cage. This dish was delightful; the egg had an amazing texture and was delicious served with a spicy orange infused oil and a sherry caramel sauce. For dessert, we employed a little bit of showmanship and created three different ice creams (chocolate, rose water and pink pear) in the dining room (using liquid nitrogen), presenting them in home-made wafer cones.