Touch of mag­i­cal sci­ence

Hen­nie Fisher talks about molec­u­lar gas­tron­omy

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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.

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