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Apr 10, 2010 02:34 PM

what if any "molecular gastronomy" recipes or techniques have you adapted to use in your home cooking?

assuming you're not lucky enough to have real sous vide machines, liquid nitrogen, and the like

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  1. I would also like to know! Anyone doing any crazy food science?

    2 Replies
    1. re: jvanderh

      You do crazy food science anytime you put egg to pan. Sorry but chefs were the first Food Scientists. Food Scientists only go back the figure out why food behaves as it does.

      The problem I have with Molecular Gastronomy is that it takes what food scientist have been doing for years and selling it in a pretty package. Let me illustrate, if McDonald's topped any salad with carrot juice solidifies with agar and shaped like coins... consumers would blast McDonald's as being so cheap it can't even use real carrots.

      Place that same 'carrot' slices next to a spice muffin and toasted walnuts and you have a deconstructed carrot cake.

      1. re: Crockett67

        context matters. that's the crux of art,

    2. I've just seen the episode about this in the series "Made to Order" (Fine Living Network) and I don't know that I even want to eat what the chef makes, let alone try to make it myself. Too chi-chi for the likes of me.

      1. I have messed around with a bunch of the techniques. I cook in local amateur competitions where wow factor and originality are useful. That said, many of the techniques are quite accessible for home cooks seeing as the internet has made it easier to order supplies and ingredients. Contrary to popular logic, it is not necessary to sink thousands of dollars into most of these techniques (there are exceptions, and I haven't messed with those, sadly).

        Sous vide is something that any home cook can do (to an extent) with a thermometer, a large stock pot, and ziplock bags. I recommend that anyone interested become thoroughly familiar with the following guide:
        Sous vide really shouldn't even be considered molecular - it is a very precise and useful technique whose origins aren't in molecular gastronomy. It has waaaay more to offer than shock value or surprise factor. I personally use a PID ($130) in a cheap crock pot. I have no vacuum packer and I don't find that there are many things a foodsaver can offer a home cook that ziplock bags cannot. A chamber vac would be nice, but is too rich for my blood.

        Spherification using sodium alginate and calcium chloride is entirely possible for a home cook as well, though its a bit finicky. Good for competitions. I've also had some luck creating 'caviar' with gelatin or agar dripped into cold oil. This doesn't have the same texture as real caviar or alginate spherification, but it is easier for a home cook to get into.

        Liquid nitrogen has been beyond me, but I have used dry ice to create a temporary antigriddle (I super-chilled a cast iron griddle) and to create ice cream. It's actually a good deal quicker to make ice cream with crushed dry ice than with the traditional methods. The ice cream then comes out carbonated - a really strange and (IMO) wonderful effect, with a very smooth texture.

        I've used xanthan gum as a thickener in sauces. This is easy to obtain and easy to pull off as long as you have a blender. You can thicken a sauce with much less starch and thus much less of an effect on the flavor of the sauce.

        Ice distillation is an easier and generally more effective method of clarifying stocks (or almost any liquid) than the tradition egg raft method. Freeze a stock (or liquid with gelatin added) and then let it melt slowly in the fridge, suspended on cheesecloth above a container. Perfectly clear. That's if any homecooks find much a need to clarify liquids.

        Gellan is especially interesting - it forms a gel useful for sauces or coatings while having minimal effect on the flavor of that sauce or coating. You will also need a blender. Unfortunately, gellan is still quite expensive and it doesn't keep all that well. I would probably use this outside of competitions if it were cheaper.

        Most of these techniques aren't all that hard to pull off. Even so, I feel like only sous-vide has become indispensable to me in my home cooking (as opposed to competitions). To me, its as useful a technique as braising or roasting and deserves to have its place right along side them.

        Dry ice - ice cream and gellan also create effects so nice that I would use them at home if gellan were cheaper or the dry ice supplier closer.

        1. My entire philosophy in cooking is to alter the basic foodstuffs as little as possible most of the time. I see the whole movement (which is pretty passe by now) as ultimately pretty tasteless and a devolution, not an evolution. It's not that far from the '50s mania of creating "space-age foods" -- cheddar powder, freeze-dried ice cream and other abuses of perfectly good ingredients. Sorry, but I don't care how flavorful it is, a powder of blackberries does not interest me more than those blackberries in their fresh, natural state.

          That being said, the only one of the big names whose food I've eaten was Wylie Dufresne's at WD-50. It was, um, interesting. But the techniques most definitely came first, THEN the flavors and textures. It was about novelty and the look-at-me factor, not presenting the foods at their best.

          I also always think about Julia Child's comment about nouvelle cuisine: She couldn't quit thinking about how many people's hands had been touching her food.

          7 Replies
          1. re: dmd_kc

            That's the way I cook most of the time, too, but I still think it's interesting to talk about different techniques. Inevitably, when I get far enough into any food conversation, I discover something that appeals to me. Of course blackberry powder isn't as good as fresh, in-season berries, but it might be good for a smoothie in December-- or for people who can't get access to fresh fruit.

            Cowboyardee, how did you do the ice cream, exactly? (how does the carbonation get into the mixture?)

            1. re: jvanderh

              You crush the dry ice to a powder as much as possible and then mix it into an ice cream base in a thick bowl, stirring constantly. Add the dry ice in small amounts, repeatedly, while stirring. A stand mixer would work fine, or since it doesn't take long to freeze, its also easy to do by hand.

              There is no big trick to the carbonation. The ice cream will wind up carbonated, trapping some CO2 as you stir, just as regular ice cream traps air as it's churned. You need to put the mixture in the freezer afterward for it to fully firm up and also as a way to help ensure that you have no intact dry ice shards left in the ice cream (these would be painful to eat).

            2. re: dmd_kc

              Like all movements, some of its practitioners went overboard.

              Unlike some movements, molecular cuisine has yielded a number of new (to us, at least) techniques in food preparation. Some of these techniques are potentially just as useful to those cooking more recognizable food as to those into molecular cuisine.

              There is no reason many of these techniques can't be made to serve flavor and texture development rather than the other way around. It would be silly to think people shouldn't explore the possibilities.

              I personally am not as interested in blackberry jam or blackberry compote as I am in fresh blackberries (I LOVE fresh blackberries), but that does nothing to imply that jam or compote has no place in our culinary landscape.

              1. re: dmd_kc

                The flip side of this philosophy of course is to not alter the basic foodstuffs at all, which would throw you into the camp of the raw foodism movement, which is also a devolution in its own right.

                Molecular gastronomy isn't just powders and spheres - I think of it as the thorough and controlled application of science (specifically chemistry and biochemistry) to food. If you're already manipulating your food (e.g. slicing, warming) you're already applying some crude form of molecular gastronomy (e.g. heat denatures proteins, heat liquifies fat, salt withdraws liquids). Done right, it'll bring out the best in a product and creativity in a chef/cook. Done wrong, well I think I've already heard those opinions.

                I can make spheres, brittle, fluid gels and the like, but most of my applications is to use the techniques to improve basic cooking. I'm pretty sure that some of the restaurants (ex-WD-50) that you've tried already use many of these techniques but just don't tell you about it.

                Why braise when you can sous-vide? Or a SuperBag to cut down on the filtration requirements and generate clear stocks from the get go? Pure-Cote makes for a more interesting tuile, and LN2/dry ice for ice cream provides a smooth product that doesn't require the expense of a Pacojet. I got criticized for suggesting gel syneresis filtration of a braising liquid followed by xanthan as a thickener but it still makes a beautiful sauce (it's also superior to rafts for crystal-clear consommé).

                I'll get heat for this too, but Julia missed the point about la nouvelle cuisine since she only saw the product of those who aped it.

                1. re: wattacetti

                  Word, Wattacetti. I like your thinking.

                  Though to be fair, I can still think of a few applications where I'd rather braise than cook sous-vide. Braising is faster than low temp sous vide, is less work if you brown the sous-vide meat anyway, and makes it easier to create a large amount of sauce. I haven't found high-temp sous vide 'braises' to be significantly different in effect than braising to the same temperature via traditional methods. Have you managed anything really special with high-temp sous vide applications on 'braising meat'? If so, please share.

                  1. re: cowboyardee

                    What's high temperature to you? 150ºF is about as high as I've ever gone under SV for cooking.

                    I don't really do higher-temp (>150ºF) sous-vide unless I'm trying to kill something on the surface while leaving the rest of the protein more-or-less intact, but then again, you can do that with a hot pan or a blowtorch. I'm also not aware of any specific high-temperature applications for any particular dish since it somewhat obviates the sous-vide process to begin with. Maybe a really fast way to completely melt a whole foie gras if you really have a need to make knots or bake foie gras macarons.

                    Shanks, short ribs, blade roasts and the like SV pretty well over a longer time, and with a chambar sealer you can seal liquids alongside the protein to eventually use as a base for your sauce.

                    1. re: wattacetti

                      I have seen several recipes for proteins that involve temps of 165-190. The difference in effect from a regular braise at these temps is minimal, but I have seen recipes call for it nonetheless. Also, most vegetables would call for a temp of 180-190, though I admit I don't do that much vegetable cooking sous vide.

                      Cooking SV at high temp doesn't obviate the purpose of SV so much as negate one of its many advantages. You still have more control over exact temp and texture and still lose less flavor to the air while cooking. I suspect restaurants also like it because it's easy and requires less work at the last minute.

                      The initial point was that a traditional braise has a different effect than low temp SV, so if you want that fall-off-the-bone effect, you may as well braise. As for sauce, I have had some success with liquids in ziplock bags, but a chamber vac is simply out of my price range. I meant to say not that SV could not be done in a large amount of liquid but just that it is easier to do so in a traditional braise.

              2. I'm so grateful for the info regarding ziplock bags for sous-vide. I've been dying to try out the technique. There are some cuts of meat I would love to cook sous-vide - it would really impress my husband and just completely blow my friends and neighbors out of the water!