Originally coined to describe the scientific study of food and cooking, molecular gastronomy is now associated with innovative modern cuisine.
Chefs use a combination of unusual tastes, textures and theatrical twists to give the eating experience a new multi-sensory dimension with the aid of high-tech equipment and a handful of clever chemicals. They’re not afraid to break the mould either – traditional kitchen techniques are examined in scientific detail, and if they aren’t up to scratch, they’re adjusted.
Many of the chefs branded as molecular gastronomists, including 4Food’s Heston Blumenthal can’t stand the phrase though as they feel it misses the point – they may be using new and innovative techniques, but quality and flavour are still at the heart of what they’re doing.
A few molecular gastronomy techniques explored:
There are a few different ways to achieve froths and foams. The easiest is using a hand blender, held just under the surface of the liquid. As the foam appears, skim it off and add to your dish – this works well with creamy or buttery sauces or sauces, but the bubbles won’t last long. Another method is to use a cream whipper and put your creamy/buttery sauce through that. To give your foam a bit more stability and body, or to foam thinner liquids, stocks and juices, you can add a gelling agent such as agar agar, or thickener like lecithin before using either of the techniques above.
Snap, crackle and pop
If it’s good enough for Heston, it’s good enough for us. Add popping candy to the base of cheesecakes and tarts to give your diners a pleasant surprise when they start chewing.
You can give just about anything the appearance of balls of caviar with this trick. Mix sodium alginate with any liquid, then drip the mixture into a calcium salt and water solution. Scoop them out quickly enough and they should be jellied on the outside and still liquid in the middle as the calcium solution will set the sodium alginate gel. Fruit juices make a nice choice for spherification as you can add them to desserts for a bit of decoration.
If you mix bicarbonate of soda with any form of acid and then add water, it will fizz. So, make your own by mixing a little bicarb, citric acid and icing sugar, then dust it onto toffees, boiled sweets, or even on to the surface of fruits (only if the skins are really dry though) and get tongues tingling.
Food, such as meat or fish, is sealed in vacuum packed bags and cooked in a water bath for several hours on a very low heat. Cooking in this way helps food to retain its moisture and flavour, as well as tenderising tough cuts of meat. Sous vide cookery is become so popular these days that you can now buy domestic sous vide cookers.