My Creations, Places I like

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Crash Course in Molecular Gastronomy


     I would imagine that upon seeing the words "Molecular Gastronomy" my dad probably closed his laptop and went to work on his weather station. For all of you who don't know what that term means, basically it entails infusing food with SCIENCE. Terms get tossed around like "agar agar", "sodium algenate" "spherification" and "culinary foam"...all things my dad probably sees as the devils work.

     In a nutshell molecular gastronomy is foods like this:

"spheres" of a liquid made with sodium algenate

     Made by people like this:

Grant Achatz

Ferran Adria

 When it comes to food, my dad is a traditional meat and potatoes kinda guy (crab cake appetizer and filet mignon entree every time like clock work) and the term molecular gastronomy gets lumped into the category of: "please don't make me sit through this for more than a nano-second" along with things like Stephen Colbert, and Seth Rogan (seriously, if you bring any of these things up to my dad he will probably leave the room). Everyone has their things they can't stand and for my dad these are those things.
    The part that I cant grasp though is why? If you know my dad, hes not just a doctor, but a man of science. He enjoys solving puzzles, especially of the electronic type. If your computer has a virus or the X-box displays that "red ring of death" my dad seems to actually enjoy fixing them. In another lifetime my dad works for tech support I am naturally a man of science would be fascinated by the new scientific revolution we are experiencing through food right? Wrong. I don't blame him, and I can't fault him. Its a new age in food that most people don't understand. For the most part, I don't understand it.There's a speech a mob bosses delivers in one of the batman movies that accurately sums everything up:

"This is a world you'll never understand. And you always fear … what you don't understand." 

Read on to see what this all TONS OF PICTURES (ACTION SOUNDS)

    At this point your probably wondering, what the hell does this have to do with anything? Well for our final project my classmate Mike Jones, and I were assigned Grant Achatz--seen above. Deviating from the norms of powerpoint presentation, Mike and I decided to use a "who wants to be a millionaire" style skit and rocked it. The class was engaged, our professor laughed a few times, and it was informative. Before we started the skit we served everyone in the class a "caramel popcorn shooter" to get things started on the right foot. 
    It was one of cheapest, but most importantly one of the only feasible dishes Mike and I could pull off without the use of an immersion circulator or other advanced molecular tools. The recipe is from Grant Achatz's "Alinea Cookbook" and is actually quite simple.
     First, make the "popcorn" part by first popping popcorn (no shit), then reducing it down to a liquid by heating it in water, with butter, salt, and sugar. Once it becomes mush you push it through a strainer, blend it fine, and then push it again through a strainer (a fine mesh chinois or sive) one more time to yield a velvety, yellow, popcorn flavored liquid. 
    The caramel part involves heating lots of sugar with a small amount of liquid until it caramelizes (around 340 degrees F) then incorporating more water and some simple syrup (equal parts sugar to water) to help make the caramel become a water like consistency instead of hardening the way caramel tends to do. Your supposed to foam the caramel with a stick blender or CO2 canister but we couldnt get it to foam so we just served the drink Irish carbomb style by pouring them both into a shot glass. The final product tastes eerily like caramel popcorn.

Our Notes

Mike Jones in action

Making big

no seriously...we're making caramel

Mike Jones nurturing the liquefied popcorn

this is what the popcorn looks like when you cook it down

     I know the majority of people don't care for stuff like this but its interesting what you can do when you break the norms of what food should be. We took something that people love to eat and can identify with--caramel popcorn, and transformed it into something unrecognizable. We as humans are so attached to what food should look like and feel like that it can be freaky when you mess with the formula. Its the reason why hamburgers have no resemblance to the animal they are made out of--cows. Its the reason why we eat "sushi" in a tightly packed roll and not as a whole fish with eyes looking at you. We're carnivores, but we want our killed animals to be made into "steaks" and "patties" behind closed doors so we can sleep at night. For the record, I'm not preaching here, or think we should eat "live sushi", I just think its interesting....

    When Thomas Keller was a young chef he combated this disconnect chefs have with the food they prepare by taking a bunch of rabbits into a field and ringing their necks. He said he botched the first kill an the rabbit screamed in agony--something that haunts him to this day. What he was trying to achieve was not to be manly or barbaric, no, what he was trying to do was gain a better understanding, and in turn, respect for the animals he cooks in his kitchens. The concept is frightening, but if you overcook a piece of rabbit in Keller's kitchen you can bet your ass he's going to let you know about it...