June 7, 2013

Our 100th Post!

What better way to celebrate our 100th post, than to go all out with some molecular gastronomy?  I F#*%king love science, almost as much as I do food, so why not combine the two?

Justin has been chomping at the bit to try some molecular gastronomy ever since we got our hands on some sodium alginate and calcium chloride for Christmas.  These may sound like something you'd find in a chemistry lab, but when mixed together in the right proportions, it allows you to sphere-ify liquids.  But that wasn't the only technique we tried.

On the menu, we have some sous vide duck breast with a cherry-port relish and cherry "caviar", roasted asparagus with grapefruit "snow", and some coconut ice cream with Thai tea pearls.

Let's start with the duck.  Start by scoring the skin of the duck, making sure you only cut into the skin and fat.  We then seasoned it with salt, pepper, and some chopped rosemary.  Place the duck in a vacuum-sealed bag, and place in a pot of water at about 135 degrees.  If you don't have a vacuum-sealer, like us, you can use a straw to suck the air out of a ziplock bag (just don't suck up any raw duck juices!).
You'll want to cook the duck for about an hour.  Once it's cooked through, we placed it in a hot pan, skin-side down, to render out the fat, and get the skin nice and crispy.

Meanwhile, we got to work on the cherry-port relish and roasted asparagus.

We used about 2tbsp of the rendered duck fat to saute our shallots, and then added some chicken broth, the halved and pitted cherries, port, and some honey.  Then you just let it simmer and reduce.
Because we were going to sphere-ify our sauce, we didn't want it to reduce too much.  We pulled about 1/4c of the liquid out of the pot, and set it in the freezer to cool.

While it was cooling, we mixed up the sodium alginate with some water.  This is the solution we'd mix with the cherry-port sauce to make spheres.  We also mixed the calcium chloride with water, which served as the water bath that we'd be dropping our cherry mixture into.  We followed the ratios found here.

Once our cherry sauce had cooled to room temperature, we added it to the sodium alginate mixture.  Then we loaded it up into a plastic syringe, making sure to get out any air bubbles.  Then just drop your sauce into the calcium chloride water bath, letting them hang out for a few minutes to really congeal.  Justin figured out a good technique for creating larger spheres; place the tip of the syringe close to the surface of the water bath, and as you push down on the syringe, move it in a circular motion.  This left us with big beads of cherry sauce.

Once they've congealed, scoop them out of the water bath and place into a plain water bath to rinse off.  Then carefully dry them on a paper towel, making sure not to puncture your spheres.

As for the asparagus, it doesn't require any chemistry equipment or strange powders.  All you need is a freezer.  You can do this step well in advance since the grapefruit needs time to freeze.  You'll need to cut the grapefruit into supremes (segments), which sounds like a really fancy technique, but it's actually quite easy to do.

Start by slicing off each end of your grapefruit.  Then, with it standing on one of the flat ends, start slicing off the rind, following the curve of the grapefruit, and doing your best to take off only the rind and pith.  You'll be left with a rind-less grapefruit.  Holding the grapefruit in one hand, start slicing out the segments.  If you're more of a visual learner, here's a quick video.  Once you have enough, just place them on some parchment or wax paper, and place in the freezer.
Rather than steam the asparagus, we decided to roast them.  So once they're cleaned, just toss them on a sheet tray with some olive oil and pepper, and pop 'em in the oven.  When they're roasted to your liking, pull them out, and place them on a plate or platter to cool.  While they're cooling, you can chop and toast up your almonds.  We also finished the asparagus with a little lemon salt, for some added citrus.  Just before you sit down to eat, grab your frozen grapefruit segments from the freezer, and using a microplane, grate them over your asparagus.

Voila! -- it looks super sophisticated, but it is really simple.  If you want to impress someone, whether it's your in-laws, a special someone, or friends, try this recipe.  It's becoming one of our signature dishes.

Now, onto dessert!

We started with the ice cream base; heavy cream, coconut milk, and some vanilla bean went into a pot to boil.  At the same time, we whisked together the egg yolks and sugar.
Once the cream/milk mixture had thickened, we tempered in the eggs.  Make sure you go slowly so you don't end up with scrambled eggs.  Once the mixture comes to temperature you can add more in all at once.  We also toasted up some shredded coconut, to be added at the end.  Next, throw your base back on the stove and let it thicken a little more, until it will stick to the back of your spoon.

Now your base should be all set.  Go ahead and let it continue to cool.  Once it will no longer create condensation go ahead and throw it in the fridge.  This basic recipe will work for regular churned ice cream, creme brulee, etc.  But we had something much more interesting in mind for 100th post.  Dry ice!  It's perfect for our purposes because it is cheaper, and colder than an anti-griddle.  Ok, we can't really say don't try this at home...but be careful if you do.  We consulted this webpage for some tips.  Honestly, it was a lot of trial and error.  Similar to the spheres, it took some experimentation to get into the groove with the technique.

First we tried sandwiching the dry ice between 2 cookie sheets, and pouring the ice cream base on top of the top tray to let it freeze.  The tray wasn't cold enough/our base was too warm, so it didn't freeze.

Next we tried placing a metal spatula on the dry ice and pouring the base onto the spatula.  Purportedly, this is how Grant Achatz experimented with it prior to opening his restaurant.  This method worked a little better, but the ice cream disc stuck to the spatula.

Then we tried pouring the base onto some freezer paper that was directly on top of the dry ice.  Again, it kind of worked, but the ice cream stuck to the paper.

Through our trial and error (and making a bit of a mess), we noticed that the drops of ice cream base that dripped directly onto the dry ice were forming nice little pearls, almost like dippin' dots.  So we resorted to pouring the base directly onto the ice.  This gave us a little more room to work with, and allowed us to get a little creative, and made various shapes and splatter designs.
We also experimented with different textures.  You may notice some brown specks in the picture above on the right.  That's the shredded coconut we'd toasted up.  As the ice cream solidified on the ice, we carefully lifted it off with a spatula, and placed it in the freezer.  If you want it to be frozen on the outside but creamy in the middle, don't bother putting it in the freezer...just eat it.  If you want it a little more frozen, stick it in the freezer while you make more.

To compliment our coconut ice cream, we made some Thai tea pearls.  We used the same method as we did for the cherry sauce, though we doubled the amount of tea for a more concentrated flavor.
The tea pearls were a welcome addition to the ice cream.  It took us awhile to get the shot for our final presentation so it didn't turn out the prettiest.  While we may not be ready to be chef de partie at Minibar or Alinea, we made food in our own kitchen that tasted nearly as delicious!  We hoped you enjoyed this as much as we had fun experimenting with some food science.  Thanks for following along for our first 100 posts, and here's to 100s more!