Spherification is tricky, not just because of the chemistry involved, but because the technique has become associated with the most farcical extremes of modernist cooking. However, when used with purpose and not simply ‘cause, spherification can still provide an element of surprise and delight to your cooking. Tomorrow, I’m going to cook salmon (sous vide, if you’ve been playing along at home) with mascarpone and greens, an homage to the salmon crostini at Spur. I wanted to top the fish with a spoonful of salmon roe for added saltiness and for their funny, squirm-inducing texture. Unfortunately, roe is expensive. So, I came up with a substitute: spherified hot sauce that looks like salmon roe.
There’s been a lot of debate, recently, surrounding molecular gastronomy. Although a small handful of chefs have been practicing the
art science in exclusive restaurants for the past 20 years or so, for whatever reason, this field of food wizardry is just starting to poke it’s head into the mainstream.
Personally, I find the concept fascinating. As I’ve written before, “cooking” hasn’t really changed much since Escoffier wrote it all down in a big, French book. We still bake, boil and braise, truss, fillet and tournée. But what happens when you give a chef new tools like liquid nitrogen, immersion heaters, lasers, MRI scanners, and god knows what else? We’re just starting to find out, and I’m ready to start playing with what’s possible.
To that end, I’ve teamed up with two other passionate food geeks, Eric and Jethro, to form the Jet City Gastrophysicist Club. Our mission is to make advancements in the field of molecular gastronomy (define it how you will). But first, we’ve got some learning to do. At our disposal are bags of unfamiliar powders, laser thermometers, syringes, gram scales, blowtorches, stacks of books, and
some all of our ingenuity. For our first meeting, we wanted to get familiar with one basic technique: spherification. By combining a liquid, in this case root beer, with a certain chemical and then dropping it into a solution, we are able to form a membrane around the liquid. This is a popular process for creating “caviar” or “pearls” out of richly-flavored juices. The image above shows what happens if you extrude the liquid using a syringe. The video below is a giant root beer sphere we made, and how it interacts with a knife.