It’s all about breaking the rules in chef Heston Blumenthal’s cookbooks. Self-taught and radical to the point of combining white chocolate and caviar based on their molecular composition, chefs like Blumenthal have revolutionised how the world looks at food. Slotted for the curious and creative, the buzz around such molecular gastronomy reached India only recently, with restaurants such as Masala Library, Ellipsis, SpiceKlub and others conducting exciting experiments in the kitchen. The trendy marriage between science and food is making many pick up syringes, smoking guns and foamers — to cook with at home.
“I tried molecular gastronomy eight months ago,” says 42-year-old food blogger Sandeep Sreedharan of @Escabrahma. “It started with a reverse spherification of pomegranate molasses [creating balloon-like spheres that explode when bitten into]. I have also experimented with kaalan, a curry traditionally made of yams and coconut milk in Kerala.”
In a nutshell, the modernist cuisine is about “change in the chemical composition of a food item,” says Roshni Bajaj Sanghvi, food writer and critic. Zorawar Kalra, founder of Massive Restaurants, under which Masala Library doles out the popular thandai spheres, says, “Molecular gastronomy is a technique with processes such as spherification, gelification, powderising, deep freezing and more, using natural chemicals like maltodextrin while cooking.”
To make flavours pop, vaporise and become a multisensory experience, pick up that smoking gun or foamer, and start experimenting. It’s easier than you think.
You can buy kits that allow you to experiment with basic and reverse spherification, creating caviar, hot and cold gels and thickening food items. The kits also typically contain food additives —agar-agar, calcium lactate, soy lecithin, and sodium alginate — to help chemically alter the composition, along with syringes, silicone tubes, pipettes and moulds, and video recipes. Alternatively, you can find specific equipment at stores in Crawford Market.
“Over the past three months, we have seen a surge in sales of molecular gastronomy and mixology tools,” says Aliasgar Saria, 35, owner of Saria Stove Depot in Crawford Market, which stocks smoking guns, sous-vide water ovens, foamers, vacuum bags, thermal whippers, carbonators and more, prices for which start at Rs 2,500.
WHAT: Molecular gastronomy kits
WHERE: Amazon.com; http://store.molecularrecipes.com; Saria Stove Depot, 26, Lohar Chawl, Crawford Market
COST: US$45.32 (about Rs 3,000)
“Agar agar (China grass) has been used by Sindhis for generations. It is available at most kirana stores,” says Sanghvi. “Alternatives such as tapioca, gumtree gondh, or even crushed methi in water can be used for gelification.”
While agar agar is most common to make caviar, xanthan gum, found at Nature’s Basket outlets, works as a thickening agent. Sodium alginate also aids spherication, while soy lecithin is used in emulsions to create foams;
WHERE: ChenabImpex.com or stores at Dawa Bazaar, Princess Street.
Give it a shot
Get your hands on smoking guns, foamers, siphons and other easy-to-use pieces of equipment and try these simple recipes for beginners
Vanilla Sponge cake with beer caramel sauce (Serves 4)
For the cake: Whisk 180 gm of yoghurt, 200 gm of egg whites, 150 gm of granulated sugar, 40 gm all-purpose flour and a pinch of salt together. Pass through tamis (sieve). Fill this in a siphon and charge it twice. Chill overnight and release the batter into paper cups. Microwave for two minutes.
For the beer caramel sauce: Add 1 cup sugar and 1/3 cup of beer to a heavy-bottom saucepan over high heat. Stir just until the sugar has melted. Allow to boil, do not stir until the caramel reaches a deep amber, almost reddish colour. Add 4tbsp of softened unsalted butter, stirring continuously until the butter has melted. Remove from heat. Slowly add half cup of heavy cream at room temperature and mix. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before transferring to a glass jar. Keep refrigerated until ready to use, heat the caramel to thin, if desired. Pour sauce over microwaved vanilla sponge and serve.
Recipe courtesy: Food bloggers Ronak Nanda and Jahan Bloch
Textures of cranberry (Serves 4)
For the cranberry balsamic foam
Add 1 gm salt, 10 gm balsamic vinegar and 150 gm cranberry juice in a pot and stir till the salt is dissolved. Heat this liquid and add 1.5 gm agar agar or one sachet of gelatine. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer for a minute. Strain through a fine mesh and cool.
Once the liquid is at room temperature, whisk to make foam. Remove the foam with the help of a spoon and freeze it for two hours.
For cranberry gel cubes
Heat 50 gm of cranberry juice and 0.5 gm of agar agar. Bring it to a boil and simmer for a minute. Strain and pour into the desired mould to set into gel. You can also puree the gel in the mixer to make a fluid gel. Garnish with white chocolate curls, dehydrated cranberries (fresh ones can be left in the oven at 150 degrees Celsius overnight), and sprigs of micro basil.
Recipe courtesy: Food bloggers Ronak Nanda and Jahan Bloch
Cannelloni finished with asparagus foam (Serves 2)
Blanch 50 gm cannelloni tubes in salted water till al dente. Blanch 4 asparagus spears and chop 30gm each of broccoli florets, mushrooms and zucchini; 50 gm red and yellow peppers; 1tsp minced garlic. Toss in 20ml olive oil. Stuff vegetable mix in cannelloni tubes. Cook 50ml tomato concasse over low flame; add 1.5 tbsp cream. Blend 30 gm asparagus purée, 2 tbsp butter, 1tbsp milk. Pour sauce over pasta, place asparagus spears on top, spoon foam atop asparagus. Add 20 gm parmesan and parsley twigs, with salt and pepper to taste.
Recipe courtesy: Gaurav Dabrai, Sante
Storm trooper (Serves 1)
Put 5 ml of cinnamon syrup, 15 ml amaretto and 45 ml of dark rum (Old Monk or Bourbon) in a mixing glass and stir for 15 seconds. Pour in a brandy balloon glass. Put a bunch of cinnamon sticks into the smoking gun and heat it to emit smoke. With infused smoke, the drink is ready to be served.
Recipe courtesy: PDT, Lower Parel
Foaming Star Anise Martini (serves 1)
Blend 10 gm of molecular lecithin powder, three to four pieces of whole star anise, 20 ml of hot water to create the star anise foam.
Once the foam is created, keep it aside and bring together 5-6 pieces of whole star anise, 10 ml of sugar syrup, 10 ml of lime juice and muddle together. Add 20 ml of water, 60 ml of gin, and four to five ice cubes. Shake well and strain in a martini glass. Scrape the Star Anise foam created earlier and layer on top of the liquid so as to cover it fully. Garnish with one whole star anise and serve.
Recipe courtesy: Masala Library, Bandra-Kurla Complex