Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Problem Solving with Molecular Gastronomy

It has been on your radar for years...Its confounding culinary spectacles have delighted you on Top Chef and Iron Chef. Its influence has reached beyond the culinary world into chemistry and engineering. Its esteem led the closure of Feran Adria's El Bulli to be met with grief vastly disproportional to the number of diners who would ever have eaten there. The ascent of molecular gastronomy within the zeitgeist is undeniable; and with it, a new curiosity of the properties of food and the transformational nature of cooking.

Luckily the the last few years have provided home chefs with new insights into creative process of the world's foremost molecular gastronomists. Last year, Harvard held a class titled Science and Cooking, which featured Feran Adria, David Chang and Wylie Dufresne. In the lectures, the chefs spoke about using new techniques to solve problems. Chang spoke of the challenges of creating broth for noodle dishes in a space-constrained restaurant in NYC. His restaurant simply did not have the space to allow a pot of broth to sit on the stove for the requisite number of hours; so he sought a solution using freeze dried ingredients to create an "instant" broth without sacrificing quality.

As a chef cooking out of a college dorm kitchen, I can relate to Chang's space issues. The challenge to produce food within the joint constraints of space and money is an issue faced by all college cooks. While molecular gastronomy may seem intimidating because it is unfamiliar, at its heart it allows us to produce dishes we love that taste better or overcome challenges of the original preparation.

One application of molecular gastronomy is chocolate mousse without eggs. I adore chocolate mousse, but the ongoing inspections of the FDA into cases of salmonella in egg farms have prevented me from making the traditional recipe for chocolate mousse. There is another recipe, created by French chemist Herve This, which does not require eggs. In fact, it only requires two ingredients: chocolate and water. Surprising how the two ingredients we are told never to mix could create a mousse so delicious that you will wonder why you ever settled for traditional recipe.

Two Ingredient Chocolate Mousse

11 oz chocolate*, chopped in small pieces
1 cup of water
Ice cubes and water

Create an ice water bath in bowl and place a slightly larger bowl on top of it.
Combine chocolate pieces and the cup of water in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly until chocolate lumps are no longer visible.
Pour the mixture directly from the saucepan into the bowl resting in the ice bath. Beat with a whisk until the chocolate mixture forms peaks. Makes about 2 cups of mousse.

It is important not to over beat the mixture, as it will become grainy. If it does become grainy, return the mixture to the saucepan and reheat.

* As you might guess, the chocolate is the key determinate of the mousse's flavor. Choose a chocolate that you enjoy that does not contain too much cocoa butter or cream.

While cost and space prohibit many students from fully engaging in molecular gastronomy experiments, there are several easy ways to find inspiration and new techniques with food.

Buy it - Youtube – Mcgyver it. Armed with inspiration from chefs who broke the rules in their restaurants, take the new techniques and strip them down to what is really necessary. A chef preparing numerous sous vide entrees at the same time may need an immersion circulator costing several thousand, but you do not. Use a Ziploc and a large pot. If the thought of doing it yourself is terrifying, try one of the new immersion circulators designed for home chefs.

Or Just do it!

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