Paul Dundon’s Weblog


A little cheese and a little whine

Molecular Gastronomy Dinner Party

Recipes and Equipment

Most of the recipes were from this book. Despite the relative “wow” factor and novelty of the dishes, this was actually a pretty straightforward menu, with only 3.5 hours prep before the event and probably ¾ hour during the meal. The most difficult dish, in fact, was the chocolate bowl, as this involved the complicated business of tempering the chocolate (which, as it happens, I didn’t get right).

The whipper (used for the velouté and the porto cheddar) came from here.

The salt slabs came from here.

Most of the specialist ingredients are available on eBay or Amazon, but there is a selection of kits by Kalys (also available on eBay / Amazon) which contain smaller, ready-measured amounts of most of the ingredients you’ll need to experiment with this sort of recipe. You’ll also need a good set of scales which can weigh to about 0.1g accuracy. These can be expensive, but I found these which worked perfectly well.

Foamed Carrot Velouté

This was my own recipe, inspired by a visit to the James Martin restaurant on Deansgate. I haven’t found a precise way to make this one, but the procedure is roughly as follows:

  1. Roast 1kg of carrots with a little oil to help them brown. You can add half an onion too for a bit more flavour
  2. Puree the roast vegetables with enough liquid to make up 1 litre. I’ve used vegetable stock, chicken stock and water at different times and all work quite well. The liquid needs to be as smooth as you can get it – I use the liquidiser of a food processor running for about four minutes.
  3. Make a roux with 75g flour and 75g butter, and gradually stir in the liquid
  4. You now want to thin this out a little to get the right consistency. It should be possible to pour the mixture, but it should need a little encouragement, a bit like the stage whipping cream reaches just before it starts to form peaks. If the mixture is too thin, it won’t foam well, but if it’s too thick, it will stick to the inside of the whipper and not assimilate the gas. If you’re uncertain, err on the side of too thin, but stop short of the mixture being actually runny.
  5. Warm your serving bowls. The process of getting the veloute into the whipper and foaming and serving it is quite time consuming and the veloute will start to cool down, and having the serving bowls hot makes this less of a problem.
  6. Put about 750ml of the mixture into a one litre whipper, and charge with two cylinders of gas. You’ll need to handle the whipper with oven gloves as the heat from the veloute will make it hot to handle. Shake vigorously for 20-30s.
  7. Carry the whipper to the sink, turn it upside down and discharge it very briefly – there is likely to be a big bubble of gas between you and the soup.
  8. To serve, invert the whipper with the nozzle about ¾” from the bottom of the bowl and dispense enough soup to cover the bottom of the bowl (this only takes about 1/2s). Then put the nozzle under the surface of the soup and discharge again until you have the portion size you want

The quantities for this recipe will provide about six modest portions (about 250ml each).

Bell Pepper Spheres

This was made using a technique called reverse frozen spherification. Spherification is a gelling technique in which the gel requires two chemicals, sodium alginate and a calcium salt (in this case, calcium lactate). On its own, sodium alginate will thicken liquids, but not gellify them. The calcium in the calcium salt helps the molecules of sodium alginate bond with each other, forming a gel.
In basic spherification, sodium alginate is mixed with the liquid to be gellified and dropped into a bath of calcium lactate. In reverse spherification, the calcium lactate is mixed with the liquid to be gellified and dropped into a bath of sodium alginate. The aim is to produce a flavoured gel sphere or other shape with a liquid centre which produces a burst of flavour in the mouth.

There are some differences between the two processes:

    1. Because sodium alginate is itself a thickening agent, a concentrated sodium alginate bath can be quite viscous, so when liquid is dropped into it, it might hover on the surface rather than drop into the bath
    2. If the liquid to be gellified is milk-based, the calcium in the milk will form a gel if mixed with sodium alginate, so reverse spherification has to be used
    3. The gel formed in basic spherification is likely to pick up excess calcium ions from the bath, which continue to penetrate into the core of the gellified sphere after it is removed from the bath. This makes it difficult to stop the gellification process, whereas the process of reverse spherification can be halted by removing the gels from the sodium alginate and rinsing off any alginate on the surface

In reverse frozen spherification, the liquid to be gellified is first frozen. This allows greater control over the shape of the finished product. For the bell pepper spheres, I used a silicone mould for this.

Tomato Cannelloni with Balsamic Vinegar Pearls

This recipe used two gels – a tomato juice gel for the “cannelloni” and a balsamic vinegar gel for the beads. Both were made by combining the flavoured liquid with agar-agar, a gelling agent derived from algae. It produces a firm, slightly brittle gel with a soft mouth feel. I made the cannelloni too thick, which meant it wasn’t possible to roll it around the cheese filling; it needs to be about 1/8” thick rather than 1/4″.

The recipe didn’t call for any seasoning in the tomato juice; I added a little salt and cayenne pepper, and was concerned that this would affect the chemistry. In fact, salt can affect some gelling agents, but doesn’t affect agar-agar, and those it does affect it only affects in high concentrations. The pH of the mixture is also important, and can affect the choice of gelling agent for a recipe.

Both gels were made by heating the flavour base with agar agar and cooking for a few minutes, then cooling, but the cooling process was different for the two. The cannelloni was allowed to cool briefly at room temperature and then put in the fridge (it set after about 15 minutes) while the balsamic vinegar mix was dropped into a tall glass of chilled vegetable oil using a pipette. The droplets cooled rapidly as they fell down the glass so that they were solid by the time they reached the bottom.

Carpaccio with Horseradish Foam

The horseradish foam was made by whipping a mixture of horseradish and water with soy lecithin, using a hand blender to incorporate air into the mixture. Soy lecithin molecules have three “arms”, two of which are hydrophobic (repelled from water) and one of which is hydrophilic (attracted to water). As air bubbles form, the two hydrophobic arms are pulled into the bubbles and the hydrophilic arm pulled outside. This forms a protective shell around the bubble, stabilising it and trapping it in the liquid. The resulting foam can be scooped off and lasts for about 30 minutes.

Monkfish Cooked on Salt Slabs

The salt slabs had been in the oven on its highest setting for about an hour. They can also be heated over a naked flame or on a barbeque; using them on a barbeque would probably help maintain their temperature and capacity to cook. The monkfish wasn’t prepared in any way – all the flavour came from the fish itself and the slabs.

Porto Cheddar

This was a port jelly with a whipped cheese and cream topping. The recipe for the port jelly called for cold soluble gelatine, which I wasn’t able to find a supplier for. I used ordinary powdered gelatine instead, heating the port just enough to allow this to dissolve. Gelatine based gels, unlike the other gels we tried, melt in the mouth, giving this dish a different feel to the others.

The whipped cheese layer was produced using the cream whipper (like the velouté) but was a bit trickier. The cheese was melted and mixed with cream and this produced a mixture which was much more viscous cold than hot. Once cold, in fact, the liquid was too viscous to foam effectively because it stuck to the sides of the whipper when shaken. So, the mixture has to be added to the whipper hot, shaken to incorporate the gas, and then allowed to cool. For the quantities given in the book, a half litre whipper would produce better results than a one litre.

Strawberries with Wine Vinegar

These were simply hulled strawberries filled with a white wine vinegar gel. The gel was produced using kappa carrageenan, another algae-derived gelling agent. This makes a firmer, clearer gel than agar-agar but is in many respects very similar.

Chocolate Desert Bowl

This one has been doing the rounds of the internet; one of many recipes is given here.

The recipes doing the rounds don’t mention this, but it’s really important to temper the chocolate, or the bowl is likely to break, and won’t look as attractive as the ones in the photos. Tempering is a tricky business which involves heating and cooling the chocolate over a precise temperature range. There is lots of advice on how to do this on the net, but as I haven’t yet mastered it I can’t say which is best to go with.

If you try this recipe, it helps if you use a narrow bowl so that there’s as little as possible of the balloon below the rim of the bowl. Otherwise, chocolate will run down the balloon over the edge of the bowl making it difficult to remove the chocolate and ruining the spiky effect.


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