Recently I found myself flipping through the channels and had one of those competitive cooking shows catch my eye. One of the chef contestants decided to employ some molecular gastronomy magic and create carrot “caviar” that he served over his masterpiece meal. Intrigued, I realized that I have seen bits and pieces of this kind of cuisine science employed elsewhere at various restaurants over the years but never really put much thought to it outside of my meal. I have been trying to find new and fun ways to play in the kitchen and so I bought a Molecular Gastronomy beginners kit and since then, I have been experimenting with gelification and spherification…Chemistry has never been a forte of mine (unlike Diz who likes to run around the house like a mad scientist with pH strips testing our hot tub weekly…) but I do love cooking and baking, which is as much of a science as it is an art. So instead of my apron, I donned my (clean and not-covered-with-too-much-pet-hair) white lab coat and began my homework…
Basic spherification is used for obtaining pearls with a very thin membrane easily bursts in your mouth as if there is no solid substance between your palate and the liquid. The technique calls for submerging a liquid with sodium alginate in a bath of calcium. This is the easiest way to spherify liquids, but has a short half-life and needs to be served immediately otherwise the pearl will continue to thicken and eventually will become fully a gel ball.
Reverse spherification is used for mixtures that are acidic (ph <5), alcoholic, or ones that contain calcium (such as dairy products). Unlike basic spherification, the process of gelification can be stopped when the sphere is removed from the sodium alginate bath and rinsed with water, resulting in a liquid center. With this process however, you will get a thicker jelly membrane around the sphere.
Cold oil spherification involves combining agar with a boiling liquid and then gently dribbling the hot liquid into a chilled oil to set the spheres in a firm gel. With this process, the whole pearl is gelified and you will not get that liquid “pop”, but your caviar pearls will retain their shape when serving. This is the process I used for my balsamic vinegar pearls and was very satisfied with the texture and results.
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp agar agar
2 cups chilled olive oil
Place the olive oil in the freezer for 30 minutes. Mix the balsamic vinegar and the agar-agar and bring them to a boil. Using a pipette or large syringe drip the vinegar mixture into the olive oil slowly (the droplets will mesh together if you spray them into the oil too quickly. Using a fine mesh sieve, gently rinse the caviar with filtered water. Garnish your dish and serve!
Still confused? Watch the how-to video…
I ended up serving my balsamic vinegar with some heirloom tomatoes and basil from the garden with a side of fresh moz from Trader Joe’s…yum!