Recently, I’ve had a lot of people ask me for resources and suggestions regarding Molecular Gastronomy. If you are a chef who already works with hydrocolloids, there probably won’t be a lot of new information here. This post is for the people who are looking to experiment with some new techniques. I’m not including any recipes because there are so many other great resources out there. This is a basic primer with my favorite sources and some considerations.
So, you want to do Molecular Gastronomy at home? Let’s get something out of the way: People who do it, don’t call it that. It’s a pretentious, ridiculous term. Dave Arnold and Wylie Dufresne die a little bit every time someone utters the MG term. Maybe 2012 is the year this term gets put to bed. You could call it Modernist Cuisine, or you could just call it cooking. Moving on.
You can do some of these techniques at home, but there are some things I’ve picked up over the years. To begin, most of the ingredients fall under the umbrella of Hydrocolloids, some of which are agar agar, gellan, sodium alginate, xanthan gum and locust bean gum. You could do a lot of research on your own, but if you’re really interested, there are some great classes out there from time to time. I took a 2 day Introduction to Hydrocolloids class at the French Culinary Institute in NYC with Dave Arnold and Nils Noren. I’ve also taken a Transglutaminase class with Alex Talbot of Ideas in Food. It’s great to get to learn from and interact with some very experienced chefs.
I see a lot of recipes out there with little added info. Most of these hydrocolloids need to be properly hydrated and adequately sheared into your base. You will need a traditional blender or a stick blender, but a VitaMix works best. Acidity is also a consideration. I have no idea why so many recipes make no mention of these things. You will need a digital gram scale and microgram scale. I like to be able to get down th the 10th of a gram. Most hydrocolloids are used at less than 1% by weight, so the difference between 4 and 5 grams is huge. Most of the world uses the metric system. Stop bitching and get on board.
Transglutaminase is often referred to as meat glue. Please stop using this term. Its kind of gross and undermines what this product can do. Did you know that there are many types of transglutaminase. Most people are referring to Activa RM, but there are types such as YG that can be used for dairy. Previously, you had to buy it as a kilo, which cost near $100. Only recently did companies begin to sell it in smaller quantities. But keep it in the freezer or that expensive powder will lose its effectiveness. For a full primer, check out this Cooking Issues post: http://www.cookingissues.com/primers/transglutaminase-aka-meat-glue/
Sodium Alginate spheres are cool the first few times, but get old pretty quickly. Find something better to do with your time. If you do want to do this, I prefer the reverse spherification technique. If you’re interested in a cool trick, I’d rather use Tapioca Maltodextrin to turn a fat into a powder. Bacon fat powder anyone? TM is reasonably priced and is easy to use.
I think a lot of this stuff is pretty cool. I’ve been to WD-50 and many other restaurants doing some of these things. There are many uses for hydrocolloids where you wouldn’t necessarily see the “trick”. A fluid gel made with agar is a great example. You can make a sauce that doesn’t slide on the plate. You can also keep vinaigrettes emulsified for extended periods of time or prevent homemade applesauce from weeping.
If this is just a passing fancy for you I suggest spending your time and money elsewhere. Consider buying an ISI or pressure cooker instead. You might get more use out of them. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free, though I am by no means the expert on this topic. Below, I’m listing my favorite resources.
Modernist Cuisine (Yes, it’s expensive, but worth it)
Ideas in Food: Great Recipes and Why They Work
The Fat Duck
Eleven Madison Park
Any of Ferran Adria’s books
Websites with Great Info
http://blog.khymos.org/ (they have a 100+ page free downloadable recipe collection)
Places to Buy the Stuff
You can find agar agar at your local asian grocery store. Many grocery stores, especially Wegman’s and Whole Foods have a great selection in the gluten free aisles. You can find locust bean gum, guar gum, etc there.
Have fun and please share your ideas and results