Ok so the term ‘molecular cooking’ and many of the associated techniques are considered so yesterday by today’s leading chefs, even though many of these chefs continue to use science as a means of refining their craft, its now more in vogue to call it modernist cooking or modernist cuisine (inspired by the amazing book by the same title).
Anyway the point of this article is to highlight one technique we like to use (when we feel it makes sense to the dish and adds great flavour and texture); agar agar spherification. Now unlike regular spherification you will not end up with a caviar style texture (where you have small caviar like gel spheres filled with liquid), instead you end up with solid little gel balls, similar to tapioca.
The technique involves taking a flavoured water based liquid, heating it to 80°C and dissolving in around 1% of Agar Agar. The mixture must be kept warm so it doesn’t set (as agar agar will set by the time it reaches room temperature). The next step involves taking vegetable oil which has been left in the freezer for at least 2 hours and pouring it into a tall glass. Next; fill a syringe with the agar agar mixed solution (while still warm and in liquid state) and gently drop single droplets into the chilled oil. The result will be small jellied pearls. The final couple of steps are removing the pearls from the oil and rinsing them in fresh water then leaving them to marinate (for further flavour) in the same liquid used for the base mixture.
The science here involves the fact that agar sets at a relatively high temperature compared to other gelling agents and that oil (unlike water) doesn’t freeze, so it is both cold enough to instantly gel the agar agar mixture while also having a high viscosity which means by the time the droplets of agar mixture fall to the bottom of the glass they are already set!
So here are a couple of ways in which we have used this technique; the first is by making a liquid from dashi, dark soy sauce and liquid smoke, the three elements are mixed together and then turned into pearls using the above method, the final pearls are then left to marinate in fish sauce, these are then served along side our salmon sashimi, preserved candied lemon, radish and nasturtium leaf.
The second way we used this technique was to create a Guinness based agar mixture which was marinated in sweetened Guinnes and then served with a stout mousse glazed in chocolate and gold dust, banana sponge and banana meringue, passion fruit caramel and chocolate crumble.