Last night I had my first big flop in molecular gastronomy. I wanted to make mozzarella spheres but I had a couple of problems. #1 we had gone out to dinner with the kids and had some wine, got my daughter to bed late and got started around 9PM after some wine and cocktails. #2 my scale died. Note to self – never ever attempt molecular gastronomy without a scale. I know it might seem intuitive that just winging it isn’t something you should do with anything starting with the word molecular but I really really wanted to do it and thought it would be a good experiment. Today my husband gave me a crash course in our sous vide supreme and we prepared a sous vide of octopus. I will post about that later. In the mean time I’ve got a little sodium algenate mess to clean up and a fridge full of liquid mozzarella.
It was Sunday and I had someone take our 4 year old to a carnival so we had several hours to ourselves. Did we watch a movie? Go out to dinner? Take a nap? Take a passionate roll in the sack? No we decided it was the perfect time to experiment with a 6 pound octopus and take pictures of it.
Several months ago we had an amazing octopus carpaccio at a restaurant. They had cooked the octopus in a sous vide and then sliced it very thinly on a plate with some micro greens, lemon and I think paprika. We have been talking about making it ever since.
We ordered a frozen spanish octopus and were expecting to get a 3-4 pounder but what came in the mail was a 6 pound monster that sat in our fridge defrosting for a couple of days.
We roved the internet for a while to find some videos of people breaking down an octopus. Since our was frozen and not fresh we fortunately didn’t need to “clean” it and take all the ink and yucky inner stuff out of it’s head. Yes if you buy a fresh one from a fish monter you will need to slice open it’s head and pull out all the gunk inside. We pulled out Flavio (I named him of course. Doesn’t everyone name their food?) and put him on a cutting board. Eye side up and then we cut out the beak. This is about as appealing as you might think. That little black thing is an actual beak!
We then flipped it over and cut out the eyes. Fortunately I’d made us a batch of my yummy blackberrry gin coolers. It’s a squirt of home made blackberry syrup which I did with some Thyme, lime, gin, mint and club soda. They helped me deal with all the gushy octo parts and the intense fish smell.
After that we cut off the head and cut apart all the tentacles. Once broken down we washed it in the sink and dried it off with a clean towel. Now we were ready to put in our food saver bags and get into the sous vide. We added just salt, lemon and olive oil to some, added oregano to the mix for others and finally did some with paprika, olive oil, lemon and oregano.
We placed them in the sous vide at 165 and checked them in 7 hours and they still were not tender so we left them in overnight! We had intended them to take them out as soon as we got up but our daughter had a melt down and getting her ready for preschool was harder than breaking down the octopus so I completely forgot about it. When I started planning dinner I suddenly remembered we had an octopus that had been in the sous vide for 19 hours and I ran to take it out. It was pink in the bag, nice and tender but amazingly still in tact. The tentacles have shrunk to more than half their size and are now swimming in lots of pink liquid. I popped them in the fridge and later I’ll put some in the freezer for a later date, but that 6 pound octopus looks like it will feed 4-6 for dinner, but as the intended carpaccio it should be enough to make appetizers for 2 to 3 diner parties. We will try some tonight and tomorrow we will make the carpaccio. More pictures coming on my tumbler feed!
- Experiment #1 Spherical Yogurt
Mom always told me not to play with my food. But mom had never seen Wiley Dufresne on top chef! I have long marveled at molecular gastronomy but as a busy ad executive with little experience in the kitchen I left fancy stuff to the real chefs. Now that I’m taking a work break to spend more time with my daughter I’m doing what any suburban mom would do, I’m experimenting in molecular gastronomy.
Last night I surprised my husband with a fantastic meal of fennel crusted ahi and a spherical yogurt experiment. Luckily my husband is way more of the chef than I am so he’s really into the experiments. Here’s how my day went…
In the afternoon while entertaining kids on a play date at our house I pulled out my agitate bath from the fridge (previously the bubbly snot). Now totally smooth it was ready to make spheres. I got out my shitty imperfect scale and made the yogurt mix I found on molecular recipes . I followed the recipe to a t this time but I will riff on it next time, using this as a base. It makes enough yogurt mix for approximately 50 yogurt balls which was really overkill for a Thursday night family dinner. Next time I will half it and still have too much. After my yogurt mix was made I followed the instructions placing small spoonfuls of the yogurt into the bath. At first I thought I had done it wrong because they sort of hung on the surface but eventually they sunk into the agitate to form balls. I set my timer for 2 minutes and gingerly fished them out. This is trickier than I had anticipated. I had a 3″ fine mesh strainer but the mesh was so fine the agitate (again, think consistency of snot) barely went through and took a long time. I was also getting lots of agitate in the water bath and I found fishing them out of a square bowl challenging because the strainer was too big for the corners. I tried a slotted spoon I had but the slots were big enough the spheres slipped right through like magic. They are slippery little suckers! I will be making a trek to William Sonoma tomorrow for the perfect slotted spoon. Once in the water bath I gently stirred a bit and fished the first one out. It was far from a perfect sphere in the bath but once I got it on the spoon you couldn’t tell. I tried it with some key lime syrup and it was yummy. The yogurt is tangy and sweet and the texture is perfect. A little pillow that bursts in your mouth. The experience is sensual. I can really see building a meal around this for parties.
Making these was really a small time investment once i had all the right tools. the agitate bath took maybe 15 minutes to make the night before, the yogurt mix came together in a few minutes and making the spheres took about 5 minutes. there was maybe 10 minutes of prep time getting all the tools lined up and the water bath prepared. its also fairly efficient and would be easy to do for a party. I was able to make about 10 at a time in my 5″ x 7″ container. The depth of the bath is important. Mine was about 4″ deep and that seemed perfect. I would not go less than 3″ in depth or your balls aren’t going to drop properly. Ok that probably sounds wrong but you get the picture.
Now that i had been ignoring the kids for 15 minutes (after explaining that private parts are to remain private), I thought I’d surprise the them with a treat. It’s sweet, it’s yogurt, it’s cool. Kids should love this right? No. They took one look at the shiny little white balls sitting in pale green syrup and said ‘no’! I should have colored them blue and called them dinosaur eggs. What was I thinking? I was once a great advertising exec, have I forgotten already? Oh well, I loved it. More importantly I saw the possibilities that this blank canvas presents. Suddenly I’m ready to open up my restaurant. I’ll call it chez play dough.
That night when my husband got home I had the first trial waiting. Before dinner I started us with a cocktail of lemoncelo yogurt spheres on cute little spoons I got at restaurant supply. We thought it was ok but the strong vodka taste really overpowered the yogurt. Our search for a perfect pairing continued. After dinner I made a bunch more yogurt spheres and brought the water bath over to the table with the spheres rinsing inside. Then I place sliced fruit, mint, syrups and liquors on the table for us to try mixing. They key lime syrup with tiny mint leaves was a hit but our favorite pairing was putting it in a spoon with a few drops of something called liquid love by Tobin James. It’s essentially chocolate flavored desert wine. The mix tested a bit like an ice cream Sunday. We also tried it with ice wine which was not great and Bailey’s which was surprisingly bad. Then we tried it with star fruit which was good and kiwi which was better. I think it might be best with mango I was just too tired to slices a mango. We also experimented with previously made balls and ones made ala minute. I had read that even after you stop the process in the water bath the gel continues to form so you need to serve them right away. We found that after several hours in the fridge in a water bath they were ok but a bit more firm. They lacked a little of that pillowy texture that was so sensual. They could hang out in the bath for 15-30 minutes without too much loss in quality but beyond that was definitely a compromise.
By the end of dinner we were talking about ways to turn this savory by eliminating the sugar and putting in some herbs or pairing with spice. I saved the bath so that we could see if it can be used twice and tonight I want to do some non sweet versions and maybe the mozzarella spheres. This weekend I think my husband will be showing me how to sous vide so that I can make sous vide octopus.
I’m not a chef. I’m not even a particularly good cook, and I am as far from a scientist as someone can get. I’m a former ad executive and a suburban mom. But last week I found myself web surfing molecular gastronomy for some unknown reason and then purchased a package of Sodium Alginate from amazon. Oh no what have I done? I’m half way to sperification!
So I’m starting a blog to tell the world about my crazy experiments in food as I, artist and suburban mom, attempt to recreate some of the most mind blowing modern cuisine by today’s hot chefs. Wish me luck but most importantly wish my family luck! Next step yogurt balls.