Playing with Food; Home Edition
November 7, 2010 3:35 AM   Subscribe

Molecular gastronomy - the use of industrial and scientific processes in the culinary arts - has been discussed before, but in the last few years a number of tools and techniques have appeared that make some of the fancy pantsy schmanzy creations of molecular gastronomy possible for the home cook...

posted by twoleftfeet (26 comments total) 109 users marked this as a favorite
Also, mentioned in previous posts but worth mentioning again here: A list of unusual flavor pairings and a great site to find more flavor pairings.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:36 AM on November 7, 2010 [11 favorites]

Also worth mentioning is the six-volume Modernist Cuisine.
posted by James Scott-Brown at 4:01 AM on November 7, 2010

I am very interested in sous-vide cooking but dang, those suckers cost a lot.
posted by Kitteh at 4:16 AM on November 7, 2010

Very nice post, I've been wanting to try a lot of these things for some time, but so far have only gotten around to sous-vide. I used the beer cooler method linked above and had excellent results.
posted by arcticbluejay at 4:22 AM on November 7, 2010

All this semester, the hottest ticket at Harvard has been this series of lectures called Science and Cooking, featuring folks like Grant Achatz and Wylie Dufresne. They're streaming them live and they're slowly putting up the earlier ones on Youtube.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:37 AM on November 7, 2010 [9 favorites]

Cooking for Geeks, by Jeff Potter, the book and the website blog...fantastic!
posted by zagyzebra at 4:48 AM on November 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

Count me out. When I want m.g. I'll drop a couple bucks on twinkies the way god intended.

Although I hear wd-50 has some sort of eggs benedict analogue that features a cubic poached egg that performs some sort of starburst like action in your mouth.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:03 AM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've done the sous vide steak in a cooler thing from seriouseats.

It really works, even though it feels a bit weird to just drop the the vacuum sealed steam into a cooler and go watch tv for an hour. Probably the cheapest sous vide test setup you can do...\
posted by Lord_Pall at 5:19 AM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've kind of shied away from molecular gastronomy -- I used to live two doors down from WD-50, and had been there 7 years before it moved in and was a little unhappy about how the bodega owner that had used to be on that site had gotten priced out. I also just plain didn't get the idea behind WD-50 -- if I'm spending $25 on a pork chop, I'd like it to LOOK like a pork chop, thank you very much.

But some of these applications -- the sous-vide in particular - seem a little more down-to-earth useful, so I am cautiously intrigued.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:38 AM on November 7, 2010

Fun playing with food! I really enjoyed reading the This Little Piglet blog, thanks.

Curious what's available in molecular gastronomy in NYC I found one restaurant, Gilt, also has seasonal recipes online.
posted by nickyskye at 6:46 AM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

PS excellent post.
posted by nickyskye at 6:51 AM on November 7, 2010

Thanks for the post, twoleftfeet! - I've been meaning to try sous vide for a long time but never got around to it. Definitely going to try the beer cooler method (my digital meat thermometer tells me that my tap hot water gets up to 53'C/127'F... not quite hot enough, but a cup or two of boiling water ought to do it).

Couldn't find any definitive charts on how long to cook for, based on the volume/thickness of the meat. Did find a kinda-sorta version here [pdf].
posted by porpoise at 7:05 AM on November 7, 2010

Alinea At Home is the blog of a woman who is cooking her way through the Alinea cookbook (such a pretty cookbook); which often delves into the delightful world of molecular gastronomy.
posted by ambilevous at 7:11 AM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've played around with hydrocolloids, mostly making "caviars". It's a ton of fun, and would actually be a great kitchen science project to do with kids. In my limited experience if you're using it for actual food you need to eat stuff ASAP - the textures go downhill fast.
posted by ecurtz at 7:22 AM on November 7, 2010

Handled deftly and with a little restraint, molecular gastronomy can provide some really wonderful dishes (I'm thinking of Ferran Adria, Jose Andres, and Grant Achatz here). But too much of a good thing can easily go bad, and at some point, it starts to become more about the neato factor and less about the food. I could never afford to go, but looking through the gallery of the food at WD-50, I get the sense that instead of a meal, Dufresne is simply selling you one long sustained prank.

That said, I can't wait to try the beer cooler sous vide steak either.
posted by Gilbert at 7:30 AM on November 7, 2010

Dufresne is less prankish than Achatz is actually, and it isn't close. Not a statement on food quality, but WD-50 is MG done well, as is Alinea. That said its basically applying industrial processes used by agroindustry to fine dining, and it doesn't do it for me at all. Also Gilt was MG when Liebrandt was in the kitchen (Chef @ Corton) it really isn't anymore.

Remember - Sous-vide was invented to feed the military and school kids. I also think the MG trend has peaked and is in decline- places like NOMA that focus on hyperlocal foraged foods seem to be the hot thing right now. Note - these places do use some MG techniques (mostly CVAP and sous-vide) but only as a method, as opposed to places like Alinea where the method is a big part of what the places are all about.

Of course guys like Veyrat and Bras have been doing things like this for decades, but this is the new thing, and of course that can't be in France.
posted by JPD at 7:40 AM on November 7, 2010

Geek cooking goes mainstream: Tasty experiment: Brownies in an orange on the today show.
posted by alms at 7:50 AM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

except that baking a lemon souffle in a lemon is classic. So basically you are just taking the easy way out.
posted by JPD at 7:58 AM on November 7, 2010

Does this stuff actually taste good enough to make it worth the trouble? I mean, sushi took off like gangbusters in America, which means anything is possible, but even now the whole molecular thing seems kind of marginal. Not a lot of molecular on the suburban strip malls, at least in my experience.

So, really - is it really all that good, or just an amusing fad?
posted by IndigoJones at 8:32 AM on November 7, 2010

So, really - is it really all that good, or just an amusing fad?

Depends. In the wrong hands, it's as absurd as you think. But I've eaten at WD50 and the Harry-met-sally moments, if you'll pardon the pun, kept on coming.

For those of you in NY, Kent Kirshenabum of NYU chemistry runs the Experimental Cuisine Collective.
posted by lalochezia at 8:58 AM on November 7, 2010

yep - in the wrong hands it is absolutely dreadful. For an example of some tragically bad MG I suggest you google reviews of L'Esguard. Bloggers who are ITB and tend to handle things with kid gloves have absolutely savaged it. And then there is the other form of shitty MG, in which it is used as an excuse for mediocre ingredients.

Also at this point if you eating in virtually any fine dining establishment in the west chances are your protein was cooked sous-vide. It is at the point where I hesitate to call in an MG technique.
posted by JPD at 9:58 AM on November 7, 2010

I was watching Future Foods yesterday, and they decided to create a substance that could be used as both a packing material and a food. They succeeded by microwaving a combination of corn starch and methylcellulose. Methylcellulose is an emulsifier that has the fun property of dissolving at low temperatures, and gelling at high ones.

It is also the main ingredient in Citrucel, a popular fiber and constipation aid. Be careful with how much you use, culinary rocket surgeons.
posted by hanoixan at 11:51 AM on November 7, 2010

(Thank you lalochezia and JPD)
posted by IndigoJones at 4:13 PM on November 7, 2010

Had to pop into work for a bit; saw a nice big juicy clean Biorad styrofoam shipping container.

It's totally worth it.

Filled it with hot tap water and a cup of microwave-boiled water to bring it to ~55'C/140'F, dropped a ribeye in a ziplock bag and the probe of a digital meat thermometer. Swapped out a half cup of water with a microwaved half cup every 20 minutes or so to keep it ~52'C/130-5'F. Got impatient/hungry after an hour and a half, fished it out, and seared it.

Best ribeye I've ever made myself. It could have benefited from an additional half hour or so to break up the extra connective tissue. For sirloin/NY Strip, 1.5 hours is probably enough. For tri-tip or flank, probably 2.5 to 3 hours.

Cons: it takes an hour and half to two hours for a 2cm/0.75" thick ribeye.

I can't decide which is more ghetotastic; styrofoam box/nuked-water sous vide or popbottle/bendy-straw hard-assed apple cider...
posted by porpoise at 4:26 PM on November 7, 2010

I've been wanting to play with an anti-griddle since I first heard about it on some sciencey show a year of so back. I'm not even sure what I want to make with one, I just like the name; anti-griddle. Not "cold top" or "freezer-plate"... anti-griddle. If this thing came in contact with a regular griddle?


Awesome. Plus, it feels fun to just say.

And I'm going to have to experiment with that Agar thing, it sounds like neatness could be derived.
posted by quin at 2:58 PM on November 8, 2010

Very interesting! I will have to try. Thanks for sharing.
posted by happywhite at 10:35 AM on November 18, 2010

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