The Second Level of Molecular Gastronomy - The Why

With all the fuss being made over molecular gastronomy, including whether it is even a technique or style of cooking at all, it was hard to resist dabbling in it myself. Why? Because, obviously, in my decade of cooking for friends and relatives, I've mastered all there is to know about fundamental technique, am in touch with where food comes from having harvested rice, picked apples, slaughtered all manner of livestock, poultry and fish, prepared meals from every ingredient known to mankind, and have a technique for presentation worthy of a show at the Met. Okay, none of that is true. I simply wanted to take a shortcut.

While there are plenty of opinions and commentary on the web and in various blog zones regarding the molecular approach to cooking, there is remarkably little in the way of actual, technical advice and instruction; even those from whom you purchase the ingredients. All seem a bit reluctant to hand over much in the way of useful, technical info.

Xantham Gum for instance is a thickener. But so is Methylcellulose. Sodium Alginate is also a thickener, but it also helps with spherification. So... which do I choose, and when?

The Willpowder site offers little guidance. The amount of detail they include wouldn't fill a Post-It note and, yet, this is an entire avenue of cooking that has no pas upon which to draw.

As I am genetically predisposed to ignore directions, I trudged forth with a basic experiment - food "air". I thought all I needed to know was that agar agar, when dissolved in liquid, and blended, made foam. Or, rather, one variation of A foam.

Dismal failure. It was not the quick-and-dirty "with this magic potion, all research requirements go out the window." As I stood there, pained and dumbfounded, contemplating some form of self-destructive action involving a serrated knife (I tend to take my kitchen failures very poorly), I could feel enthusiasm for the rest of the meal dwindle a bit. However, I continued on.

As I prepared the rest of the meal (steak au poivre), the fog began to lift. A thick slice of reality was served up by my sufficiently-distracted brain in the form of, "But why were you making a foam in the first place?" It reminded me of a question a buddy of mine asked of me after reading a few pages of the screenplay I was writing; "Why are the characters doing this?" I was so focused on the dialog, the interaction between characters, and their various adventures that I forgot to include why they were doing this in the first place. I didn't really have an answer for either question.

In the case of a foam, I'm curious what effect it has on texture and how it can make a sauce that is otherwise a bit thin more "clingy" to the dish it is dressing so, in the case of molecular pursuits, there is some direction in my quest. As for the screenplay, I'm leaving that on simmer...


R-Co said…
The buddy that advised you about the screenplay sounds like a VERY wise man. I'd seek his counsel often. He might advise you that the next step in your MG experiments is to invent a way to put an entire meal in foam form and deliver it from a can under pressure, like so much whipped cream. So instead of squirting whipped cream directly in your mouth, it can be steak au-whatever with all the attendant side dishes, all conveniently packed into a creamy, easily-delivered foam package. For the gourmet on the go. Crazy? Or crazy like a fox?

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