April 29, 2016

A Primer into Molecular Gastronomy

As a culinary graduate, it’s important to expose yourself to new and interesting ideas pertaining to food and the art of cooking. Doing so presents fresh ideas and techniques, and that awareness will only make you a better chef in the long run. Perhaps one of the most interesting culinary developments to take off in recent years is molecular gastronomy, an intriguing cooking style that makes use of scientific principles and the latest research and developments. Even if you never pursue a career in this cooking niche, it’s important to open yourself to the fundamentals. The following is a handy primer into the basics of molecular gastronomy:

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What is molecular gastronomy exactly?
The idea for this exciting new approach to cooking was described during a 1969 presentation by Hungarian physicist Nicholas Kurti, per the Science of Cooking. In that presentation, called “The Physicist in the Kitchen,” Kurti discussed a fundamental lack of scientific know-how in something as essential as the food we eat. Or as he put it, “I think it is a sad reflection on our civilization that while we can and do measure the temperature in the atmosphere of Venus, we do not know what goes on inside our souffles.” To address this problem, Kurti suggested using more scientific knowledge and instrumentation in the kitchen, which would give chefs more control over the food they created. In the time since Kurti’s speech, molecular gastronomists everywhere have maintained that dedication to breaking new ground in the kitchen.

What techniques have evolved from molecular gastronomy?
As Organic Authority explained, molecular gastronomy is most interested in using science to transform food and offer new textures. To do just that, molecular gastronomists have implemented a wide variety of new and innovative cooking methods, resulting in daring taste sensations. The techniques include:

  • Powdered food: Maltodextrin is a substance similar in composition to starch. Chefs will pair that with olive oil to create a unique powder for baking.
  • Flash frozen: The use of liquid nitrogen is quite popular among gastronomy enthusiasts. It freezes foods quickly, preserving the texture without causing crystals to form.
  • Sous vide: This is a French phrase that translates to “under vacuum.” It’s a method that involves cooking foods inside airtight bags submerged in water for several hours. The result is more evenly cooked dishes that are extra tender.
  • Deconstruction: This is an especially popular technique. Here, dishes are broken into separate sections or “building blocks.” The aim is to allow people to eat as they see fit and create individualized flavor combinations.

What sorts of dishes can be made via molecular gastronomy?
Given the experimental nature involved in this technique, chefs have come up with some truly interesting, sometimes one-of-a-kind dishes, according to MolecularRecipes.com. That includes transparent ravioli made from a “disappearing” pasta, cocktails frozen inside of ice chunks, pumpkins in the form of a bonbon, lavender honey ice cream, eggless scotch flan and edible river stones (made of agalita and lactose). There are also spheres of tomato water and basil oil, chocolate that features coffee and black olive, Caribbean citrus pavlova, white sangria in suspension, liquid olives and black sesame sponge cake. Molecular gastronomy is all about finding new and interesting ways to eat simple, tasty ingredients.

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How can I experiment with molecular gastronomy?

As it turns out, it’s relatively easy to begin whipping up some of those aforementioned dishes. Toque Tips mentioned that a lot of molecular gastronomy comes down to what tools you have available. A syringe is especially helpful since it is involved in a number of the gastronomic techniques. It’s also a good idea to have access to an emulsifier (preferably an electric one) given all the blending and whipping involved. Since you’ll also be creating plenty of uniquely shaped dishes, you’ll need a couple of silicone molds on hand. Scales are also important, and precise measurements are key to well-balanced dishes. If you’re taking part in Sous vide you might want to look into getting a thermal cooker.

As for specific advice into molecular gastronomy, the folks at Khymos offered up several tips. First and foremost, you need to control the texture and flavor of all food, and that means maintaining aspects like moisture content, overall thickness, spiciness, the interactions between ingredients and the effect of temperature changes. It’s also important that you use fresh, raw ingredients, which have more rich and noticeable flavors. You should also take the time to study concepts like heat conductance and transfer, which will be important to controlling your dishes. Finally, never be afraid to experiment, as breaking new ground is always at the forefront of the molecular gastronomy trend.