posted by andrew, Jul 27, 2007
This blog is going into production a little faster than I had anticipated due to the arrival of a shipment of chemicals and the inevitable playing around in the kitchen that results from having new toys. Nonetheless, I’m starting to have some problems with some of the availability of recipes for doing some of the more out-there future cooking suggested by the molecular gastronomy boosters.
My main problem is a lack of recipes in British measurements, as most of the formulas I’ve found are in metric and, more frustratingly, are articulated in terms of mass rather than volume. So, I set out the other day to see what I could discover using volume rather than mass.
I was playing around with Xanthab Gum, partly because it arrived first and partly because I’m curious about geling liquids (rather than making ravioli or caviar or some of the other chemical concoctions). Also, how often do you get to cook with an ingredient that starts with ‘X’? Anyway, I was using some Dole 100% juice Berry Cocktail because we were almost out of it, I was sick of it, and it actually makes Shawna sick to drink it undiluted (a certain theme of the day’s experiments is the usage of cast-off beverages). I cut it with some water to build a more substantial liquid and begin to experiment.
Initially I tried whisking 1/2 teaspoon of Xanthan Gum into 1 cup of juice. This produced a clumpy mess with some gelling. Mostly, though, I ended up with think chunks of white powder suspended in a slightly fluid purple goo. I then tried heating the mixture in a sauce pan over medium heat. This resulted in more mixing, but there were still large clumps of powder floating in a runny goo.
Shawna, who was watching all this (to make sure I didn’t blow my hand off, I tend to think), suggested that, like flour in a cake, I should try whisking the Xanthan Gum before adding to the liquid. Also, I had decided to blend the ingredients at this point. Blending and pre-whisking eventually produced a clean mixture but also suggested more refinement for the technique. Dropping liquid and then Xanthan Gum into the blender and pressing “Liquify” (presumably because “Gooify” isn’t an option) led to Xanthan Gum powder spraying all over the inside of my blender. It seems the process for working with Xanthan Gum is this: with a dry whisk, whisk Xanthan Gum in a container prior to adding to liquid to break up clumps, then whisk Xanthan Gum into liquid, then add mixture to blender for more thorough gooification.
Getting back to the experiment, the 1/2 teaspoon + 1 cup ratio of Xanthan Gum to juice cocktail resulted in a slightly thickened liquid the color of stomach juice (vomit colored semi-solids was a theme of the day’s work). I decided to add another 1/2 teaspoon and this resulted in the mixture in the above picture. If you are in the need of producing a think, gelatinous goo (that doesn’t look very appetizing), it seems that 1t of Xanthan to 1c liquid may be your best bet. It was also interesting to note that during clean-up, I discovered that the aerated Xanthan Gum and liquid mixture will float on water. I decided, despite the rather wretched taste of severely diluted berry juice, to try drinking the water/goo layers. It was actually drinkable with the goo and the water blending in my mouth. I think this may be a possible avenue for making interesting floating cocktails.
I’ve seen a method for making an elBulli Americano over at Hungry In Hogtown and wonder if xanthan gum could be substituted for the gelatin.
Speaking of clean-up, however, I’m also starting to see why so many molecular gastronomy techniques mention an immersion blender. Getting xanthan gum gel off of the bottom of a blender is an exercise in wrist suppleness, as it gets everywhere. Also, I’m a little worried about putting this stuff down my drain. Of course, if I thought the xanthan gum was bad to clean, the sodium alginate experiments were even worse …
Anyway, as I ponder using this stuff in a whipped cream maker, I’m going to have to get back to my “real” job, and leave you with the promise to discuss why volume based measurements seem like a dead end as I start to talk about my failed early attempts to produce spherical caviar and ravioli.