Molecular gastronomists use special techniques, ingredients and cooking principles to encourage certain chemical reactions to occur. These reactions, in turn, produce startling new flavors and textures. One popular technique is cooking meat sous vide, a French term that means "under vacuum." Here's how it works: First, you pour water in a pan and heat it to a low temperature. The exact temperature varies depending on the type and thickness of the meat, but it never exceeds the boiling point of water (212 degrees F, 100 degrees C). For steak, the water temperature will be about 140 degrees F (60 degrees C). Next, you place your meat, along with seasonings, into a heat-safe plastic bag, seal it and place it in the hot-water bath. The meat cooks slowly in the heated water and retains its moisture. After approximately 30 minutes, you remove the meat from the bag and place it in a hot frying pan. Sear the meat briefly on each side before serving. When you cut into the meat, you will find it to be juicy, tender and delicious. Another interesting technique is spherification, which involves making liquid-filled beads that, to use the words of a writer at Gourmet magazine, "explode in the mouth with a pleasingly juicy pop" [source: Abend]. Ferran Adrià, the chef of El Bulli Restaurant in Spain, first developed the technique and has since perfected it for a variety of dishes. Spherification relies on a simple gelling reaction between calcium chloride and alginate, a gumlike substance extracted from brown seaweed. For example, to make liquid olives, you first blend calcium chloride and green olive juice. Then you mix alginate into water and allow the mixture to sit overnight to remove air bubbles. Finally, you delicately drop the calcium chloride/olive juice mixture into the alginate and water. The calcium chloride ions cause the long-chain alginate polymers to become cross-linked, forming a gel. Because the calcium chloride/olive juice mixture enters the alginate in the shape of a droplet, the gel forms a bead. The size of the bead can vary dramatically, making it possible to create jelly-shelled equivalents of everything from caviar to gnocchi and ravioli. Flash freezing can also be used to create fluid-filled fare. It's simple: Expose food to extremely low temperatures, and it will be frozen on the surface, liquid in the center. The technique is typically used to develop semifrozen desserts with stable, crunchy surfaces and cool, creamy centers. At Chicago's Alinea restaurant, chef Grant Achatz uses flash freezing to create a culinary delight consisting of a frozen disk of mango purée surrounding a core of roasted sesame oil. As a San Francisco blogger and food lover relates, the dish arrives with instructions: "We were instructed to allow the whole thing to melt away on our tongues. An extraordinary dance of sweet, tangy, salty, icy, creamy, oily ..." [source: Gastronomie]. Flavor juxtaposition is one of the most important tenets of molecular gastronomy. Hervé This says juxtaposition can be used to intensify a more flavorful ingredient by pairing it with a much less flavorful ingredient. Or, you can combine two dominant flavors, such as chocolate and orange, to reinforce the taste of both. Either way, understanding the molecules responsible for flavors is helpful. Molecular gastronomists have learned that foods sharing similar volatile molecules -- those that leave food as a vapor and waft to our nose -- taste good when eaten together. This concept has led to some unusual flavor pairings, like strawberry and coriander, pineapple and blue cheese, and cauliflower (caramelized) and cocoa. If you want to test some of these techniques, you'll need the right equipment. On the next page, we'll review some essential tools of the molecular gastronomist.
Even if your culinary credentials are limited to boiling pasta and dumping on some canned tomato sauce, you undoubtedly have heard your share of cooking rules and old wives' tales. Preparing pasta has three well-known rules all by itself: add olive oil to the cooking water to prevent it from sticking, throw pasta on the wall to see if it's ready and rinse pasta after cooking and draining. Have you ever wondered if these time-honored techniques work? Why do they or don't they work? Is there a physical or chemical basis for what's happening to the food as it cooks?
These are the kinds of questions physical chemist Hervé This began to ask in the 1980s, inspired by a soufflé disaster in his own kitchen. The cheese soufflé recipe he was following gave strict instructions: Add the egg yolks two at a time. This, however, added in all of the yolks together and suffered the consequences.
Instead of giving up on soufflés, This started studying them, analyzing conventional wisdom to see what worked and what didn't. Soon, he was collecting "cooking precisions" -- rules like the one given for preparing soufflé above -- for a variety of dishes. As he did, This began to realize that a systematic, scientific study of food preparation had largely been ignored.
He set out to change that. This partnered with Nicholas Kurti, emeritus professor emeritus of physics at Oxford University, and the two physical scientists launched a new discipline: molecular gastronomy. At first, the field attracted few devotees. Then, as the two demonstrated that understanding the science of cooking could lead to amazing culinary creations, chefs and foodies began to salivate. Today, several renowned chefs have embraced molecular gastronomy to concoct seemingly bizarre dishes that are shockingly delicious. Consider snail porridge, what one diner has described as "successively savory, sweet, snaily, crunchy and tart … nothing less than magical" [source: The Independent]. Or nitro-scrambled egg-and-bacon ice cream. These are just some of the delights that await the molecular gastronomist.
But what exactly is molecular gastronomy? Is it science? If so, how can science revolutionize what is generally considered an artistic endeavor? This article will answer all of those questions by exploring every facet of molecular gastronomy -- the tools, the techniques and the ingredients.
Before you run into the kitchen (or lab), let's start with a basic definition to understand how molecular gastronomy compares to other related fields and endeavors.
Molecular is one which has caused much confusion and argument, a comparatively fresh expression. A few of the confusion comes from wanting to put a contemporary spin-on a much- term that is old. That word is gastronomy, which, considering that the 1800s, has explained the-art of choosing, serving, preparing and enjoying foods that is great. If planning meals is an artform it has to be an action demanding creativity and innovative ability, maybe not specialized knowledge. But gastronomy, like agronomy and astronomy, state, appears to explain a rigorous, medical area of research.
In 1989, Hervé This and Nicholas Kurti determined to deliberately highlight the technological aspects by coining the phrase molecular and gastronomy of cooking. The inclusion of the phrases "molecular" and "bodily" throw cooking in a brand new light. It was not beauty and wonder, but compounds minding well known procedures that characterize the behaviour of gases, fluids and all solids. Unexpectedly, the "craft" of choosing, preparing, serving and enjoying great foods became the "science" to do so.
Physical and molecular gastronomy was explained by this as chemistry and the science supporting the groundwork of a meal, and he started examining the medical validity of principles that were cooking and old-wives' tales in a study environment that has been part kitchen, component hightech laboratory. He introduced the initial doctorate in physical and molecular gastronomy in the University of London in 1996 and also formed the very first Global Course on Physical and Molecular Gastronomy.
Maybe not everybody covered the area. Some experts complained the newest area did not recognize intangible facets of the build, like spontaneousness or a cook instinct and overemphasized the technological procedures of cooking. The others just stated it had been complicated and overly hard for typical chefs in kitchens that were typical. One critic has been the manager of Food Illustrated, Bill Sitwell. Sitwell claims the current meaning of gastronomy lies past the grasp of home cooks as well as most food fans. Also Blumenthal, who uses the science of cooking to success that was great, has challenged the correctness of the word.
To only molecular gastronomy, after Kurti died, the title of the fledgling discipline formally changed from physical and molecular gastronomy in 1998. He also started to facilitate his purely scientific description of the subject. This recognizes that cooking calls for much more than science and engineering, now. In addition, it includes love and artwork -- elements which aren't therefore readily explained by the behaviour of compounds and atoms. In this fresh construction, molecular gastronomy is more correctly understood to be the "art and science" of choosing, preparing, serving and loving meals. The others favor a more whimsical description, including the scientific discipline of deliciousness, which implies that feeling and awareness are equally as significant in cooking as chemistry and physics.
The mental aspect of cooking could be hard to assess, however, the science is now better daily understood. We are going to start to investigate a few of the research next.