Authors: Jason Logsdon
Tags: #Cooking, #Methods, #Gourmet
Conversely, taking something small and making it bigger can also reinvent a dish. For liquid components using a foam is a great way to increase the size without increasing the actual amount of the ingredient.
Change the Texture
Changing textures is a staple of modernist dishes. Changing the texture not only affects the flavor of the food, but also how it feels in your mouth and its appearance.
Using the techniques and ingredients laid out in this book makes it very easy to change the texture of your dishes. Liquids can be thickened or turned into foams. Turning oils into powders is a great way to change up the texture of a dish.
Gels and films are a unique way to present ingredients that would traditionally be liquids. Is there a component you can puree, foam, and then dehydrate?
Change the Use of an Ingredient
Is there an accent ingredient that can be made into the star of the dish? People have been doing this for centuries, from the soup in a bread bowl to Korean BBQ wrapped in lettuce leaves.
If you need more information about a specific modernist cooking term, technique, or ingredient, you can check out our modernist glossary at:
Modernist cooking is a very broad term that encompasses most of cooking. In this book we are focusing on a subset of modernist cooking dealing with many of the new techniques and ingredients available to us. In order to understand how to use these new tools there are a few things to learn first.
There are a few concepts used in modernist cooking, and actually in all cooking, that are critical to understanding how the recipes will work.
Dispersion refers to the process of evenly distributing one ingredient into another one. Proper dispersion is critical to ensure the ingredient affects all of the mixture it is going into instead of forming clumps.
Different ingredients are dispersed in different ways, and the most effective way will be discussed in the chapter on that ingredient. For instance, sugar is easily dispersed in hot water while flour will form clumps.
Many of the ingredients need to be hydrated before they will work. Hydration is simply the process of adding water to the ingredient. You also often need to bring the liquid to a specific temperature to ensure the ingredient will hydrate properly. For instance, after you add flour to water to make a gravy you have to heat it up before the flour will thicken it.
This is also true of many baking preparations, such as letting popover dough sit for 30 minutes for the flour to fully hydrate.
Many of the ingredients will specify the ratio they should be used in. All the ratios refer to the weights of the ingredients. For example, an agar recipe might say to add 2% agar. The 2% means that the weight of the agar should be 2% of the weight of the liquid it is being added to. So if you had 300 grams of fruit juice you would add 6 grams of agar to it, or 300 x 0.02.
Viscosity is the “resistance to flow” that a liquid possesses. At its most basic this just measures how easy something is to pour. Water has a low viscosity and maple syrup, especially cold out of the refrigerator, has a high viscosity.
Many of the ingredients in this book can thicken liquids and increase their viscosity.
There are two contradictory thoughts about modernist cooking and using some of the very powerful ingredients.
The first thought is that everything must be very precisely measured and the recipes must be followed to the letter.
The second thought is that ingredients from different companies will have different strengths and the quantities may have to be adjusted, especially if the recipe doesn’t specify an exact brand.
Both of these statements are true and come into play depending on what you are trying to accomplish.
However, this is nothing new since both of these statements are true for traditional cooking as well. Unbleached flour from King Arthur will thicken gravy, make cakes, and form pie crusts differently than Gold Medal unbleached flour, much less their Gold Medal cake flour. A recipe calling for a “large tomato” leaves a lot of room for what size that actually is.
As home cooks we have learned to live with those differences and accept that our dish might not turn out exactly the same as the dish from the recipe, and no one will notice. For chefs, however, reproducing the exact same dish is of the utmost importance so these nuances really come into play.
I think because modernist cooking is mainly being practiced in restaurants by talented chefs there has been an emphasis on exact measurements that is very intimidating to the home cook. While the exactness is required in restaurant kitchens, home cooks can afford to be much looser.
Yes, you probably need a scale to measure grams, but this is mainly because the quantities are so small. I could adapt the recipes to call for 1/32 of a teaspoon, but most home cooks wouldn’t have one. This makes measuring by weight very effective.
Also, since the ingredients interact with the particles in each other, the volume begins to become less important than the mass, expressed by weight.
Many of the ingredients are also powders and can have very different volumes based on how they have been stored. Michael Ruhlman pointed out that a cup of flour can weigh between 4 and 6 ounces, a 50% difference, depending on how packed it is.
All of these reasons highlight why we use scales and weight measurements instead of volume measurements. Plus, there’s no measuring cups to clean!
Remember though, just because you have precision at your fingertips doesn’t mean you have to obsess over it. All of the recipes in this book provide gram measurements for most ingredients, but use common sense when measuring them. If you are within 1-2% of the correct weight of any ingredient then it should be fine. For 500 grams of water, about 2 cups, that is a 5 to 10 gram difference. For 3.2 grams of agar that is a 0.03 to 0.06 gram swing.
To someone not familiar with using a scale it can be a little intimidating until you use it once or twice. The main concept of using the scale is the learning to “tare” or “zero” the scale. All digital scales will have a “tare” / “zero” button. What this does is reset the weight to zero.
This allows you to measure all the ingredients in the same bowl. You simply turn on the scale and place the bowl on it. Hit the tare button so it resets to zero. Add the next ingredient, then tare it to zero again. Repeat for all the ingredients.
You will most likely have to use a larger scale for the liquids or main ingredients and a gram scale for the modernist ingredients.
Part of the fun with modernist cooking is experimenting with different flavors. Many of the techniques start out with a flavored liquid. Here are some common sources of liquids that can be turned into foams, airs, and gels to get you started.
Most citrus juices work well as airs and light foams. You may want to add some sugar or water to help balance out the flavors.
Most pantries contain many pre-made, strong sauces that work great as light foams or gels. Soy sauce, mirin, or fish sauce components are great on Asian-inspired dishes. Worcester sauce, steak sauce, and thin vinegar-based BBQ sauce based components add texture and flavor to steak, pork, and chicken.
Vinegar is often used in a dish or sauce to add brightness and acidity. You can take that same concept but use the vinegar to create a flavorful component to also add visual appeal to the dish. You may want to add some sugar or water to the vinegar to balance the flavor if it is too strong.
Vegetable and Fruit Juices
For a more subtle, yet just as interesting take you can use vegetable or fruit juices. If you have a juicer or good blender you can make your own, otherwise many grocery stores sell a variety of natural juices. If there are lots of particles in the juice then be sure to strain it through a chinois or cheesecloth if you want a more refined presentation.
These components can be added to traditional dishes for a dramatic flavor and visual effect. Some great pairings are apple cider on pork chops, carrot on peas and pancetta, or a cranberry on turkey.
Coffees and teas open up a wide range of liquids and flavors you can use in your dishes. Brew the coffee or tea then you can turn it into a foam or gel and add it to dishes. From the whimsical, like orange-peppermint air on cake, to the hearty, like french roast coffee pudding on steak, you have many interesting options.
For another take on teas, you can create your own tea by steeping herbs, spices, and aromatics in hot water. I really enjoy thyme and rosemary air on pork, juniper and thyme foam on duck, or orange peel and fennel fluid gel on salmon.
We are continually adding and reviewing modernist equipment as it becomes available.
You can find them on our website at:
Modernist cooking can use a wide variety of equipment and tools. Many of them have very specific uses and are only used for advanced techniques. We want to focus on the more accessible equipment, most of which can be used in traditional cooking as well.
Most of the equipment in this section can be found on Amazon.com but we also have a list of other sources in our Ingredient and Tool Sources section in the references.
There are many different tools and pieces of equipment that modernist chefs use. These range from $5 tweezers used in plating to $10,000 rotary evaporators. Even with all this variety, someone getting started can get by with just four items, costing under $100 combined.
Then, depending on your interests you can invest some money in different sections of molecular gastronomy, though almost every technique covered in this book can be done with very inexpensive tools.
There are also a few kits available that come with many of the modernist ingredients as well as some standard tools. I have used the Cuisine R-Evolution kit from Molecular-R and it comes with a good variety of tools and ingredients for about $60.
Gram scale, $10-20
Kilogram / pound scale, $10-20
Immersion blender, $30-60
Weighing dishes, $1-2
Hemispherical or spherical molds, $10-20
Plastic or silicon molds, $10-20
Acetate sheets, $5-10