Monday, March 12, 2012

We're going MOLECULAR: Honey Caviar

When I was a kid, one of my favorite playtime adventures was to create what I called "experiments." This messy game involved mixing random things together to see what happened.

This sometimes involved inedible messes, like the ever-popular baking soda and vinegar mixture. But sometimes, the "experiments" were edible.

Once in a while, they were actually good.

Since my parents were frugal, and had no interest in wasting food, they usually guided my experiments, while letting me think it was all my idea. One classic case was the day my dad and I whipped up a batter for potato pancakes in the blender.

Other experiments included mixing things into cream cheese to make a filling for celery sticks, or getting creative with salad and salad dressings. None of it was earthshaking, but it nurtured the notion that it was okay to mix things together and see what happened.

When molecular gastronomy appeared on the food scene, my first thought was, "I want do DO that." Not that I wanted to go to restaurants and try the food - I wanted to go into the kitchen and PLAY.

Unfortunately, when the idea first burst onto the scene, it was difficult to find the ingredients in less-than-industrial quantities. And then, some of the ingredients are used in very small quantities. I wasn't about to buy a five-gallon pail of something that I would use in 1-gram increments.

Speaking of which - most kitchen scales aren't accurate in quantities that small, and I wasn't willing to invest in a lab scale.

So I set aside my dreams of liquid nitrogen tanks in the kitchen and went back to primitive tools like sharp knives and hot fire.

Not for long, though, because some smart companies have begun packaging molecular gastronomy ingredients in kits that make sense for the home user.

The one thing I was most fascinated by in the world of molecular gastronomy was the "pearls" that chefs were making from all sorts of ingredients. Little squishy balls of flavor. What's not to love? And they looked so pretty. Like caviar, but with a seemingly unlimited array of flavors.

Armed with a brand new molecular gastronomy kit from a company called Molecule-R Flavors, I settled on making honey caviar. I thought the color would be pretty, and honey pairs well with both sweet and savory, so I thought it would be useful as well as ... well, odd.

The kit included a few hardware items, like measuring spoons, a small straining spoon, some plastic tubing, and a syringe/dropper device (like a turkey injector, but without the needle.)

It also included packets of pre-measured ingredients and a d DVD with video instructions.

The kit ingredient I used was agar-agar which is a gelling agent derived from algae that's sometimes used in Asian cuisine.

Honey Caviar

1/3 cup water
1/2 cup honey
2 grams agar-agar
Vegetable oil, chilled (about 2 cups)
Cold water (about 2 cups)

Combine the water, honey, and agar-agar in a small saucepan. Heat, stirring, until the mixture comes to a boil.

Transfer it to a small bowl and let it cool until it begins to thicken a bit, but is still loose enough to be drawn into the syringe/dropper.

Drip the honey mixture into the cold oil. You should see it forming droplets, which will fall to the bottom of the oil. Let this sit for a few seconds to let the honey pearls firm up, then stir the mixture to separate the tiny balls.

Using a small slotted spoon, scoop the pearls out of the oil and drop them into the cold water. Stir them around - the oil clinging to them will rise to the surface so you'll have oil-free caviar.

Using the small slotted spoon, remove the pearls from the water and put them on a paper towel to drain off excess moisture. They seem fragile, but they're actually pretty sturdy if you let them rest long enough in the oil.

But what do you do with them? So far, I've served them on top of chevre for a little appetizer, and on top of yogurt for a little added sweetness. They'd also be interesting on top of an English muffin, on top of ice cream, garnishing a salad, or sprinkled on top of whipped cream that's garnishing your dessert. 

I received the kit at no charge for review. I was not required to say nice things.