Molecular celebrations for your taste buds

December 26, 2011

Not another turkey, caviar or Yule Log! What if the traditional end-of-year feast was left up to scientists? The menu might surprise a few...

Care for a bit of for the festive season? How about fake caviar for starters, followed by turkey cooked in the and laced with an orange , to end with an eggless and creamless chocolate mousse for dessert? These original dishes were born of a round trip from our tables to labs.

Kit caviar

Fake caviar is much more fun than the real stuff! Thanks to two ingredients found in specialist stores – sodium alginate (extracted from brown algae) and calcium lactate – you can produce minute balls which are crunchy outside with a liquid core and look just like the original fish eggs. If you add a flavour (e.g. caviar, why not?) and food colouring, your taste buds won’t know the difference!

This is really easy to make. Just use a syringe to feed droplets of alginate into the calcium lactate at room temperature. They instantly turn into small beads, as the calcium ions bind the alginate chains together just like glue. The result is a gel which captures the liquid droplets. “A bit of practice is in order if you don’t want your caviar balls to be the size and texture of green peas”, says Marc Heyraud, a specialist in molecular gastronomy at the Institute of Chemistry of Neuchâtel University.

Dishwasher-cooked turkey

Ultra-slow cooking at a temperature between 60 and 70°C is getting more and more popular. One the one hand, it avoids killing vitamins and amino acids and, on the other, it produces very tender meat. The collagen binding cells within muscle tissue deteriorates at a temperature as low as about 60°C and moisture clearly evaporates slower at 70°C than 150°C. Perfect balance can only be reached with slow cooking. In practice, this can be done in a normal (convection) oven preheated to a temperature just a few degrees above the chosen heat. A turkey should stay in for at least four hours.

A more original and energy-saving alternative is to cook your turkey in the dishwasher. This is not as crazy as it sounds, as great chefs have successfully tested this solution put forward by chemist Hervé This, a pioneer in molecular gastronomy. Provided of course that the bird is sealed in a watertight bag... You will need to put it in the oven for a few minutes to give it its tasty-looking roasted finish.

Let’s top it all off with an orange emulsion. As everyone knows, for mayonnaise you need a tensioactive agent from egg yolk, fat (oil), and water from vinegar and the egg. Marc Heyraud suggests substituting melted turkey fat, an egg white and orange juice.

Caviar and white chocolate

Can the right wine be scientifically selected to ensure that a given sugar content or soil is the perfect match for a given dish? Some studies by Heston Blumenthal, a leading figure in molecular gastronomy, tend to prove that two products are better suited to each other when they have as many aromatic compounds in common as possible. For instance, he tried combining caviar with white chocolate. Marc Heyraud, who tasted the surprising mixture, found it impressive. However, he doubts that the method could become widespread and considers that “Maybe what he has is the flair of great cooks, who dare to marry such different flavours and obtain great results. When you associate flavours, nothing is as reliable as tradition and experience, and this is how you find the right wine for a particular dish”.

Change of state for dessert

To impress your guests with a stylish, yet light and quickly-made dessert, why not try a mousse with just chocolate and orange juice or tea? Simply whisk the melted chocolate with either liquid on a bed of ice. The change from the liquid to the solid state through cooling captures the air bubbles produced by the whisk.

Explore further: Carnegie Mellon's kitchen chemistry makes science palatable

Related Stories

Carnegie Mellon's kitchen chemistry makes science palatable

March 25, 2010

Molecular gastronomy or molecular cuisine, the culinary movement that uses chemistry, is heating up kitchens worldwide. Carnegie Mellon University Chemist Subha Das is bringing the same techniques found in the world's leading ...

New safety recommendations set for turkey cooking

November 29, 2006

The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service has updated poultry cooking recommendations this year, including the recommendation that the bird be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, said Lynn Paul, ...

What makes a meal tasty?

March 3, 2010

( -- Why do some foods taste terrible when others are absolutely delicious? Is it the ingredients, the way they have been grown and cooked, or simply the mood we are in today?

Recommended for you

Averaging the wisdom of crowds

December 12, 2017

The best decisions are made on the basis of the average of various estimates, as confirmed by the research of Dennie van Dolder and Martijn van den Assem, scientists at VU Amsterdam. Using data from Holland Casino promotional ...

Genetics preserves traces of ancient resistance to Inca rule

December 12, 2017

The Chachapoyas region was conquered by the Inca Empire in the late 15th century. Knowledge of the fate of the local population has been based largely on Inca oral histories, written down only decades later after the Spanish ...

Violence a matter of scale, not quantity, researchers show

December 11, 2017

Anthropologists have debated for decades whether humans living in tribal communities thousands of years ago were more or less violent than societies today. Researchers at the University of Notre Dame wonder if the question ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Dec 26, 2011
" Dishwasher-cooked turkey "...?

That's an odd sous-vide technique....I would fire anybody I caught doing this in a commercial kitchen though....maybe even deduct the cost of the water used in running the machine 100's of times to cook a bird.

Caviar and white chocolate 'eh ?

....try beets slow-roasted with vanilla beans. After you try them, make the rest into a shake with some vanilla ice cream.

trust me :)

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.