In certain circles molecular gastronomy is a four letter word; form over substance they say…too fussy. For the most part I agree, but when a chef can make the meal fun, challenge and entertain you, and the food tastes good, the experience can be magical (see the former El Bulli, Tickets, Alder and even the Spence from a local perspective). Being the ever curious cook I am, I decided to take the plunge and ordered some basic materials…calcium lactate, sodium alginate, soy lecithin, etc. The following recipe is a take on caprese salad.
1 Cup basil leaves
2 Cups cold vegetable oil
3/4 Cup balsamic vinegar
Fresh mozzarella; chopped into small squares to match the size of the balsamic pearls
Smoked sea salt
Tools – slotted spoon, pipette/dropper, syringe w/o needle, small flexible tubing
Place a tall glass of the veggie oil in the freezer and chill it for about 30 minutes. Mix 2 grams agar-agar with the balsamic in a pot and bring it to a boil. Pour the mixture into a small bowl and fill the pipette.
Take the oil out of the freezer and slowly drip the balsamic mixture into the oil to form the little pearls.
Remove the pearls using a slotted spoon or a sieve (small-holed strainer) and set aside. Roughly chop the basil and add it to a pan w/ 1 cup of water; mix in 2 grams of agar-agar and bring to a boil. Puree the basil mixture and then fill your syringe with the mixture. Pipe the mixture into plastic tubes and submerge into a bowl of ice water to chill them and allow the “noodles” to come together.
I’m not going to lie, this was difficult and I made a few messes along the way, but it was fun. Allow the noodles to chill for about 3 minutes and then use the syringe to pump air into the tubes to extract the noodles. To plate, cut a slice of tomato and top w/ balsamic pearls and garnish with the basil noodles and a few pieces of the chopped mozzarella.
The presentation is cool, and the taste is fine, but the original is just as good…form over substance at its best.