Monday, January 9, 2012

Stumbling into the Modernist

Well I have crossed the line.  I have stepped into territory I had viewed with skepticism a bit of disdain and total ignorance. The ignorance no doubt fed the others.  I have, for some time been visiting with the Ideas in Food blog. What I have been struck by is their complete openness to new ways of looking at food, flavors and technique.  They also seem to have a considerable amount of time on there hands in which to mess about, experiment and be creative.  So looking about our kitchen I found a few things we were having trouble with- Broken apple cider vinaigrette for one,  Chicken and Waffles for another- and thought how can we try to look at these things in a different way.

I did not want to muddy up the Apple Cider Vin with yolks or mustard in a vain attempt to get it to hang together.  I had tried reducing further in hopes the pectin would act as an emulsifier but was left with an overly syrupy, caramelized substance that did not really want to be mounted by a bunch of oil.  Not to mention that in many ways the cider seems to lose much of its Appleiness as it reduces so I wanted to get less cook time not more.  This left me with a watery or cidery concoction that did not want to stick to the leaves of the salad.

Doug asked if I  wanted him to have Brian, the chef from CBC, come down and teach me to make vinaigrette.  Ouch. There are many things I can learn from Brian but making vinaigrette is in my blood.  We used to lobby for it to be the sixth mother sauce.  I love vinaigrette. This tragedy could not stand.  I read, I studied, researched, scouring the my cook books and the web for ideas.  Harvard popped up on the radar with a series of lectures by famous chefs and the professors from Applied Mechanics.  A lot of that went over my head but but I was on the right path.

Bought the book from Ideas in Food and found the bit I was looking for.  Xanthan Gum.  This was out of bounds in my normal semi-purist way of looking at food.  Yes there is already xanthum gum in our kitchen but it was in things that we bought and were massed produced. Sweet Thai Chili for example.  2001's darling that can make almost anything taste good.  We still pass it off on the side of the calamari.  I think it makes sense there and the Xantum gum makes sense in that product but in MY vinaigrette.  

So to google I did turn.  Seeking to buy a bit of the recently off limits stuff.  Were that I had been able to call the local drug dealer I would not have felt any less like I was somehow venturing off into the taboo.  I found a company in New York with a seriously French Sounding name.  (I am not going to link to them.  As a kid my dad made labels.  He went up to the folks at Smucker's to pitch an idea.  They turned him down and then later reproduced the idea with someone cheaper, thereby steeling his idea and cutting me off from Smucker's for much of my teenage years. As you will see these pseudo french guys screwed around with yours truly so no link).  I ordered the xanthan gum and some Tansglutemese and Tapioca Malodextrine.  My card was processed and I sat by the mailbox waiting like a forlorn lover.  No Mail. I told my Sous Chefs about our impending ventures into the hart of darkness. No Mail.  I worked out the formulas, weighed out the ingredients and got my self a cool little scale. No Mail.  I was despondent. Lost. Chagrined. I checked my bank statement and as I had thought the payment did go through.  Where then were my chemicals?

My worry was that the same devious individual who had stolen my most recent lawn mower had purloined my box of culinary chemicals, which I was sure would arrive in an unmarked brown paper box like some unmentionable toys bought off the internet.  I was concerned that they would think "Ah Ha- Drugs"  and end up snorting xanthum gum and somehow become gellified  on the inside.  So to the google I did go.  I found the company I had ordered my new toys from and called them up.  A French man named, I kid you not, Francoise answered and after a bit let me know that my concerns over stolen xanthum gum falling into the wrong hands was unfounded because they had never sent the xanthan gum.  In fact they did not actually have any xanthan gum and it was not clear when they might be getting it.  I was shocked. "Pardon me for saying so but you seemed to have charged me for this thing which you have not sent me and in fact which you do not even have."  Well Francoise seemed bent on proving that the French in New York can be just as snooty as the French in Paris.  "Well we have been very busy" he said. "Yeah busy charging my card".  Well I got a good head of steam up and gave Francoise the business.

Weeks I had wasted. I grumbled and cursed the French while shopping for whole grain and healthy things to put in my Granola.  As with most health food/whole grain  aisles in major grocery stores (normally I would be getting things to make dishes at the restaurant delivered on a truck but since the granola has been a huge flop at brunch it makes little sense to get cases of mise en place for it) there is a huge display of Bob's Red Mill  type stuff at our local Kroger. And low and behold right there in the Bob's Red Mill area was a whole bag of xanthan gum.  Who knew all this time right next to the wine, I had walked past it as I waited in vain for the French, Bob had it all along.

To imagine the all naturalists were clued in from the beginning.  On a more serious note one of the uses for xanthan gum is in gluten free bread and other doughs.  Its thickening power is used to give structure to the dough.  This was the reason Bob was peddling the stuff he is big into the whole Gluten free movement.

So what now.  Right when I got it back we did the Ideas in Food experiment with thickening water.  I made all sorts of cooks, chefs and servers taste thickened water.  One of the things we discovered was that the water does not taste so good but also that lots of xanthan gum can be slimy and nasty.  Since then we have gotten the Apple Cider Vinaigrette to hang together better. We have thickened pureed soups; made an emergency batch of sweet Thai chili when I forgot to order it Substituted for Corn Starch in a chicken Jus Lie and just had no end of fun.   The thing is you use so little of it, we are putting 7-8 grams into a gallon of vinaigrette, that I think we might have Bob's for quite some time.

1 comment:

  1. When will the nutritional information be made available on the website?