Gelling is a wide ranging and very important technique in traditional and modern cooking. It encapsulates everything from the old to the new, from custards to edible gel sheets to spherification. There are many different ingredients that cause gelling including eggs, starches like flour, and hydrocolloids like agar and xanthan gum.
There are a few different ways gelling happens but most of them result in some kind of solid structure that traps liquid in it. The structure is often made of proteins and gives form and body to the gel.
The main purpose of gelling is to provide texture to liquids by turning these into gels through the use of a thickening agent. Many of the gelling agents used do not have any flavor or color, making these ideal food additives since they do not affect flavor. As a matter of fact, certain gelling agents may even enhance the flavor of food in the mouth by causing it to more fully coat the tongue.
You can get more information about gelling from my guide on how to make gelling or from the gelling articles below.
These mango noodles add a great flavor punch and visual touch to dishes. I like to serve them draped over ice cream or a sundae but they can also be heated and served with jerk pork or as a garnish on an Asian citrus salad.
This crostini recipe moves the traditional deli food of lox and cream cheese on a bagel into fancy modernist bites. The cream cheese is turned into gelled noodles that are served on toasted bagel rounds with pickled red onion. An easy to pick up and deliciously flavorful party food!
This is a tastier take on the commonly served Jell-O shot
especially if you top them with some candied lime peel
and a little sprig of mint. You can even substitute any of your favorite drinks into this recipe - let your imagination run wild!
These cocktail cubes are a fun way to entertain your guests. They are rum infused strawberries encased in a daiquiri cube. When you bite into them the cube starts off with a sweet and tart flavor followed up by the kick of the rum-infused strawberries.
One of my favorite spring dishes is shortcakes with fresh fruits or berries. The other day I decided to take advantage of some great looking berries and made a variety of shortcakes. To make them more modern, and to work on some recipes for my upcoming book, I used some whipping siphon foams and agar agar fruit gels.
Locust bean gum is taken from the seeds of the Mediterranean carob or locust bean tree. It is good at thickening liquids and stabilizing emulsions. It can be used by itself but is more often used to complement other ingredients.
These Mexican inspired salmon bites pack a lot of flavor in a little package. The acidity from the tomatillos compliments the salmon perfectly and the crunch from the fried tortillas adds great texture.
One interesting use of modernist gelling is to create pliable gel sheets. These gel sheets are made by adding a combination of agar agar and gelatin to a flavored liquid and letting it set. The agar and gelatin add both elasticity for strength and a nice brittleness for flavor release. The ratio of the two ingredient will determine the final characteristic of the gel sheets.
Marshmallows are a favorite food of children everywhere. These homemade ones are so much better than store bought that there is really no comparison. Whether you want to eat these on smores, in hot cocoa or just plain they will amaze you and your friends.
Iota carrageenan can be used to thicken liquids and stabilize emulsions or foams. It's also very adept at creating gels. Iota carrageenan works best with dairy products but can be used with a variety of liquids.
My wife's relatives in Florida love their Bloody Marys and this is her modernist take on them, focusing on the celery garnish and turning it into the serving vessel a la the traditional "ants on a log" children's snack.
One of the fun things about modernist cooking is changing the textures of common dishes while keeping the flavors the same. This creates almost a confusion in the palate when it's being eaten and the brain recognizes the flavors but not the textures. This recipe creates a solid Bloody Mary gel with agar agar that has applications in various dishes.
These agar gel cubes are a great way to add a unique visual style to a dish, as well as creating little bursts of papaya. You could use a similar agar recipe to gel many different liquids, depending on the dish you are creating.
Although you can now buy lemon curd in most supermarkets, it is extremely simple to make in your water oven, and the homemade version doesn't contain any preservatives or artificial flavors. Traditional recipes require cooking the lemon-egg mixture in a double boiler until the curd thickens. This can be tricky, as one or two degrees can make the difference between success and disaster. With the sous vide technique, the curd cooks itself without any stress or stirring.
Gels are a very common technique in modernist cooking. This modernist recipe uses the gelling properties of agar agar to make papaya noodles. These agar agar noodles are a great addition to a several different dishes and are an easy way to add a touch of flair.
The use of gels in cooking is not a completely modern innovation. As a matter of fact, it dates back in history as far as early as the 1600's in Europe where it was derived from the bones of animals. In Asia, it is part of many traditional dishes which use plant extracts. This classic cooking component and technique has taken on a new life in the form of fluid gels in modern cuisine.
One of the easiest molecular gastronomy recipes to try is by creating "pearls". Most pearls are solid jelly balls that can be used to garnish dishes or as an amuse-bouche. Here we use sweet-sour balsamic vinegar to make pearls that are a great way to add a hit of flavor to many different dishes. The process of making them is even pretty easy.
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