When I mention the term, "molecular gastronomy," what comes to mind? I envision a team of white coats, surrounded by beakers, tweezers, bubbling cauldrons, calculations, schematics... a fusion of food and science, if you will.
For the ordinary home-cook? I think not.
However, experimenting in the kitchen can be a creative and entertaining past-time (especially when "snow days" arrive). When I was working at Hotel Le Meurice in Paris, France, we would serve different savory gelees. After burrowing through the freezer yesterday, I found a sac of frozen peas that were in dire need of a make-over. A certain, 'je ne sais quoi.'
During the winter months, I am a huge advocate of making healthy soups (something about fresh, home-made soup that just soothes the soul). Since I already had a curry-vegetable soup made, I decided to play with the peas by adding a little "umph" to their kick:
Enter in: Agar-agar
Agar-agar is a natural gelling substance stemming from the cell walls of red algae. It is one of the "mother" additives of molecular gastronomy - often used to make unusual shapes and textures by modifying food from its original state.
It sounds intimidating... but in reality, only a little practice turns it into an enjoyable (and delicious) activity.
2/3 cup water
1 Tbsp butter
3 drops lemon juice
1 shallot - fine dice
1 Tbsp tarragon - chopped
2 tsp herbs de Provence
Pinch of salt and cayenne pepper
4 tsp cream
1/2 tsp Agar-agar powder (I found the Agar-agar powder at Whole Foods)
Pinch of smokey paprika
Bring the water to a rolling boil, then add a pinch of salt and cook the peas until tender (about 5 minutes). Drain the peas, but reserve the cooking liquid.
Melt the butter in a sauce pan, then add the chopped shallots. Sweat for about 5 minutes on a medium-heat (to prevent the shallots from burning). Once translucent and non longer crunchy, add the peas, tarragon, herbs de Provence lemon juice and cream. Simmer for about 4 minutes.
Using the reserved pea cooking liquid, pour 2/3 cup into a separate sauce pan (if you are unable to create 2/3 cup from the cooking liquid, use water to achieve the full 2/3 cup measurement). Return the cooking liquid to the heat, then whisk in the agar-agar and simmer for 2 minutes.
Pour the two mixtures into a blender (I used my Vitamix), then blend until smooth. Pass through a sieve and season with a touch of salt, cayenne pepper and smokey paprika. Pour into a shallow plastic container and allow to cool in the refrigerator (at least 1 hour) before cutting into cubes. Brilliant to serve with the soup as a textural contrast. I also left a few of the peas whole in order to create another dimension of texture.
And lastly, a small edible flower, touch of gold leaf and copious amounts of love.
"Passion rebuilds the world for the youth. It makes all things alive and significant." - Ralph Waldo Emerson