scientific pairings

January 8th, 2008 · 8 Comments

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(once again, this piece was also originally written for a more general audience, but i thought i d share it with you lest it too die a senseless death.) there are so many classic american food combinations that we ve grown up on. peanut butter and jelly and macaroni and cheese could easily top the list along with ketchup on french fries and mustard on hot dogs. these pairings seem to go hand in hand, with no questions asked. i ve not researched their origins; i m just happy to accept that they exist, partake in them on occasion and go on. i consider myself an adventurous eater, always looking for the next big WOW. always waiting to bite into something that makes my toes curl ever so slightly at about the same time my eyes do the full one second open and close. but this sensual reflex-like reaction to a singular taste sensation is mostly brought forth not from what s happening within your mouth, but from what s happening inside your nose. in 2004 a Nobel Prize was won based upon the discovery of combined responses from smell receptors. how this pertains to the eater is if two foods contain many of the same volatile molecules, then they will blend well. who knew? so for the experimental cook, this becomes the never ending challenge – to veer from the known and embrace molecular gastronomy which as described by harold mcgee, is the scientific study of deliciousness. and for the eater, if we allow ourselves some freedom from all of our preconceptions of what we will or won t like, we get to delight in a number of strange bedfellows that may otherwise have passed us by. a few documented examples that you could try in their very basic incarnations would be sliced strawberry with cilantro leaves, sliced banana with flat parsley leaves, pineapple with blue cheese and perhaps a more unusual and labor intensive pairing of caramelized cauliflower with a chocolate jelly, possibly served beside a roast chicken, which based on its own flavor components would complement that side dish wonderfully.

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but away from the tables of the well trained chef, when it s just me in my kitchen feeling inventive and clueless of any molecular anything, i ve discovered the excellence of soft caramels with fleur de sel and wild fennel pollen. a smattering of cracked pink peppercorns pressed lightly into some very good slightly warmed 70% chocolate bar is beyond deep and earthy. a croissant with shavings of parmigiano reggiano, then drizzled with honey, preferably truffled is really quite the mind blower – as is a scoop of H agen Dazs spotted with a well aged balsamic vinegar.

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but if you re feeling both festive and curious, i urge you to try this one from world renowned and highly innovative chef heston blumenthal of the three michelin starred restaurant, The Fat Duck. it s quite simply some black caviar resting on a thin wafer of white chocolate. heston suggests that the sensation of this pairing is heightened if you place the chocolate and caviar disc on the tongue, close your mouth and leave it to melt. the caviar flavor comes through gradually and you will be amazed by the pleasure of the changing flavors and sensations .

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lately the very idea of these weird and wonderful pairings has me deconstructing even the most innocent of ingredients. but a week or so ago I came across this one, and I think I m going to have to make it soon. beer battered fried anchovies served with a cherry conserve. i can t stop thinking about it…

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caviar and white chocolate discs
adapted from heston blumenthal of The Fat Duck


heston writes: "unfortunately, you do need to use real caviar for this recipe – fish roe substitutes simply are not the same. A 30g pot is the smallest that you can buy, but your investment will reap rich rewards" 30g pot of Sevruga caviar 125g best quality white chocolate melt the chocolate gently in the microwave by giving it short bursts of power, stirring between blasts until the chocolate is liquid and completely smooth. alternatively, melt in a glass bowl over a pot of simmering water. spread the white chocolate thinly on a sheet of parchment paper using a pallet knife, place on a flat surface in the fridge and allow to harden. cut into whatever shapes you want, using a knife or a circular cutter dipped in hot water (3cm across is the optimum size). to serve, spoon some caviar (about half a coffee spoon) on top of the disc, and eat. you can experiment with the quantity of caviar, depending on your taste. for the record – i did not use sevruga for this experiment but instead, domestic paddlefish roe. paddlefish swim in southern rivers and they’re relatives of sturgeons, the fish that produce the world’s most expensive and exquisite caviars. paddlefish roe is very similar to sevruga caviar, only it’s cheaper. since caspian sea sturgeon are rapidly becoming depleted from over-fishing, many people are turning to paddlefish roe as a substitute for caviar.

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caramelized cauliflower and chocolate jelly
adapted from
martin lersch of khymos.org

cauliflower olive oil salt cocoa powder sugar agar agar

cut cauliflower in about 1/3 inch slices. spread them on a baking sheet sprinkle with olive oil and salt bake in oven at 400 for approx. 30 min (turning the slices after 15 min) for the jelly, bring cup of water to the boiling point add 2 t of agar-agar, 2 t of sugar and 2 T of cocoa powder. mix well, pour into a suitably sized container and leave to set. cut jelly into pieces and serve together with caramelized cauliflower

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