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(Low) Tech Cooking: Foraging for Uni

July 10th, 2009 · Uni

posted by Dave Arnold

Bear Island, Penobscot Bay, Maine

Bear Island, Penobscot Bay, Maine

Here is a post on no-tech food—the quest for wild sea urchins.

I’ve spent the last couple of days on a remote island in Maine’s Penobscot Bay. Bear Island is 40 some-odd acres of rocky bluffs, beaches, freshwater marshes, meadows, and spruce forest. With the exception of a couple of photovoltaic cells that power some lights and battery chargers, the island runs much as it did when the Fuller family purchased it in 1904. No running water, privies, and careful control of waste and garbage are the rules of the game. The island remains in their possession today, and only family members and lucky guests ever get to go. My family has been going for most of the last 8 years.

Anyone who knows me knows I don’t hang around outside sunning myself on the beach. I’m so pale I make Casper look tan and I burn lobster-red almost instantly under the sun; but I love being outside at Bear because I can forage for food—really good food. Foraging for food is my favorite thing to do outside. The thrill of looking for and finding wild things to eat is something everyone should experience. It can be a lot of work, sometimes for meagre returns, but feeling like you are getting something for nothing is sweetness itself.

Euell Gibbons, the great granddaddy of food foragers, wrote a guidebook to foraging on the Penobscot Bay islands in the 60’s (If you don’t know Euell Gibbons, his books are worth a look—he is one of my favorites). The island isn’t only beautiful, it has its own food-foraging guide book! On land, my two favorite forage items are wild sea rocket and what I think is sea-blight. Sea-blight is green, crunchy, salty, juicy, and wonderful. You pick it right by the high tide line. The water actually covers it at high tide. Sea rocket looks similar to regular rocket, but is paler, with thicker, juicier, leaves and an even more pungent horseradish and mustard taste. It grows right on the beach.

Is this seablite? It is delicious

Is this seablite? It is delicious

Euell Gibbons' Outward Bound page on Sea Blite

Euell Gibbons' page on Sea Blite

Wild Sea Rocket

Wild Sea Rocket

Euell Gibbons' Page on Wild Sea Rocket

Euell Gibbons' Page on Wild Sea Rocket

There are plenty of other good things—wild strawberries, beach peas, orach (lamb’s quarters), etc on land and plenty of good stuff in the water—like huge shoals of great wild mussels; but what I always look forward to is the island’s supply of sea urchins.

Isamu Noguchi, the famous artist, was a visitor to the island long ago and found to his delight that it was teaming with sea urchins—uni as they say in Japanese. No one on the island had ever known they could be eaten until Isamu showed them how. Urchins are best found on rocky ledges just below the low tide line. Wear gloves when you get them because they are prickly.

Before I started going to Bear eight years ago, a Japanese company discovered the supply of urchins in the bay and set up an operation that essentially vacuumed the bay clean and shipped the uni out to Japan. As a result, my urchin hauls on the island had always been modest. Not this year. When my friend Jonathan Marvel (the person who invites us to the island) and I pulled up to a promising urchin spot we saw this:

Sea urchin motherload!

Sea urchin motherload!

Some urchins on the boat and some in a five gallon bucket

Some urchins on the boat and some in a five gallon bucket

The rocks were wallpapered with urchins! It was unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything like it.

For all you Pacific coast urchin snobs let me tell you this. Uni from Maine isn’t as big at the Pacific, but it is the sweetest I have ever had. Now I’ve never had Pacific coast urchin right from the water, but I’d take Maine urchin right from the water over any of the Pacific stuff that gets shipped to New York any day.

To clean urchins and convert them into the uni you are familiar with, flip the urchin upside-down and cut off the bottom with a pair of kitchen shears. The bottom is flat and has the sea urchin’s mouth. That whole flat part should be cut off. Don’t cut the curved part or you could damage the uni. The flat part comes away and you can see the crazy-looking uni mouth-parts (sorry there is no picture—I didn’t have my camera while we were cleaning them). What’s left in the urchin is a bunch of blackish purple goopy stuff. Shake out the goop. What you are left with is the urchin roe attached to the shell. That is the part that is delicious. So sweet it’s like candy from the sea.

I'm psyched

I'm psyched

My son is skeptical

My son is skeptical

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WANTED: Celebrity Skåls

July 8th, 2009 · skoal

Posted by Mindy Lvoff

We’re adding a new page to our Skål Project: our WANTED List. It’s a list of celebrities that we want… no, NEED to come in and skål.

At the top of our Skål Wish List sits none other than Max von Sydow…

WANTED: Max von Sydown

The reward? Your own personal bottle of Cooking Issues Aquavit:

Cooking Issues Aquavit

I know what you’re thinking: Damn. I really want to taste that aquavit that everyone’s talking about… but I don’t know Max! Good news, ladies & gentlemen—we have an entire list of celebrities that we would LOVE to skål. If you happen to have a connection to one of the following people and can get them to come in, you’ve just won yourself the opportunity to come in and skål with them. If you know a celebrity not on this list who might want to come in and skål, let us know! Also, if you’re dying to see your favorite celebrity come in and skål, send us a comment with their name and we’ll add them to the list. Let’s get ready to SKÅLLLLLLLLLLLL!

(Please check back regularly as we will constantly be adding names to this Wish List!)

THE SKÅL WISH LIST
Alexander Skarsgård
Alicia Keyes
Andy Samberg
Ang Lee (who apparently once said that Aquavit was his favorite restaurant while Nils was Chef)
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Ben Stiller
Beres Hammond
Bernadette Peters
Buju Banton
Carol Burnett
Christopher Walken
Culkin, Macaulay
David Sedaris
Dianne Feinstein
Dolph Lundgren
Enrique Iglesias
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Henrik Lundkvist
Henry Kissinger
Howard Dean
Jack Nicholson
Jackie Chan
Jake Gyllenhaal
Jean-Georges Vongerichten (we have a picture of his doppleganger and would love to post them side-by-side)
Jennifer 8 Lee
Jet Li
Jimmy Carter
John Edwards
John Kerry
John Stewart
Julio Iglesias
Justin Timberlake
Kelly Ripa
King of SwedenÑ Carl XVI Gustaf
Lauren Bacall
Lil Jon
Luke Wilson
Madeleine Albright
Maggie Gyllenhaal
Maria Shriver
Mariano Rivera
Mary Louise Parker (who Dave met at an Esquire party and thinks is awesome)
Mayor Michael Bloomberg (who promised to go to Aquavit while Nils was Chef and, well… here’s your chance)
Meryl Streep
Michael Batterberry
Michelle Yeoh
Mikhail Baryshnikov
Mila Kunis
Oliver Platt
Owen Wilson
Patton Oswalt
President Bill Clinton
President George W. Bush
Ross Perot
Samuel L. Jackson
Seiji Ozawa
Stellan Skarsgård
Stephen Colbert (if he comes in, we will throw in a free event for our troops AND Nils & Dave will shave their heads!!!)
Susan Sarandon
Ted Kotcheff
The Donald (Trump)
Tim Conway
Tina Fey
Tommy Chong
Toni Morrison
Tracy Morgan
Umberto Eco
Vice President Dan Quayle
Vice President Dick Cheney
Vicki Lawrence
Will Ferrell
William H. Macy (our IT guy, Rob McDonald, is his doppelganger)
William Shatner
Yo-Yo Ma

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Things are not always what they seem

July 7th, 2009 · Tech Demo

Posted by Nils Noren

This is the second post in the Glass House project series. If you want to know more about it click here.

Menu read: Lamb curry, coconut, & peanuts; Guests saw: hot dog; How it was done: hot dog made with ground lamb & diced lamb loin, cooked medium-rare in lamb broth using an immersion circulator (lamb+lamb cooked in lamb = lamb-licious), coconut brioche bun, coconut curry and peanuts ground together are the spitting image of deli-style mustard

Menu read: Lamb Curry, Coconut & Peanuts | Guests saw: Hot Dog | How it was done: Hot dog made with ground lamb and diced lamb loin, cooked medium-rare in lamb broth using an immersion circulator (lamb+lamb cooked in lamb = lamb-licious) served on a coconut brioche bun. Coconut curry and peanuts ground together are the spitting-image of deli-style mustard. Topped with fried shallots, this is the best hot dog that you'll never have.

The topic for this particular discussion was quite an interesting one: attention span. Or in today’s culture, it is more the lack of an attention span that is the problem. I definitely feel that my own attention span has waned, not that I had much to start with. Think about it—we change TV channels every two minutes, we read only the first part of a news article, and so on. What does this lack of an attention span mean in terms of food? Fast food!

I don’t personally have a problem with fast food in and of itself. I love myself a good hot dog or a herring burger (of course I wish I didn’t have to go all the way to Sweden to have one). Yet I do think it’s a problem that too many people never seem to think about the food they’re eating, especially when it’s fast food. Fast food has become more of a means to refueling and filling up quickly without the onus of having to reflect upon what you just ate. So I wanted to come up with a concept that would grab people’s attention. Is there a better way of grabbing peoples attention then by confusing them? No, I don’t think so.

Menu read: Chorizo & Cheese Sandwich w/ Tomato & Aioli; Guests saw: Asian Noodle Soup; How it was done: pork broth flavored with tomato, chorizo, garlic, rustic bread, and manchego cheese / noodles are actually Napa cabbage stems marinated with salt, sugar, and vinegar / savory sous-vide sliced pork belly and an egg cream of circulated, seasoned, blended 63.5°C yolks.  The most Spanish-sandwich tasting Asian noodle soup that you'll never be able to order for takeout.

So here is the concept; I’ll try to make it as clear as possible to avoid any further confusion.The menu listed a fast food item from a specific place in the world (e.g., a hot dog or a chorizo & cheese sandwich). The plate came out looking like fast food from an entirely different place, but it contain all the flavors of the dish listed on the menu (e.g., hot-dog-shaped lamb curry or chorizo & cheese noodle soup). Confusing enough to make you focus and really think about what you’re eating?  I hoped so. 

At least I managed to perplex the following guests into intently analyzing each dish: Stuart Brown of the National Institute for Play; Dorothy Dunn, Director of Visitor Experience at the Philip Johnson Glass House; Ze Frank of ZeFrank.com; Andrew Hultkrans, author and Artforum Contributing Editor; Pico Iyer, author; Nathaniel Kahn, filmmaker; Maira Kalman, illustrator, artist, designer; Christy MacLear, Executive Director of the Philip Johnson Glass House; Jorge Otero-Pailos, Columbia University professor; Adam Phillips, psychoanalyst; Wolfgang Schivelbusch, author and scholar.

Menu read: Tomato & Basil Salad / Guests saw: Ice Cream Sandwich / How it was done: To up the Italian factor, the parfait was flavored with porcini mushrooms (sorry, no mozzarella this time). The sauce is a fluid gel of yellow tomatoes, white balsamic, and basil syrup.  This was our way of serving a digestif salade.

Menu read: Tomato & Basil Salad | Guests saw: Ice Cream Sandwich | How it was done: To up the Italian factor, the parfait was flavored with porcini mushrooms (sorry, no mozzarella this time); the sauce is a fluid gel of yellow tomatoes, white balsamic, and basil syrup. This was our way of serving a digestive salad.

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New Hydrocolloids Primer

July 6th, 2009 · hydrocolloids

Posted by Mindy Lvoff

In our effort to keep you both entertained and informed, please check out our new Hydrocolloids Primer (which is mostly the informed part of that combo). All current and future primers can always be accessed on our Primers page.

If the Hydrocolloids primer piques your interest and you want learn more, please check out Nils & Dave’s 2 day Hydrocolloids Intensive class at the International Culinary Center.

Enjoy!

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Skåls of the Week, 7.3.2009

July 3rd, 2009 · skoal

(Hey, what is this Skål Project anyway?)

Happy 4th of July weekend! We hope you are celebrating this weekend with friends and family. And since you’re already together and celebrating, why not teach them how to skål? To kick off the weekend right, we decided to finally crack into our vault of chef skåls for your enjoyment.

Wofgang Ban, Chef/Owner Seasonal Restaurant NYC, Schnitzel God, Bad Ass Skåler

Wofgang Ban, Chef/Owner Seasonal Restaurant NYC, Schnitzel God, Bad Ass Skåler

Dan Barber, Executive Chef/Co-Owner Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Boris "boar-taint" expert

Dan Barber, Executive Chef/Co-Owner Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Boris "boar-taint" expert

Cesare Casella, International Culinary Center Dean of Italian Studies, Chef/Owner Salumeria Rosi, creator of rosemary cologne, Sultan of Salami and Skål

Cesare Casella, International Culinary Center Dean of Italian Studies, Chef/Owner Salumeria Rosi, creator of rosemary cologne, Sultan of Salami and Skål

Brad Farmerie, Executive Chef Public & Double Crown, part of Avroko Restaurant Group, overall Ruler of the Public Empire

Brad Farmerie, Executive Chef Public & Double Crown, part of Avroko Restaurant Group, overall Ruler of the Public Empire

Neil Ferguson, Executive Chef Soho House NYC - so when he tells new employees about the pool on the roof, it's not actually hazing

Neil Ferguson, Executive Chef Soho House NYC - so when he tells new employees about the pool on the roof, it's not actually hazing

John Fraser, Chef/Owner Dovetail Restaurant NYC,  winner of a 2008 StarChefs.com New York Rising Star award, won Mindy's support because he mentioned pho as a good hangover cure, but immediately lost it by saying it was Thai

John Fraser, Chef/Owner Dovetail Restaurant NYC, winner of a 2008 StarChefs.com New York Rising Star award, won Mindy's support because he mentioned pho as a good hangover cure, but immediately lost it by saying it was Thai

Sam Gelman, Chef de Cuisine Momofuku ko, and is the nicest guy there... NOW can we get a reservation???

Sam Gelman, Sous Chef Momofuku ko, and is the nicest guy there... NOW can we get a reservation???

Gavin Kaysen, Chef de Cuisine Café Boulud, recently took on most challenging role yet: new dad

Gavin Kaysen, Chef de Cuisine Café Boulud, recently took on most challenging role yet: new dad

Mark Ladner, Executive Chef Del Posto, wears white Crocs, not orange

Mark Ladner, Executive Chef Del Posto, wears white Crocs, not orange

Jimmy Lappalainen, Executive Chef Riingo Restaurant, 1/2 Swedish, 1/2 Terrified

Jimmy Lappalainen, Executive Chef Riingo Restaurant, 1/2 Swedish, 1/2 Terrified

Ed McFarland, Executive Chef/Owner Ed's Lobster Bar, King of all things lobster

Ed McFarland, Executive Chef/Owner Ed's Lobster Bar, King of all things lobster

Bill Telepan, Executive Chef/Owner of eponymous restaurant Telepan, likes the word eponymous, we have now used "eponymous" one more time than Bill's bio on Telepan's website

Bill Telepan, Executive Chef/Owner of eponymous restaurant Telepan, likes the word eponymous, we have now used "eponymous" one more time than Bill's bio on Telepan's website

Laurent Tourondel, Executive Chef & Partner BLT Restaurants, i.e. BLT Fish, BLT Steak, and soon BLT Skål

Laurent Tourondel, Executive Chef & Partner BLT Restaurants, i.e. BLT Fish, BLT Steak, and soon BLT Skål

Michael Romano, Chef & Partner Union Square Hospitality, also Chief of Culinary Development, part-time umpire for the yankees

Michael Romano, Chef & Partner Union Square Hospitality, also Chief of Culinary Development, part-time umpire for the yankees

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How to saber a bottle of champagne (or any bubbly)

July 2nd, 2009 · Sabering

Posted by Dave Arnold

Last Sunday my cousin, James (the guy who drew the cartoons for this blog), introduced me to his buddy, Devin Coldewey, a tech stuff reviewer for CrunchGear. He brought with him the coolest point-and-shoot camera I’ve ever seen, the Casio Exilim FC-100 (his review here).  This thing costs $300 and shoots slo-mo video at 1000 frames per second! 1000 frames!! Anyway, I cooked him dinner and in return, he agreed to come in Monday and shoot slo-mo of us sabering champagne.  So here it is: How to saber champagne, complete with slo-mo video (scroll to the bottom of this post).  Oh, and Casio: we’re adding the Exilim FC-100 to our wish-list (of things to get for free).  In fact, if we got one, we’d probably find a reason to use it weekly, if not daily.

Before we start: I don’t want to hear anything about saber vs sabre. Both are acceptable spellings, I do not fence, and saber looks more American.

While we are clearing the air, many people feel that sabering sparkling wine is useless and wasteful. I disagree. Sabering expensive champagne is wasteful (if you make a mistake). Sabering a $7 cava is an exhilarating and awesome party trick.  Whether or not a bottle will saber depends only on the bottle, not the price of the wine – so stick with the inexpensive.

What is sabering? Sabering is the art of cleanly severing the top off a bottle of sparkling wine. You hit the lower lip of the top of the champagne bottle and snap off the top of the neck. Yes, you break the glass; No, the glass doesn’t get into the drink because the momentum carries it away from the neck (but you may get a shard on the floor so be careful).  This works because there is a sharp radius where the lip meets the neck that concentrates stress, making the bottle want to snap cleanly.

Oh Yeah

Oh Yeah

Here is the procedure:

  1. Select a bottle that looks like a standard champagne bottle.  Don’t pick one with a funky neck – it might not work (although I have a friend who can saber beer bottles).  Super-important tip: select a bottle you KNOW will saber.  If you sabered a bottle before (Paul Chenaux Cava, for instance or Gruet sparkling), odds are it will work again.  If you have failed with a bottle before (Cristallino Cava), you will probably fail again.  You don’t want to fail, it is embarrassing.
  2. The bottle should be cold and let it rest upright for a while before you saber it.  Be gentle with the bottle before you saber.  Warmer bottles are easier to saber but tend to gush.  The best saber jobs don’t gush at all (take that anti-saber snobs).  You’ll see gushing in the bottles on the video because they warmed up while we were shooting and were treated roughly.
  3. Don’t take off the wire cage until you are ready (or the cork may come out on its own).
  4. Get a knife.  It doesn’t need to be heavy.  In fact it doesn’t have to be a knife.  I made a stainless steel pimp ring to saber at parties.  REMEMBER: you are using the back (dull) side of the knife.  I saw a drunk friend one night forget this and ruin a good chef’s knife.
  5. super-saber pimp-ring

    super-saber pimp-ring

  6. Find the seam running up the side of the bottle.  The seam is a weak point in the glass and further concentrates the stress when you hit the lip.
  7. Champagne_bottle_neck_anatomy

  8. Angle the bottle away from you, your friends, glass, and food (don’t want any glass getting in your food).
  9. Place knife on the bottle’s seam at the bottom of the neck making sure you keep the knife flat against the bottle.  If you don’t, the knife has a tendency to pop over the lip of the bottle.
  10. correct knife angle

    correct knife angle

    KnifeNotLikeThisSilho

  11. The moment of truth.  Slide the knife smoothly, surely, and SQUARELY up the neck of the bottle and sever the top.  It doesn’t take force, just confidence.  The biggest and most common mistake is to swing the knife in an arc.  If you swing in an arc, even a small one, you won’t hit the glass in the right place and you won’t sever the neck. Embarrassing – see the video at the end of the post.
  12. proper way to saber

    proper way to saber

    don't swing like this

    don't swing like this

  13. If it doesn’t work, try again.  Don’t try 5 or 6 times on the same bottle.  Seems desperate and if the bottle doesn’t want to saber and you force it to, you might get a bad break.
  14. Remember that the momentum carries all the glass shards away from the neck and your drink (that’s why I told you to hold it at an angle).

Well, there it is.  We are starting a list of which bottles saber well and which don’t, so please leave comment to tell us.  Here is the video, enjoy:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8RFRm_-WtU]

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Gonna Build Me a Rotovap Update

July 1st, 2009 · rotovap

posted by Dave Arnold

As readers of this blog might know, I’m building my own rotovap. I think I can improve on the laboratory rotovap (I know I can). For the reasons to make a new one, see here. If you don’t know rotovaps, see here.

Aluminum condenser for my rotovap

Aluminum condenser for my rotovap

Condenser for my rotovap top view

Condenser for my rotovap top view

Here is the condenser section of the new rotovap. I made it from 3/16 in soft aluminum tubing (purchased from McMaster Carr). I chose aluminum because it is super-easy to bend, is a great heat conductor, and doesn’t impart any taste to the distillate. I have had all of my distillate running through an aluminum pump adapter for years and haven’t had any corrosion or off tastes. This condenser has a larger surface area than the one on my Buchi, but is of similar design. Unlike regular rotovaps, however, this condenser can be taken apart to clean easily (finally!). This condenser also won’t break. The cover for the condenser is a super-custom piece of polycarbonate (a Click-Clack pasta storage container from the Container Store).

If you’re like me and don’t have a real shop or a bending jig, this type of tubing can be bent fairly well by first bending the coil into a large cylinder (a large bain marie) and then tightening the coil around progressively smaller cylinders (I ended up on a rolling pin). When the coil is large you can make pretty large reductions in diameter between steps. When the coil is smaller you have to make smaller reductions in size. I used maybe 7 different sized cylinders (wine bottles, pipes, etc). The only tough part is doubling the coil back on itself. It just takes some practice.

I’m just sorry I won’t be able to work on the project more till July 13th cause I’ll be traveling.

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Polenta-free Polenta

June 30th, 2009 · Polenta

Posted by Mindy Lvoff

Besides an impromptu margarita tasting during last week’s Hydrocolloids Intensive class, Nils and Dave also discovered a new recipe for polenta—one that doesn’t require the use of dried polenta, or any grains whatsoever. Instead, Nils and Dave use gellan, Kelcogel F (aka: low acyl), to turn a full-flavored chicken, porcini, and parmesan broth with melted butter into a new, creamy and decadent version of the classic.  Once cold-set, this polenta can be reheated and then served hot since gellan is heat stable. It also has the added benefit of having good flavor release.  Delicious, hot, creamy polenta… what else do you want?

Non-polenta polenta

Dave whisked calcium gluconate and gellan into cold stock and then used an immersion blender to disperse it while bringing it up to a boil.

Dave w/ Immersion Blender

gellan + stock

Once boiled and hydrated, he whisked melted butter into the gellan stock before pouring it into a 6-pan to set over an ice bath.

setting gellan polenta

For service, we heated the polenta folded in sliced fava beans and grated parmesan.  Garnished with celery leaf, it was a fabulous complement to veal scallopini (veal and scallop meat-glued together, sliced and seared to perfection) and pickled cherry tomato.

IMG_3786.JPG

Porcini-Chicken-Parmesan Gellan Polenta
300g Chicken-Polenta-Parmesan stock (cold)
200g Melted Butter
5g Calcium Gluconate
3g Kelcogel F (low acyl)

1) Whisk calcium gluconate and gellan into cold stock. Shear using an immersion blender. Bring mixture to a boil.
2) Whisk in melted butter. Place mixture in 6-pan and set over icebath to set. Once set, fluff mixture with fork.
3) For service, reheat and re-season if necessary. Fold in sliced fava beans and grated parmesan if desired.

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Microwave Vacuum Dehydration: failed experiment

June 30th, 2009 · Vacuum Dehydration

posted by Dave Arnold

In response to a rotovap post, Asbel Reyes wrote:

What’s your thoughts on marrying a microwave, a superfreezer, a cold trap, and vacuum for instant freeze drying?

Well, I haven’t tried that exactly; but I have dabbled with microwave vacuum dehydration (MVD). In October 2006, Johnny Iuzzini and I were working on a demo for PastryScoop and I wanted to try something new. I had heard of a technique for quickly dehydrating grapes by placing them under a vacuum (which lowers the boiling point of water), and microwaving them to boil off that water at a low temperature. Microwaves are perfect for this because they can heat the inside of a material (as long it’s small, like a grape). As soon as the water is gone from one part of the grape, that part stops absorbing microwaves—it doesn’t heat up and burn (This is why the nuke is also great for drying bread for bread crumbs). Even better, because the water is constantly boiling out, the grapes don’t shrivel up and lose their structure. From a logistical point of view, the cold traps and vacuum pumps don’t need to be as good as a freeze dryer. Awesome… in theory.

Modified linear-power microwave with vacuum chamber

Modified linear-power microwave with vacuum chamber

The first hurdle to jump was getting the right microwave. Most microwaves don’t actually change the amount of power they are putting out when you switch them from low to high, they just turn on for a couple of seconds, then off for a couple of seconds. No good for our purposes. They make linear power microwaves with real power selection but they are expensive. No dice.  What sucks is you can’t just put a dimmer switch on the transformer that goes to the microwave’s magnetron because it controls both the magnetron heater wire and the high voltage input. Dang. Solution: I bought two microwaves from Craig’s List for 20 bucks, ripped them apart, took the transformer from one and bolted it in the other with a dimmer switch. Whammo, linear power. Yes, it is dangerous. No, I won’t tell you how to do it.

Next I needed a vacuum chamber. I took a food saver jar and made a polycarbonate lid with a silicone rubber seal. I put two holes in the top, one for the vacuum hose, and one for a thermocouple. Next I drilled two holes in the microwave interior less than 1/4 in diameter, and jammed a tube connector in one and a thermocouple wire through the other. The thermocouple was to measure the temperature of the food so I could get the power just right. Holes that size won’t leak microwaves if properly baffled with metal. I checked with a microwave leak detector.

Interior of the vacuum microwave with chunks of orange

Interior of the vacuum microwave with chunks of orange

Next I took the vacuum hose out of the microwave and ran it through my handy-dandy cold-trap (remember this from the ghettovap?). After the cold-trap, the line went into the vacuum pump from an old, broken commercial vacuum-packer Johnny had brought to The FCI to play with. I fired up the rig with nothing in it and the whole damn thing worked, no arcing, no problem. Done. Yeah, right.

Cold-trap with chiller

Cold-trap with chiller

I put chunks of orange in my vacuum chamber that were sized just right for full microwave penetration, put the thermocouple in one of the chunks, sealed the chamber, started the vacuum, and turned on the microwave. What I hadn’t thought of was that under partial vacuum, microwave ovens really, really want to make balls of plasma. Giant balls of fire kept shooting off the thermocouple. So I ripped out the thermocouple. Then I kept on getting balls of fire coming off my oranges. I couldn’t seem to stop the whole thing from become a charred, stinking mess. The plasma kept burning through my vacuum chamber, etc. etc. FAIL. I tried six times over the course of three days and didn’t even think to get decent pictures of the plasma. I was too depressed.

To Asbel’s point. I didn’t try to freeze the product first (you aren’t supposed to for MVD). Maybe that would work. For more info on microwave plasma see here. For more on MVD see here.

Lastly, I definitely recommend that you don’t put light bulbs, CDs, whole raw in-shell eggs, or anything of that nature in your microwave.

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Margaritaville with science: agave nectar vs simple syrup.

June 26th, 2009 · cocktails

posted by Dave Arnold

Nils and I finished teaching a two-day intensive hydrocolloid class today so we hadn’t managed to get any posts together. At the end of the class the perfect Friday evening post presented itself. One of the people in the class said how much he liked to use agave nectar in his tequila drinks. Nils and I shot back that agave nectar doesn’t have much flavor (which is true) and that it’s  little more than expensive simple syrup. A heated discussion ensued. The only possible resolution was a blind taste test.

Agave_Ingredients

Here’s what we did:
It was decided that the drink would be tequila, lime and sweetener shaken with ice –no orange flavor, no salt (not really a margarita but what the hey). We needed to get the sweetness level the same in both drinks so we used a refractometer to measure the sugar content of our simple syrup and agave nectar.

Refractometer

Refractometer

Unfortunately, my refractometer was designed for home brewing and doesn’t register super dense syrups, so we watered down a sample of both syrups 4 parts water to 1 part syrup and measured the results. The agave was 1.77 times sweeter than the simple syrup. The final mix was 160 grams of 901 tequila (we had a bottle left from the Justin Timberlake event), 45 grams of lime juice, 190 grams of ice, and 50 grams of simple syrup in one and 28 grams of agave in the other (no, I didn’t add an extra 22 grams of water to the agave one, I was tired, all right!). I was supposed to shake the drinks at the same time in identical shakers but hit one more speed bump: the extra 22 grams of water in the simple syrup drink meant it wouldn’t fit in my shaker, so I threw it in a quart container with a lid and shook.

Shaking_Agave

The taste panel

The taste panel

The results:
The two drinks were vastly different. The consensus was that the agave nectar drink was deeper, more complex, had a longer finish, and was more tequila-y (in the sense of blanco tequila), than the simple syrup one. The simple syrup was deemed cleaner and fresher tasting. Three people said they outright preferred the agave nectar until Nils said, “It depends, during the daytime or at the beach I’d prefer the simple syrup, at night at a bar or with food I want the agave.” Everyone could agree to that.

Our notes

Our notes

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