This past Sunday, Chef Bing Liu (of Corton) and I decided to have a little fun with Agar-Agar. It's made from dehydrated seaweed and well renowned restaurants around the world use this ingredient because it solidifies liquids – like orange juice – without adding any trace flavors. At most specialty stores you can find it as a white powder or in a beige flaky form. (Most chefs prefer the powder because it dissolves instantly and some suspect it gives you a more accurate measurement.)
When I was cooking, we used it for a savory red bell pepper fluid gel that dotted a Moroccan-style Colorado rack of lamb. A quenelle of eggplant puree mixed with finely chopped yellow and red bell peppers rested on one side of the chop and a puff pastry filled lamb bacon roll covered in a spicy Harissa rested beneath. A simple cold black pepper Greek yogurt sauce rounded out the dish.
The pastry department also used agar agar for sweet raspberry and strawberry "caviar" beads. Agar Agar is a great vegetarian alternative to gelatin – and, it's also easy to use. Put it this way, if you can make stove-top Jello (aka boil water), then you can work with agar-agar.
Now rather than reveling at these techniques only at restaurants, go ahead and make it yourself at home.
Bing and I recorded our raspberry "caviar" experiment and I'll post it soon! The video shows the beauty of spherification – a technique that requires just two ingredients: juice and agar-agar.
Agar Agar Raspberry "Caviar"
3 containers of raspberries
1.5 grams agar agar
1/2 pint (1 cup) of vegetable oil
What You'll Need
1 small sauce pot
1 large bane or deep sauce pot
1 Chinois or large fine mesh strainer
1 Paper towels
1 Small squeeze bottle
1) Bring water to a rolling boil.
2) Empty raspberries into a mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
Set on top of the boiling pot of water.
3) Once raspberries start releasing juice, remove from heat.
4) Wet enough paper towels to line the large strainer. Place strainer on top of a bane or large pot.
Using the spatula, scape all the berries from the bowl into the paper towel-lined strainer.
5) Lift berries inside the paper towel and squeeze gently into the strainer over a bowl or sauce pot.
This will yield 150 grams (or 5.3 oz of juice). Place strainer with berries aside; let it continue to drain.
Reserve extra juice for later.
6) Bring the juice to a boil and whisk in the 1.5 grams of agar agar
7) Pour – or if you're a real stickler, strain the warm mixture again – into the squeeze bottle.
8) Place 1/2 pint of vegetable oil into an ice bath. Gently squeeze the raspberry mixture into the chilled oil to create "caviar" beads.
Tip: it's best to move your hand in a circular motion as you squeeze
9) Strain "caviar" from the oil. Store in leftover raspberry juice.
10) Then serve!
I like it inside an ice cream sandwich; topping Greek yogurt, shortbread or chocolate cake. It's also a fun addition to a fruit salad with fresh mint!