It just looks cool 🙂 A sphere, bubble, quenelle, caviar, made with any liquid or their combination. The look + the taste. And it isn’t really complicated to start testing this technique. Apart from getting the ingredients – sodium alginate and calcium lactate (found in specialized cooking and pastry shops), the only other thing you need is a lot of practice to get nice, even shapes.
The process was made famous in elBulli restaurant in Spain. It gelifies the outside of a liquid as it is submerged in another mixture, while the inside remains fluid, sort of like a soft cooked egg yolk. There are two types – basic and reverse spherification.
For the reverse spherification, a liquid containing calcium is submerged into a sodium alginate solution. The sphere is left in the bath for a couple of minutes and turned around gently about halfway through. It is then taken out of the bath, rinsed in clear water bath and ready for serving or storage.
This type can be used for almost all liquids, making it more versatile than the basic spherification. It works well with alcohol and liquids containing dairy, as well as liquids with some acidity. The spheres have a thicker membrane to start with, but the gelification process is stopped once they are removed from the sodium alginate solution and rinsed. This means they can be prepared in advance, which is helpful for those of us with less experience with this technique. Thicker membrane also means easier manipulation and less chances of popping it while arranging the plate.
The process starts with the sodium alginate bath that needs to be prepared some hours (even better overnight) in advance. For 500ml of water you need 2.5g of sodium alginate, which you blend together with a plunger, until the powder is completely dissolved. Then let it rest in the fridge until all the air bubbles disappear.
If the liquid you chose to spherify doesnt contain calcium, add it, (about 1g for 100g of liquid), mixing it thoroughly with a blender. I used a mixture of yogurt and milk (about 5:1), and added some onion powder for the taste. I spooned this mixture into a small round ladle, then used that to pour it into the sodium alginate bath.
I left each sphere in the bath for about 2 minutes, turning halfway. After fishing it out, I rinsed each sphere in a bowl of cold water and then tried to find a nice way to present it. I added fresh cucumbers, spice mixture (sweet red paprika, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper), and some dill and mint leaves.
First try, on a colourful Spanish ceramic plate. Looks nice, but not practical to eat, as the sphere burst, sending its contents over the plate bords.
Using up the less pretty spheres:
And finally arriving to a better presentation – as an entree, in a small martini glass, on a bed of finely diced cucumbers (leave the skin on for colour variaton). Quick, refreshingly delicious and visually appealing.
Producing spheres of a nice, round shape is difficult and requires practice. The mixture you use needs to be thick enough to hold some shape as you gently spill it into the sodium alginate bath. Try and practice different movements until you find a way that gives nice forms. Dont forget to wash the utensils after every sphere. To make things easier, frozen reverse spherification can be used, making it much simpler to get regular, evenly sized spheres. But that remains a topic for another post.
For this method, the flavoured liquid is mixed with sodium alginate, and the spheres dropped into a bath of calcium lactate. The rest of the procedure stays the same as with the method described above. This type of spherification produces a very thin membrane, giving the “pop in the mouth” texture of caviar. The problem is that the gelification contnues even after the caviar or spheres are taken out of the bath. This means that they need to be served right away, and made portion by portion. The process wont work with liquids that are too acidic, or contain calcium (dairy). The thin membrane makes the product nicer to eat, but harder to manipulate.
I used this method to make ovals of peach puree on top of milk rice, with rhum caviar. The spherical form was harder for me to produce… hence a lot of tests blobs like this one below.
“CAVIAR” WITH AGAR AGAR
I added some rhum caviar balls to my milk rice dessert. The method to making this type of “caviar” is very simple, but the result is less subtle than with basic spherification. The balls you get are gelatinous, not a liquid contained by a membrane. While you can use it with almost any liquid to obtain small tasty drops, the resulting texture does not have the wow effect of the caviar made with basic spherification. Nevertheless, it is still visually appealing and takes less than half an hour to make.
Cool (3h in refrigerator, or around 1h in the freezer) about 0.5l of neutral tasting vegetable oil.
Heat 250ml of desired liquid (fruit juice, alcohol, fruit puree…) just until boiling point. Mix in 2g of agar agar, let cook for a couple of minutes. Remove from stove, let cool a bit. Using a syringe, drop small droplets of the flavoured liquid mixture into the cold oil. Use a high, thin container. As the balls will fall through the oil, they will gelify. Once you have a considerable amount, take them out of the container, rinse them well with cold water, and serve or store.
All in all, the methods are completely adaptable to home use, don’t take a lot of time, and allow a great liberty of experimentation. I already have new practice ideas in mind 🙂