Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Daring Cooks Challenge: Molecular Cuisine

It's that time again!

(Warning: Long post) This month's challenge comes from Sketchy, of Sketchy's Kitchen. If you don't know Sketchy (and I really don't, aside from a few peeks on his blog and his post in the Daring Kitchen forums), Sketchy has a small obsession with molecular gastronomy. You can read about it here.

Molecular Gastronomy is basically food science. According to Wikipedia, the all-knowing center of the universe Internet, it is defined as,

"...a scientific discipline involving the study of physical and chemical processes that occur in cooking. It pertains to the mechanisms behind the transformation of ingredients in cooking and the social, artistic and technical components of culinary and gastronomic phenomena in general (from a scientific point of view)."

Whoa. That's intense. When Sketchy first announced the DC challenge for this month, I thought, "No. Way. I'm sitting this one out." However, I saw of number of comments that showed my fellow DC-ers were also slightly intimidated by the challenge but also intrigued. I figured I had to at least give it a shot, and if I failed miserably, well, at least I failed trying. Besides, MC is incredibly trendy right now, and I find it safe to say that most of my closest friends and family members haven't tried MC, so why not be a trailblazer? Considering how trendy MC is these days, this was a perfect challenge for the members of The Daring Kitchen.
This was pretty intense, but once I figured out what I was doing, I was okay. I thought for sure Graham would be all about this meal, especially considering he's a scientist, and while he liked it, he definitely thought it was far too much work for one meal. While I tend to agree, part of the effort was learning, so I don't think that it would take quite so long if I were to attempt it again.
I made a number of modifications to the recipe, and unfortunately had to omit a powder because I couldn't find any of the ingredients. (See my notes section for all the adaptations I made.) However, I was pleasantly surprised by the final product and it was nothing like I expected it to be. Thanks for the great challenge, Sketchy!

Ocean Perch, traditional flavors powdered
(Adapted from Sketchy & the Alinea cookbook)

4 ocean perch fillets, scaled, (approx. 1 lb.)
1 lb. butter (4 sticks), cold
6 1/2 c. water, divided (plus more for poaching and blanching)
3 c. fresh green beans
Kosher salt
6 lemons
1 vitamin c tablet
3 c. granulated sugar
1 1/2 c. fresh cilantro
1 1/2 c. fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 c. minced onion
2 c. capers, brined (not in oil)

Prepare your powders ahead of time (I can't stress this enough!), even the night before if possible.

For citrus powder:

You will need your lemons, vitamin c tablet, 3 c. water, and 3 c. sugar.

Finely zest the lemons. You want 3 c. lemon zest, so approximate 2 lemons per cup. Once zested, poach the zest in simple syrup. Make your syrup using a 1:1 ratio; mix 3 c. water with 3 c. granulated sugar. Once your syrup is simmering, poach the zest. Remove from liquid, pat dry with paper towels, and remove to a jellyroll pan. Heat oven to 200 F. and bake zest for 2-3 hours, until completely dry.

Once dry, pulse zest in food processor to create a fine powder. Crush your vitamin c tablet (I used a soup can). Push zest through a fine mesh strainer to remove any large chunks or impurities, and mix zest with ground up vitamin c tablet. Set aside.

For cilantro & parsley powder:

You will need 1 1/2 c. fresh parsley and 1 1/5 c. fresh cilantro.

Blanch the parsley in boiling water for 1 second. Submerge the parsley in ice water to shock it and stop the cooking process for 3 minutes. Do the same for the cilantro. Pat leaves dry with paper towels, place on a jellyroll pan, and bake at 200 F. for 2-3 hours, until completely dry.

Once dry, pulse in a food processor to create a fine powder, and push powder through a strainer or flour sifter to remove large pieces and/or impurities. Set aside.

For onion powder:

You will need 1 c. minced onion.

Place onion on a jellyroll pan and spread out and separate all pieces. Bake at 200 F. for 3-4 hours, or until completely dry. Once dry, pulse onion pieces in food processor until finely ground. Pass through a strainer to remove any larger pieces, and set aside.

For caper powder:

You will need 2 c. capers.

Clean the capers by rinsing them under cold running water for about 2 minutes. Pat dry with paper towels and bake at 200 F. for 2 hours, or until completely dry. Once dry, pulse in food processor and sift through a strainer. Mix with onion powder and set aside.

For the seafood:

Slice green beans in small rounds. Set aside.

Now, make your Beurre Monte. This is your poaching liquid. In a small saucepan, boil 1/2 c. cold water. Once water is at a rolling boil, remove from heat and whisk in butter in pats, one at a time, until completely melted. The faster, the better, because as the liquid cools it will break down. If you notice your Beurre Monte starting to break apart, set a burner on low to keep the sauce warm as you whisk in your butter. Once completed, you should have between 3 and 4 c. Beurre Monte.

In a larger saucepan, mix together 1 c. water, 1 c. Beurre Monte, and green bean rounds. Bring mixture to a boil over high heat. Cook uncovered until all water is evaporated. When pot is nearly dry, remove from heat and season with salt.

In a 3rd saucepan, mix together remaining cups water and Beurre Monte. Bring to a simmer, add fish fillets, and simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove when fish flakes easily (should reach an internal temperature of 140 degrees to be safe to eat).

To plate...well, plating is hard. I grew up in a family where "plating" your food meant grabbing a big old spoonful and diving right in. I firmly believe that you first "eat with your eyes", because we do. Who wants to eat something that looks like the cat threw it up? However, plating is a skill that I do not possess. I did my best to plate, but as you can see it leaves a little to be desired. However, I strongly encourage you to check out other DC blogs for this challenge, because my fellow Daring Cooks did some beautiful plating jobs!

  • There is a brown butter powder that looked really interesting, but I had to omit it because I couldn't find any of the ingredients. Seriously! So lame.
  • Now, I know what you're thinking: That this has to be dry and tasteless. But believe me when I say that it's not even close. The fish is very flavorful, and the powders just work. It's hard to describe. But trust me. The citrus powder, for example, was actually really sweet and not at all crispy. It had a slight lemon flavor but wasn't overly lemony or tart. The parsley and cilantro powder wasn't too crispy or dry or spicy. It was perfect! It was definitely an experience.
  • Sketchy recommended using Skate, Cod, or Flounder, but I couldn't find any of them. I actually wasn't looking for skate as it can be expensive and is actually a protected species. However, my fish market didn't carry cod or flounder today, so I opted for ocean perch which was roughly the same size and thickness as the cod and flounder.
  • As you can see, not all my powders are powdery. The cilantro & parsley powder worked perfectly, but the others just didn't dry enough. I tried a few different drying methods before I stuck my ingredients in the oven, and after 90 minutes I had no choice but to yank my food out of the oven, or we'd be eating much later than usual. I think that had I firmly dried my ingredients it would have worked a lot better.
  • This is the kind of meal you can only have when everything is dry. Cheating like I did won't work.
  • This was a really interesting experiment. I can't imagine making this meal all the time, but it was definitely a great challenge! I'll have to try it again with a number of different powders once I see what all my DCs did.


  1. I love that you used perch, and I totally agree that it was moist and luscious with all that beurre monte! I was hesitant on this one, but color me surprised, literally! Yours came out lovely! Great job!

  2. Nice job. Sounds like you got your citrus powder just right. Mine was VERY tart. Good Job!

  3. Love how you did it inspite of the newness of the recipe. Love the effort you put into and bravo on the result. I agree with you this isn't dry but a moist flavoursome dish. Cheers

  4. I like the way you plated the fish surrounded by the powders. Looks great! I can relate to the plating troubles with this one. I'm in awe of all the Daring Cooks swirly masterpieces.

  5. It looks like a lot of us had a similar reaction to this challenge! Your finished dish looks great!

  6. well done, angie - this was definitely a challenge which pushed my boundaries too. i was pleasantly suprised by it as well - who knew i would be happy to eat fish, bananas and beans in a single dish!

  7. Way to push on through. I can't even imagine doing the powders and the rest of the meal in the same day. Splitting up the drying and cooking really makes this recipe much more manageable.

  8. Beautiful job on this challenge!! Your fish looks wonderful =D. I loved how moist and fresh the fish tasted, and I'm glad you did as well!!


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