Nature’s own cooking tricks
A year ago, a quick peak inside Bacchanalia’s larder would have revealed a large range of modern thickening, emulsifying, and stabilising powders that have become the hallmark of many contemporary restaurants. Although the brand names don’t resemble their natural origins, these products represent an evolution from early days when cooks used wheat flour, corn starch, sea weed or even leafy greens as texture modifier, but more refined and processed to create more standardized results. Pectins, for example, are extracted from citrus pulp; starches from wheat, corn, several types of tubers and pulses; other gelling agents are derived from seaweed, legumes, natural fermentation.
Taking this same perspective, we at Bacchanalia recently decided to start substituting the refined, branded products to obtain similar thickening, emulsifying and stabilising properties. Although less calculable and trickier to use, the appeal to create food that is both delicious, innovative, and importantly, natural, is an obvious one.
Overworking cooked potatoes, for example, can result in gluey mash, but if utilised correctly, it can also make potato foam silky and stable. I believe if we chefs “listen” to an ingredient, we can learn how to harness its full potential.
Let’s take a carrot. Rich in pectin, if you cook it with a bit of acid and at a high enough temperature and you are left with a product that can be dried to a most interesting fruit leather consistency, a “twizzler” of the natural world. By harnessing the starch in unripe bananas, one can obtain a sweet puree with good emulsifying properties. Melon jellies without any added gelling agent; clean citrus emulsions without any stabilisers; puffed scallop or prawn crackers without the addition of any starch.
Our database and experience with these products continues to grow. Such a list represents to us the belief that only through the honest quest to learn what we know about an ingredient, that we can stumble upon work that is truly novel and in many ways as modern as it is timeless.
Though our commitment to the curiosity and understanding about products like gums, gels and stabilisers is still there, and you will occasionally find them in our dishes, I must say our pantry looks very different now. And our food is much better for it!
So stay tuned as we soon start sharing some of this work as it develops.