Experiments with combining foods based on common volatile compounds by Maja Kuzmanovic
Simply said: when you eat food, you taste and smell it simultaneously. Several Molecular Gastronomy experts are looking into pairing different ingredients based on the 'smell-molecules' they have in common. This produces exciting and unexpected combinations, that taste and smell unusual, but quite delicious.
I'll get back to the scientific explanations of this soon, but first I wanted to commit to memory a small menu that I put together for the Unholy alliances party (http://www.altitude1000.be/festival2006/foam9_12.php). Most experiments are based on information that I scavenged from open lists of volatile components of foods (there are not that many databases that are publicly accessible, and paying a fee of a few K EUR is a bit above my budget…), as well as gastronomy lists and blogs. Even though this experiment will not advance the science of MolecularGastronomy, at least I can say that I have successfuly repeated previous experiments executed by more illustrious chefs in better equipped kitchens, while feeding a horde of happily surprised public in our temporary lab in Recyclart (http://www.altitude1000.be/festival2006/foam.php). All dishes are vegetarian, some of them vegan. I presented it as an experiment and asked people to give me comments and suggestions. Below are quick descriptions of the mixtures and people's reactions to them. Unfortunately there is no photographic evidence of the dishes from the event…
prep: I pureed strawberries with vanilla dust, chopped some fresh coriander (or cillantro for teh north Americans) and mixed it in the puree. Then chilled it for a couple of hours in the fridge before serving. The puree was served in folded up banana-leaf cups (chinese supermarket) and eaten with a spoon.
shop: Strawberries were from the supermarket (supposedly organic), vanilla dust from the health-food shop and coriander from the local morroccan grocery store.
comments: People found it very refreshing and 'cleansing', good to serve in between heavier dishes.
prep: I grated the radish, squeezed a tube of wasabi paste in a bowl and opened the box of truffles ;). Then I 'tooth-picked' a bit of grated radish, scooped a bit of wasabi on it, stuck the toothpick into the truffle. I encouraged people to put the whole thing into their mouth, so that the ingredients are tasted/smelled at the same time.
shop: Being in Brussels, it's easy to find excellent dark chocolate truffles, so I didn't bother making my own. I got mine from A.M. Sweet (rue des Chartreux/kartuizerstraat 4, 1000 Brussels). As I couldn't get fresh wasabi or horse radish, I bought a wasabi paste from the chinese supermarket. Winter radish I got on the market.
comments: As expected, northern europeans can deal with wasabi only in minuscule quantities. But once over the initial shock, they were surprised that the sweetness of the chocolate was enhanced by the spiciness of the wasabi.
prep: I sliced a mixture of yellow and gray chanterelle mushrooms in small pieces, sauteed them on coconut oil with a bit of thyme, salt and (quite a bit of) harissa. When they were soft, I added some mascarpone and used two forks to make a thick mash. I cut a large longitudinal openings in semi-dried apricots (it's possible to re-hydrate dried apricots in warm water if semi-dried ones aren't available) and stuffed them with the mushroom mash. I served it on a petri-dish. http://www.champigros.be/http://www.delhaize.be/
shop: My lack of time didn't allow me to go pick mushrooms myself, so I got them from Champigros (http://www.champigros.be/). Harissa was from the local morroccan store, thyme from my balcony. The cheese and apricots from the Delhaize (http://www.delhaize.be/). Coconut oil from the African grocer.
comments: This was one of the favorites, particularly because the taste and texture changed with every bite and over time.
prep: I heated cane sugar until it became syrupy, dipped the Trumpets of death in the boiling caramel and left them to cool down. Then I made a thick cocoa emulsion and mixed it in with ricotta cheese. I spread the cheese on almond cantucci (italian dry biscuits) and topped each biscuit with a caramelized mushroom.
comments: this dish was the messiest and needs a lot of improvement. i have to find out how to caramelize these mushrooms without them turning too droopy and too soggy. I wanted them to keep their weird 3D shapes, but they flattened and never hardened completely. They were very tasty, but presentation-wise this was not a success. People liked the taste, but thought that the chocolate taste was too overpowering (which i can possibly overcome by changing either the amount of cocoa in the ricotta, or maybe it's better to have less ricotta on the biscuit). To be improved…
prep: I brewed quite strong espresso coffee and chopped smoked garlic as fine as possible. Then I poured the coffee in a soup bowl, added a bit of sugar and smoked garlic and let it cool down a bit. In the mean time, I mixed the mascarpone with single malt whiskey (I used a very smokey cask strength Laphroaig), adding a few spoonfuls of whiskey at the time until it became a smooth cream. Once the coffee was cool enough so I wouldn't burn my fingers, I dipped the 'savoiardi' buscuits individually each in the coffee and layered them side by side in a square dish. After completing a layer, I poured a part of the cheese mixture on top and repeated until I run out of the ingredients. At the end I poured the remaining coffee and garlic mixture on top and left it to cool for at least 2 hours.
Shop: I got coffee from Kate Rich through her Feral trade (http://www.feraltrade.org/coffee.html), the biscuits and the cheese were from the Bio-shop, the smoked garlic from the Christmas market and the Whisky directly from the Islay distillery (http://www.laphroaig.com/).
Comments: another favourite of my 'audience'… It was funny watching them not dare put it in their mouth when they heard what it was, and seeing an expression of delight once their tasted and smelled it! The coffee soaked garlic became sweet and its garlicky taste was very complementary with the bitterness of the coffee and the smokeyness of the whisky. The mascarpone rounded everything back into a creamy mush that melted in your mouth!
prep: tres simple! i got a spicy whole-grain mustard and chopped some strong mint and mix them together. i served it with a very old Belgian yellow cheese.
shop: mint from the morroccan grocer, mustard from the bio-shop and the cheese from a local 'kaas-boer' (but any good supermarket should also have a cheese that can do for this).
comments: 'cheese and mustard' is a party classic (excellent with dark belgian beers), and people who were worried of my other concoctions were very comfortable tasting this one first. the taste is at first familiar, but the mint adds a fresh and spicy tinge to it. the difficulty is to get the right balance, so best to start with a small amount of mint and keep tasting it until it's right. I also had separate mint-leaves that some people added on top of the cheese.
prep: i poured some carrot juice in a small, 1 gulp sized cup and added a pinch of grated carrots. I topped the little soup with a candied violet.
shop: carrots from a local farmers market, candied violets from A.M. Sweet
comments: 'i always wanted to drink an expensive perfume'! - was a comment of one of the tasters… very fragrant, sweet and refreshing.
prep: I melted the butter on very low fire, added a pinch of salt, dried lavender flowers (it wasn't the season for fresh ones…) and candied lavender balls. After the sugar layer of the lavender dissolved, I left the butter to cool. Just before serving, I sliced a not too sour apple (i used jonagold), broke of a bunch of purple and green basil leaves and sandwiched the apple between two leaves (one purple, one green ;), using the butter to stick the leaves to the apple and topped the sandwich with a candied lavender ball.
shop: lavender flowers picked in Istrian fields by my parents, green basil from my balcony, purple basil from the chinese supermarket, candied lavender from A.M. sweet, butter and salt from a bio-shop.
comments: the colour of the butter is most amazing - it turned green, speckled with purple lavender. the sandwich is very herby, but sweet and scented. I want to try this with different types of apples, as I could still easily distinguish between the apple and the other tastes. Lavender and basil tastes hybridized very easily. With the leftover butter I made sugarless basil and apple pie the next day, which was quite a success (recipe to follow another time if anyone is interested…).
prep: blend the bananas, chop the parsley (coarsely) and mix them together. Add some larger chunks of banana and pour the mixture on a dry salty cracker (i used an italian-style dry focaccia bread).
shop: fair trade bananas from the bio-shop, parsley from the moroccan grocer, crackers from Delhaize.
comments: people were licking their fingers with this one. they would have liked to have the crackers a bit saltier, so this is something to try next time. the smoothie was also great to drink on its own (but for this the parsley should be minced as well).
prep: i had already mashed kalamata olives, so i didn't have to go through pitting and cutting the olives. I mixed the mash with quite a large amount of cinnamon powder and that was it. I served it with a firm, but creamy brie.
shop: greek olive mash from La Canette (http://www.canette.be), cinnamon powder from the spice-stall at the Molenbeek market, Brie from the bio-shop.
comments: I was thinking that black olives might work better for this one, especially when one of the people said, “wow, how did you manage to make this smell like shit! no really, i'm not joking, it really smells like faeces, but then you put it in your mouth and it tastes great!”. Then of course it became a game, and people were getting excited about others' reactions, so it's good for a party game, but I wasn't too happy with it (it all got eaten, but still…)
prep: I roasted the butternut squash in 1/2cm thick slices in the grill-oven. In the mean time, I squeezed a couple of oranges and heated the juice up with quite a few glasses of red port. Slowly the liquid reduced into a smooth syrup. I coated the squash in the syrup and let it cool. I served it on a sugar-free short-bread.
shop: butternut squash from the Molenbeek market, oranges from the bio-supermarket, port (i forgot which one it was, but it wasn't very expensive) and short-breads from Delhaize supermarket.
comments: “It tastes like preserved peaches” - which was quite curious (as I didn't expect this at all, but indeed it did taste like peaches…). It looks and tastes very lush…
prep: I mixed pitted green olives with lemon myrtle, black olives with aniseed myrtle and added a bit of not too fragrant olive oil.
shop: olives from the arab olive whole-sale place, spices from the Adelaide market, oil from the bio-shop.
comments: this one was too easy - the Australian native spices have a very peculiar and unusual taste, that people were instantly curious. If you can get them, it's definitely worth a try…
Because i mixed so many tastes, I offered water, pickled ginger, or parsley, or mint for people to chew on between tasting different dishes.
as tested by various Molecular Gastronomy chefs/enthusiasts, innocent bystanders, or FoAM. specific references are still to be sourced.