The kit has a collection of tools and some sachets of chemicals that allow you to try three techniques.
You can do spherification, reverse spherification and frozen reverse spherification using Calcium Lactate and Sodium Alginate. These create bubbles of gel with a liquid filled centre. The techniques differ in whether the alginate is in the bubble and the calcium outside or vice versa. Which you use depends on if your liquid already contain calcium, what mouth feel you want, if it can survive freezing, and how far ahead you can make them.
You can do emulsification, which in this case means the creation for semi-stable foams on liquids that would not normally have them. For this you use Soy Lecithin.
And finally you can do Gelification using Agar Agar. This is a bit like using regular gelatine but agar agar has some odd proprietaries that make it stable over a wide temperature range 35°C to 80°C. If liquid it stays liquid till its temperature falls below 35°C, but if solid it does not melt till over 80°C, so at say 50°C it could be either depending on whether being heated or cooled. This allows you to pull some weird tricks.
After watching all of the recipes on the included DVD I decided to make a starter and some bits to go with a cheese board, but serve a regular roast pork main course. (Had to borrow a DVD drive from Toby to read the disc!)
I decided to do a take on an Italian salad of cheese/tomato/basil as starter and some port caviar to serve with stilton and honey caviar to serve with fresh figs.
For the tomato I decided to modified the recipe for lychee bubbles so step one was to make some clear tomato juice. I bought some very ripe vine tomatoes from the veg shop on South Street while I was at my Job Centre interview. I deseeded the tomatoes into a plastic sieve, then blended the tomato pulp and skin into a smooth red pulp. This was then added to the sieve with the seeds and all the red pulp forced through. This red pulp was seasoned with a little salt and sugar to help break down the cells and release the juice. From there it went into the freezer in an ice cube tray overnight. The next day the frozen cubes go into a sieve lined with two layers of cheesecloth. This all goes into the fridge to defrost. The result is a process which has the over-the-top name of cryofiltration. As the cubes of pulp defrost slowly the ice crystal formed in the freezer slowly turn to liquid and flow through the cheese cloth.
As the process is so gradual the impurities are left behind so you end up with a clear liquid. In my case this was a pale yellow colour and tasted of fresh tomato.
Into a measured amount of this you dissolve the calcium lactate. I cut tiny cubes of fresh tomato and picked some very tiny basil leaves. Each of the hemispherical ice cube moulds in the tray received one cube and one leaf and was the filled with calcium tomato solution. Then back into the freezer overnight.
Ok, while that all froze I got on with the cheese for the salad. This was going to be Pecorino Romano spaghetti. This is a whey made from the grated cheese and water that is set using agar agar inside a plastic hose to produce the spaghetti shape. Step one is to make the whey. The water and cheese are melted together and stirred until you end up with a milky liquid and a solid layer at the bottom of the pan. The whey is strained and popped into a tub to cool in the fridge.
This left me with a blob of what looked like melted cheese which the original recipe did not use. I did not like to waste it so remembering some parmesan crisps I had at the dundee rep cafe years ago I spread the cheese blob on a baking sheet and popped it under the grill. The result was some toasted cheese crisps I could add to the cheese board. Should have oiled the baking sheet better as it was a bit of a pain to get off.
Next some dressing for the salad, starting with the vinegar. As vinegar is acid you cannot use the alginate based process to make liquid spheres, but you can make agar agar gel pearls instead, so the measured quantity of two vinegars (white wine and shallot) was heated with agar agar. I filled a tall jar with vegetable oil and popped it in the freezer to cool for 30 minutes. You then use the eye droppers from the kit to release a stream of drips into the oil. As they fall into the oil they form a small spherical drop, which cools as it falls through the oil, so by the time it reaches the bottom of the jar it has set into a soft gel pearl. When all the vinegar has been dropped you strain the oil through a sieve and tip the pearls into cold water and stir to rinse. Most of the oil floats to the top of the water so you end up with clean pearls of vinegar when you strain again. These are then stored in the fridge till needed.
Ok, back to the tomato, you now have frozen calcium tomato hemispheres, each contain a small tomato cube and a basil leaf.
You prepare a sodium alginate bath. This is a bit of a process as to get it to dissolve without lumps you need to use a blender which puts air into the solution, which is slightly gloopy, so you need to then let it rest in the fridge so the air bubbles rise and the solution clears. Ok, so now we drop the calcium tomato ice cubes in a few at a time. They must not touch or they will stick. You then need to stir them gently for three minutes while the outer surface of the cube melts and the calcium alginate gel forms on the outer surface. You need to make sure they turn and not float so an even layer forms all over.
After the three minutes they are lifted one by one into a water bath to wash them and stop the process.
After this rinse each tomato bubble is placed into some of the clear tomato liquid (this was left from before the measure amount had the calcium added), this is to hold the bubble until you are ready to serve them. It stops the surface drying out and breaking, and unlike holding in water as the outside and the inside taste the same there is no flavour dilution.
Making the spaghetti, it was not hard but producing enough for the 6 dishes did take about 90 minutes. More plastic tubing would speed up the process. The technique I used was this one:
The other part of the dish was the basil foam. This is created at the last minute so there are no pictures of the process, I had other things on my mind, you use a hand blender to blend a couple of cups of basil leaves with some milk and the soya lecithin. This results in a green tinted foam being formed. It did lose its colour very very fast, so even by the time I had scooped a mound of the foam onto each plate it had started to lose the bright green for a dull green.
I bought eight value teaspoons from Morrisons for 59p and attacked them with a vice to bend the handle. I plated the dish as follows. Two dots of the remaining tomato pulp to act as glue, one with the cheese spaghetti on it, the other with a tomato bubble. The tomato bubble was dressed with some wine vinegar pearls. The spoon was balanced on the spaghetti and held another tomato bubble, some shallot vinegar pearls and some basil foam. More basil foam was placed on the plate.
As part of the desert I made vanilla yoghurt spheres (yoghurt + calcium, dropped using a spoon into alginate bath), served on spoons with a rose syrup. These were harder to make than the frozen method and I burst some in the bath. You let the mess set then strain the bath to remove the gel bits and begin again.
The port caviar and honey caviar were hard to do. They had the alginate mixed with the port/honey and were dropped into a calcium bath. This is suppose to produce balls with a better mouth feel, as the gel layer is much thinner, but this also make them much harder to handle and I ruptured some of them getting the out of the rinse bath so they all clumped back together. Also the alginate really seamed to dull the taste of the port, it was better to just drink it!
I still have some of the chemicals left so I will play again sometime.