June 30, 2008
Rocket Science Food for Health Conscious
By Audrey Vijaindren
CHOCOLATE cake with half the calories? Yes, it does exist. Molecular cuisine, the `marriage' of kitchen and the science lab, lets you feast on the foods you hate to love, minus the guilt. AUDREY VIJAINDREN gets a taste of this `magic' food.
This is the promise of a new "magical" cuisine that is concocted using new techniques and substances that are only seen in science labs.
"Molecular gastronomy is spreading like wildfire in Europe and is fast catching on among health-conscious Malaysians.
"In the next few years, it will become a popular low-calorie diet," says KDU College's culinary arts department head Suresh Isaac Oliver.
A molecular cuisine dish, he says, has about half the calories of the same dish cooked using traditional methods.
"Instead of using oil to fry food, it uses liquid nitrogen. It is a healthy option for those who frequently dine out, because it is not as greasy as traditionally cooked dishes."
Oliver says molecular cooking is also a great way to entertain and impress guests.
"It has the `wow' factor. The presentation of this cuisine is out of this world. Food is served in test tubes and other science lab equipment.
"Cooking time is also shortened. Gourmet dishes like smoked salmon can be prepared within minutes. Usually, it takes days. It is simply magic."
So, how is this trick performed?
Foods are prepared at very high or low temperatures, cooked in a vacuum, put through a centrifugal separator, dehydrated or crushed to the smallest particles.
Ingredients such as liquid nitrogen and calcium chloride are used in this cooking process.
High tech gadgets are needed for carbonation (injection of CO2 into food), emulsification (combining insoluble products), oil spherification (using an agar solution in cold oil to create liquid spheres of various sizes), spherification (using an alginate solution in a calcified bath to create liquid spheres) and vacuum distillation (using a vacuum to separate different elements from a solution).
Sounds like rocket science? That's because it is not very different.
"Molecular cooking involves precision and various scientific processes," says Oliver.
"It needs to be approached with caution, especially the choosing of ingredients.
"Only the best quality products are allowed into the 'cooking pot'.
"It is not like traditional cooking which allows you to add a dash of salt at the very last minute. Molecular cooking has very specific measurements and ingredients that must be followed exactly."
So, is it as tasty as it looks?
The taste of molecular dishes, Oliver says, is a matter of preference.
"Some people like molecular dishes because they are lighter in flavour and taste.
"But because we grew up recognising a particular taste for certain foods, we expect that same taste.
"So the first time you dig into a molecular roast chicken, you might be disappointed. It will not have that yummy greasy taste that you have grown accustomed to."
Oliver says molecular cooking is not limited to food. Cocktails and other beverages can also be concocted using this method.
Unfortunately, local dishes like nasi lemak and roti canai have not been added to molecular recipe books yet.
"We hope as more local chefs master the art of molecular gastronomy, we will be able to modify dishes to cater to local taste. Soon, you might be feasting on molecular nasi goreng and stirred-fried chicken," he says.
When can you cook your first molecular meal at home? Unfortunately, not anytime soon.
Molecular cooking involves very expensive gadgets and most of the ingredients are not readily available in Malaysia.
As for now, the only way to enjoy this magical experience is in a fine dining restaurant with a good glass of wine.
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