The executive chef of dine by Peter Gordon at SkyCity answers your cuisine questions.
We recently viewed an Australian MasterChef programme, which showed a recipe for an oyster dish that incorporated gellan gum mixed with apple juice. Would you please advise as to where we can obtain gellan gum in the Auckland area? Also, if you have any recipes which incorporate the product, it would be appreciated.
Hmm ... molecular gastronomy - it's one of those things that can be incredible and slightly bonkers, or totally overworked, depending who's playing/cooking with it. In Auckland, Michael Meredith does subtle things and in Wellington, Martin Bosley has fun too. When I ate at the world famous El Bulli 10 years ago, I found the experience was definitely "an experience", but I didn't find it a culinary one. Thirty-two courses and I can barely remember anything I ate - except I was impressed he served no meat apart from rabbit and foie gras and that the rest of the meal was based around seafood, grains and vegetables. Gellan gum is produced by fermenting a type of seaweed to extract a compound that gels while still warm, remains fairly flexible (it can be made into edible, rubbery spaghetti, for example) and also stops liquids separating - so it is sometimes used to stop the solid and liquid parts of soy milk separating, and the same for chocolate solids in some chilled chocolate drinks.
I'd suggest you go online and see where you can get some from overseas, as the main food importers we asked here do not supply it. Or, ask Michael or Martin (and no doubt other chefs around the country) if they can spare you some. About 10g is needed to set around 500ml of liquid - depending on the brand. Avoid very salty liquids as the salt can prevent the gel setting.
Place your cold, flavoured liquid - apple juice, chicken stock, crayfish bisque or dessert wine and vanilla - into a small pan and sprinkle on the powder, whisking gently as you do to avoid any lumps forming. Place over a moderate heat and continue to whisk the whole time until it almost comes to the boil, turn the heat down to medium low and cook for a minute, whisking as you do. Don't bring it to the boil. Skim any foam from the surface with a dessert spoon or small ladle (this will give a better visual look and texture) then pour on to a tray to set - as thick or thin as you like. Once set it can be sliced into strips like pasta, cut out into discs like ravioli, or any other shape you'd prefer.
Having read this, most of New Zealand will be wondering why bother trying to source such a thing. As kids we'd often stay in one of Dad's mate's woolsheds down near Cape Palliser while he caught crayfish and paua. During the year the shed's bales would either be full of wool or agar agar. The former needs no explanation, but the latter might - it's a type of seaweed that is processed to produce agar powder, used in much the same way as gellan, but it's a little less strong - it's also used as the gel in laboratory petri dishes. I use it a lot in my restaurants. So, while it might seem like it's from another planet - good old New Zealand has been contributing to the world of mad gastronomy and science for years.
And if mad is something you enjoy, then head out and find a copy of Sam Bompas and Harry Parr's crazy book on jellies (available in Auckland libraries), or their more recent one on cocktails. Now they really are bonkers!
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