It’s been a while since I’ve posted a more technically demanding recipe, mainly because most of the new things I’ve been trying haven’t produced good enough results and weren’t worth writing about. I’ve been experimenting a lot with modernist techniques like reverse spherification and it’s just taken me a while to become somewhat comfortable using them.
Reverse spherification relies on the liquid you are trying to encapsulate being high in calcium and this makes it perfect for dairy products: I wanted to keep the dish nice and fresh so I decided to use a thick yoghurt I loosened to sauce consistency with buttermilk that I then combined with a big bunch of zingy sorrel (an idea I borrowed from these two Ottolenghi recipes). You get a lovely effect of the sauce oozing out all over the plate when your knife or fork bursts the spheres.
There’s a bit of a knack to getting properly formed spheres: if the liquid is too runny it makes things a lot harder and sometimes the sphere doesn’t get fully submerged in the alginate bath so you have to try to press it down whilst trying not to burst it. I found a good video on Ferran Adria’s site that shows the process from beginning to end although it is made to look easier than it actually is!
The next interesting technique involves using tapioca maltodextrin to turn hazelnut oil into a powder, when you then eat the powder it reacts in your mouth and instantly turns back into a liquid. Thankfully, given how hideously expensive hazelnut oil is, a little goes a long way with this stuff and I actually had lots leftover: I vacuum packed the remainder and stuck it in the freezer as apparently it will absorb atmospheric water if left out in the air.
Another strange ingredient you may not recognise is Ultrasperse 3, again a starch derived from tapioca but which acts as a thickener; it’s similar to cornflour but it can be added directly to your sauce without clumping and it doesn’t need heating to be activated. I used it to add more body to my watercress puree as it was a bit thin after I strained it through a fine sieve.
I bought everything I needed from an American website called Modernist Pantry because, strangely, the shipping from the US was cheaper than the popular Cream Supplies site in the UK. They also allow you to buy small 50g amounts which is handy for something like of sodium alginate as it doesn’t last indefinitely like most modernist ingredients.
The rest of the dish is very conventional with just a classic pea puree and the green vegetables cooked quickly in boiling salted water. I was originally thinking of using asparagus but decided to go for the more robust purple sprouting broccoli as there are a lot of big flavours on the plate that might drown out something more delicate.
And now that I mention components that didn’t make it into the final recipe, the pea puree was originally meant to be made from Alexanders but the only ones I could find (growing down by the Grand Canal near my house) were so woody I couldn’t even puree them in my Thermomix. I also intended on garnishing with some edible flowers and lovage but unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to get any. I guess there’s always next time…
For the sorrel yoghurt spheres
2.5g sodium alginate
500g distilled water
100g Greek style yogurt
For the pea puree
150g petit pois
For the watercress sauce
100g chicken stock
2g Ultrasperse 3
For the hazelnut powder
40g hazelnut oil
20g tapioca maltodextrin
For the vegetables
125g purple sprouting broccoli
25g broad beans, podded
1 radish, sliced very thinly
- For the yoghurt spheres, place the sodium alginate and water in a blender and blend at the highest speed for 2 minutes.
- Pour into a small bowl and leave in the fridge overnight for all the air bubbles to dissipate.
- Place the yoghurt, buttermilk and sorrel in a blender and blend until very smooth.
- Add the sugar to take the edge off the sourness.
- Season to taste.
- Using a hemispherical measuring tablespoon, gradually submerge a scoop of the sauce into the alginate bath, flick contents of the spoon into the bath just before the spoon becomes fully immersed.
- Leave to sit for thirty seconds and then using a slotted spoon remove the sphere and place in a bowl of water.
- Repeat three more times and reserve the spheres in the fridge.
- For the pea puree, heat the milk in a small pot over a medium heat.
- Add the peas and sugar and simmer for 2-3 minutes.
- Transfer to a blender and blend until smooth.
- Stir in the butter and adjust the seasoning if required. Reserve.
- For the watercress sauce, melt half the butter and gently sauté the watercress in it for 2-3 minutes.
- Transfer to a blender with the chicken stock and blend until smooth.
- Pass through a sieve into a pan over a low heat incorporate the rest of the butter.
- Whisk in the Ultrasperse 3 and reserve the sauce.
- For the hazelnut powder, add the oil and tapioca maltodextrin to a food processor and process until a fine powder forms. Reserve (this will absorb moisture from the air if prepared too early in advance).
- For the vegetables, fill a bowl with water and ice cubes.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and cook the broccoli for 1-2 minutes, until tender.
- Place in the ice bath.
- In the same pot, add the broad beans and cook for 2-3 minutes.
- Place in the ice bath and when cool, peel off the tough skin.
- In a separate pot, bring some unsalted water to the boil.
- Add the samphire and cook for around 30 seconds.
- Place in the ice bath.
- When ready to plate, reheat the vegetables in a frying pan with a splash of water.
- To plate, dot the plate with some of the pea puree; scatter over the radishes, samphire and broad beans; place two yoghurt spheres to the right hand side of the plate; place the broccoli to the left hand side; place two mounds of the hazelnut powder behind the spheres and broccoli; drizzle some of the watercress sauce around the edges; garnish with some lovage and edible flowers if available.