Spheres and Circles

This was an interesting meal inspired by watching the Gaggan Anand episode of Chefs Table Season 2. Specifically we were watching a birds nest like dish which Nithya said might be a pani puri as well as his spherified yougurt amuse bouche. This idea of spherified Indian food combined with my fish in a barrel dish meant that this meal would have to be all about Spheres and Circles.

Spherified Mojito
Spherified Mojito
The first course was a straightforward mojito sphere encapsulating a mint leaf. Instead of using Xantham gum based preparations I decided to go the frozen reverse spherification route as described in this video. I did find that it was impossible to make the mint leaves stay submerged in the liquid so I had to so a 2 stage freezing where I first froze half filled moulds with the leaf in the liquid and after that was fully frozen I filled the mould to the brim to guarantee that the leaf would be fully surrounded by liquid. In the end 2 of the 5 with leaves I tried did burst during spherification. The ones I made without the leaves came out perfectly and tasted great as well. In the end the enclosed mint leaf is great for presentation but not absolutely necessary for flavour.

Zucchini Hummus Pizza
Zucchini Hummus Pizza
This dish was stolen from our trip to Graffiti in New York a few years ago. It’s basically a puff pastry “crust” using hummus as the pizza “sauce” and zucchini as the topping with a dusting of crushed wasabi peas for crunch and bite. Very simple recipe that the chef has shared online. The zucchini contributed to the circle theme with the wasabi peas as spheres. I cheated a little by using store bought hummus 🙂

Pairing: 2014 Cuvee Luke from Davis Family Vineyard

Fish in a Barrel
This was a dish that I came up with while making the bloody mary spheres at the breakfast for dinner. While I loved the flavour of the bloody mary, I was not particularly happy with the presentation options of spoons and/or shot glasses. After a bit of thought I came up with the idea of having spherified bloody mary mix (no alcohol) floating in vodka instead and the guests can use a soup spoon to pick up the sphere and as much vodka as they desire. That initial concept lead to this course which I call fish in a barrel.

Fish in a Barrel

It is a soup bowl filled with vodka that has multi-coloured spheres floating in it. The diners are given a soup spoon and told to pick up a single sphere at a time and eat it with some liquid. The different coloured spheres are each a different non-alcoholic mixer that will result in a different cocktail. The pink jellyfish like sphere is the grapefruit juice for a greyhound, the orange is straight OJ for a screwdriver and the red is a spicy bloody mary mix. The use of vodka really helps as it is pretty odourless and it is not obvious that it is alcohol. I dont tell guests that it is vodka until after they have the first sphere and then I let them guess the cocktail.

This was probably the most labour intensive course on my end as it required 6 spheres per diner of 3 different types. The sphere base in all cases had 2% of calcium lactate added before freezing overnight. The grapefruit and bloody mary came out pretty well but the orange juice did not freeze completely (possibly due to a high sugar content) and as a result a good number of the orange spheres broke during spherification. Because the vodka needs to remain clear you have to very carefully rinse the sphere before adding them to the vodka or else the liquid from the holding bath will colour the vodka. This is particularly important for the bloody mary spheres. And finally you need to serve this asap after plating (or is that bowling?) or else the liquid will leach out of the spheres as well.

Pani Puri
This is the course that got me started down the path of a spherical meal. It was made using all store bought ingredients with my job being the creative assembly. The green sphere is spherified pani puri mix and is topped with a few drops of Maggi Tamarina sauce. The small yellow balls are boondi that are there to add a crunch reminiscent of a pani puri shell. I originally made the dish with the pani sphere placed over a crushed pani puri shell but that did not have much crunch and was very hard to plate as the sphere would get covered with it on the edges as it rolled around. The boondi is more self contained and has a more distinct crunch. I found that 3 was the right number as it gave enough crunch without altering the flavour too much.

Dahi Papdi
Dahi Papdi
When I saw the spherified yougurt from Gaggan I immediately thought about using the preparation for Dahi Papdi instead. My version is a sphere of yogurt served on a papdi topped with tamarind sauce, mint sauce and chaat masala. While the recipe itself is straightforward it took quite a bit of experimentation to get the yogurt with the right consistency. This was mainly due to the fact that I use an immersion blender to disperse the calcium lactate in the the liquid and that unfortunately converts the yogurt to the consistency of buttermilk which is not the mouthfeel I was going for. I tried adding some Xantham gum to thicken the yogurt up but that didn’t work too well either. In the end I just used a spoon to gently stir the yogurt and mix in the calcium which lead to a thicker consistency than blending and resulted the more viscous mouthfeel that you expect from a dahi papdi.

Soy Maple Paneer Burger with Chicken Kabab
Soy Maple Paneer Burger
The burger in this dish was built using a soy maple glazed piece of paneer inside a Rich as Fuck biscuit. The original plan was to have a bigger biscuit, cut it half and put the kabab in one half and the paneer in the other. Unfortunately the biscuit did not grow as much as expected and the kababs were a little too large as well. The paneer was sous vide in a maple soy marinade at 65C for 45 min and then quickly torched with a spoonful of extra marinade to form a glaze. In the end it did have good flavour but was not juicy enough to work with the dry biscuit. The next time I will just use the kabab on the biscuit as the kabab juice will get soaked up in the biscuit.
Chicken Kabab
Pairing: Defiant from Seghesio

Deconstructed Chicken Tikka
Deconstructed Chicken Tikka
This was Nithyas piece de resistance and another thing inspired by Gaggan where he paired indian flavours with international techniques. We made this chicken tikka masala using a chicken roulade for the tikka paired with a standard butter chicken style gravy for the curry flavour. The plating is 2 pieces of roulade and a spoonful of the gravy along with sauteed greens and onions. The black specks are Icelandic lava salt added as seasoning. The end result was quite good as diners are not expecting a chicken tikka flavour profile from this presentation and texture of the roulade matches the best chicken tikka you can get. Extra points for the roulade being circular and fitting the dinner theme.

The roulade was based on the Chef Steps recipe but using prosciutto instead of chicken skin for the crispy outsides. We also used a single chicken breast and made 2 rolls so folks would get more crunch to meat ratio. The prosciutto adds as nice crunch without changing the flavour profile much. In all it was a great dish and definitely worth making again.

Pairing: Sparkling Malbec from Williamson Wines

Banana Martini
Banana Martini
This cocktail came out of a failed attempt to make banana bon bons where we were unable to get the butter and chocolate coatings to stay even and hold the banana juice inside. Since we had banana juice leftover we made a cocktail with equal parts banana juice and vodka with frozen bon bon banana juice spheres as the ice cubes. The drink had a nice strong banana flavour though I will probably go easier on the vodka the next time. I was especially interested to note that the banana juice ice spheres did not float in the drink.

Black Forest Glen
Black Forest Glen
Another Chef Steps recipe that ran into some issues. Luckily in this case the problems was all cosmetic and we were able to enjoy the dish just fine. It consists of a cherry sorbet served with a flourless chocolate cake. Nithya also substituted the cookie crumble with brown butter solids for some nice flavour and texture. The cosmetic issue we had trouble with was the white icing which gelled too fast and could not be poured to create a smooth finish on the top and sides on the cake. Instead we just spooned the icing on top on the cake.

In general the meal came out quite well and included the following spheres:

  • mojito
  • grapefruit juice (greyhound)
  • orange juice (screwdriver)
  • bloody mary mix
  • pani (Pani Puri)
  • yogurt (Dahi Papdi)
  • banana juice (Banana Martini)

Making so many different spheres taught me a lot about spherification which I will be writing up as a future tips and tricks blog post. Overall it is very fun technique and something more people should try out as it gives really professional looking results without too much effort.

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