Little did I know when we gave our son the "molecular gastronomy" masterpiece, “Modernist Cuisine,” for his birthday, that our Thanksgiving kitchen would be converted into a chemistry lab.
With unbridled enthusiasm, Nicholas planned his “additions” to the traditional menu: Creamed spinach, polenta, mac 'n cheese, and two extra gravies, all made with the help of “molecular” ingredients such as xanthan gum, sodium citrate, liquid soy lecithin and Ultra Sperse-3 (your guess is as good as mine).
Knowing how crazed the kitchen was likely to be with 20 exuberant guests and a menu of more than 15 items, I talked him into focusing on the gravies that day and making the other dishes later.
The adventure turned out to be delicious and highly educational.
In addition to the basic gravy I always make – de-glazed pan juices and beurre-manié-thickened stock from turkey trimmings – our glossy 25-pound bird was accompanied by two “modern” gravies. (Photo from FineDiningLovers.com.)
One, “Simplified Jus Gras” (literally, “fat juice”) was a blend of Belgian wheat beer and chicken stock (he used a high-quality frozen product), powdered gelatin, xanthan gum, liquid soy lecithin and rendered duck fat, basically one cup of chicken stock/beer to ½ cup of duck fat. Somehow, the duck fat lent the rich, roasted flavor and aroma of a just-cooked bird. And the dusting of gelatin and xanthan gum created a remarkably smooth, velvety texture
Gravy #2 started with chicken stock (we used Kirkland Organic Chicken Stock in a box for this one), that was substantially reduced and blended with a puree of garlic confit and a sprinkle of Ultra-Sperse 3. (On the "Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking" website, Ultra-Sperse 3 is described as “all-natural cold water swelling starch derived from tapioca.”) Again, the texture and mouth feel of this gravy was sensational. And, with the last-minute addition of minced dried cranberries, fresh sage leaves and cracked black pepper, it was the hit of the gravy train.
A week or so before his arrival from Philly, Nicholas emailed me his “modernist thanksgiving ingredients” shopping list, which included 4 pounds of corn on the cob, “lots and lots of parmesan rinds,” white chicken stock, brown chicken stock, liquid soy lecithin, and rendered duck fat, among other foodstuffs. (The trickier stuff he ordered on-line from Modernist Pantry.)
His list also included a pressure cooker, “a digital metric scale, accuracy to .1g. this is really imperative for all of these recipes,” an immersion blender, cheesecloth, potato ricer, and a juicer. Fortunately, I have a pressure cooker that I love and use all the time. My husband gave me a potato ricer for Christmas a few years ago (doesn’t every Irish lass need a potato ricer?). And I managed to find an immersion blender, that I didn’t know I had, tucked away in a cabinet.
And now, thanks to Amazon.com, I am the proud owner of a Hamilton Beach Big Mouth Juice Extractor (to be used on the polenta-less polenta over Christmas vacation!) and a Blade Digital Pocket Scale.
The whole operation proved to be a steep learning curve for me. Even after 20 years of answering Union-Tribune readers’ questions on “where to buy,” I had no idea where to find rendered duck fat. It took me far longer than it should have to figure out the relationship between .1g and .01g. And I had no idea that if you wipe up powdered xanthan gum spilled on a tile floor with a wet towel you will create an “oil slick” that would make BP blush. (We had to cover part of the floor with a beach towel and declare it off limits.)
Gravy 101 was just part of a grand evening that included a sunset walk on the beach (to burn off the calories ahead of time!), ceviche of ultra-fresh corvina, warm crabmeat dip, shrimp cocktail, a golden bird, cooked and uncooked cranberry relishes, butternut squash gratin, yams pureed with poached pears and tangerine juice, mashed potatoes, picture-perfect roasted vegetables, Brussels sprouts sauteed with hazelnuts and bacon, fall fruit crumble, marble cheesecake, chocolate icebox cake, Cosmopolitans, Veuve Cliquot Champagne, artisan beers, and great Pinot Noirs (French and Californian), all of which resulted in this very happy crowd.