“He was standing in Andrea’s kitchen, finally able to cook to his heart’s content. He did not have to pay any attention to the aphrodisiac effect of the dishes, his arsenal of kitchen gadgets had grown and now his eagerness to experiment was almost limitless….The menu consisted of his experimental versions of classic Indian dishes:
Cinnamon curry caviar chapattis
Baby snapper marinated in turmeric with molee curry sabayon
Frozen mango curry foam
Milk-fed lamb cutlets in jardaloo essence with dried apricot purée
Beech-smoked tandoori poussin on tomato, butter, and pepper jelly
Kulfi with mango air”
Martin Suter, The Chef
Martin Suter’s The Chef is the story of Maravan, a Tamil dishwasher, and Andrea, a Swiss waitress, who get sacked from the smart restaurant where they’re working, and set up business together producing aphrodisiac food. One of their clients turns out to be an arms dealer, illegally selling surplus tanks to Sri Lanka where Maravan’s nephew has been forced to become a child soldier….
Maravan is deeply into molecular gastronomy and at the end of the book the author offers some of the recipes of the dishes he describes his hero cooking. Most involve too much exotic equipment and techniques for those of us who, like Saucy Dressings, subscribe to the Life Is Too Short school of life but I thought one of them was worth a go.
Mango Air is pretty much what it says on the tin. It’s effectively a sort of fresh, sharp froth…nothing really much more. But it’s not quite that simple…. air vanishes…. capturing it before it does requires technique.
Below I outline the most used methods and consider why these have suddenly become all the rage.
Below that I give the recipe for silver-leaf decorated mango air accompanied by its own gin or vodka cocktail…. a real wow of a recipe which uses soy lecithin powder as the air stabiliser. Easy when you know how…..
About airs, foams, cappuccinos, zabaglioni (sabayons), and espumas
1. Liquids mixed with air and a stabilising agent
Airs, foams and espumas are all part of the armoury of the molecular chef – and they are also mostly within the easy grasp of the normal, mortal home cook as well – a meringue or a mousse, for example, is a type of foam. Essentially airs, foams and espumas are all liquids (fruit juice or coulis; or stock for example) mixed with air and a stabilising agent. Almost any liquid will foam if it’s whisked briskly enough, the trick is to get it to hold its shape and this is the role of the stabiliser.
The stabilising agent will be what’s known as a surfactant, that is to say, it will lower the surface tension of the liquid in order to enable it to coat the surface of the air bubbles. This creates a thin barrier between the bubbles to stop them merging back together. The surfactant could be lecithin, as in this case, or it could be agar agar, gelatin, or xanthan gum. Natural fats such as butter and cream, yoghurt, crème fraîche or egg yolks (egg yolks are a type of lecithin) can also act as stabilisers, hence whipped cream and the Italian zabaglione (or, in French, sabayon).
Some foams can be made to be so stable that they can be frozen.
2. How to get the air into the liquid
Air is forced into the liquid using either a stick blender, or for the more enthusiastic and dedicated, a syphon using gas (nitrous oxide – which produces foam – rather than carbon dioxide – which produces fizz) cartridges.
It’s also possible to use other equipment – for example, I will froth some single cream using a cappuccino whisk and use it to drizzle over soups.
3. What is the difference between an air, a foam, a cappuccino and an espuma?
As a very rough rule of thumb airs are the lightest and frothiest. Foams and cappuccinos (indeed, the milky froth on top of a cappuccino is another example of ….. a cappuccino) are a bit denser. And an espuma has a similar density to whipped cream – in fact you could argue that whipped cream is a type of espuma.
Espumas are more often made using a siphon, and foams and cappuccinos are more often made using a stick blender. Airs can be made by either. The type of stabiliser can also dictate the type of equipment used. Stick blenders can be used for lecithin-based foams, a siphon for gelatin-based foams, and you might use first a stick blender and then a siphon for an agar agar-based foam.
4. How did this technique become The In Thing?
Like so many other culinary innovations the fashion begins in the ’90s with Ferran Adrià of El Bulli. Adrià discovered that if you force air fiercely into an intensely flavoured sauce you can expand the flavour to make it light and luxurious, and, at the same time double the volume. wanted his customers to remember eating grilled bread with olive oil so he served a froth of wood-smoked water in a glass with a few drops of olive oil and some strips of toast. Personally, I think I prefer the grilled bread with olive oil!
Foams became all the rage, used whether they gave added value or no – Maravan’s menu, above, includes an air, a foam, and a sabayon. Now, thankfully, they are used with more discrimination.
It’s all a matter of showmanship – through two additions
Suter specifies that this bubbly sauce should be decorated with edible silver. I was inclined to think this a spurious addition but I served it to five guests in a bit of a hurry and, because the fluffy metal is fantastically fiddly and sticks maddeningly to the fingers, the last of them got just one tiny scintillating flake. He complained. A lot.
1. Silver leaf
So this ice cream (in the book it’s served, in fact, with kulfi) sauce is really all about showmanship. You have to tell your guests that it’s an experiment involving lecithin, adorned with the metallic leaf…
2. An accompanying shot-cocktail using the remaining juice for additional wow!
You can achieve an additional wow! factor by using any remaining unfoamed liquid to make a pud-accompanying cocktail… maybe two parts gin or vodka to one part juice, plus some icing sugar: serve in frosted shot glasses!
It’s a bright, fresh, exotic and different end to a meal and so ludicrously simple you can’t quite believe you’ve done it right.
Recipe for Maravan’s mango air
For four to six
- 180ml/¾ cup of mango juice
- 1 lime, juice and zest, or 2 tbsps lime juice
- 1 tsp soy lecithin powder (don’t add too much or you will destabilise the foam). Note that you want the powder form, not the granules
- 4 leaves of edible silver leaf
- Put the juices and the lecithin into a large beaker and whisk with a stick blender.
- It will form a bubbly froth with liquid underneath – a bit like eggs whites which have a little water in and refuse to whip up stiffly. Once you’ve administered the foam to the ice cream you can either throw away the remaining liquid, or use it to make a pud-accompanying cocktail.
- Leave to stabilise for a few minutes.
- Skim off the froth and adorn the ice cream or kulfi with it.
- Adorn the foam in its turn with torn bits of the silver leaf and a little zest if you’re using a fresh lime. The silver leaf can be fantastically fiddly – if it comes, helpfully as it sometimes does, with wooden tweezers, or you have any wooden tweezers, use those otherwise it tends to stick maddeningly to the fingers.
See Youtube clip below featuring Ferran Adrià, making an sabayon. Curiously, he’s advocating keeping it simple….
You may also be interested in:
- All about mangoes and why they are so popular in the Indian sub-continent – follow this link.
- For a quick way to make your own creamy, rich ice cream follow this link.
- For the best vanilla ice cream to buy and the ones to avoid at all costs, go here.