“Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
Phaedra and Lesleigh are buying waffle makings in front of me in line. I can’t say how much I love this about Wellington–running into my best friends at the grocery store, chatting with them about weekend plans in the produce section, etc. Phaedra is a rabbit this afternoon (sometimes she’s a kitty), but despite how adorable she is, I’m still staring at a bag filled with 5 lbs of beetroot in my hand basket with a thinly-veiled attempt to mask my disgust.
I’ve spent 5 solid years carefully cultivating an unwavering hatred for beetroot. It’s a poison that contaminates otherwise wholesome food, like a bully in gym class or Kat Deely on So You Think You Can Dance. If there’s ever to be a testament to the healing power of molecular gastronomy, this is its big chance.
To be fair, when I was juicing these beets, I immediately noticed how undeniably beautiful the juice is. It’s a brilliant, deep purpley hue; it looks (and stains) a lot like the hibiscus tea. So beautiful was it that I was tempted to taste a spoonful of it before mixing with the calcium lactate that would help spherify it later. It’s just too damn bad that that spoonful gave me the same upper-body shivers that a capful of ‘Tussin does. Blegh.
This recipe is, perhaps-surprisingly, the one of the few in the book utilizing spherification techniques. It’s the second time I’ve tried it, and I’m still mystified at how pretty the Alinea spheres are compared to mine. Dropping frozen beet juice balls into a bath of sodium alginate causes them to skin over properly, but the skin isn’t terribly smooth. So, while they work, they’re not too pretty.
The Verjus I found up north in Greytown. It was pink; I’m not sure if this is usual or not, as the Alinea verjus ice looked clear. Mine froze into a gummy substance that didn’t really want to flake as the instructions indicated.
In addition to the beet spheres and verjus ice, I also needed to make lemon thyme foam and froth (yup two different things). This called for nearly a half-pound of lemon thyme. My tiny little lemon thyme plant has been trying so hard to grow since just before christmas, but no amount of straining was going to get me close to that half-pound mark. I raided a nearby garden shop, buying $22 worth of lemon thyme punnets and exhausting their supply. In the end I had a scant 50g, so I had to abbreviate the rest of the recipes accordingly while wondering how the hell someone ever gets 250g of lemon thyme.
The last ingredient was olive oil. This is the one thing I know beyond a shadow of a doubt I executed flawlessly. I can buy a bottle of olive oil like nobody’s business.
Assemblage goes like this: put a beet sphere in a sexy glass service piece, drizzle it with olive oil, top it with some lemon thyme foam, then top THAT with lemon thyme froth. Because I had skimped on the lemon thyme base for the foam, I wasn’t able to fill a whipped cream canister with it as instructed. One of the ingredients in the foam was gelatin, which in retrospect confuses me a little. A quarter-filled whipped cream canister plus some warm liquid mixed with gelatin seems normal until you chuck it in the fridge for an hour. The gelatin set, ostensibly because of the pressurization in the can combined with the refrigeration, so when I tried to delicately spritz out a bit of my foam onto my spheres, I got a loud hiss and some spurting goo that looked a little like chunky snot instead. After some fiddling, I was finally able to shake it/break it up enough for it to come out as a spongelike, very firm foam. It was almost like a quiche in consistency. Very weird.
But still delicious. I was afraid all the lemon thyme mixed with the verjus, which was quite tart, was just going to taste like licking a lemon, but the thyme foam/froth was quite sweet, so it balanced everything out. When I tossed back a mouthful of this concoction, it was a bit like an assault of flavors, none of which I was terribly familiar with or expecting. There was sweetness, tartness, a sort of warm creaminess from the olive oil, and the je ne sais quoi of the beet juice cutting through everything at the end.
I gotta say, it convinced me of the usefulness of beetroot. Beet juice with lemon is pretty tasty. I don’t know how I could employ this flavor combination into everyday cooking, but at least I know it’s a ‘thing’, so I can explore that more in the future with confidence.
Today’s digression is dedicated to the beer I’ve been drinking while cooking this: one of a series of single-hop IPAs brewed by Mikkeller. Specifically, it’s the Nugget IPA. The idea with these is that Mikkeller keeps a base recipe to which he varies only the single hop being added, to display the character of that hop. The beers are more an experiment in taste than something you’d drink to relax (though I am extremely relaxed right now); some might say they’re over-hopped, but I feel this is part of the exercise. Last night I tried the Nelson Sauvin, a hop grown just across the straight right here in New Zealand. Interestingly, this hop also finds a home in my new favorite beer, the Hopwired IPA from 8 Wire. The Hopwired is incredibly floral, with lots of citrus flavors screaming at the back end of a mouthful. But the Mikkeller Nelson Sauvin, which ostensibly should taste quite the same, was notably different. It was tart and cherry-like, with much more bitterness than the 8 Wire. I have a third Mikkeller single-hop I’ll try later today, featuring Warrior hops. I’ll let ya know how that goes.