After our initital post on umami we came to realise that there is still a hell of a lot of information to sift through. After much deliberation we decided that another post was in order. ....... and maybe another one a little further down the line.
This time round we focus on how you can increase Umami, or deliciousness, in certain foods or liquids and think about how some of these processes can be harnessed for our purposes.
We inherently find Umami appealing. We have come to associate it with gustatory and health benefits, as well as that satisfying feel and taste that we get from certain ripe foods. This has lead to methods of cooking and preparation that increases this sensation. Some specifically to increase Umami and others serve a practical function i.e. preservation.
Ripening is the first naturally occurring way of increasing Umami. As foods ripen they gain flavour. This much is obvious but illustrated very well by tomatoes. When they are green and unripe there taste is unappealing. As they ripen the natural levels of glutamates and amino acids increase and so does the deliciousness. The same can be seen in various other vegetables most notably mushrooms. The insufficient ripeness is often displayed through bitter flavours while if something is over ripe or off we sometimes taste that as sour.
Ripeness is often measured through palatability.In this method of increasing umami we see something which is completely practical and serves both a function of deterring people from eating to early or too late. Similar to fruit, we have learnt that certain flavours are unpalatable or poisonous.
With fruit, especially this is often displayed as sourness.In cheese's we see what is a similar process to ripening however it is often referred to as maturation.In many foods, the moisture present can often be one of the main hurdles to cross when attempting to increase Umami. Drying in many instances can be the easier way of getting around this problem.
The simplest method is to use sunlight, however with England being the temperamental climate that it is, a dehydrator can also be a simple method.
Curing is a very similar process to drying, however it includes the addition of salt or smoke being applied to the product. This method is both practical in that it preserves the food and also sensual in that we can see an increase in Umami.
Fermentation is arguably the most useful for our purposes. It is also slightly different from the other methods in it's use of enzymes, bacteria and other living organisms to break larger molecules down into smaller compounds or convert one compound into another.Many Umami rich compounds use this technique.
For instance, soy sauce, miso, mirin, sake, shochu, wine. These result in high levels of glutamate and a satisfying Umami feel.One avenue interesting to explore is the use of mirin in drinks. Although very sweet, in small amounts it could add interesting dimensions and potentially act as an alternative for sugar but adding a prominent Umami feel and interesting flavour profile.
Also, in theory wine can potentially posses very high levels of Umami and mouth feel. Also if U umami is as much as sensation as it is a part of a food we can begin to work out ways to re-create it artificially in products for our own benefit.
This interview was published in Class magazine in April 2008 however the interview was actually conducted in July 2006 as no body wanted to publish it as it was to cocktail related and everybody wanted Ferran food articles until Tom Sandham editor of class saw it... So a big thanks to Tom for that!!
Tony: How did cocktails start at Elbulli? What was the timeline of how they evolved?
Ferran: At El bulli we used to watch the old technicolur Hawaiian based movies . Films with Elvis in them. Which had people drinking cocktails. Also they were in hotels of 4 stars and above who would give cocktails as a welcome in the evening. We felt that this part of the welcome was missing in high gastronomy. This was all happening 93/94 when we started experimenting with the snacks. The solid snacks were where it began. We then started along the lines of:
1. solid 2. liquid, 3. espumas (foams)
The third part was the liquid with the foam on top.
If it wasn’t for the foam we would not have started delving into the cocktails. As it opened the arena of cocktails for us.
The first cocktails where the passion whisky sour and the pina colada. These first cocktails took the cocktail making away from the bartender to the chef. Thus applying a different skill set to cocktails.
There were pros and cons of taking the job away from the barman 1: that chefs think outside of the cocktail box.
2.The cocktail/barman box is outside of the chef box.
So what you have in fact here is a chef cocktail. Even though I am a big fan of what they do in the Barcelona cocktail bars. The style of cocktails at El bulli are not practical to do in a cocktelaria.
Tony: Where did the inspiration for the hot and cold drinks come from?
Ferran: It was a natural progression because cocktails where now in the kitchen. This lead to the separation from the classic cocktail in that they could be consumed with a spoon. Something which was unthinkable before. It also made them special in a different way.
Tony: Do you see a major difference in liquid as a flavour conduit than the solid of food?
Ferran: Look at it this way. What happens when you have a cocktail? It becomes an acupuncture of the senses..
We worked on the visual, temperature and the texture. We did not want to invent new cocktails as such. We played with these three premises, very few times have we deviated from the classics.
Tony: Was there no temptation to?
Ferran: No, because there are a lot of professionals doing that and we would bring nothing new to those combinations.We have invented no new combinations, we felt we could be more influentional in those areas I specified,by changing the design.
I was in a bar in London and they where doing this, but we don’t want to do what those people are doing. The things we look at are the limits The empty glass being the extreme! Our job is to ask the why of things. A cocktail without alcohol is it a cocktail, or a mix of fruits or just a mix, If you ask yourself questions everyday, the answers change.I change my mind everyday. Haha!
Tony: Do you think that the chemistry of alcohol and the chemistry of food create emotions which can vary because of the alcohol?
Ferran: We are now talking about subjectivity. The difference of reaction in subjectivity. I can speak for myself but I cannot speak for others. Everybody has there own tastes there are 365 days in the year this is a opportunity to taste 365 different cocktails. There are no restrictions.
Tony: What kind of cocktails do you like?
Ferran: I don’t like strong strong cockatils not like the dry martini the ones that bomb you. Things like the caiparinia, the sangria. Things that are lighter in tone.
After 7yrs of evolution we got quite close to the limits then we brought out the spray.Which is a dry martini in a spray, in a perfume bottle. We were asked to do this with comme de garcons which is made by puig in Barcelona..
(I am now shown a comme des garcons bottle which is filled with a martini mix)
Look this has been in the bottle for 1yr, 1yr and a half and it is still good.
There were two things with this invention that we wanted to say (everything we do has a reason we do nothing without a reason)
1. It applies flavour directly to your taste buds, it covers all of your mouth with those flavours, by changing the form you change the experience. It obliges you to chew like you would wine. Unlike the martini which is very cold. It goes back to taste. It appreciates the need to drink to quench thirst. It is a quick hit.
2. The second reason is that it opens possibilities it is more fashion, it is more London, not Cala Monteja. In London it has more applications to sell. It exposes possibilities opens barriers. We look it as chefs not as bartenders but we want to start the communication.
Tony: What has it been like to meet some of the people you have met through your fame?
Ferran: Fame its not about fame or famous people. I am interested in meeting the guy in the bar down the road. This is more important than meeting mick jagger.
But the benefits are that it opens up a world of ingredients and professionals. To meet good people.
Tony: The work you did in the bar in Barcelona can you talk about that?
Ferran: We used different points of referance drinking as drinking, selling cocktails as business things were much simpler.
Tony: There is a fun side to your work. A sense of humour to your food/ cocktails?
Ferran: Nothing is serious apart from love. Love and death. I am not interested in anything serious with no shade of fun. Like everything its quality things can be bad or good. Comics can be bad. You can have bad humour or you can have good humour.
But we do nothing without reflection. We just do not ‘do’ with no reflection. We do not move on without having reflected on what has happened. No superficiality.
Tony: What is your drink of choice at the end of a day?
I'd like a dry martini, Mr Quoc. A very dry martini. A very dry, arid, barren, desiccated, veritable dustbowl of a martini. I want a martini that could be declared a distaster are. Mix me just such a martini.
- "Hawkeye" Pierce M*A*S*H - "Cheers to Barchaeology for heads up
Customer - I'm allergic to citrus, could I have a mojito? Bartender - Yes, although it won't taste as nice without the lime..... Customer - Ok, can I have a margerita instead.... Bartender - Um again the cocktail will be quite bare without lime or any citrus.... Customer - Oh ok (getting slightly agitated) just give me a grapefruit juice then! Bartender - Are you SURE? Customer - Yes grapefruit juice is fine. Bartender - ..............
It seems bitters are very much back in fashion once more, not only that, but bespoke bitters seem to be the way the trend has gone. Why get boxed into a pre-made brand when you can create something to your own specific needs with relative ease?
The most arduous part of any bitters is how time consuming it can be. Maceration can last anything from 5 days to 3 weeks and making sure you hit that sweet spot between flavours is also a process that seems as though it can only be overcome with trial and error.
We thought we'd give you a brief run down of Bitters and then follow it up next week with some of our own techiniques and recipes we have used in the past.
Bitters originally were marketed as potent medicinal substances. Originally drunk on their own, they eventually became used as digestifs and a way of settling one's stomach after a meal.
They are produced mainly using bitter and aromatic plants and fruit extracts and/or distillates, fruit juices, essential oils, with or without the addition of sugar or glucose syrup. Products of this type are for example Boonekamp, English Bitter, Spanish Bitter or Angostura (which was named after a town in Vnezuela which today is Ciudad Bolivar). Angostura to this day is the most popular cocktail spice made from bitters and other aromatic botanticals. Originally made in 1824 by a German physician.While bitters can be a very simple set of ingredients, basically consisting of:
You can also create a much more complex flavour, simlar to angostura who use approximately 21 ingredients in their bitters.
We also seem to be enjoying a bit of a renaissance in the "old school" bitter making a come back and attempting to impede on Angostura's market in the shape of Bokers bitters which were infact the same bitters used by Jerry Thomas way back when.
We found this, potentially quite old recipe for Angostura:
Process:Macerate for approx 5 days; expression of soaked botanicals required. Alcohol recoverey by dry distillation of botanicals is recommended. Chill-filtration of macerate is important to avoid sedimentation of insoluble extractives.
"This is a version of the Clover Club cocktail that was part of a project which was to show case methods learnt from chefs. Then showing how those processes can be used to make drinks. This was a foam Clover Club, with a couple of additions rhubarb gin and a touch of rose. The spun sugar is made from clove sweets which contrasts and compliments the drink."
Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit that has a flavour that is almost half lemon and half lime but still with a light almost floral tinge to it. It still remains fairly bitter and citrus but also a touch sweet.
The flavour it self can be quite overpowering and often proves hard to balance with it's surroundings.
The fruit originates from East Asia and it is generally believed to be a cross of mandarin and ichang papeda.