How to Use Agar Agar, a Vegetarian Gelatin. Make Savory Jello's and Play in the Kitchen!
An Agar Agar Watermellon
The world's best chefs have been playing mad scientist within the molecular gastronomy movement for a decade or more. Why? – Because it's fun and also because you can do some very cool things that also happen to taste great!
And even if you're not ready to turn your home kitchen into a laboratory in the name of gastronomy, there are still some very neat things that you can do (without spending a lot) with a few simple ingredients.
And agar agar is a great starting point for your experimentation.
What is Agar Agar?
Agar agar is similar to gelatin. While gelatin is a meat product, agar agar is derived from seaweed and is vegetarian. You can use agar agar as a vegetarian substitute in recipes calling for gelatin powder.
Agar agar is stronger than gelatin, and liquids gelled with the plant protein will remain solid at room temperature. What this means is that you can turn savory liquids into very adult tasting "Jellos" for the plate - and they won't melt even when paired next to heated ingredients (agar agar jellied liquids will melt at 85 degrees Celsius).
Some examples of things you could do include:
Jellied tomato water with basil granita and fresh mozzarella
Jellied hard apple cider with sharp cheddar cheese and nuts
Jellied passion fruit purée with raspberry ice cream and some good dark chocolate
If you can imagine it you can do it!
How Do You Use Agar Agar?
The Alinea reference cookbook calls for the use of agar agar at 0.5% by weight.
That is, if you want to gel 500ml (grams) of a liquid – you should use 2.5 grams of agar agar.
What you do…
- Mix the agar agar with any liquid that you want to gel, and bring that liquid to a boil, whisking as you do so to dissolve the agar agar. Once the agar agar has dissolved completely, remove the liquid from the heat, and allow to cool. The liquid will remain liquid until it cools to 35 degrees Celsius, at which point it will begin to gel.
- The gel will remain solid until it is heated again to 85 degrees Celsius.
- You can also transform that liquid gel into a pudding by blending it until smooth.
Why Should You Use It?
Top chefs have been pushing the boundaries of science in the kitchen to unearth new sensory and taste experience for the plate. Techniques like sous vide cooking, equipment like the anti griddle (which is a pan the cooks through extreme cold) and hydrocolloid ingredients like agar agar are now available for the creation of before impossible to produce foods.
Play around with agar agar gels and let your creativity run wild!
You should do it because cooking is fun, and creating dishes that will surprise and delight your family and friends is a big part of that fun.
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