I’m definitely getting into the swing of things here at Alicia! Every day brings on fun and interesting new projects. An especially neat endeavor of mine this week was making carrot 'air’. In other words, freeze-dried carrot juice froth! The steps are simple, the ingredients few (only carrots and gelatin), and the result is fabulous: a brittle orange sponge that instantaneously dissolves to nothing on your tongue, leaving an intense carrot flavor as the only clue that it was ever there in the first place.
Here is the basic technique: Carrots are peeled and juiced, and then a carrot foam is made. To do this, gelatin is dissolved in the juice, and the mixture is added to a siphon charged with pressurized N2O, i.e. nitrous oxide, i.e. laughing gas, i.e. the stuff inside whipping cream canisters. Actually, that's a good point – foams, fancy as they sound, are basically no different from whipping cream. Only instead of cream, another liquid is used. In this case, carrot juice. The gelatin is added to support the formation of the froth.
So this carrot juice/gelatin mixture is poured into a siphon, charged with pressurized N2O, cooled in ice water for a few hours, and then the frothy carrot foam is pumped into small cups, just as you would pump whipping cream from its canister. Then these little cups are placed into the freezer. Once frozen, they’re placed under vacuum and freeze-dried over the course of a few days until all the moisture is evaporated, and all that’s left is pure essence of carrot. It really is a spectacular treat – a little poof of pure carrot-ness that just melts in your mouth.
And of course, a project like this is small potatoes at the Alicia Foundation. Many of the chefs and scientists here are alums of El Bulli. To them, carrot air is as basic as it gets, High-Tech Cooking 101. While much of the work done at Alicia is in the name of research, this carrot air utilized techniques that have been perfected years ago. This simple task of mine was actually for a public demonstration. Alicia has many daily visitors, and this little treat was part of a demonstration regarding textures and sensations of food. Simple or not, the end result was really cool, and it was tons of fun for me!