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Reverse Spherification and Marcel Vigneron » digest LA

Recently I took a cooking class with Marcel Vigneron at Sur La Table. I previously made fun of LA for being celebrity-obsessed, but I do have to admit that I took this class just because Marcel had been on Top Chef season 2. I started watching Top Chef at the end of that season. In fact, I think the infamous hair shaving episode was the first episode I ever saw. So I didn’t have any strong feelings for Marcel one way or the other, but I was excited to take a class with a Top Chef.

I didn’t expect to learn anything useful, but I thought it would be fun. The class was rescheduled with short notice because of Marcel’s time commitments to his new gig at Bar 210. Thanks to that change only a really small group ended up taking the class. On top of that, Marcel was about the nicest person you could imagine. He kept everyone busy working on recipes and was pretty charming. Okay, I did get a little crush when we shared a potato (my sister just rolled her eyes when she read that). So while we got the super small class with hands on attention, I did notice from another blog that he brought Chef Ludovic Lefebvre (from Top Chef Masters) as his sous chef the last time he taught the class. Well, at least I got to share a potato.

Anyway, surprise surprise, I loved the class and went home with 2 to 3 completely viable recipes to make at home. My favorite was Egg 63 with ratatouille (and potatoes!) that I am going to make for my sister when I visit in a few weeks. We also made deboned chicken wings stuffed with blue cheese that I will make as soon as the Eagles are in the Super Bowl. Last we made a pine nut bizcocho in the microwave that I loved, but it requires a soda syphon. No big deal, except I just bought a Soda Stream. Does my kitchen require this much carbonation?

So of all these recipes, I decided to try the one I thought I would never make – grape spheres with peanut butter powder brioche toast. This recipe involves creating a thin membrane around a sphere of grape juice so that you can place it as a solid “jelly” on your brioche, but it explodes back into juice when you put it in your mouth. For this recipe, you need to purchase some chemicals to create the membrane. The grape spheres are created using a reverse spherification process, which means calcium is added to the grape juice and the mixture is then “cooked” in water that contains sodium alginate.

these are the wrong shape

I mixed up my chemicals the day before as per the instructions. I added Xantham gum to thicken the grape juice and Calcium Chloride. The first problem came when I opened the grape juice and found a thick layer of foam from the immersion blender. I am not making foam, I am making spheres!

First, I tried skimming the foam off. Every time I dropped the grape juice into the algin, I ended up with silly string shapes instead of spheres.

The I made the mistake of tasting one. It was disgusting. Like a salty seaweed blob. The I remembered that Marcel said something about soaking it in grape juice in case the spheres are going to absorb any flavors. So I put my blobs in grape juice and soldiered on.

Next, I tried dropping the grape juice with foam into the algin. The foam made the grape juice more buoyant and it formed spheres. However, the spheres had little tails that made them impossible to pick up with a slotted spoon. The tail would slip through the slot and the whole thing would break open. I remember Marcel using scissors to cut off the tails, so I started trying that next. With foam and scissors, I managed to make one remotely sphere-like shape from the entire batch of grape juice.

perfection... not really

Heady with the triumph on my one sphere-ish shape, I decided to give up and just make lots of tiny spheres (like caviar) because that was easy enough to do. I used up the rest of the juice making grape caviar and soaked it all in grape juice.

After all this, I just didn’t have it in me to attempt to powder-ize peanut butter. Peanut butter is fine, in fact, that is how we had it in class. I toasted some brioche from the farmer’s market, spread on the peanut butter, and delicately placed grape blobs on each. I was kind of hungry by this point anyway, so I grabbed a piece of toast and… still completely disgusting. Why am I making these?

Now that I have that recipe out of the way, I can try to make one of the recipes that I actually wanted to make from the class. If you want to try this for some reason, here is an Instructable for making carrot caviar.


UPDATE: I found out later that I had used Calcium Chloride in the grape juice, which is not meant for consumption. I should have used Calcium Gluconate. That is why this recipe tasted so bad.

  • Stew

    Alright so I admit I only looked at the pictures before… I’ve read it now.

    60 Minutes did a profile of the Chef Jose Andres for doing molecular gastronomy. At 11:22 towards the end of the video, he made reverse spherification mojito:

    I think you would enjoy the entire segment though.

    Keep it up!

  • Victor

    so boneless chicken wings = never?

  • Oliver

    So you find this recipe disgusting? the sphere’s taste disgusting?

  • admin

    I just updated the post with the answer. Basically, I had used Calcium Chloride in the grape juice when I should have used Calcium Gluconate. Calcium Chloride is not meant for consumption, but it is what is used in spherification. It is not used in reverse spherification.

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