The lab’s most recent publication, Modernist Cuisine at Home, is nominated for a James Beard Award. The techniques and equipment it champions, however, may require some explanation for anyone more ‘at home’ in a kitchen than a science laboratory. Assisted by a handful of experienced chefs including several The Fat Duck alumni, I went about mastering the lab’s culinary gadgets and created tantalizing recipes using a centrifuge, a rotary evaporator, a Pacojet, an immersion circulator, and a vacuum sealer the size of a photocopier.
Let me explain each time a new technique and share a recipe, starting with Pacojetized Vanilla Bean Gelato.
Equipment & Technique
A Pacojet looks like a coffee maker, but this high-powered blender has steel blades that rotate at 2000rpm and turn frozen cylinders of cream, nuts, fruit, meat, or vegetables into silky gelato, sorbet, paté, or soup. Most commonly used to make ice cream, it solves the problem of crystallization, eliminating the bumpy texture that occurs when excess air is trapped in the ice cream base or the base isn’t blended finely enough. Quick, simple and heart-meltingly creamy gelato comes at a price. A Pacojet costs around £3300, meaning most Nigella Lawson and Heston Blumenthal devotees won’t likely have one on their kitchen counters anytime soon. Restaurants, however, are making the financial investment. They understand the value of made-to-order, cream-tacular (that’s not a word) frozen treats that taste as though Italy cried beautiful vanilla tears into every soul-satisfying scoop.
“Basically you’ve got a motor and you’ve got a big drill press,” says Chef Fahey-Burke at the Modernist Cuisine lab. “Your typical Pacojet has a blue valve to let air out. We don’t want to serve people air.” So he ripped the hose out that was attached to the valve. Now it stays permanently open. I attach a pre-frozen container of the puréed macadamia nuts vanilla gelato base directly to the blades, and set a dial corresponding to several now illuminated horizontal bars. The bars indicate how far down through the beaker’s contents the blades will “drill” – just one bar for a kiddie cone-sized serving, or the whole beaker for a pint.
“It’s designed that way so restaurants can do stuff to order,” he says. We process the whole beaker. I’m not planning on leftovers. The blades take one minute to rip up and down through my frozen mixture of macadamia nuts, sugar, oil, and vanilla beans. A hand-cranked ice cream machine takes about twenty assuming the mixture is cooled in advance. This requires more forethought than simply removing a beaker from the deep freeze. Even my Gelataio 1600, used so often that it resides in the cupboard next to my oils, can’t compete with the results of the Pacojet.
The Pacojet makes the richest, densest, creamiest gelato I’ve ever eaten. It doesn’t dissolve into nothingness on the tongue. In fact, I ate it for lunch at the lab two days in a row because I don’t own a Pacojet and didn’t know when I’d get to eat such amazing ice cream again, like a chipmunk fattening itself up for a long, sad, gelato-less winter.
Vanilla Bean Macadamia Nut Gelato (based on the recipe for Pistachio Gelato from Modernist Cuisine and the Modernist Cuisine website).
You can use cashews in place of macadamia nuts. Or try pistachios and pistachio oil for a traditional pistachio gelato, should you ever need to make an Italian weep for joy.
680g water, 210 grams macadamia nuts, 155 grams sugar, 7 grams salt, 3 grams locust bean gum, optional (only necessary if using an ice cream machine instead of a Pacojet) 2 grams Lambda carrageenan, optional (or replace both powders with 4 grams xanthan or guar gum, which are more readily available) 102 grams neutral-flavoured oil.
If you don’t use any of the powdered gums or carrageenan you do not need to heat the sugar to a specific temperature – only high enough to dissolve the sugar and salt. The gelato will not be as creamy without the powders, but it will still be far better than Haagen-Daaz.
Use a hand blender to combine water, sugar, salt, locust bean gum and lambda carrageenan in a medium saucepan. Heat to 60 degrees C/140 F. Blend to dissolve sugar and salt and remove from heat. Let cool. Soak macadamia nuts in enough water to cover for at least 30 minutes (or not – it’s just to soften them to help them blend, but that’s what the Pacojet is for). Drain and combine with cooled sugar mixture in a blender along with oil. Blend until as smooth as possible in a mere blender. Pour into Pacojet containers and freeze for at least 24 hours. Process in Pacojet – “pacojetize.” Serve immediately.