Cooking with centrifuges

The centrifuge is a clever piece of lab equipment and one that I always loved using during my white coat wearing era. For those of you unlucky enough not to have operated one, they are machines that come in a variety of sizes which spin samples at extremely high speeds. This spinning creates a much greater force than gravity on the sample separating it into its components (liquid/solid layers). Why am I divulging my secret love of centrifuges on this foggy February morning? Scott Heimendinger (Seattle Food Geek) is to blame!

Yesterday morning as I wandered around the new exhibition in the Science Gallery, Edible, Scott was standing beside his addition, 25 test tubes on the wall. He was contacted by Edible curators Cathrine Kramer and Zack Denfeld a few months ago and was “falling in love with centrifuged foods at that time”. That explains the colourful test tubes (pictured above).

Scott / Seattle Food Geek

It turns out that when foods are centrifudged, interesting things happen. Peas are a good example as they separate into 3 different parts: pea liquid, pea butter and pea solid. Scott (with a centrifuge in his basement!) has made an innovative Pea Ravioli using each of these new pea textures and tastes. “I feel there is a bright future for centrifuged foods. There may be some amazing discoveries yet to be had”.

Using lab equipment to experiment with food is part of a modernist cooking revolution. Centrifuges are just one piece of equipment adopted from the lab environment. Ultrasonic homogenizers, water baths, freeze dry­ers, rotary evap­o­ra­tors, and vac­uum fil­ters are new additions to research kitchens. Heston Blumenthal’s Channel 4 shows demonstrate cooking using scientific methods such as these. This revolution has been documented in a 2,400 page volume of books, Modernist Cuisine, released last March.

Scott fell in love with modernist cooking when he first tasted an egg cooked with the sous-vide technique where the food is vacuum-packed and placed in a thermostatically controlled water bath at a constant temperature. This particular egg was cooked for 1 hour at 64°C which gave the yolk the texture of a pudding.

Recently, he’s been experimenting with an ultrasonic homogenizer. A vinaigrette is usually made up of oil (floats to top) and vinegar (bottom). If you shake the bottle, they form an emulsion for a short while but soon seperate. Scott used his ultrasonic homogenizer and they remained mixed for 4 days! The ultrasonic sound waves create high and low pressure cycles which breaks up clumps of the individual liquids to allow them to blend together. He has even aged bad whiskey by adding some wood chips and giving the mixture an ultrasonic blast.

Micro-Centrifuge Experiment at Edible: “You’ll find that all of the flavour of the tomato is still present even though you’ve removed the tomato solids”

A thought that struck me while talking to the fellow blogger was how much Scott has achieved through the Seattle Food Geek blog; “I worked in IT but my passion for food and cooking caught up with me”. Recently employed by the team behind Modernist Cuisine, his passion has turned into his day job.

It was brilliant to catch up with Scott yesterday and he really opened my eyes to the world of modernist cooking. It seems science can take credit for not only innovating the food we grow but also for inspiring new techniques, texture and tastes.

So if you really want to impress next Tuesday and have lab equipment lying around your house, I spotted a receipe on the Seattle Food Geek blog perfect for the occasion: French toast using a centrifuge & sous vide machine:

  1. Make pea butter by blending 4lbs of thawed peas until smooth, then centrifuging at 1500 RPMs for 2-3 hours.
  2. Cook 4 eggs sous vide at 64°C for one hour.
  3. Meanwhile. cut 4 slices of brioche, about 1” thick.  Toast on a flat-top grill with copious amounts of melted butter.
  4. Fry up 8-12 slices of pancetta.  Pro tip: frying pancetta in a waffle cone maker keeps it from curling up.

Let me know how it turns out!

Edible: The Taste of Things to Come featuring many thought-provoking exbits runs in the Science Gallery from today until 6th April. Scott Heimendinger / Seattle Food Geek is giving a Food Photography Masterclass tomorrow as part of this exhibition.

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