How To Julienne An Onion
Start by topping and tailing the onion and peeling off the outer skin.
Starting on the same side of the onion as your knife hand, make thin, slightly angled cuts towards the center of the onion, using proper guide hand technique to make sure your cuts are uniform, thin and accurate.
Once your knife reaches a 90° angle (halfway through the onion), roll the onion on its side and continue as before.
|This post is part of our ongoing Culinary Knife Skills Video Series, which teaches you a wide array of knife skills used in professional kitchens. For more information, you can also view our How To Cook Video Index.|
In this video I layout my technical approach to sauce making, a concept I refer to as the Three Modern Mother Sauces.
When I attended culinary school, the Five French Mother Sauces was at the core of our sauce making curriculum. The mother sauces and their multitude of derivatives are memorized and hammered into culinary school students, showing up on quizzes, tests, and finals.
The Five French Mother Sauces are still at the heart of most western culinary school's sauce curriculums today; and although I think it's important to understand the Five French Mother Sauces, in all honesty, they're really a redundant, out of date approach to teaching cooks the creative sauce making process.
The purpose of Stella Culinary isn't to turn you into a recipe machine; our true purpose is to teach the fundamental building blocks you need to understand the how's and why's of cooking, eventually unleashing your own culinary creativity and allowing you to express yourself through cooking.
When it comes to creating a sauce, there are only three base techniques you need to master to create any sauce you could ever dream up. Once these techniques and their corresponding best practices are understood, all that's necessary is to construct your preferred flavor structure over the top. This approach allows you to create a multitude of custom, unique sauces that can elevate your dish to the next level.
Pre-Requisites For The Above Video
To truly understand all the information in the video at the top of this page, it is highly recommended that you work your way through the following content first, if you haven't done so already:
Also, if you haven't already, please download the first section of the F-STEP Curriculum, F is for Flavor, by signing up for our free e-mail news letter.
Once you've watched the above videos and read through the F is for Flavor PDF, you'll have a strong foundation for understanding the concepts laid out in the Three Modern Mother Sauces video.
A Sauce Making Foundation | The Five French Mother Sauces
Besides the Introduction to the Five French Mother Sauces Video listed above, you can also solidify your sauce making foundation by working your way through our massive mother sauce content, if you haven't already.
Even though I believe the Five French Mother Sauces are a redundant, out of date approach to teaching sauces, they should still be understood, if for anything else, historical context and breadth of knowledge. My only argument is that they shouldn't be at the core of a sauce making curriculum, but instead offered as supplemental information.
For links to podcasts, videos, and recipes relating to the Five French Mother Sauces, please check out Mother Sauce Resource Page.
An Introduction to the Three Modern Mother Sauces
As discussed in the Three Modern Mother Sauces video, every sauce you make will fall into three technical categories; reduction, emulsification, and puree. Each of these techniques is rooted in best practices and a scientific approach, which once mastered, will allow you create any sauce imaginable.
Modern Mother Sauce Number One | Reduction
Reduction sauces are created by concentrating flavors and viscosity through reduction.
Since most reduction sauces are stock based, it's important to have a firm understanding of the stock making process. If you're new to making stocks, I highly recommend watching the videos below, listening to the two linked podcast episodes, and reviewing our guide to making stocks.
The Reduction Sauce Technique
Reductions are the king of all professional sauces. If you only learn how to make one sauce, this is it. To understand what a reduction sauce is, we must first discuss its historical context.
Modern Reduction Sauces are derived from classic brown sauce, (roasted stock thickened with brown roux), and to a lesser extent veloute, (white stock thickened with blond roux). The problem with flour-thickened sauces is they become heavy and easily create palate fatigue.
The modern approach to this style of sauce is to omit the starch thickener, instead, thickening via reduction. The resulting “reduction thickened sauce” will have a more intense flavor, and at the same time, a lighter mouth feel.
Since reduction sauces are thickened through evaporation, there must be some particulate matter present in the sauce to allow its viscosity to increase as the water evaporates. The flavors in a reduction sauce must be able to stand up to simmering temperatures over a prolonged period of time, because in some cases, it takes hours of reducing before a sauce reaches the proper consistency.
Because reductions must contain some form of particulate matter and hold up to prolonged exposure to high heat, they’re almost always made from protein based stocks. The collagen present in an animal's bones (and to a lesser extent flesh) is a triple-helix of gelatin that unravels into individual strands during the stock making process. The extracted gelatin combined with other dissolved solids in the stock creates the proper viscosity and richness required for a successful reduction sauce.
Due to the important role gelatin plays in most reduction sauces, it’s commonly considered best practice to use stock made from parts of the animal naturally high in collagen (mainly bones and muscles involved in the animals structure and mobility), including neck, legs, and joints.
Animal skin also contains a large amount of collagen, most notably pig skin, which is 30% collagen. However, you also need to take into consideration the amount of fat the skin will diffuse into your stock, and the flavor contributed. Too much skin will lead to a fatty stock that requires excessive skimming, and stocks that contain a large amount of pig skin tend to have a "barn yard" like flavor.
A converse example is making a reduction sauce using stock derived from proteins that contain very low collagen; i.e. chicken breast. If a chicken breast stock is reduced, the flavor would continue to become more concentrated, but the liquid would never reach sauce consistency without the addition of a thickening agent.
Remember that a sauce is merely a flavored liquid, meaning it doesn’t have to be viscous. With this understanding, a custom stock can be made depending on its intended application. Since a sauce containing lots of gelatin can sometimes have a sticky mouth feel, a low gelatin stock can be reduced to concentrate flavor and then thickened at the last minute by swirling in butter, cream, or liaison, yielding a more delicate consistency.
[More Information: Thickening Agents for Sauces and Soups Reviewed]
Although reduction sauces are commonly made from stocks, they can also be made from milk or cream. As the water in the cream evaporates during the reduction process, the increased ratio of fat will act as a thickening agent.
Broths are also categorized under reduction sauces because it’s considered best practice to reinforce through the addition of complimentary ingredients, (applying a reduction stage) which creates a concentrated flavor.
Starch Thickened Sauces
Now you may be wondering where starch-thickened sauces fit in. For ease of understanding, starch-thickened sauces are also classified under the “Reduction” category because even though it’s the actual starch granules adding viscosity to the sauce, it’s always best practice to apply reduction at the very least to concentrate flavors. In most cases, adding a starch thickener to a given sauce is a short cut used to increase yields while decreasing cooking time. They are rarely better than the same sauce thickened through full reduction sans starch.
Categorizing starch-thickened sauces under the reduction category will force you to ask yourself a few questions during the sauce making process:
Why would I add starch to thicken this sauce? Time? Money?
Will the addition of starch make this sauce better as compared to a full reduction?
Should I reduce the sauce slightly to intensify the flavor, or is the flavor already where I want it?
This isn’t to say that all starch-thickened sauces are of low quality, but the above exercise is there to help you make the conscious decision of whether or not starch should be utilized to add viscosity to a given sauce.
Turkey gravy on Thanksgiving day just doesn’t taste the same unless its thickened with a brown roux. But when I order a pan roasted steak at a high end restaurant, I want a beef based reduction sauce, not grandma’s gravy.
The important take-away is starch thickeners should only be added to a sauce if it will increase its overall quality, not as a short cut. In some professional applications, it’s not economical to serve full reduction sauces, at which point a starch thickener is employed to increase yield. While this is sometimes a “necessary evil,” the chef should take into consideration the effect a starch thickener will have on the overall dish, and make the appropriate adjustments to produce the best flavor and texture possible within their means.
Reduction Sauce Process
The process for making a reduction sauce is fairly simple and can be broken down into three distinct stages; reinforcing, reducing, and finishing.
During this stage, the base liquid (usually stock) is combined with complimentary ingredients that will reinforce its flavor and viscosity during reduction. For example, if making a reduction sauce with chicken stock as the base, chicken trimmings and bones, along with mirepoix, herbs, and spices, are added before and during the reduction phase.
This is also the step in which the sauce’s unique flavor should be defined. Because stock is a universal base ingredient, it commonly doesn’t use strong or distinct flavors, which could limit its versatility, especially in a professional environment where a single batch of stock may be used for multiple sauces, soups, and broths. In the reinforcing step, it’s time to add stronger flavors like roasted garlic, an abundance of herbs or any number of spices including cinnamon, cloves, vanilla ... really anything that will be complimentary to the primary ingredient the sauce will be accompanying.
Tips For Reinforcing Flavors
If reinforcing a roasted stock for reduction, add roasted ingredients including mirepoix, meat scraps, bones, etc.
If working in small batches and a roasted flavor is desired, brown ingredients in a heavy-bottomed pot with a mixture of butter and neutrally flavored oil. When a “fond” starts to form on the bottom of the pan, deglaze with wine or other liquid to release the fond into the sauce, adding additional flavor.
If working in large batches and a roasted flavor is desired, lightly coat ingredients in a neutral flavored cooking oil and roast in a high temp oven until dark brown. For extra flavor, deglaze the roasting pan with wine or water. This may require the application of moderate heat on the stove top while the liquid is added and the fond is scraped.
Be careful adding any ingredient that is particularly strong in flavor as it will intensify during the reduction process. This can be especially true for wines that are extremely acidic, tannic, or sweet. These wines should be abandoned for well balanced alternatives that don't favor any singular flavor profile (sweet, tannic, acidic, etc).
Don’t add acidic ingredients during the reinforcing stage, which will concentrate and cause your sauce to become overly sour after the reduction phase is complete. Instead, reserve acidic ingredients for the finishing stage to add balance and seasoning.
Once additional ingredients are added to the base, the sauce is brought to a simmer at which point the reduction phase begins. It is during this phase that water from the sauce will evaporate away, concentrating the flavor and increasing viscosity, especially if collagen-containing ingredients are used at any point in the sauce making process. It is also during this stage that starch thickeners can be added, if applicable to the style of sauce being made.
Tips For Reduction
Periodically skim the fat and “scum” that floats to the surface of the sauce during the reduction process.
Once the sauce comes to a boil, pull the pot half-way off the burner and reduce heat, ideally achieving medium simmer. This causes a convection cycle of heat during the reduction process, with the hot side of the pot bringing fat and scum to the surface, simplifying the skimming process.
As the sauce continues to reduce and its level drops, some of the sauce will stick to the side of the pot. Over a long period of reduction, the exposed sides will start to burn, giving a scorched flavor to your finished product. To avoid this, transfer the sauce to a clean pot throughout the reduction process anytime the sides threaten to darken and burn.
To achieve an extra intense flavor when working with large quantities of liquid, strain the reducing sauce every one to three hours into a new pot, adding fresh aromatics each time. This usually isn’t necessary to achieve a full-flavored reduction sauce, but the option is available.
If using a starch thickener, it’s best practice to add a little less than what is required to thicken the current volume of stock, then gently simmer and reduce until your desired level of viscosity is achieved. This will help ensure the sauce isn’t over thickened, at which point it can only be saved by dilution. Also, simmering a sauce for at least 20 minutes after a starch thickener is introduced will allow the “starchy” flavor to be cooked away. This is less important with pure starches derived from corn, potato, arrowroot, and tapioca, but is necessary when using a wheat based thickener like a roux.
For most reductions, the sauce will need to be evaporated by at least half, but more commonly, will yield about 1/4 to 1/8 the sauce’s original volume if omitting thickeners. Once the sauce has finished reducing, strain through a fine mesh strainer (chinois) and continue to the “finishing stage,” or chill rapidly in an ice bath, reserving for later use.
Finishing a Reduction Sauce
For best results, reduction style sauces should always be finished “a la minute,” or right before serving. During this stage, a firm understanding of flavor structure is vital, using a few ingredients right at the end to balance the sauce and bring it to the next level.
In this section we’ll talk about the various types of ingredients used to finish a reduction sauce, listed in the order in which they should be added.
Herbs and Spices
Although commonly incorporated during the reduction phase, a small amount of freshly minced herbs and/or toasted spices can be added while finishing, making their flavor a predominant focus. A common application is a thyme-wine demi glace, commonly served with beef. In this example, veal or beef stock is reinforced with a good amount of red wine and fresh thyme during the reduction phase. The reduced sauce is then finished with more red wine (sometimes reduced in a separate pan), and freshly minced thyme. The last minute addition of the thyme will bring its flavor to the forefront, elevating it from a secondary to primary flavor component.
Depending on the refinement level of a given dish, herbs and spices are sometimes allowed to infuse for a short period of time, and then strained through a fine mesh strainer right before serving. The straining ensures a smooth, silky texture, and is usually preferable in a more refined setting.
Fat is often added to a sauce right before serving in the form of dairy, whether it be cream, butter, sour cream, or even cheese, with whole butter being the most common and versatile choice.
In most cases, the sauce is removed from the heat before the fat is added to prevent it from separating, which will cause a “greasy” appearance and mouth feel. One exception is when cream is used to thicken sauce, in which case its added towards the end of the reduction stage and simmered until the desired viscosity is achieved.
Fat is used as a finishing ingredient for a few reasons:
Fat can add viscosity through suspending fat globules in the sauce (this is technically an emulsification).
Fat can enhance the overall mouthfeel of a given sauce.
Some aromatic flavor molecules are only fat soluble. The addition of fat to a sauce insures maximum flavor delivery.
As we discussed in our section on flavor, fat can coat the palate and mute taste perception, including salt. For this reason, its important to add fat to your sauce and then adjust the final seasoning with acid and salt.
Because it can mute salt and other seasonings, it’s important to add acid right after the fat is incorporated during the finishing stage. This ensures the proper amount of acid is added to effectively cut through fat, which in turn will brighten the sauce’s flavor, making it “pop.”
Common acids incorporated into sauces during the finishing stage include citrus juice and zest, (lemon being very classic), verjus, or a light vinegar (champagne, moscato, sherry, etc). It’s not necessary and usually undesirable to add enough acid to make the sauce perceptibly sour. Usually just a few drops of acid per cup of sauce is sufficient for seasoning and balance.
When making a reduction, it’s important to adjust the final seasoning right before serving to ensure complete control over the finished flavor profile. Since the reduction of a sauce will intensify its flavor, a sauce can easily become overly salted if the seasoning is added too early in the reduction process. Just think what would happen if a sauce was perfectly seasoned with salt half-way through the reduction stage. By the time the sauce is fully reduced, it will likely be inedible.
It’s important to leave the final seasoning until the very end because as we discussed above, both fat and acid will mask salt. If salt is added before fat or acid, it’s likely more seasoning will be needed, adding an unnecessary step.
Although salt is indispensable for seasoning a sauce, there are other ingredients that can be added during this phase, most notably pepper (either white or black) and cayenne. The addition of cayenne can cut the richness of a heavy reduction sauce, and if used in small amounts, should add no perceptible spiciness.
Due to the minerals extracted during the stock making process, which are then concentrated during the reinforcement and reduction steps, most full reduction sauces derived from a meat based stock will not need any additional salt. However, it's always best practice to taste for seasoning right before you serve, and a reduction sauce is no exception.
One of the best ways to utilize a reduction is by making a pan sauce. To make a pan sauce:
Complete the first two phases of the reduction sauce process (reinforcing and reducing). Reserve the reduced sauce base.
Sear, sauté, or pan roast food product in an appropriately sized pan. The product will dictate the sauce base, so a reinforced chicken stock will be used for chicken, a reinforced veal stock for beef, etc. There can be some crossover, such as a veal stock based sauce served with chicken, or a chicken based sauce served with beef or even fish, but the general approach is to use a stock derived from the same animal you’ll be serving it with.
Remove protein from pan when cooking is complete, and return the empty pan to high heat, adding additional cooking fat if the pan seems dry, or pouring off excess fat if there seems to be too much (you only need enough fat to evenly cover the bottom of the pan).
Sauté sliced shallots, onions, garlic, or other aromatics in the hot pan until their aroma is released. For some applications, browning the aromatics is desirable, whereas for a more subtle sauce, the aromatics will be sautéed just long enough to soften and release their aroma.
Next, deglaze the pan with wine, water, or other liquid, scrapping the bottom of the pan vigorously until the fond is completely dissolved and incorporated into the sauce. If incorporating additional herbs and spices, add them now so they have time to infuse.
Reduce deglazing liquid until almost dry, add reduced sauce base, and continue to reduce until the sauce lightly coats the back of a spoon. It is especially important to reduce the deglazing liquid when using wine, because raw alcohol can overpower a sauce, throwing off its flavor balance.
Once the desired thickness has been reached, follow the finishing steps discussed above by adding fat, acid, seasoning, and optionally straining right before serving.
As you can imagine, this pan sauce technique is extremely versatile and is commonly used in restaurant kitchens. Here are a few pan sauce ideas, with each assuming a reinforced and reduced sauce base is on hand, and a protein has been cooked in a pan using the sauté, searing, or pan roasting techniques.
Steak + sautéed shallots + red wine + veal stock + fresh minced thyme + lemon + butter + pepper = Thyme-Wine Demi Glace
Duck Breast + sautéed ginger + sake + duck stock + orange zest & juice + white pepper + green onions = Ginger Orange Glace
Pork + sautéed apples & fennel + brandy + pork stock + butter + apple cider vinegar = Brandied Apple-Fennel Reduction
Note On Cookware:
For most pan sauce applications, a stainless steel pan is preferable. Non-stick pans are bad for high temperature cooking (searing and sauteing), and deglazing with acidic ingredients like wine can ruin the seasoning on a cast iron pan.
Modern Mother Sauce Number Two | Puree
In our Cauliflower Soup video (left), a standard puree technique is demonstrated. The flavor base is built, the cauliflower is cooked in the flavor base until softened, and then everything is pureed in a blender and passed through a chinois to ensure a smooth consistency.
More puree videos are under development, and will be posted to this page once completed.
Whereas reductions are commonly thickened with gelatin or starch, purées are thickened with fine plant particles, giving a "pure taste" unique to this class of sauce.
When fat is added to a purée, it will technically become an emulsion. But for ease of classification, the line is drawn between the purpose of adding the fat. If the dispersed fat in a purée is added to thicken the sauce, then it should be classified as an emulsion. If fat is present in small amounts, just enough to add body, flavor, and mouth feel, then the sauce should be classified as a purée, and made using the associated technique.
Now the natural questions is, “if purées and emulsions are so closely related, why would you choose to use one over the other?”
As we’ve touched on briefly before, fat can mute flavors. Even though this can be balanced with proper seasoning, there are certain instances when a certain “purity of flavor” is called for, in which case, a purée is what you’ll need.
Guidelines for Making Pureed Sauces
When making a purée, it’s usually necessary to cook the ingredients, making them easier to blend into a smooth consistency. Here are some guidelines for preparing ingredients to be puréed:
Root vegetables (carrots, potatoes, parsnips, etc.), should be peeled, cut into chunks, and are either steamed, or covered with cold liquid, brought to a boil, and cooked until extremely tender. If boiling, reserve cooking liquid for pureeing, since some of the vegetable’s flavor will have diffused into the water. For a purer flavor, consider steaming the vegetables, which will cause less flavor dilution.
Tender vegetables and greens such as spinach, English peas, and fava beans, should be quickly blanched in a large pot of salted, boiling water, just long enough to set their green color, making them tender enough to purée. Chill in an ice bath immediately to preserve the vegetable’s green color.
Non-Green vegetables and fruits can be roasted, poached, grilled, steamed, etc., to achieve the desired flavor profile. An example could be poached pineapple, roasted garlic and eggplant, or grilled peach purée.
Remember, a purée is simply ingredients blended into a smooth consistency and used as a sauce. While the concept is extremely simple, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind.
Various kitchen tools can be used to make purées including a mortar & pestle, food processor, or an immersion/standard blender. Each of these tools will create different textures.
Mortar & Pestle: Creates a course or chunky texture.
Food Processor: Can create smooth purées if ingredients are soft enough and ample moisture is present.
Immersion Blender: Convenient for hot purées that don’t need a perfectly smooth texture. The ingredients can be puréed directly in the vessel in which they are cooked. An immersion blender, however, is no substitute for the velvety consistency that can be created by a high speed, traditional blender.
High Speed Blender: If a perfectly smooth consistency is called for, then nothing compares to a high speed blender.
When using any type of high speed blender, air will be incorporated into the purée which can effect its color. Example: tomato purée turns pink due to the air incorporated. If a chamber vacuum sealer is available, air can be removed from the purée by running the mixture through a few cycles. If a chamber vacuum isn’t available, use a less powerful mixing method to keep too much air from being incorporated. The incorporation of air is less of a concern if doesn’t effect visual appeal (e.g. pink tomato sauce looks universally unappetizing, pureed cauliflower will never suffer from too much air being incorporated).
To ensure an even, smooth texture, press the purée through a fine chinois using the bottom of a ladle, or a tamis (flat screen) using a plastic hand spatula.
Xanthan Gum is indispensable when adjusting the consistency of a purée. For example, let’s assume a purée’s flavor is perfect but the thickness is still too thin. A touch of xanthan gum can be added to either hot or cold purées while blending, thickening the purée almost instantly.
When making purées with leafy or green vegetables, chill all ingredients to refrigeration temperature before puréeing. It’s important to blend or purée green ingredients as quickly as possible or the friction from the blender blade will heat the mixture, destabilizing the chlorophyll molecule, resulting in a dull, green color.
Pureed Sauce Examples
Now that you understand the puree making basics, let’s list a few examples to get the creative juices flowing:
Grilled Peaches with Allspice and Bourbon: Toast all spice in a dry pan and carefully deglaze with bourbon. Use this liquid to purée the grilled peaches. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Serve with chicken.
Roasted Apples with Ginger, Sage, & Cider: Roast apples in a hot oven until soft and aromatic. Blend with ginger, sage & apple cider until smooth. Pass through a chinois and serve with pork.
Roasted Garlic and Mushrooms with Red Wine: Roast garlic and add to sautéed mushrooms that have been deglazed with red wine. Blend to a thick purée and season with salt, fresh cracked black pepper, and additional red wine if necessary. Serve with beef.
Parsley Purée: Blanch parsley and reserve. Place peeled cloves of garlic in cold water and bring to a boil, drain, and repeat three times. Combine blanched parsley and garlic in a blender and blend quickly, adding cold water as necessary. A little touch of xanthan gum can be added to thicken the purée without contributing additional flavor. Serve with poached chicken or sautéed fish.
Complimentary Techniques For Purees
Some purees require a primary cooking technique to soften the flesh of the product being pureed. These techniques can include steaming, blanching, frying, steaming, and poaching.
One of the more common techniques for softening vegetables for purees is blanching, a technique we thoroughly discuss in the Stella Culinary School Podcast Episode 4| Blanching.
How Blanching Liquid's pH Effects Green Vegetable's Color and Texture
When blanching green vegetables, there is a school of thought that adds a small amount of baking soda to the blanching water to help keep the vegetables greens. This actually has a basis in science, since even a slightly acidic environment will destabilize chlorophyll molecules. Once the chlorophyll is destabilized, the vegetables will loose their bright green color, making them look less appetizing.
I've never believed in adding baking soda to my blanching water because a large pot of boiling, salted water will essentially achieve the same result. But more importantly, the alkaline environment caused by the addition of baking soda will break down the vegetable's cellular structure more rapidly, which can cause them to be mushy.
However, in the context of creating green vegetable purees, baking soda can be quite useful. Outside of leafy herbs and greens, vegetables need to be boiled (blanched) longer than normal to make them tender enough to puree into a smooth consistency. This extended boiling time can lead to their color breaking down, as anyone who has over cooked green vegetables will understand.
When cooking green vegetables for a puree, adding a small amount of baking soda to your blanching water will help stabilize the chlorophyll molecule (and thus the green color), while more rapidly breaking down the vegetable's cellular structure, which in turn allows for a smoother puree.
Modern Mother Sauce Number Three | Emulsification
Emulsion is a broad term used to describe any two immiscible liquids (meaning they don’t freely mix) successfully combined into a homogenous state. Emulsions are used to create asphalt, cosmetics, and paints, but in the kitchen, an emulsion is the successful mixing of oil and water. Combining these two elements can result in interesting sauces with unique textures and flavors. As with the previous two Modern Mother Sauces, emulsions are technique based, and once mastered, can be used to make any number of creative derivatives.
Culinary emulsions have already been covered extensively in a previous food science series called What is an Emulsion | A Cook's Guide. Please refer to that page for more detailed information on the science and technique behind emulsions.
Examples of Culinary Emulsions
Let's Keep The Conversation Going!
So look, I know this is a lot of information for you to absorb, especially if you're new to sauce making. But I never promised that mastering sauces wouldn't take time and knowledge. So work your way through content above at your own pace, and please feel free to ask any questions you have below.
Watch the First Two Videos In This Series
An Introduction to Flavor Structure
The Secrets of Salt Explained
Stella Culinary's original mother sauce resource page. This simple page organizes the mother sauces by hierarchy, allowing you to break down the base, thickening agent, secondary sauces, seasoning, and recipe of each mother at a glance.
The Five French Mother Sauces | The Mother of All Resources
The Five French Mother Sauces | Audio Podcast Series
Videos Related to the Five French Mother Sauces
Articles Related to the Five French Mother Sauces
The Three Modern Mother Sauces - A Technical Approach To Sauce Making
Cooking at altitude can be intimidating for the uninitiated, but once you understand the basic underlying science, you'll never need another high altitude cook book again.
HIGH ALTITUDE BAKING AND COOKING VIDEO LECTURE: PART ONE
As most of you are already aware, cooking at altitude will effect the food you're preparing, sometimes causing undesirable results. Food items that heavily rely on water's boiling point, such as pasta, potatoes, and braising meat, will simply take longer to cook since the boiling point of water is reduced at altitude. Cakes, breads, and pastries also have a tendency to dry out, crack, and deflate starting at around 3,000 feet (914 meters).
To understand why this happens, you must first grasp the science behind water. When you stop to think for a moment, a lot of cooking has to do with controlling water in its various states. Since most items you cook contain water, or will require a water based cooking method, understanding how water acts at altitude is the first step to mastering high altitude cooking.
To master cooking and baking at altitude, the first concept you must understand is atmospheric pressure. When you're standing at any given point on the earth, you have air above you. This air has a weight, and the downward force caused by the ever-present weight of air, is known as atmospheric pressure.
It makes sense then if you're standing at sea level, which has an elevation of zero, you will have more air above you, thus more atmospheric pressure, than if you were at a higher elevation.
Now the next concept you need to understand is temperature is nothing more than a measurement of molecular movement. All molecules are in a constant state of motion, even those making up a solid block of ice. In fact, the reason why ice forms is because colder temperatures mean the water molecules are moving so slow, they adhere to one another, resulting in a solid state.
As heat is applied to that same ice cube, the water molecules start to move faster. Cooks measure this molecular movement as temperature, whether in Fahrenheit or Celsius.
When water begins to boil, it is transformed from a liquid to a gaseous state. For this phase change to happen, a lot of energy, or molecular movement, is required for the water molecules to fight back against the atmospheric pressure responsible for keeping it in its liquid state. In fact, if you were to expose a cup of room temperature water in outer space, it would boil into steam immediately since there is no atmospheric pressure for it to fight against.
This is important because at sea level, it takes 212°F/100°C of heat (molecule movement) for the water to have enough energy to change its phase from liquid to steam, at which point it escapes into the atmosphere as gas.
As you climb in elevation, you have less atmospheric pressure (again, just the weight of the air above you), so it takes less energy for water to boil.
For about every 1,000 feet (305 meters) you climb in elevation, the boiling temperature of water decreases by about 2°F/1°C.
This means if you're boiling pasta, potatoes, or blanching vegetables at a 3,000 foot (914 meter) elevation, those items will simply take longer to cook since the boiling temperature is around 206°F/97°C, as opposed to 212°F/100°C at sea level.
In our next video, we'll discuss high altitude baking, including why cakes crack, fall, and dry out (and most importantly, how to fix this).
HIGH ALTITUDE BAKING AND COOKING VIDEO LECTURE: PART TWO
Taking into consideration what we learned in our previous video, which explained the science behind atmospheric pressure and water's boiling point at various altitudes, let's take a look at how this effects baked goods, especially cakes.
First, let's stop for a second to think about what a cake is. At it's technical core, a cake is a starch gel. The flour is hydrated with liquid and fat is added to "shorten" the gluten strands, which yields a more tender product. But for the hydrated starch to actually set as a gel, it must reach a temperature ranging from 190-205°F/87-96°C.
As the cake bakes at altitude, the water contained in the batter will begin to evaporate at a lower temperature, yielding a drier product than the same recipe at sea level.
Another fact in play is cakes will also expand (rise) faster at altitude since they have less atmospheric pressure to fight against. Now consider what I just mentioned above; for a cake to fully set, the starch must gel at the same moment the cake has reached the apex of it's structural expansion. If the cake expands too much, it will collapse under it's own weight. If the cake doesn't expand enough, it will have a dense texture.
When a cake recipe gives you a time and temperature for baking, what they're really saying is "this is how long it takes for this cake to reach its maximum expansion while simultaneously hitting the temperature at which its starches will fully gel."
And even though you're using a chemical leavener in most cake formulations (baking soda and powder), as the water in the cake turns to steam, it causes upward pressure, helping the cake to rise. Again, since water will turn to steam faster at altitude, this contributes to cakes expanding more rapidly when baking at altitude.
Because the cake is reaching the apex of its expansion sooner at altitude, it has yet to achieve a temperature high enough for the starch gel to set. This causes the cake to fall under its own weight, which is why one of the most common problems in baked goods at high altitudes is a concave top.
And because the moisture in cakes will evaporate faster at altitude, it will become dry, causing the tops of baked goods to crack.
This faster expansion and evaporation of liquid is a universal issue for all baked goods at altitude, but is most noticeable in cookies, brownies, and cakes.
In our final video in this series, we'll discuss strategies for adjusting recipes for high altitude cooking and baking success.
ADJUSTING RECIPES AND INGREDIENTS FOR HIGH ALTITUDE BAKING
In our previous two videos, we talked about how atmospheric pressure effects the boiling point at altitude, and why faster evaporation causes cakes to fall, crack, and dry out.
In this video, we finish our high altitude cooking and baking series with a discussion on how to adjust recipes for high altitude baking success. To make sense of the percentages given, you should have a firm understanding of the baker's percentage.
Because liquid will evaporate faster at altitude, here's some adjustments you may need to make:
At the 3000 foot (914 meter) elevation, add 1-2 tablespoons (14-28 milliliters) of water to a single cake recipe, or about 3% based on the baker's percentage.
For every 1000 foot (305 meter) increase above 3000 feet (914 meters), add an additional tablespoon (14 milliliters) of water, or about 1%. So if you're baking at 6000Ft (1828 meters), you'll need to add a total of 4-5 tablespoons (60-73 milliliters) of water to a given cake recipe, or about 5-6% based on the baker's percentage.
Because sugar loves to bind with water, you will sometimes need to reduce the sugar content of baked goods at altitude, since less water is already available due to faster evaporation.
Decrease sugar by 1 tablespoon per cup, or 12 grams per every 64 grams of sugar, or about 6.25% based on the sugars total weight.
CHEMICAL LEAVENERS (BAKING SODA AND BAKING POWDER)
Because there is less atmospheric pressure for a rising cake to fight against at altitude, you need to decrease the amount of chemical learners you use. This will allow the cake to rise slower, giving it a chance to fully set before collapsing under its own weight.
At 3500ft (1066 meters), decrease chemical leaveners by 1/8th.
At 5,000-6000ft (1524-1828 meters), decrease chemical leaveners by 1/2.
At 6500+ft (1981+ meters), decrease chemical leaveners by as much as 3/4s.
BAKING TEMPERATURE AND TIME
Because baked goods will rise faster at altitude, it's important to raise the baking temperature so the starch gel has a chance to set by the time a cake reaches it's apex of expansion.
Raise oven temperature by 15-25°F/9-14°C (this is a universal role that should be put into play above 3,000 feet/914 haters).
Because you're raising the oven temperature, it is often helpful to decrease baking duration by 1 minute for every 6 called for. So if a cake recipe is normally baked for 30 minutes, divide 30 by 6, which equals 5, for a total bake time of 25 minutes.
If you try the first four tweaks listed above, it should solve about 95% of your high altitude baking issues. If you're still having structural issues with your baked goods (mainly not setting), try:
Starting at 3000ft/914 meters, add 1 tablespoon of flour to a single cake recipe, and an additional tablespoon for every 1000ft/305 meters above 3000ft/914 meters.
Add one egg to every cake recipe baked above 3000ft/914 meters. The extra protein in the egg will help the cake set, keeping it from collapsing.
FOR LEAN DOUGH BREADS
In my experience, bread recipes don't usually need to be adjusted for altitude. But remember, everything rises faster at altitude, so if you're having issue with your bread, here are a few things to play around with:
Because bread will rise and proof faster at altitude due to less atmospheric pressure, try slowing down the fermentation by placing it in a cooler room.
Air at altitude is much drier, so be sure to cover your bread with plastic wrap during bulk fermentation and proofing to prevent if from drying out. For more in-depth information on bread baking, listen the Stella Culinary School Podcast starting at episode 19, and then watch the videos in our Bread Baking Video Index.
If you're using commercial yeast and you find your bread is rising too quickly at altitude, try reducing the total amount of yeast by 25%.
If you're having issues with your bread drying out at altitude, raise the hydration rate by about 5% based on the baker's percentage.
If you have any questions on high altitude baking and cooking, you can post them in the comment section below.
For more resources like this, check out Stella Culinary's Food Science Video Series.
Watch Part One Of This Video
In our previous video we talked about what agar is, some of it’s properties, and why you may or may not want to use it. In this video we’re going to go over how to create an agar gel and some of it’s common pitfalls.
Agar comes in the form of a white powder, and its use percent ranges from .2% (to set a standard gel) to .5% (for a firm gel), calculated based upon the liquid’s weight.
1,000g Base Liquid
= 2g Agar to set a standard gel.
As with gelatin, agar is a hydrocolloid, meaning it can suspend or trap water, but to ensure a satisfactory outcome, it needs to be properly hydrated and dispersed.
The typical hydration procedure for agar is to first dissolve it into the liquid you want to gel by whisking, bringing the liquid to a simmer, and simmering for 4 minutes. At the end of four minutes, blend for 15-30 seconds using an immersion blender, strain, and allow to set. The added shearing power of an immersion blender will ensure even dispersion and proper hydration.
Although a standard blender can be used for dispersion (after the agar gel is simmered for 4 minutes), the rapid speed of the blender blade will incorporate extra air, which can then become suspended in the gel as it sets. These air pockets will reflect light, giving the gel an opaque appearance, instead of clear.
As we talked about in our last video, agar’s setting temperature is 95°F/33°C, and will set rapidly at this temperature. This makes agar extremely convenient to use as a gelling agent when you don’t have time to wait for gelatin to set, which takes anywhere from 12-24 at 59°F/15°C or below.
Common Agar Pitfalls
Agar is fairly easy to use, but there are some common reasons why a gel will fail or not perform as desired:
Improper Hydration: Make sure the agar is simmered in your base liquid for at least 4 minutes and then mixed with an immersion blender before straining and allowing to set.
Syneresis: Agar gels will “weep” or “leak liquid,” causing the gel to dehydrate and not perform as expected, especially when using it to set a terrine that will later be unmolded. This can be counterbalanced by the addition of .1% locust bean gum, calculated by the weight of the liquid being gelled.
Prolonged heating outside of the pH range of 5.5-8, although this is a less common problem. When we make our winter citrus terrine at Stella, with a pH of 3.2, the agar is still simmered in low pH citrus juice for 4 minutes to fully hydrate, without any adverse affect on the gel setting.
Tannic acid (commonly found in red wine and tea), in a known inhibitor of agar gels, but can counter balanced by the addition of 1% glycerol, based on the liquid’s weight.
If left uncovered, agar gels will dehydrate, causing them to loose moisture, which will adversely affect the gel’s texture. However, agar will swell in the presence of moisture, meaning gels can be rested in liquid containing a complimentary flavor, preserving its texture and enhancing it’s taste.
What Is Agar Good At?
Unlike gelatin, agar allows you to create vegetarian/vegan gels (since it’s seaweed based), will work in acidic environments, can tolerate high alcohol percentages (about 40%), and is resistant to proteolytic enzymes found in some fresh fruits including kiwi, papaya, pineapple, peach, mango, guava, and fig.
Basic Citrus Terrine Formula:
Because I used the example of the citrus terrine multiple times in our two agar videos, I’ve listed the formula and process below for reference. Please not that a working knowledge of calculating recipes based on the baker’s percentage is assumed.
100% Citrus Supremes and Juice
Add together the weight of above ingredients and then calculate the following:
.3% Agar (To set the gel)
.1% Locust Bean Gum (To keep agar gel from weeping)
Drain liquid from citrus supremes.
Combine in a pot with agar and locust bean gum.
Bring to a simmer, simmer for 4 minutes, and then blend with an immersion blender.
Heat citrus supremes in an oven or over a steamer to about 100°F/38°C. This is to keep the agar liquid from setting as soon as it hits the otherwise cold citrus segments.
Combine hot agar liquid with warm citrus supremes in a mixing bowl, gently fold together, and place in a terrine mold lined with plastic wrap.
Optional: place a flat tray on top of the terrine with weights. The pressure will cause the terrine to compact, yielding a more even texture.
Allow to set in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day, un-mold terrine, slice and serve.
Note: The terrine can be pre-sliced and allowed to set in a flavored liquid to increase water retention and enhance overall taste. A good example would be apple or orange juice flavored with fresh vanilla bean, toasted spices, etc. The terrine will then swell with this liquid, giving it extra flavor and a “juicy” mouthfeel.
Place a large, tall container of neutral flavored oil (like canola) in the freezer, until it starts to thicken, but pull before it solidifies (about 2-3 hours).
Fill a squeeze bottle with hot agar liquid, and drip into chilled oil. As the agar drops to the bottom of the oil, it will gel into the form of a sphere.
Pass oil through a strainer to remove agar spheres, rinse under cold water, and store in flavored liquid.
Agar Fluid Gel
Set liquid with .3% agar by weight.
Blend smooth in a blender, using an auger to move chunks around until it is evenly blended. Additional liquid or water can be added during the blending process to thin if necessary.
Pass through a fine mesh strainer and reserve in an airtight container.
This “fluid gel” will have the consistency of a medium body mayonnaise, but will have a pure flavor, since the added viscosity is achieved by using a small amount of agar.
As you can see, agar can be used to achieve certain things gels and textures that simply isn’t possible with gelatin. For a complete break down of the difference between agar and gelatin, please watch the final video in this series, “Agar and Gelatin Compared.”
Watch Part Two Of This Video
Although agar has only recently emerged as a common gelling agent in modern western kitchens, it has been used in asian countries for centuries as their go-to gelling agent. A polysaccharide derived from red algae, agar is a great alternative to gelatin when a vegan or vegetarian gel is needed, or when attempting to gel liquids that normally will break down gelatin because of low pH, high alcohol, or proteolytic enzymes in fresh fruits.
One of the unique qualities of an agar gel is “hysteresis,” meaning there’s a large differential between agar’s setting and melting temperature (95°F/33°C and 175°F/80°C respectively). This makes it possible to serve a warm gel using agar, something that isn’t possible with traditional gelatin based gels.
Agar also sets rapidly above room temperature (95°F/33°C), within a matter of minutes, as opposed to gelatin, which takes 12-24 hours to fully set, once it’s core reaches 59°F/15°C.
The appearance of an Agar gel can range from clear to opaque, depending on what’s being gelled and the quality of the agar, and has a texture that ranges from firm to brittle. If too much agar is used to set a gel, the texture can become “crumbly” and unpleasant, especially since the heat from our mouth is well below it’s melting point.
However, an agar gel can be made less brittle and given an elastic texture with the addition of sorbitol or glycerol, usually around 1% by the weight of the entire gel being set.
One of the big advantages to using an agar gel is its low pH tolerance, with a range of 2.5-10. This makes it possible to set acidic terrines and gels, and is what we used last winter to create a seasonal citrus terrine with a pH of 3.2. This could not be achieved by using gelatin with its pH tolerance of 4-10.
Agar can also create what’s called a “fluid gel;” in this application it’s first allowed to set, and then blended smooth in a blender. When transforming a liquid with the viscosity of water into a fluid gel, usually .3% agar is added (based on the liquids weight), hydrated, allowed to set, and then blended smooth.
For more information, please refer to our next post in our Agar series, “How to Create an Agar Gel Plus Common Pitfalls.”
Consommé...the old school Frenchy soup with crystal clarity and robust flavors that dwells in the nightmares of culinary school students around the world. While feared and loathed for it’s finicky nature by young cooks, consommé really isn’t scary once you understand the basic concepts behind making it, and how a clarification raft works.
But before we get into the consommé making process, we first need a little perspective.
Flavor, Stocks, & Broths
As I discussed extensively in the comment section of my braised beef short rib video, making stock at home is important for specific cooking applications due to the gelatin content extracted from bones; something most commercially available stocks lack. Without gelatin you’ll have a tough time making a full pan reduction sauce or glazing braised meat.
This is why traditional stocks are made with collagen rich bones like knuckles, necks and backs. When moisture and heat are applied, the collagen breaks down, yielding the gelatin needed for so many professional level applications.
However, while bones contain a lot of collagen, they’re short on flavor. This usually isn't an issue since most stocks are reduced and reinforced before final use, to add flavor and increase gelatin concentration. Yet for a truly flavorful stock, you need meat, and lots of it.
Enter our quick aside concerning stocks and broths; wars of biblical proportions have been waged on internet forums between people discussing the difference between stock and broth, with the commonly accepted dogma being stock is made from bones, and broth is made from meat.
In reality, broth is a stock that hasn’t been strained before serving, while a stock is strained broth used for a secondary purpose like reduction sauces, braising, or...to make a broth. With consommé, you start with a stock, turn it into a broth by adding a raft, which then becomes a stock again once it's strained, and will then magically turn into a broth once garnished, unless it’s left ungarnished, in which case it remains a stock.
Now say that ten times fast.
The real point is, you need to have an extremely flavorful stock when making consommé because the clarification process will extract both gelatin and flavor. This means, you need a stock made with a good amount of meat, and if it makes you feel any better, you can even call it a broth. Hell, call it a “meat nectar extraction” for all I care, as long as you promise not to make a bland consommé.
If you really want a full flavored consommé, you need to do what’s called a “double stock.” My preferred method is to cut up a whole chicken, bones and all, and make either a white or roasted chicken stock, depending on your desired outcome (this, of course, assumes we're making a chicken consommé). Strain the stock, and then make a new stock, with another whole chicken, using the first stock instead of water. This is a process I also commonly refer to as “reinforcement,” since the flavor is compounded by new meat an aromatics (vegetables, herbs, and spices).
I prefer to still use bones in this double stock, because the gelatin extracted is an important component for overall mouth feel.
Once you have a solid double stock, you can then make a good consommé.
Basic Consommé Ratio
1 qt Stock
2 Egg Whites, whisked until frothy
1/2 # Meat, Ground
5.5 ounces Mirepoix (Carrots, Celery, Onions), ground or cut into a fine julienne.
This ratio expressed in the Baker’s Percentage is:
50% Meat, Ground
5% Egg Whites
15% Mirepoix, Ground or Julienned
Herbs and Spices to Taste
The exact recipe used in this video:
4 qt. Chicken Stock
2#s Chicken Meat
1 Celery Stick, (78g)
1 Carrot (167g)
1 Onion (293g)
1 Leek, White Only (96g)
1/2 bn. Tarragon (6g)
1/2 bn. Chervil (4g)
8 Egg Whites (~200g)
2 Cloves (the spice, not garlic)
Understanding The Consommé Raft
It’s important to understand the clarification of a consommé is actually done by egg whites. As the stock is slowly heated, the egg whites start to coagulate, forming a fine mesh screen which works like a built in strainer. As long as you use 5% egg whites in ratio to your stock, and heat it properly, you’ll end up with a clear consommé.
While the large protein aggregates formed by the ground meat do aid in the clarification process, their true purpose, along with all the other ingredients besides the egg whites, is to reinforce the flavor lost during clarification. As the stock gently simmers and percolates up through the clarification raft, particulate matter which would otherwise cloud the consommé is captured, along with flavor a gelatin molecules. Since the meat and aromatic’s main purpose is to add flavor, feel free to swap any ingredients you desire to customize the taste of your finished consommé. The only caveat is, don’t use starchy vegetables like potatoes, which will yield a cloudy end product.
The meat and mirepoix are ground because more surface area equals better flavor extraction, and it makes them easier to suspended in the clarification raft.
The Consommé Process
Whisk egg whites until they begin to froth (about 30 seconds).
Mix in ground meat and mirepoix by hand, along with any other herbs & spices.
Place mixture in the bottom of a sauce pot and cover with cold stock.
Heat stock over high flame, stirring constantly until it reaches 120°F/49°, at which point the raft will begin to float.
Poke a whole in the center of the raft big enough to fit the head of a two ounce ladle.
Bring consommé to a simmer, being careful not to allow it reach to a rolling boil, which will break apart the clarification raft, ruining your consommé.
Once a simmer is achieved, turn heat down to low, and continue to simmer for 60 minutes, while pulling liquid through the center “percolation” hole with a ladle, using it to baste the raft. This will help filter the consommé while keeping the topside of the raft from drying out.
Once the consommé is clear (about 60 minutes), remove from heat.
Gently press down on raft with the bottom of a large ladle, filling it with the clarified liquid, and pass it through a chinois lined with a cheese cloth.
For added clarity, allow consommé to sit in the refrigerator overnight after it’s been strained, which will cause the fat to rise to the top and solidify. The next day, skim off all the fat.
Serve as desired, either chilled or hot, with various garnishes including brunoise and blanched vegetables, dumplings, sausage, meat balls...really anything you like. Don’t forget to season with salt.
In fine dining restaurants, it’s common to compose the garnishes in a wide bowl, and then pour the consommé table side so the guests can appreciate it’s clarity. This same serving technique is demonstrated in our “Composed Cauliflower Soup” video.
8 oz Ladle (for straining)
Chinois (fine mesh strainer)
Recommended: Warring Meat Grinder (this is what I use at the restaurant)
In our previous two posts in this gelatin series, we discussed the various types of gelatin available, and how to properly hydrate and incorporate gelatin into a base liquid we wish to set. But whether or not gelatin is the proper ingredient for the application at hand depends greatly on the recipe’s ingredients, and the overall properties of a gelatin gel.
Texture & Appearance
Gelatin based gels have a clear, transparent appearance, especially when sheets are used instead of powder. It has the best flavor retention and release of any hydrocolloid (or water trapping ingredient) available.
Because its melting point (77-104°F/22-40°C) is pretty close to body temperature, gels set with gelatin have a soft, elastic texture. Yet this can also have its own drawbacks. Although gelatin doesn’t start to truly melt until it hits about 77°F/22°, its texture starts to soften at temperatures well below this. If you’re planning on serving a gelatin based dessert or appetizer in an environment that will expose it to warm temperatures over an extended period of time, then you may have difficulties with your item maintaining its texture.
PH Tolerance (4-10)
One of the drawbacks to using gelatin is it doesn’t work well in low pH environments, with a tolerance range of 4-10 (with 7 being neutral). This becomes an issues when trying to create an acid style gel, like a citrus terrine, which can have a pH of around 3.2. If the pH in your base liquid is below 4, then a gelatin gel simply won’t set.
Gelatin gels do have some notable inhibitors you need to be aware of including salts, acids, prolonged heating, high alcohol concentration (above 40%) and protolytic enzymes found in fresh fruits such as kiwi, papaya, pineapple, peach, mango, guava and fig.
Of special note, the protolytic enzymes listed above are commonly found in meat tenderizers because of their ability to denature proteins (which also weakens a gelatin gel). However, bringing any of these fresh fruits to a simmer will deactivate these enzymes, making it possible to then gel with gelatin. However, if you’re trying to create a terrine using fresh pineapple juice and gelatin, you’re gonna have a bad time.
Gelatin does have a “setting promoter” of note, transglutaminase, which works by cross linking proteins through a very strong bond. This allows the cook to create hot gels, including rice cakes and gnocchi that are held together by their liquid, instead of the standard “binding agents” such as egg or bread crumb. Common use percent is 0.5-1% transglutaminase by weight and 1% gelatin by weight (both percentages are based on the total weight of the mixture being set).
Part One: The Basics Of
Gelatin (Sheets Vs. Powder)
Part Three: Properties Of A Gelatin
Gel Plus Some Pro Tips
In our previous video post, we discussed the difference between gelatin sheets and powder, and settled on a use percent range of 0.6% on the low side to about 1.7% on the high (firmer) side. Now that you understand the various types of gels available to you on the market, it’s time discuss how to actually use gelatin.
What Is Gelatin?
Gelatin is a hydrocolloid (meaning it can suspend or trap molecules) derived from the collagen found in animals. Collagen is a simple triple helix of gelatin, and when heat and moisture are applied, the collagen unravels into three, separate gelatin strands.
In most common large scale productions, gelatin is extracted from pig skin (which is collagen rich), and dried into either powder or sheet form (see previous post to learn the difference between the two). Since diets restricting the consumption of pork exist, it’s important to know the animal source of the gelatin you’re using, which should be labeled clearly on the package.
Although bovine gelatin is widely available as an alternative to products derived from swine, true gelatin can only be extracted from animals, meaning it’s never appropriate to use when cooking for vegans or vegetarians. However, many good substitutes for vegan gelling agents do exist, the most notable being agar, which will be the subject of an upcoming video series.
How to Properly Bloom (Hydrate) Gelatin Powders and Sheets
As mentioned above, gelatin is a hydrocolloid, and every hydrocolloid, whether pedestrian (cornstarch, flour, and gelatin) or modern (xanthan gum, alginate or kappa carrageenan) will have a specific best practice for hydration and incorporation.
When working with sheets, “bloom” (hydrate) in cold water until soft. Once pliable, squeeze any excess water from the gelatin sheet, incorporate in the liquid you wish to gel, and heat to about 122°F/50°C until completely dissolved. Gelatin can be incorporated into a hotter liquid, but prolonged heating at high temperatures, especially those approaching a boil, will result in a degradation of the gelatin’s setting strength, leading to inconsistent results. That’s why I recommend heating your liquid to no more than 140°F/60°C once the gelatin, whether powder or sheets, is incorporated.
If starting with a hot liquid, simply bloom the gelatin sheets in cold water as discussed above, while allowing the base liquid to drop below 140°F/60°C before stirring in the softened sheets.
To properly incorporate gelatin powder, the approach will be different depending on if you’re starting with a hot or cold base liquid. If starting cold, simply add the desired amount of gelatin powder to the base liquid, allow to hydrate for 5-10 minutes, and then gently heat to above 122°F/50°C, whisking occasionally, until completely dissolved.
If starting with a hot liquid, bloom powdered gelatin in a separate, complimentary cold liquid, taking into account the weight of both the hot liquid base and cold blooming liquid when calculating how much gelatin powder to use. Combine hot and cold liquid together, whisking until the gelatin powder is completely dissolved and applying additional heat if necessary. Note: even if you’re starting with a boiling hot liquid, incorporating the cold liquid plus bloomed gelatin powder shouldn’t be an issue, since once combined, the overall temperature of the liquid will drop and won’t stay hot enough to be measurably detrimental to the gelatin’s setting strength.
Because of the two step process required for incorporating gelatin powder into a hot liquid, I think this is another argument for using sheets, which have the added benefit of superior clarity and flavor.
Allowing Your Gelatin Gel to Set
Gelatin is a slow setting gel which sets at around 59°F/15°C, and needs to be kept at refrigeration temperatures for at least 6-10 hours before solidifying. Making gelatin gels at least a day before serving is extremely prudent, since gelatin can continue to set over a 24 hour period.
In our next post, we’ll discuss the specific properties of gelatin (including inhibitors and promoters) as well as best practices and common pitfalls.
Part Two: How To Use Gelatin
(Hydration + Incorporation)
Part Three: Properties Of A Gelatin
Gel Plus Some Pro Tips
In this three part video series, we discuss one of the most common gelling agents used in the western kitchen, gelatin. To lay a firm foundation, I thought it was best to start our discussion with the two major types of gelatin available to cooks, sheets and powder.
Gelatin Sheets vs. Powder
Gelatin sheets are almost exclusively used in the professional kitchen, versus powder, which is more common in supermarkets. Yet with the advent of professional level cook books, gelatin in sheet form is quickly becoming easier to find. If you’re interested in working with gelatin sheets but your local supermarket only carries powder, you can easily purchase them on Amazon.com, in their various grades. If purchasing gelatin sheets, I would recommend the silver grade, since they’re the most common in professional recipes and have an intermediate level bloom strength. This makes them easy to adapt to almost any recipe without much adjustment required.
The subject of gelatin sheets can get confusing due to their separation into grades, which are bronze, silver, gold and platinum. Each grade is associated with various “bloom strengths,” or their ability to set a gel. This means that gram for gram, platinum will set a stronger gel than gold, silver a stronger gel than bronze, etc. The bloom strength for each grade is:
Now I must admit, knowing the bloom strength of various “grades” of gelatin is pretty useless. Yes, it’s true that silver will set a more “rigid” gel than bronze, but the same results can be obtained by simply using more bronze sheets.
To compensate for the fact that one sheet has a higher bloom strength than another; each grade of gelatin is weighted differently, making their overall ability to set a gel, more or less equal. For example:
So this leads to the natural question of...if their gelling powers are pretty much the same, then why are their different grades of sheets in the first place?
And what is the answer? I have no idea. In fact, I’ve been pulling my hair out trying to figure this whole thing out, and the only thing I can think of is to make volumetric recipes easier to standardize, meaning once you get used to a particular sheet, you stick to it, and you know that x amount of sheets per cup of liquid is what your prefer for a particular result.
If it helps any, silver with a bloom strength of 160 and an average weight of 2.5g, is the most common grade of gelatin sheet found in the professional kitchen; so if you’re going to make the switch from powder, I think silver is your best option.
Professional chefs prefer sheets over powdered because the former will set a clearer, cleaner tasting gel as compared to the latter, which can sometimes have anti-caking agents and other impurities, resulting in a more opaque gel with a “dirtier” flavor.
But here’s the silver lining that you need to pull from this whole discussion: the general use percent for any given form of gelatin runs from about .6% on the low side to 1.7% on the high side. This makes it easy to find your gelatin’s sweet spot and is another great argument for why you should always be standardizing your recipes by weight (good scales are only $25, so stop procrastinating!).
As we discussed in this video, I recommend starting at 1% gelatin by your liquid’s weight (purely because it’s easy to calculate), and then scale the gelatin up or down accordingly, of course, keeping notes as you go.
In our next video post, we’ll talk about how to properly use gelatin, including hydration, melting, and how to properly incorporate both gelatin powder and sheets into your recipes.