Monday, January 2, 2017

Balsamic Agar Jelly 'Caviar' Pearls

Agar pearls are very easy to make, and look effective and taste good on sweet and savoury dishes.  They keep for several weeks in an airtight container in the fridge.  They are quite time-consuming though, preparation is needed, and you do need some equipment.  A few years ago, one of my brothers gave me a molecular gastronomy kit which was a lot of fun, and how I first started making these.

You can use many different liquids for these, but balsamic vinegar is probably the easiest to start with.  Cold spherification makes solid pearls, it's a different method to make liquid pearls - I haven't mastered that yet!

What you will need
A tall glass, at least 15cm.  You are using a tall glass so that the pearls have enough time to set as they pass through the cold oil and form a spherical shape before they reach the bottom of the glass.
Disposable pipette
Small slotted spoon
High accuracy food/diet scales
Cooking oil to fill this glass, it can be cheap oil - I use rapeseed oil
80ml balsamic vinegar
1.2g agar agar powder

  1. Fill the glass with cooking oil, and put in the coldest part of the freezer for at least an hour and a half, until the oil is thick.
  2. Put a small amount of the balsamic vinegar in a saucepan, dissolve the agar agar powder, add the rest of the vinegar and bring to the boil.  When it starts to bubble, continue to boil 1 minute stirring continuously.
  3. Remove from the heat and leave for 5 minutes stirring occasionally.  You do not want the liquid to set, but it must be cool enough that it will set before it reaches the bottom of the cold oil.  If it thickens too much, you can heat it again to make it melt.
  4. Fill a pipette with the balsamic agar liquid and release drops into the cold oil, holding the pipette just above the top of the oil, and moving all over the surface of the oil so that the drops individually form. 
  5. Do half the liquid then, using the slotted spoon, drain the pearls into an airtight container.  Rinse out the pipette with hot water.
  6. Put the oil in the freezer for 30 minutes, reheat the balsamic liquid (no need to boil this time as the agar is already well-distributed), cool and repeat.
  7. Drain the remainder of the pearls into the container.  Being vinegar, they can kept in the fridge for several weeks.
  8. Wash the oil off the pearls before use.  
Note:  You can see from the picture, that some of the pearls are oval-shaped.  This happens when the oil becomes less cold and thick, and the pearls drop too quickly.

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