27 August 2007

Crispy Booze

So back in March, Harold McGee posted on his blog an explanation of how Heston Blumenthal at the Fat Duck had developed a science-y way of creating a near-perfect crust on deep-fried fish, one that protected the fish from being overcooked, but would not steam off the fish once the cooking was done and the thing had to sit on a plate for a while.

The big triumph is that they were able to dumb down or reverse engineer or whatever this recipe into something that the home cook would be able to benefit from. Their breakthrough: vodka. As I understand it, the alcohol's lower boiling point means that the crust crisps up faster with a shot of alcohol than with water. This allows the crust a head-start on the rest of the packag, which means that it can get some structural integrity before the fish overcooks, and will maintain that integrity by both better-
resisting the steam that comes off the cooked fish, and making sure that the fish doesn't give off too much steam. That's all really impressive, but in both articles, they fail to mention a pretty strong precedent for the use of hard alcohol to achieve better texture in deep-frying: The Brazilian pastel, basically a deep-fried empanada or raviolone, has long called for a shot of cacha├ža in with the water for the dough. It is considered essential to giving it a crispy, resistant texture.

All that molecular gastronomy to reverse-engineer something that already existed.


Martin Lersch said...

That's interesting! But at least McGee/Blumenthal have given an explanation for why it helps to add a shot of alcohol to the batter.

Josh said...

Interesting point about the pastels, Rich (What, McGee is not omniscient?!).

Vodka, huh. So finally there's a use for this stuff: www.herbsvodka.com...