Spherified Sherry Pearl Canapés
E-to the-U-to the-REKA, Eureka! A whole realm of liquor-drenched possibility just ensconced itself in my kitchen-cum-laboratory. I mean, when you can transform sherry into concentrated, raisin-like pearls, the world really is your oyster. And when you hit upon the technique through the grueling process of research and development (aka drink lots of sherry and experience the miracle of a happy accident) it’s all the more satisfying.
I recently read a review from El Bulli wherein Ferran Adria was said to have spherified sherry into raisins, thus my interest was piqued. I could find no information on the actual process, so I set about experimenting. I’ve done typical calcium chloride/sodium alginate spherification with alcohol and other acidic liquids before and was less than pleased with the results. That’s because you have to add an acid-balancing chemical (sodium citrate) that I feel adversely affects the final flavor.
I knew it was time to embrace a new spherification frontier, and I’ve been playing around with gelling techniques and agents recently, so why not spherify with one such as agar agar or gelatin? I read somewhere that someone dropped agar agar-infused liquid into cold oil and pearls were formed, so I figured I’d give it a go with sherry.
I got very lucky by simply following my preferred agar agar to liquid ratio (1.25:100) and dropping the mixture via kitchen syringe into freezer-chilled canola oil. Not only did it spherify, it proved just the right amount of agar agar to form an exterior skin while still remaining perfectly gushing on the inside.
Now that I’ve accomplished this feat, it’s like I played god for one brief moment. I have to wonder why the original god- Yoda, some nymph-mermaid hybrid, whoever that elusive god-creature really is- didn’t make raisins this good in our existing universe. I mean, if you can pack an 18% whollop of sweet but not too sweet high-brow alcohol into a sphere the size of a pinkie-toe and make it taste good with fewer ugly wrinkles than the passé raisins of my youth, why wouldn’t you?
Remember when you used to trade chocolate chips for raisins in the lunchroom and there was always some snot-nosed social-climbing weirdo who would give you all her chocolate chips in exchange for your palm-sweat coated raisins? Well all bets would be off with these “raisins” let me tell you. Kids would fight tooth and nail over them. Mormon entrepreneurs-in-training would quickly realize they could sell these sherry pearls to their classmates for a premium and once again they would take over a hedonistic hotbed of sin, just like their elders have done with Las Vegas. It would be drunken fifth grade mayhem of the highest order if only we’d serve sherry raisins to students. Seriously gives new meaning to No Child Left Behind, doesn’t it? Alas, a girl (who entertains brief delusions of deity) can dream…
Back to the reality of my kitchen for a moment: I chose to showcase my favorite flavors of España along with the sherry pearls- at least for their inaugural outing. I topped a puff pastry round with manchego cheese foam, slid in a sliver of Marcona almond, and dappled the canapé with the sherry raisins. It was simple, elegant and worthy of serving to your most discerning food-critical friend.
Speaking of simple, many feel that techniques which may or may not fall under the label “molecular gastronomy” are soulless sleights of science. This dish is emphatically not so, and would be a great launching point into that world since it is easily done with fairly accessible ingredients straight from a well-stocked grocer. Agar agar is easily sourced in both powder and strip form at natural foods or Asian markets. The other ingredients may be considered “gourmet” by some, but nevertheless can be found in any major city and most progressive towns across the US.
I don’t believe in creating esoteric food just for the sake of it being esoteric. I do, however, constantly strive to make things better, and these sherry raisins elevate both sherry and raisins to a level suitable to be served on the dinner plate, which is a place you don’t often see either.
Manchego Foam Canapes with Sherry “Raisins”
Makes 24 canapes
For the sherry raisins:
- 2 cups canola oil that has been frozen for at least four hours in a dish wide enough to drop sherry into
- 100 grams water
- 3.75 grams agar agar powder or strands (note- do not use agar agar that has been pre-mixed with sugar as the concentration is diluted and you won’t achieve proper spherification)
- 200 grams Sherry (I used Pedro Ximenez)
- 1 kitchen syringe, baster, or squeeze bottle.
- Bring the water and agar agar to a boil over medium heat stirring constantly until agar agar dissolves.
- Add to agar agar mixture to sherry and blend completely. You may wish to blitz it with an immersion blender to ensure complete uniformity. Place mixture into syringe, baster or bottle.
- Working quickly to ensure your oil does not get above 20°F, drop raisin-sized droplets of sherry mixture into oil. My oil container is about 3x5” and I can usually get about 20 droplets per batch. Remove oil droplets with a slotted spoon to a mesh strainer after one minute. You should have perfect, raisin-sized spheres. Repeat with remaining sherry, however you will need to re-freeze your oil periodically as it must not go above 20°F.
For the canapés:
- 1 sheet puff pastry barely thawed
- ¾ c grated manchego cheese
- ½ c heavy cream
- 24 marcona almond halves
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Using a 1.5” cutter, make 24 rounds of puff pastry. Nestle rounds into cups of a mini-cupcake pan and bake until golden brown and puffed, about 15 minutes. You can make a light indentation with your finger in the cups in order that the toppings will sit well, if you wish.
- Meanwhile, place manchego and cream in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir frequently until manchego melts into cream. Blend with an immersion wand until fully incorporated,then chill in an ice bath until needed.
- Place scoops or quenelles of manchego foam on the puff pastry rounds. Wedge in a marcona almond half. Drop one or two sherry raisins on top and serve.