A few years ago I received a really amazing birthday gift from my brother-in-law. He always buys awesome gifts, but that year he really outdid himself with dinner at the Fat Duck. I know a lot of people think Michelin food, fine dining & especially molecular gastronomy are pretentious & over the top & probably unnecessary. I did too, until I tried it. Everything about the food was magical, but one thing that did not get lost among the tricks & science was flavour. It is still the tastiest meal I have ever eaten (& the longest, 16 courses). Heston Blumenthal is probably the re-incarnation of Willy Wonka & I love what he creates.
Since then I have followed the developments in modern cooking more keenly, but have not used any of the techniques myself. I think partly this is due to fear & also a little bit of laziness. Where do you get that fancy equipment & weird chemicals? It all looks a bit too complicated. Also, I was living on a mountain in Peru. Now I am back in the real world & was super excited to receive a Molecular Mixology cocktail kit & asked to review it. So here goes…
What is Molecular Mixology?
It is basically about using techniques used from molecular gastronomy in cocktail making = science cocktails. Chefs employ a large range of scientific methods to change the textures, flavours and appearance of foods in surprising ways. These ideas lend themselves well to cocktail making as a lot of them are about changing textures, temperatures and the viscosity of liquids and there are impressive visual results.
The Molecular Mixology Kit
We received a Margarita R-evolution Kit which has just been released in the UK. I was really pleased as margaritas are my favourite cocktails. The kit includes the chemicals & a few bits of equipment you need to make three different takes on a classic margarita. These include a silicon mould, pipettes and a slotted spoon. There is also a recipe book with all the instructions for the different techniques which are; emulsification, basic spherification and reverse spherification.
In order to test the kit I decided to invite some friends round, cook a meal & make a night of it. I read through the recipe briefly to check what I needed to buy, the kit does not include the alcohol & fruit juices you will need to make the drinks. As I was busy preparing food my friends got busy with the cocktails.
A basic margarita is a mixture of tequila, triple sec and lime. It is usually served in a classic cocktail glass with a rim of sugar or salt. We made the foam version first. It was easy. You basically just add a sachet of soy lecithin to a preparation of orange syrup and whisk it like crazy with a hand blender. Soy lecithin is a protein which causes the liquid to emulsify & form a stable foam which doesn’t collapse. You add this to a base of tequila and lime and so the foam provides the orange flavour instead of the triple sec.
Of the three cocktails this one was my favourite. I really loved the foam, probably because I am a big kid. Three out of the four of us loved it. The flavour was great and we liked the foamy texture. However my other friend said it was “like fairy liquid”, she drank it though! Three out of four ain’t bad.
The aim was to make azure bursting pearls by making spheres out of blue Curacao. This process was a bit more complicated and requires more time as the chemicals have to be mixed with the alcohol & left for at least half an hour until the liquid is clear of air bubbles. This is one of the things you could do in advance if you were having a party.
The impressive bit comes when you take a pipette and drip droplets into another preparation. A clear membrane forms around the droplets and you have something which looks a bit like a lurid blue caviar. You then add these to a basic margarita mix. I think we did something wrong as the pearls just fell to the bottom of the glass. In the recipe they sort of float about elegantly.
We all liked this drink. It tasted lovely, although I have to say the blue pearls did not add much to the flavour. However, they added a weird, fun texture as you can feel them burst as you drink. We had a great time making it & definitely too much fun drinking it. I haven’t had tequila in a few years, it’s pretty strong stuff. For the third technique my memory is a little hazy.
In molecular gastronomy this process is often used to produce bursts of flavour in a dish. Like the basic spherification a membrane is created around a flavoured liquid. The difference here is the size, it can be much larger. The molecular kit comes with a silicon mould to make the spheres. The liquid, in this case mango juice, should be frozen in advance. Once we had the frozen spheres we bathed them in a solution of sodium alginate and then rinsed them in clear water. This gave us a jelly like ball of juice which looked like an egg yolk. This is added to a mixture of tequila, lime juice & coconut milk.
Of the three cocktails I liked this the least. The cocktail is not really sweet enough. I did like the technique and the mango juice sphere was lovely, but if I made it again I would add a sugar solution. This was also the least impressive visually as it basically looked like a glass of milk. Also, after the other two very acidic cocktails we all struggled to drink something milky. It would be a good idea to have this one first. And I guess you don’t have to drink them all in one night.
If hangovers are a barometer of the success of this kit then it is a doozy!
We all enjoyed the process of making the cocktails & drinking them. The instructions are pretty easy to follow overall although there were a couple of times where we were unsure what to do. For example, the calcium lactate does not dissolve easily in cold water so we wondered if we should have used warm water. The recipe just states water, so it could have been more specific. However, it was easy to work everything out, even though we have no experience of molecular techniques or much practice at making cocktails.
There are several of these kits so if you don’t like margaritas there are also cosmopolitan and mojito ones. There is also one for cooking which is really tempting me. They are a lot of fun to use and do make delicious drinks. If they didn’t, this would be pure gimmick, but it isn’t.
I think they would make great gifts for people interested in food or booze (I would be well pleased if somebody bought me one for Christmas, just saying!). They are also good to get if you are planning a party. You can either show off and impress your guests or let them go crazy making their own science cocktails. One of my friends who tried them was so inspired she added some new cocktails to her restaurant menu.
A couple of weeks ago Becky and Andrew came home for a visit so we decided to have a play with the kit. There is enough of the solutions to make each one a few times. I wanted to show her the basic spherification technique as I knew she would enjoy it. We all love gin so we decided to try & add some science to a basic gin & tonic. The results were delicious and potent. We made pearls with some raspberry gin & rosewater and added these to a gin & tonic with some fresh raspberries.
It was yummy but very boozy. I would like to try making the pearls from something fruit based so that it contrasts with the alcohol. We all enjoyed it & said we would gladly have it again so it was obviously pretty good. Considering none of us have much experience making cocktails or doing molecular gastronomy I think the results were impressive.
Everything we made, whether following the recipes or making it up, turned out pretty well, or at least drinkable! I think this makes the kits good value for money. Even if you don’t get it quite right, the drinks will still be enjoyable. You can learn the techniques by following the recipes and then either hone your skills and make them perfect (ours were not) by making them again or have fun with other flavours.
We also made cosmopolitan using the emulsification technique. We have shared the recipe here so that you can see how easy it is to use the kits to get creative.