Being homeless (well, between homes) isn’t the most fun I’ve had recently, so in desperation I egged the divine Mistress M on to arrange a cook-up at a fabulous friend’s home. Said fabulous friend being a haematologist and partner in a pathology laboratory; I thought a soupçon of chemistry with a dash of microbiology might be in order.
The Maillard (say: my Yar) reaction, also known as the browning reaction, is the source of much of the deliciousness in the foods we love. The scrumptious crust on a seared steak, the caramelised sugars of toffee, butterscotch and tartes tatin, the heady aromas of roasted coffee beans, the comforting smell of baking bread are all largely due to this (actually quite complex) phenomenon.
The lovely caramelized flavours typically do not occur in wet environments in the time scales of normal cooking, but we can do a few things to speed them along; up the temperature and up the alkalinity.
You can read a wonderfully thorough and scientific discussion here: http://blog.khymos.org/2012/06/04/maximizing-food-flavor-by-speeding-up-the-maillard-reaction/
So, with the help of Modernist Cuisine at Home, let’s put all of this wonderful theory into action.
Because we’re literally a mile high, water boils at a paltry 94°C in Johannesburg. But even at sea level 100°C is not quite hot enough for caramelisation to take place in our soup. To get things a little more heated, we have to put some pressure on.
Enter the pressure cooker. Well, at least it would if all of my kitchen equipment weren’t in storage. After some frantic twoogling and phoning around, my aunt came to the rescue with a very retro orange pressure cooker, which then entered. A perfect match to the soup.
With the equipment to add enough heat (up to 120°C in a pressure cooker), we now need to raise the alkalinity. Imagine your carrots in the pot have indigestion and you want to neutralise some acid. Just add another retro remedy: bicarbonate of soda (baking soda [U.S.] / koeksoda [Afr]).
All you need for this mind-blowing soup is:
- The best carrots you can find (the flavour depends entirely on them)
- Fresh carrot juice (juice in a centrifugal juicer or buy a bottle of organic from Woolies)
- Unsalted butter
- Chicken stock (optional if your carrot juice is very sweet)
- Bicarbonate of soda
- Pressure cooker
- Immersion blender
- Fine sieve or chinois
After peeling the carrots and removing the fibrous cores, chop them into 5cm pieces.
Melt butter in the pressure cooker. This coating stops the carrots from sticking and adds some proteins for more Maillard deliciousness. Add some water, salt and baking soda, and pressure cook for 20 minutes. Give the pot a few cautious shakes in the beginning to stop the carrots from sticking. Depressurise and Voila! Pressure-cooked caramelised carrots. They smell delicious, like toffee.
Puree the carrots with and immersion blender and pass the puree through a fine sieve or chinois.
Bring the carrot juice (and water or stock if using) to the boil, strain and stir into the carrot puree.
Mount the soup with butter using an immersion blender. This is a cheffy term that means whisking cold butter into a hot sauce off the heat just before serving to give it a wonderfully smooth and silky texture. (If you haven’t done it yet, try it with the juices from a roast chicken for beautiful gravy.)
Season with salt to taste, spoon it into soup plates or bowls and serve.
I wanted to serve it with a sprig of dill on top, but had to settle for bit of chopped parsley.
So easy, so delicious, so educational. Thanks @ModernCuisine!
Modernist Cuisine at Home
This is the essential cookbook for the home cook who would like to experiment with the new tools and techniques of modernist cuisine.
Molecular Gastronomy is the science that studies the principles at play in the kitchen, on the plate and in the mouth. When you actually start to cook it’s something else entirely. Hervé This, one of molecular gastronomy’s founders, waxes lyrical about this in the introduction to his new book, if you’d like to know more. Nathan Myhrvold et al like to call this cooking part, and their massive book, Modernist Cuisine. I’ll side with them on this naming (for now).
You’ll find the simplified caramelised carrot soup recipe in this book.