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I had never had powdered olive oil before. In fact, I'd never even heard about it until this season of Top Chef, when chef Ty-lor Boring (best name ever) used it to top a cube of watermelon for a modernist cooking quickfire challenge. I so love this sort of magical transformation that molecular gastronomy makes possible. I imagined eating this dish: a sleek cube of watermelon capped with an unidentified, powdery substance that, upon tasting, you realize is something totally familiar and totally transformed. I researched this technique online, and learned that it was actually pretty simple -- all you need is tapioca maltodextrin and any liquid fat. Tapioca maltodextrin is pretty neat stuff- it's derived from tapioca, is near flavorless, and is incredibly lightweight. For these reasons, processed food companies have long used it as a way to add volume, but not weight, to frozen dinners and dry mixes! I call shenanigans.
Anyway, tapioca maltodextrin is also prized for its ability to stabilize liquid fats so they can be turned into powder, so I ordered it to use for Dustin's Science! (exclaimation point intended!) birthday dinner. I had plans to use it for two courses. First, I wanted to make powdered olive oil to top cubes of my favorite local mozzarella as part of a cheese plate. Second, I wanted to use it to make a powdered bacon fat that I could use to dust a sage-flecked miniature funnel cake- the goal being that it would look like the powdered sugar topping on a traditional funnel cake, but taste like bacon. I wasn't sure that the powdered bacon fat would work, because I couldn't find any mention of such a thing online, so I decided to test the tapioca maltodextrin-waters with a simple powdered olive oil trial run (photographed below) and then later a second trail with the bacon fat (in the video below). Read on to see how it all works, and watch a video of my trials, errors and triumphs below! Special thanks to my super talented videographer helenthehanny!
A tiny bowl on a non-molecular gastronomy approved scale (all the recipes I read say that you should use a scale that can measure down to tenths of grams, but I got by just fine with my standard kitchen scale).
An errant sprinkling of the tapioca maltodextrin. It's a feathery, superfine powder, and impossible to use without spilling.
Measuring 16 grams of olive oil to mix with the 5 grams of tapioca maltodextrin. You want a ratio of about 1 part powder to 3 parts liquid fat.
Adding a pinch of kosher salt.
Oil meets powder! AKA, this bowl is too small.
The mixture should look a bit like a dry, lumpy biscuit dough.
The recipe suggests pushing the mixture through a tamis for a finer powder- I used a fine mesh sieve.
Pretty filaments of olive oil powder.
A final scrape.
Voilà! Powdered olive oil!
The verdict? Absolutely magical -- the stuff melts on your tongue as if you've taken a swig of oil from the bottle. It didn't look quite as powdery as I was expecting, probably because I didn't have a tamis, but the end product was excellent all the same. I used my every-day olive oil for this attempt, not wanting to waste the good stuff, and therefore the flavor wasn't all that it could be. After these trial runs, I decided that I would make a simple garlic-infused oil, and then powder-ize that to top cubes of local mozzarella for a cheese course, and serve the powdered bacon fat with funnel cakes for a 'carnival foods' course.
Up tomorrow: I try my hand at turning apple juice into caviar!
Le Creuset has generously offered to reward our Big Feasters for all their hard work, and as our first Big Feast, Arielle will win, in the color of her choice (flame, cherry, fennel, or cassis): a 4 1/2-quart round French oven, a 10 1/4-inch iron handle skillet, and a 2 3/4-quart precision pour pan. Pitch us your Big Feast at email@example.com for a chance to win $500 in Le Creuset booty.
Inspired to play with molecular gastronomy at home? Check out a very cool Molecular Gastronomy kit from Molecule-R, available in the shop now!