Mixology Monday XXXV: Broaden Your Horizons

mxmologoThis month’s MxMo is being hosted by the Scribe, over at A Mixed Dram. His theme this month is Broaden Your Horizons. The idea is that we must write about something new to us in the cocktail world. Something we haven’t tried before. He specifically calls out Morganthaler, daring him to find some way to participate. My money’s on Jeff, but keep an eye out to see if he can find anything in the cocktail world he hasn’t done. Maybe he’ll drink a Budweiser….
As for me, well let’s see… I have to do something new… I know!
I’ll mix up a Pegu!
Seriously. For months, I have wanted to try out a Molecular Pegu. Specifically, I want to try the neat trick of spherification, wherein your liquid (played here by the mighty Pegu) is transformed into a mound of tiny spheres, solid on the outside and liquid in the center. You end up with the look and texture of large caliber caviar.
I had hoped to present a clean, concise layout of how to do this. I failed. Oh, I got Pegu Caviar, but the process is difficult, complicated, and not simple. In short, it is some serious chemistry, and Doug never took any chemistry at all. It is still fun, and I will keep working at it. The upshot is, this post will only be an outline, with most of the recommendations being things to avoid.
Here is the basic process for this kind of spherification: You take your liquid, which can be lots of things from pure water to fruit purée, and add sodium alginate and perhaps some sodium citrate (This perhaps is one of those things that straight answers for are difficult to ascertain). You spoon or drip this solution into a bowl of a calcium chloride solution. The outer surface of the drop will almost instantly gel. The longer you leave it in the calcium solution, the thicker the gel skin will become. When it reaches the strength you are looking for, you remove it from the bath and rinse in fresh water to halt the process. The drops are tough enough, usually, to handle, but burst in the mouth when you bite them. The result is outstandingly cool.
The process is outstandingly a pain in the butt. The devil is in the details.
To form the drops, you have a number of options. You can simply spoon them into the bath, carefully, with a small spoon. The results are irregular blobs that are cool to play with and eink (dreat?), but hardly visions of aesthetic prowess. Alternately, you can use a syringe to gently drip tiny drops into the bath. The smaller the drops, the more spherical they will appear. This can take forever, so there is a third, slightly more expensive option. When I first saw this done (with a cantaloupe puree), chef Rosendale used this device, from a company called Chef Rubber. You set it up over your bowl of solution, with a strainer positioned to catch the drops and make removal from the bath easier. Here’s what the setup looks like:
You force solution into the tube with a syringe, and it slowly drips through the nozzles into the bath. You let the drops sit for about a minute, and remove.
At least, that’s the theory.
I, of course, dove straight in. I mixed up a Pegu, added an ounce of water to simulate the amount of ice melt that would come from a normal shaking, and added about 1.5% alginate, and 0.5% citrate. Why these numbers? Because that was the upper end of the suggested range. Did I know what was supposed to happen, and what the result should look like? No. Oops. I first off wanted to test some drops before deploying the caviar maker. The drops simply vanished into the bowl, dissipating like any other liquid would.
What the hell?
I tried ten different ways of putting them in, and nothing worked. After some unhealthy suppression of profanity (I was trying to show off this process to my children). I decided my ingredients had to be the problem. I decided to try this with plain water to start, then add ingredients. I took a fresh 200 ml of water, and added 2g of the alginate. I walked away to secure some toys, and when I returned, found the water had gelled significantly. This had not happened with the Pegu. A spoonful into the calcium bath and bingo. I had a cool little bean of water that I could toss in my hands, but that exploded into tasteless water in my mouth.
I was reinvigorated. Apparently, I needed more water. My Pegu caviar would taste less strong than I had hoped, but this was going to work. I settled on putting in water equal to the Pegu ingredients this time, and blooming the alginate in that water before adding the flavorants and intoxicants. It took a stick blender to combine the ingredients, but I had a Pegu-colored bowl of goop.
Into the syringe it went, through the caviar dripper, and thence into the bath. The solution I had was probably too thick, but it eventually dripped into the water. And it formed little perfect caviar pellets. I strained them, rinsed them, and put them in a cocktail glass. Voila!
Maggi and I ate them with a spoon, and it was really quite cool. It tasted like just like a slightly diluted Pegu.
I intended to have video of the whole process, but my older daughter stole the video camera the moment I took it out, and now I have 42 minutes of my younger daughter making faces into the lens.
Here are the problems with this whole process:

  • Speed. At this viscosity, it takes ten minutes to make an ounce.
  • Wetness. The caviar remains very wet, which reduces the stuff I can do with it. I had intended to serve it on crackers, with a squirt of whipped lime for garnish.
  • Color. The excess water makes the beads too pale.

Fortunately, I have lots of the chemicals. I will try this again, but there will be some changes next time. I will be alone in the house. I need this so I will be patient. Patience is a major key. and when I am not patient, I will be able to swear in proper, therapeutic fashion.
I will be prepared to try several concentrations to get one that is fluid enough to produce caviar at an acceptable rate, and will give the strongest possible, least diluted, flavor. I will set up a draining rig to go with the forming rig. Then one batch can be dripping fully dry, while I’m dripping in the next batch. And I will be patient.
I have further ideas, if I can get this process going in a reasonable fashion. I intend to try spherifying each ingredient of the drink separately. I’ll make up a batch of gin and bitters pearls, Cointreau pearls, and lime pearls. Then put 3 measures of the first, and one each of the second and third into a glass and swirl to combine. How cool would that be, with virtually any cocktail? All the flavors there, in the right proportions, but bursting and combining in your mouth.
It will either be a train wreck, or totally amazing. I suspect it will depend on the recipe.
Well, there you have it. My project worked, sort of. It certainly broadened my horizons. And it was fun… in places. Now, I’m sure someone else did this much better than I did for this Mixology Monday, so go read them and see how to do this correctly.

About the author


I am 48 years old, married with two young daughters. My interests are tennis, reading, computers, politics, and of course cocktails. I run a murder mystery party business that caters to both corporate and private events, Killing Time, murder consultants.


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