Methylcellulose. An introduction and two recipes.

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(Savory Beetroot Meringue using Methylcellulose)

Methylcellulose

An Introduction and two recipes –
- Savory Meringue
- Super light and crispy Tempura

Available from www.Modernist-Chef.com

Methylcellulose is a popular hydrocolloid which can form a gel or act as a thickener when hydrated. Particular to methylcellulose is that it gels when its heated rather than once it cools. Because of this unique quality it’s often used to make mousses and gellees which are firm when they are hot but melt as they cool. Due to this many chefs have used methylcellulose in the pursuit of creating a ‘hot ice-cream’, the idea being to create something with the texture of ice-cream but served hot which then melts in the mouth as it cools (personally I haven’t come across a version of this yet which I think really works i.e. really gives an experience like eating ice-cream only hot –but I hope someone will crack it at some point).

Methylcellulose is used in various ways in modern cuisine. It can be used to great effect to create foams. Can be added to liquids which may then be dried to form films and baked into crisp brittle sheets. It can act a replacement for egg whites in some recipes as it can be whipped in a similar way to provide a similar structural element in a recipe (like with the beetroot meringue recipe bellow).

It’s also used in some deep fried foods, as when it comes into contact with the hot oil in a fryer it forms an oil impermeable film. Due to this using methylcellulose in deep fried products both reduces the amount of moisture which escapes from the coated ingredient and also reduces the about of oil absorbed into the coated item – this can help to achieve a crispier, lighter product with a great texture.

Methylcellulose is one of the very few modern ingredients I use which is not entirely ‘natural’ but synthesized from natural ingredients, namely cellulose - often from cotton. Its non-toxic and non-allergenic and a perfectly healthy and safe ingredient to use in food so don’t be scared off by the fact it’s synthesized. Bear in mind you most likely consume it fairly regularly already as it’s used in huge variety of products including foods and medicines (even vitamin tablets).

Typical use levels –

0.5% - 2% typical concentration for use in cooking

To replace egg whites use 2g Methylcellulose blended into 35g water to replace each egg white. Note – Methylcellulose prepared this way will whip to stiff peaks but you need to be persistent in your whipping to get it to nice stiff peaks.

You can buy Methylcellulose
here.

I will return to this post soon to add recipes and techniques for foams, hot gellees and mousses which melt as they cool, films, and brittle sheets - all using methylcellulose.

Savory Beetroot Meringue (vegan)

Methylcellulose here replaces egg white in giving the meringue its structure and texture. These meringues are then dried until crisp in a dehydrator. Here I’ve used isomalt to replace some of the sugar in order to create savory Meringue but sweet meringue could be made in the same way by simply upping the sweetness.

Here this is just a base recipe which you can flavour up, add acidity or other flavours to but its a really solid technqiue and then you can build in and play with the flavours you want.

The way I do this now is to first make a methylcellulose ‘slurry’. This hydrates the methycellulose before you use it in the recipe and makes it much easier to work with for this technique.

Methocel slurry
 
3g Methylcelulose
200ml Water
 
Boil the water in the kettle then measure out 200ml of just boiled water.

Now blend the Methylcellulose into the hot water with a stick blender.

Next begin to cool this mixture over an ice bath while stirring intermittently until cool.

Allow this mix to sit for at least a couple of hours but for best results sit in fridge overnight.

Beetroot Meringue
 
45g Methocellulose Slurry – (see above)
260g Beetroot Juice
1.2g
Xanthan Gum
40g
Isomalt – powdered
10g Caster Sugar
Seaonings to taste
 
First blend together the beetroot juice, methycellulose slurry and xanthan gum with a stick blender.

Then in bowl start whipping this mixture with an electric whisk and add in isomalt and caster sugar bit by bit.
Whip this mix to soft peaks, this will take a little time (more than whipping egg whites) but will go to stiff peaks eventually if you persist and want more control of the meringues finished shape.

Pipe into neat blobs on a non stick sheet or spread into a thin layer (or basically produce any shape you like)

Dehydrate at 57C for 10-12 hours till crispy.
 
This technique can be adapted for a wide variety of juices and a similar textured liquids.


Tempura - Super light and crispy tempura. (vegan)

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Using Methylcellulose in this tempura batter helps to create an incredibly light, crispy batter inside which the vegetables essentially steam whilst they’re cooked. It helps to keep moisture in the coated ingredients and also reduces the about of oil absorbed through the batter.

As well as using methylcellulose here I’ve also replaced some of the water in the batter mixture with vodka, which boils out very quickly during frying, giving you a fantastically crunchy, crisp texture.

Finally I also carbonate my tempura batter in a cream whipper to help get a beautifully light batter.

350g Vodka
450g Water
250g Plain Flour (or Rice Flour)
Pinch salt
Pinch chilli powder
8g
Methylcellulose
Plus your choice of ingredients to batter – ie shitake mushrooms, broccoli, baby corn, carrot batons, strips of peppers etc.

Blend the methylcellulose into 250g of the water using a hand blender.

Next whisk the vodka into the flour (seasoned with a pinch of salt and chilli powder).

Now add the methylcellulose mixture into the flour and finally whisk in the remaining 200g of water.

Whisk the batter until smooth then pour it through a sieve.

Take 500ml of the tempura batter and pour it into a cream whipper then charge this with two Co2 chargers (soda chargers).

Give the whipper a good shake and place it in the fridge to chill of around two hours or until your ready to it.

When your ready to make your tempura invert the cream whipper and dispense the batter into a large mixing bowl.

Dip your ingredients to be fried into a little flour then into the batter before gently placing them in a deep fat fryer (at 190C). Only fry a few tempuras at a time.

The tempura will cook very quickly (less than two minutes), take them out of the fryer when they are crisp and crunchy and serve up with a dipping sauce or with as part of a larger dish.