Now We’re Cooking with Gas –
In the 90s, when certain avant-garde cooks and bartenders were bringing whipped cream dispensers into the service industry to create experimental drinks and dishes, some looked at the novelty as if these adventurers were walking into a four star restaurant with a camping stove to cook in a busy kitchen.
Time seems to have proven the creatives correct as new recipes and ways to use the siphon continue to appear.
From rapid infusions to whipped creams and foams, to the creation of different ingredients that help make food that seemingly defies physics, the uses of the siphon are ever expanding.
Beginning to learn and use these new techniques requires only three things: a whipped cream dispenser (otherwise known as a siphon), ingredients, and an ultra-pure food grade gas.
We recommend nitrous oxide because it’s stable with a bubble structure that works perfectly with almost all existing recipes you can find online today.
One of the top unsung heroes of this culinary movement is N2O. It can be the key to raising the bar from good to great results.
Discovered and made popular by a British scientist in the 18th century, nitrous oxide is a clean, colorless, non-flammable gas with a slightly sweet, naturally occuring flavor. It is also known as laughing gas, the gas used in dentist offices for general anesthesia during minor operations.
For cooking, nitrous oxide is ideal for creating microbubbles perfect for aerating and infusing ingredients with a siphon. After the process is complete it even acts as an aerosol to eject liquids and creams out through the tip.
So what are the most popular uses of nitrous oxide for cooking and bartending today? The two most common are rapid infusions and whipped creams or foams.
In food preparation, to make an infusion requires mixing an aromatic ingredient (or several) and a liquid like water, alcohol, juice or oil for a specified period. Infusing is the process of steeping the ingredient(s) until the flavors have been extracted and “infused” into the liquid.
Infusions have been around for a very, very long time. Home bakers have been using an infusion for flavor extracts (like vanilla extract) for almost as long as there have been baked goods. In France, they even call one of the most popular forms of tea an “infusion”.
In the bar scene, infusions have been making a comeback. They can often be found as bitters made in-house, which has even been bridging a gap into specialty coffeeshops with new aromatics that pop with espresso complimenting aromas.
Currently, two types of infusions that have become extremely popular are the rapid infusion and extract/bitter preparation.
Rapid infusion is made in the flavoring of alcohols for small batches of drinks. This entails placing a nice alcohol into the siphon with aromatic herbs or fruit and pressurizing the mixture with N2O for several seconds to several minutes.
The pressure pushes the N2O bubbles and alcohol into solids at the cellular level and begins to rapidly mix the flavors. When the gas is released, the alcohol exits the cells, bringing flavor with it.
This process creates aromatic alcohols that would have taken much more time using a traditional method. It also offers many different flavor profiles unobtainable without expensive machines.
For example, many bartenders like the fact that rapid infusions often leave bitter or abrasive flavors out of the finished product. These harsher flavors are very noticeable using older methods, but because of the speed and pressure involved in rapid infusions they aren’t allowed the time to slip in.
Infusion techniques for extracts, tinctures and bitters work the same, but a lower grade alcohol is often used and the siphon is sealed and often refrigerated for longer periods to allow a deeper flavor profile to develop. The end results are most often used as supplemental flavors and not as a base for cocktails.
Whipped Creams and Foams
Making gourmet whipped creams and espumas (culinary foams) often been thought of as high cuisine. We have images in our minds of chefs and bakers in a kitchen, moving quickly with very serious looks on their faces while whisking picturesque toppings onto perfectly plated meals and desserts.
This is no longer the norm. Nitrous oxide breaks this realm wide open and has made life easier both for professionals and home cooks alike.
The key to making good whipped cream and foam is in creating a good bubble structure that creates a perfect mix of air and liquid. This can often be done best with foods that have a high fat content or by adding a thickener.
For example, when whipped cream is whisked over and over in a bowl until it rises and gains “peaks” due to air being pushed into the cream until it has the consistency desired.
Nitrous oxide in a culinary siphon offers three advantages to the old fashioned whipping style:
First, it fills the liquid with microbubbles that penetrate deep under pressure, aerating all the way to the molecular level.
Second, it pressurizes the container, which pushes the bubbles much deeper than normal whipping into the cream, creating a very enjoyable mouth feel.
Should be third, nitrous oxide has natural antibacterial qualities that can keep food fresher, longer.
A fourth “bonus advantage” is that the bubble structure of N2O also leaves a subtle sweet flavor on the tongue. It might be only a brief caress of our taste buds, but it definitely gives a pleasant finish and smooth texture.
Please see our recipes section for different possibilities. And don’t forget to drink and eat responsibly!