While I was growing up in Brazil, summer weekends meant two things: boiling hot temperatures and Borscht–the Russian cold beet soup. Every Sunday, my grandmother would prepare a fresh pot. Even though I was not a fan of beets (I believe no kid is), over time I learned that the actual broth wasn’t so bad after all. Week after week I’d carefully submerge the ladle into the soup to skim only the liquid, no beets. Any errant vegetable was promptly discarded. Twenty years later, I can’t say beets grew on me but I have fond memories of the Borscht weekends. So I decided to revisit my grandmother’s recipe, the way I like to remember it.
The concept is based on deconstructing the soup using molecular gastronomy. It starts with a fresh batch of Borscht, adapted from the original recipe, with added aromatics. Strained through a fine mesh chinois, it comes down to a beautiful bright colored broth, no beets included. From here on, it’s all science.
I borrowed this technique from Ferran Adrià, the chef and alchemist behind El Bulli in Spain. It’s called spherification (the controlled gelification of a liquid which, submerged in a bath, forms spheres). The result is a liquid bubble encapsulated by a thin membrane, like an egg yolk. The process is simple, but extremely precise–any variation on PH level, calcium or fat content can throw things off.
To create the amuse-bouche, I mix the beet broth with algin, a refined powder extracted from brown algae. The liquid is then submerged, drop by drop, into a calcium bath with the use of a syringe. Thirty seconds later, just like magic, there it is: homemade Borscht caviar. Instead of adding heavy cream to the soup (as called for in the original recipe), the spheres are placed over red onion crème fraîche. And as this is caviar we’re talking about, I thought of serving it over a blini, in this case, made from golden beet chips. Although my grandmother may say it doesn’t look anything like her signature soup, it sure brings me back to those summer Sundays. But thanks to the fog, it’s never boiling hot in San Francisco.
Russian Caviar – Borscht roe, red onion crème fraîche, golden beet blini.
An amuse bouche prepared with traditional Russian soup, French technique and Spanish molecular gastronomy.
For the borscht roe
Start out by preparing a fresh batch of Borscht (the Russian cold beet soup). I’ve adapted my grandmother’s recipe to include additional aromatics and remove ingredients like cream and lemon that would react with the spherification process.
Dice (1/2 inch) 6 to 8 beets, 1 onion, 1 celery stalk.
Put the vegetables in a large stockpot; add 2 thyme sprigs, 3 Italian parsley sprigs, 2 bay leaves, 1tsp of black peppercorns, 2 cups of clear beef stock (optional). Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, simmer the soup for about 1 hour or until the beets are tender.
Strain the soup through a fine mesh chinois. Save the beets for salad, discard the rest of the vegetables. All you’ll need is the liquid.
Put the beet liquid on an ice bath to cool down.
With a precision scale, set aside 2.4 grams of Algin (Sodium Alginate) for 500 grams of beet liquid. You can buy it online at WillPowder.net
Using a hand mixer, blend the Algin with the beet liquid. Use a hand whisk to reduce the foam formed by the mixer. Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap and let it refrigerate overnight.
Fill a large syringe with the beet liquid, no foam.
For the Calcic base
Mix 3.2 grams of Calcic Chloride with 500 grams of water.
For the spherification
Applying an even pressure on the syringe let the beet liquid fall into the Calcic base, drop by drop.
Little liquid bubbles will immediately form. Let them stay there for about 30 seconds.
Remove them from the base with a strainer. Carefully press the strainer over a folded paper towel to absorb the water around the spheres.
For the golden beet blinis
Take the top and bottom parts out of a golden beet. Make an even cylinder by pressing down a cookie cutter on it. Slice it on a mandoline.
Fry the thin golden beet slices on grape seed oil or canola oil. Be careful not to burn it (it may take you a couple of tries to find the right oil temperature –it shouldn’t be too hot). If the inside of the chip is still soft when you remove it from the oil, pat dry with a paper towel and put it in the oven at 300º for about 15 minutes or until they become crisp. Reserve the chips.
To make the red onion crème fraîche, finely mince 1 tbsp of red onions, place it on a strainer and wash it under running water. Dry it on a paper towel. Gently whip one cup of good quality crème fraîche with the onions. Let it refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
To assemble the Russian Caviar, sandwich a small dollop of crème fraîche between 2 beet chips, add another dollop on top and carefully place the borscht roe over it. Serve immediately.
Recipe by Haas (with some help of his French-Russian grandmother). Author is not responsible for oil burns, beet allergy reactions or sliced fingers on the mandoline. If you’d rather eat out than try your luck in the kitchen, check out the restaurant reviews.