José Andrés and the Joy of Liquid Nitrogen

By Caroline Hatchett | Greg Powers

By

Caroline Hatchett
Greg Powers
minibar's Mandarin Tart with Pumpkin Seed Oil Shell
minibar's Mandarin Tart with Pumpkin Seed Oil Shell

José Andrés has figured out how to end unemployment in America.

Put minibar’s pesto-filled fusilli on the menus of restaurants across the country. No ordinary pasta, his team makes “fusilli” out of Parmesan-infused water mixed with two gelatin agents. Prep cooks dip corkscrews in liquid nitrogen and then into the Parmesan water. Then they untwist each clear, hollow shape from the screw and fill them with traditional Genovese pesto through a syringe.

Opening this year’s International Chefs Congress, Andrés had plenty to say about politics, but mostly, he had fun with liquid nitrogen—a tool he likens to the extreme heat of frying, just at the opposite end of the spectrum at -346°F and -320.44°F.

Take his twist on a fried floral cake popular in Spain and Latin America. Instead of dipping a floral mold and batter into a deep fryer, Andrés sends his mold into a bath of liquid nitrogen. The next stop is a 9:1 blend of pumpkin seed oil and cocoa butter, which he unmolds into a crisp “tart” shell and fills with mandarin purée and sea salt. “It’s transforming oil into a texture. It’s unbelievable how it melts,” he said.

On stage, Andrés also used liquid nitrogen to highlight his favorite mushroom—the matsutake. The base of the dish is a bed of simply cured matsutake mushrooms. He and his team then replicate the matsutake visually by freezing molds in liquid nitrogen and filling them with matsutake cream to form a shell. Next a matsutake espuma gets piped in to firm up. After unmolding, the “mushrooms” are still cold enough to dip into truffle juice to dye the mushroom’s “stem.” The ingredients are all straightforward—cream, onions, mushrooms, truffles—but the liquid nitrogen gives the dish new shape and contrast. “My mouth doesn't get bored,” said Andrés.

Critics have dinged Andrés for “gimmicky” liquid nitrogen dishes like his ode-to-Ferran Dragon’s Breath, but he ignores them in favor of showing diners a good time and expanding the textural boundaries of ordinary foods. “We look at things like we are kids.” Now get out there, and have fun. 

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