Today marks the start of the WEEK OF ALEX!!!!!

Yep, all Alex all week, that's how we do it 'round here. Wendy is out of town for work over the next week so I'm officially a bachelor for a little while. To our loyal four blog readers, you're in for a treat, you're going to be getting the raw and unedited Alex content for the next several days. And I mean that Wendy won't be proofing my posts so it will quite literally not be edited :-)  

(You see how I used the smiley face as punctuation on that sentence? Yep, that never woulda flown with Wendy as the editor.)

So how am I going to kick off the WEEK OF ALEX? Am I going to be living the manly bachelor life? Maybe build a kegerator, teach Lulu to fetch me a beer, and teach Mel to make a martini? Will I share my stories of drunken debauchery after long nights out with friends? Perhaps a recap similar to the plot of The Hangover? Nope, none of those, I actually think I'll start with a cooking experiment, of course.

In a previous post we covered how lucky we are to live in an area with high quality gourmet specialty stores. One of those stores is La Fromagerie, a fine cheese boutique just a few short blocks from our house. 

This whole summer they've been touting their fresh and imported Italian Burrata (mozzarella and cream) on their Twitter account. A few days ago we found ourselves walking by the store so, at my request, Wendy popped in and picked up some burrata. I've been really wanting to try some all summer and this seemed as good a time as any.

You see, it just so happened that we received one of our first orders from Arganica Farm Club, which just so happened to contain a couple of heirloom tomatos that were just begging to be eaten. Do you see where I'm going with this?

Oh, and don't forget our giant basil plant tree in our herb garden.

If you guessed an "out of this world caprese salad," you're absolutely right. 

Ok ok, I know you're thinking "Alex... way to go out on a limb and put some tomatos, burrata, salt and pepper, balsamic vinegar, and a few basil leaves on a plate." But wait right there, I'm about to do as I've done with every project in our house, I'm going to over complicate this simple little salad and turn it into a much larger and longer project than it really needs to be.

Several years ago Wendy and I ate one of the best meals of our lives at Michael Chiarello's Bottega restaurant in Yountville, CA. One of the most amazing dishes was their delectable Burrata Caprese appetizer that is served with balsamic caviar.

"What's balsamic caviar," you ask? Think, little tiny magical balls of formed balsamic vinegar that burst in your mouth with each bite. No longer does your salad need to suffer the dreaded balsamic migration, where all of your balsamic vinegar wanders to the bottom of the plate, missed by your mouth and left to be simply washed away when you do dishes. Such a waste of a delicious taste.

So your next logical question, "how does one go about making this balsamic caviar?" Well, sit tight and I'll describe the relatively simple (though I made it tedious and difficult) process and how you can make it yourself.

To make the balsamic caviar will need the following items:

  • Balsamic Vinegar (or as the Barefoot Contessa would say, "Really good balsamic vinegar.")
  • Olive Oil
  • Agar Powder
  • Eye Dropper

The key to this recipe is actually the use of a gelatin substance that will allow the balsamic to form a ball when dropped in the oil. But for this to work, the balsamic must be hot and the oil must be very cold. So start by pouring about one cup of olive oil into a tall glass and put it in the freezer. The oil will need to stay in the freezer for at least 30 minutes, but a bit longer if you have the time. It has to get very very cold. If you're on Iron Chef, just throw it in the "blast chiller."

With the oil chilling in the freezer, you can start on the balsamic mixture. The balsamic must be heated just to boiling with the gelatin powder and immediately removed form the heat and transferred into a glass container. All of the recipes online call for quite a bit of balsamic, but we really didn't need a ton of these balsamic balls, and I didn't want to waste a lot of our "really good" balsamic if I was going to screw it up.

The balsamic vinegar we use is actually from one of our favorite places in Napa Valley, the St. Helena Olive Oil Company. It's their Balsamic Vinegar of Modena.

I started by putting 1/4 cup of or balsamic into a small sauce pan. 

I then mixed 1/8 teaspoon of the Agar Agar powder with 2 teaspoons of water, and poured the Agar Agar and water mixture into the balsamic before it began to heat up. 

With the whisker I continued to stir the balsamic mixture until it just came to a boil.

One it began boiling,  I immediately removed the mixture from the heat and transferred it into a small teacup to make sure it didn't continue to boil. If you don't do this, the balsamic will begin to thicken too much.

Heating the balsamic mixture allows the Agar to activate so that it can form the gel once cooled. It's important to allow the balsamic mixture to cool a bit before you begin forming your caviar, otherwise the balsamic will be too hot and will not form the caviar ball in the oil.

Once the oil is sufficiently cool remove the glass from the freezer and get your eye dropper ready.  

Begin by picking up some of the balsamic mixture with the eye dropper and then dropping some of the mixture into the oil. You can regulate the size of the ball by adding more or less balsamic mixture in each droplet. However, if you don't make enough, the balls will just sit on the top of the oil and won't sink. You want the balsamic balls to sink. After some trial and error, three drops worked well for me.

Here's a brief video of some of my early attempts. Notice the balls on the surface that failed to sink.

This is the somewhat tedious process, just keep going back to the balsamic and dropping it into the oil. Work a little bit quickly here so the oil doesn't warm up too much.

Once you've dropped about 1/2 of the balsamic mixture, remove the formed caviar from the oil with a slotted spoon or tea strainer and place the caviar on a piece of paper towel in a strainer. You will then need to rinse the caviar with water to get some of the oil off of them. Once rinsed, transfer the finished caviar to another container.

Repeat the process with the rest of the balsamic. The more the balsamic cools the thicker it will become, so work quickly. If it gets too thick, you can warm it again, but not to boiling. 

Once all of your balsamic is used, or you feel it has gotten too thick to continue, rinse the remainder and move onto the assembly of your caprese.

Build your caprese as you normally would with large and thick wedges of tomato, tear apart your balls of burrata or mozzarella, and place your large leaves of basil. The last step is the simple scattering of your balsamic caviar. Using the container, gently spread the caviar in a generous manner over the top of your caprese.

Then serve and enjoy the little bursts of flavor while you chew each wonderful bite of your salad. But be careful, as our friend Katie knows, these little buggers can quickly run away from you and end up on the floor.

If you've made a lot of the balsamic caviar during this adventure, don't worry, just cover it and put it in the refrigerator, it will keep for several weeks or more without issue. 

The next time I make this I will probably use a shallow and wide container for the oil and place it in an ice bath with salt water to keep the oil cold. This will give me more time to work with the balsamic. Also, the less Agar you can use the better. If you use too much, the caviar will become solid jelly like balls. You want to avoid this situation. It is best if the only solid part is the delicate skin around the balsamic.

So what do you think about my first post in the WEEK OF ALEX series? Is it what you expected? Maybe you've made some balsamic caviar and have a few pointers for me? Or maybe now you're just dying to try it yourself. What do you think? Or maybe I need more beer drinking and grunting. 

Let's just hope this week of bachelor life doesn't end up with me making a trip to the hospital for some bit of stupidity. It's been known to happen, I'm just sayin.

Comments 10

Comments

8/19/2011 at 10:38 AM
As IF you have a fancy cheese store. I love cheese...
Alex
8/19/2011
We actually have three or four fancy cheese options within walking distance. Between what we outlined and The Butcher's Block, Whole Foods, Balducci's, and even Trader Joe's for the basics, we're quite lucky.
gretchen
8/19/2011 at 11:53 AM
you are soooo wild and crazy, alex. the balsamic caviar looks awesome. totally want to try this one day!
Alex
8/19/2011
You know me, wild and crazy are my middle names.

One other cool thing is that the Agar is the vegan equivalent of the animal gelatins.
Whitney
8/19/2011 at 3:45 PM
This is fantastic. I particularly enjoy the line about making things far more complicated than necessary - I can relate.

This post inspired me to contact our favourite (amazing!) Italian restaurant to see what kind of balsamic vinegar they use, it's so much better than what I have in the cupboard!
And caprese salad is possibly my favourite salad in the world, so as far as first solo posts go, you couldn't have done better. But I'm also a fan of the smiley face ;)
Alex
8/21/2011
Well thank you!

The new olive oil store near our house has a huge selection of balsamic vinegar, many infused with various flavors. Once we run out of the bottles we have from Napa Valley, I think we will try some from their store.

We've tasted some pretty amazing balsamic while on some of our vacations. One was a 50 year aged balsamic, I think it was $70 per bottle!!!

Thank you for the feedback.
8/19/2011 at 6:37 PM
interesting, thanks for the recipe! We are watching a re-run of Iron Chef American Battle Branzino and I could swear I just saw them make a green 'caviar' using a PCR plate (I work in a lab, that's why I noticed) instead of a dropper.

I was wondering what was in those caviar balls...now I have my answer!
Alex
8/21/2011
Using a PCR plate might make it way easier to remove the caviar once they've formed. I'll need to check that out.
8/20/2011 at 1:02 PM
I have to say that while your balls are certainly impressive, I was more excited by the fact that we have the same bee glasses! They are our daily glassware (well, were and will be again, once we get our kitchen unpacked at our new place) and they were one of my favorite things from the wedding registry!
Alex
8/21/2011
Haha, awesome.

Wendy has loved those bee glasses since she first saw them. She picked some up a little while back and they are our every day glassware as well.

Back when we got married the big things were those rustic glassware with the blue rim on the top and also "fizzy" glassware with lots of colors. They sort of look like what you could get from Murano, Italy. Sadly, we didn't just much of it from our registry, but we did get a great margarita set from it.
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