St. Patrick’s Day, molecular gastronomy, and kitchen experiments

Last weekend, I decided to make a creative ranch dip for a contest at work.  Since it was St. Patrick’s Day weekend, I immediately thought of a beer cheese dip (with Guinness as the beer, of course).  But how could I jazz it up? (See end of post for approximate recipe)

My two ideas for jazzing it up were Guinness pearls (similar to the pearls that you can make from balsamic vinegar) mixed into a cheesy ranch dip, or a Guinness swirl in cheesy ranch dip.

The cheesy ranch base was easy–I melted cheddar cheese in some cream, added sour cream and some Hidden Valley ranch dip mix*, then set it aside for later.

Next came the more experimental part.  I started by trying the Guinness pearls, using the cold oil spherification process (there are lots of recipes & instructions for doing this with balsamic vinegar on the internet; here is one example).  I started by taking a can of Guinness, simmering to reduce it a little bit, and I also added in some balsamic vinegar.  I then added the agar & boiled for a few minutes.  I didn’t have an eye dropper or a pipette, so I poured the liquid through a pastry tip into the glass of olive oil.  I was excited to see that the process actually worked, but unfortunately it was going to take way too much time to make enough pearls, so I decided the pearls could be a garnish on top, rather than the main beer component.

Now, I had to make something with Guinness to swirl with the cheesy ranch dip.  This was also a bit of an experiment.  Once again, I started off heating the contents of a can of Guinness with a little balsamic vinegar, and let it reduce a bit.  I added some ancho chile & some smoked salt (I have been really into smoked salt lately.  I have about a half dozen different varieties at the moment, most of them from Spice Ace).  I tasted it, and felt it needed a little more brightness, so I splashed in some lemon juice.  That improved things, but it was still missing some flavor depth, so I added a bit of smoked cinnamon.   Next, I added a bit of agar (which I’d used for the pearls earlier) and let it cool.  I was hoping the agar would thicken it up to about the same thickness as the ranch dip so that I could swirl them, but it didn’t, so I ended up having to blend in some xanthan gum too.

Next up was the swirling–unfortunately, this ended up not looking overly appealing, so I ended up blending the Guinness swirl into the cheesy ranch dip.  If I made this again, knowing that everything was going to be mixed together in the end, I wouldn’t have worried about thickening up the Guinness reduction any further.  I would have just blended it with the ranch dip, then added some xanthan gum to that if it wasn’t quite thick enough.  I then garnished with the balsamic Guinness pearls. I didn’t win the contest unfortunately, but I saw at least a couple people go back for a second taste of the dip, so it must not have been too awful.

Recipe for Póg Mo Rainse (Kiss My Ranch) dip

Cheesy Ranch Dip base
Guinness Swirl
Xanthan gum (if needed)
Balsamic Guinness Pearls

Put the cheesy ranch dip in a bowl, then add about half the Guinness mixture.  Blend with a hand mixer until uniform.  Taste, and decide whether you want to add more of the Guinness mixture or not.  If the dip is getting too thin, whip some Xanthan gum into the Guinness mixture to thicken it up before adding more (make sure to add slowly so that it doesn’t clump up).  Garnish with balsamic Guinness pearls.  Serve with your dipper of choice (I recommend soft pretzels).

Cheesy Ranch Dip
1.5 packets of Hidden Valley Dip mix (original ranch flavor)
24 oz sour cream
2 cups shredded cheese (I used sharp cheddar)
1 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp flour
1 tbsp butter

Melt the butter in a small saucepan, then add the flour.  Whisk & heat for a few minutes until the mixture browns slightly.  Slowly whisk in the cream.  Continue whisking until the mixture thickens slightly, then gradually add the shredded cheese, making sure each addition melts before adding more.  Keep whisking so that everything stays smooth. Remove from heat, then add the dip mix and sour cream.  Mix thoroughly, then put in refrigerator while you make the Guinness swirl.

Guinness Swirl
(note–quantities here are approximate.  Except for the 1 can of Guinness I’m not positive how much I added of anything, so adjust to taste)
1 can Guinness
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1-2 tbsp Ancho chile
1 tsp smoked cinnamon
1 tsp smoked salt
(you could substitute regular cinnamon & regular salt, although the smokiness adds a nice complexity to the flavor and goes really well with the Guinness)

Simmer the Guinness over low-med heat for about 10 min to reduce it slightly.  Add the balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, and the spices and stir to incorporate (make sure to taste as you go along, and adjust quantities as needed).  Allow to cool.

Balsamic Guinness Pearls
(note: except for the Guinness, quantities are approximate.  Also, you will not need anywhere near this amount of liquid unless you want to make a ton of pearls, so feel free to scale everything down.)
1 can Guinness
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
~1.5 tbsp agar
Tall glass filled with olive oil (chill before use: the colder the oil, the better the process works).  If you plan to make a lot of pearls, I’d have a couple glasses of chilled olive oil on hand
Eye dropper or pipette

Simmer the Guinness over low-med heat for about 10 min to reduce it slightly.  Add the balsamic vinegar & agar and simmer for ~5 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly, then use the eye dropper or pipette to slowly drip the Guinness mixture into the glass of oil.

Carefully pour off as much of the oil as you can, then put pearls into a bowl of cold water to rinse.  Carefully pour through a strainer to remove most of the water, then store the pearls in the refrigerator until ready to use.


*disclaimer: I work for the company that makes Hidden Valley

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