The lightest foam you’ll ever taste

When it comes to foams, the lightest style you’re likely to come across is known, very appropriately, as an “air.”

This is another Ferran Adrià invention, and although he makes a strong distinction between “foams” and “airs” (I remember watching him correct his interpreter on this point at an event in Toronto a couple of years ago), airs are in fact a type of foam. They differ from the previous foams I discussed in that they require no special equipment. They do, however, require a special ingredient: lecithin.

Lecithin is a substance found in egg yolks and soybeans that has a hydrophilic end and a hydrophobic end, which gives it powerful emulsifying and stabilizing properties. It is used extensively in the kitchen to emulsify ice cream, mayonnaise, and even salad dressings. As a commercial extract, it comes in liquid, granular and powdered forms, and can be found at most health food and bulk food stores.

The bubbles in a lecithin-based air are relatively large and thin-walled, which gives the air its uniquely light body. This is a foam that disappears the instant you put it in your mouth. If you’re not careful, it can disappear before it even gets to your mouth!

To make an air, simply dissolve some lecithin into your base liquid, usually at a ratio of 0.5% to 1% by weight, then froth it with an immersion blender or – my preferred method – a milk frother. It can take a little practice to do this effectively, since the blender can destroy the foam as readily as form it; just keep moving it around your container until you find the sweet spot and the air begins to collect. (And use a large container; it tends to splash.)

Airs are best when based on an intensely flavourful base, since very little liquid actually reaches the mouth. In this recipe, I used the soaking liquid from dried shiitake mushrooms, which adds a subtle earthiness and additional umami taste to the scallops. Some people complain that airs look like spittle, but I prefer to think that they resemble foam on the seashore.

Togarashi-crusted scallops with shiitake air

Serves 4 as a one-bite course

  • 20 grams dried shiitake mushrooms (about 4-5 small mushrooms)
  • Water
  • Granulated soy lecithin
  • 4 sea scallops
  • Shichimi togarashi spice blend (available from most Asian grocery stores under the S&B label and called “nanami togarashi”)
  • Neutral cooking oil, such as grapeseed or canola

Start by making the base for the air: Place the dried shiitake mushrooms in a bowl and add boiling water to cover. Allow to stand for 30 minutes, then remove mushrooms, squeeze out excess water, and reserve for another use. Weigh the mushroom soaking liquid (you should have about 100 grams), and add 1% lecithin (i.e., 1 gram, or about 3/8 of a teaspoon). Reserve in a tall container.

Prepare the scallops and make the air: Place a layer of shichimi togarashi on a plate, and roll the edge of each scallop in it to coat, adding more togarashi as needed. Heat a small non-stick sauté pan over medium-high heat, and add a film of cooking oil. Sear the scallops, turning once, until just cooked through. While scallops are cooking, froth the air with a milk frother. Plate the scallops, and spoon the air over one edge. Serve immediately.

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