Sometimes I stumble upon a new cooking technique that gets me so excited that I just have to drop everything and give it a try. Last night, as I was surfing the internet trying to find some inspiration for a tomato themed party I was invited to, I came across this blog. Not only was it one I’d never seen before, but it was one that grabbed my attention in a split second and held it endlessly. I got so engrossed in reading it, and ogling the great photos, that I sort of forgot my task and spent well over an hour completely sidetracked. But then, perhaps serendipitously, I was brought back to my tomato task by way of this same site. I came across a blurb that linked me to this article about infusing flavors into liquid using a whipped cream canister and nitrous oxide cartridges.
According to the article, within about a minute and a half, you can have deeply flavored infused liquids that taste like they've been steeping for days. The first step is to put your liquid in the canister (water, vodka, — something neutral in flavor and light in body) and then add the flavoring (herbs, spices, flowers, the possibilities are endless) and seal the lid. Next, you attach the nitrous cartridge so that the gas is released into the canister, swirl the canister slowly for about 30 seconds and then let it sit for about 30 seconds. At this point, you release the nitrous from the canister by pressing down the lever, just as you would if you were making whipped cream, only you hold the canister upright so the liquid doesn't pour out.
Finally, you remove the lid and strain the liquid into a clean container. The results are pretty incredible.
The way it works is fairly simple. When you charge the canister with the nitrous it forces the gas, along with some liquid, into whatever it is you're using as a flavoring. Then, when you release the gas from the canister, the nitrous escapes your flavoring in the form of bubbles and releases the liquid and flavor out as well, leaving behind a nicely flavored liquid.
For my first attempt, I used plain water and some beautiful opal (purple) basil. I was pretty astounded by the resulting liquid which came out a lovely shade of lavender and tasted like a subtle burst of fresh basil. For my second attempt, I turned my focus to the upcoming party and did a mixture with vodka, fresh tomatoes and basil. This batch came out a bit on the weak side, so I went back and did two more batches with vodka– one using just tomatoes and one using just basil. Then I combined them all which resulted in something that tasted quite like a liquid Caprese salad and that provided the foundation for some really interesting Bloody Mary flavored Martinis.
I'm already thinking of all of the other infusions I'm going to try including Asian flavorings such as star anise, ginger, and lemongrass; flowers such as roses and violets; and vegetables like cucumbers, bell peppers, and beets.