Editor’s note: This is the original recipe that appeared in Modernist Cuisine. For the recipe we adapted for Modernist Cuisine at Home, click here.
One of the most important flavor-producing reactions in cooking is the Maillard reaction. In discussions of cooking, it is sometimes called “the browning reaction,” but that description is incomplete at best. Indeed, it really ought to be called “the flavor reaction,” not “the browning reaction.”
To be sure, the Maillard reaction does create pigments that lend cooked food a tasty brown hue. It all starts with amino acids and certain simple sugars. Heat and chemistry rearrange those relatively simple compounds into new molecules of rings and collections of rings. The molecules produced keep reacting in increasingly complex ways that generate literally hundreds of new compounds. Some are pigments that turn the food an appealing brown color. But beyond these are a wide array of delectable flavor and aroma compounds. It is mainly the Maillard reaction we have to thank for the potent and characteristic smells of roasting, baking, and frying.
Pressure cookers are particularly suited for promoting the high temperatures needed to accelerate both the Maillard reaction and caramelization. These two processes are frequently mistaken for each other. They do go hand in hand in many practical situations, but they involve different chemical reactions. Whether you are caramelizing the food or “Maillardizing” it, you want to raise the temperature well above the boiling point of water to get these reactions going at a good clip. In a pressure cooker, the temperature of the steam can rise well above 100 °C / 212 °F.
adapted from the recipe for Caramelized Carrot Soup on page 3301 of Modernist Cuisine
- Make sure to core your carrots. The soup will be sweeter because the cores tend to carry a bitter aftertaste.
- Melt the butter in the pressure cooker before adding the carrots. When you add the carrots, stir them until fully coated with butter. This will prevent burning.
- Do not leave out the baking soda. Baking soda helps to facilitate the Maillard reaction.
- When simmering the carrot juice, do so until you see a separation (a lighter orange layer will float to the top).
- To make carotene butter, bring 2.2 kg of carrot juice to a simmer and blend in 1.4 kg of butter. Simmer for at least 30 minutes. Blend in another 800 g of carrot juice. Divide the mixture between an equal number of centrifuges, and then centrifuge the bottles at 27,500g for one hour. Refrigerate the mixture so that the butterfat solidifies. Strain out the congealed butterfat, reserving the carrot juice for another use. Warm the butterfat, and strain out all particulates. Refrigerate to set.
- You can also make carotene butter without a centrifuge. Simmer the carrot juice and butter for 90 minutes instead of 30 minutes, and then let the mixture refrigerate overnight until the butterfat solidifies. Then strain, clarify, and refrigerate as described above.
- Regular unsalted butter can be substituted for carotene butter.
- If you are not using a centrifuge to clarify the carrot juice or carotene butter, strain them through a fine sieve lined with cheesecloth.
- Use silicone half-sphere molds to set the carotene butter. Vacuum seal a few together. You can freeze them for up to six months, or refrigerate them for up to two weeks.
- For a smooth, consistent texture, run the pureed soup through a fine sieve before serving.
- Look for ajowan seeds at Indian grocery stores or online spice sellers. The spelling may vary among brands because it is spelled differently in different regions of India. Ajowain, ajwain, ajwan, jowan, jwano, and jwamo all refer to the same ingredient.
- Make sure to buy the ajowan seeds used for cooking, not those used for tea.
- Leftover ajowan seeds are good when toasted and sprinkled over yogurt. In India, the seeds are a popular digestif.
- Try pairing the carrot soup with coconut chutney foam; for a recipe, see page 4·282 or 6·325 of Modernist Cuisine. Use the seasonings as recommended in the recipe above, or sprinkle some chaat masala on top, either store-bought or from the recipe on page 5·282 or 6·50.