Kitchen Chemistry: Lemon Radish Granita

This year, the International Association of Culinary Professionals had their annual conference in San Francisco – just 40 minutes away from home.  Since What’s Cooking with Kids is no longer my “real” job, I couldn’t justify the expense to officially attend the conference.  But I quickly realized that I could volunteer as a way of earning my keep.  In addition to visiting with friends, I also got to participate in an amazing field trip to my friend’s vineyard, Petrichor, in Sonoma County.  Her property is  nestled on a mountain ridge bordering Sonoma and Napa counties, with breathtaking views from all directions.

Michelle Stern and Scott Givot at Petrichor Vineyard in Sonoma

As if the journey to the winery wasn’t enough, we were also treated to a cooking demonstration by Mateo Granidos, a Yucatán born chef who infuses local Sonoma ingredients with flavors of his homeland.  He showed us how to butcher a leg of lamb,  make pickled carrots and turnips, and balance the flavors of real, fresh ingredients.  He even dazzled us in the kitchen with some chemistry as he used liquid nitrogen to make a lemon radish granita before we boarded the bus to return to the city.

If you have never tried granita, you should put it on your to-do-list.  It is simply a frozen and flaked concoction of fruit juice, a touch of sugar, and any other special embellishments that you might want to add, such as flower blossoms…or maybe even a touch of liquor (for the adult set.)  I love this strawberry granita from David Lebovitz – a perfect place for you to start, especially with strawberry season right around the corner.  Watermelon granita was also a huge hit with my cooking campers last summer, and it perfectly rounded out our delicious summer menu.

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Ingredients for Lemon Granita

Mateo simply combined fresh lemon juice, a few tablespoons of sugar, some diced lemon blossoms and thin slices from 3 radishes into a stainless steel bowl.  Then, he whisked the mixture rapidly as his partner poured the liquid nitrogen into the bowl, freezing the mixture almost instantly.  If you don’t happen to have any liquid nitrogen on hand (smirk), you can pour the lemon mixture into a 9×13 baking dish and freeze over night.  Before serving, scrape the frozen mixture with a fork to break it into flakes.

Liquid Nitrogen to freeze Granita

Liquid nitrogen is non-toxic, odorless and colorless.  It is cold enough to cause frostbite, so it is important (for kids and beginners) to take proper safety precautions, such as wearing gloves and protective eye gear.  It boils immediately on contact with warmer objects, surrounding them with nitrogen gas.  It is well known for its use in making nearly-instant frozen desserts like ice cream.  The speed at which it cools food leads to the formation of smaller ice crystals which provides a smoother texture than other methods of freezing.

Liquid nitrogen isn’t just handy in the kitchen.  Your dermatologist is also likely to have a supply on hand to remove warts, moles or other potentially dangerous skin lesions.  It can also be used to preserve your gametes (aka. sperm and eggs) in case you want to save them for later.

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