The Tipping Point
February 24th, 2011 - By Lari Robling
Taking a page from Chef Kevin Levett at the Sofitel lounge and restaurant, Liberte, here are two ingredients worth getting to know. Agar agar is a thickening agent that can be used to make desserts, or it can be used in place of butter, cream, and flour to thicken sauces. Chef also uses a low-fat fromage blanc (white cheese) to keep dishes light and fresh.
Fromage blanc can be found at most cheese stores or specialty shops. It's delicious all on its own with a little fresh fruit but it is making its way into kitchens as a substitute for higher fat cream products.
You could substitute Greek yogurt for fromage blanc, or even make your own if you are so inclined.
The first time I used agar agar was when I was test kitchen director for a health food magazine. The selling point at that time was that it could be used as a gelatin by vegetarians since gelatin is an animal by-product. It is sold in health food stores as a flake or powder.
Agar agar does work very well for thickening puddings and other desserts but I like the idea of using it to thicken sauces in place of an egg or butter and flour liaison. You might have to play around with your ratios and find out what works in each recipe but the rule of thumb for making a thickened dessert (such as the panacotta) is one tablespoon flakes for every cup of liquid. Work your way down from there on the thickness scale to perhaps 1 teaspoon to a cup of liquid for a sauce. That’s a good way to start and you can adjust the second time you make the recipe.
Agar agar comes from seaweed and has a long history of culinary use in Asia. The calories are negligible and, as you would imagine since it comes from the sea, it does have lots of trace minerals. It is said that agar agar makes you feel full, an attribute not to be overlooked if you have an eye to portion control.