The Basic Spherification technique consists of submerging a liquid with sodium alginate in a bath of calcium.
Pros of Basic Spherification
- This technique is ideal for obtaining spheres with a very, very thin membrane that is almost imperceptible in your mouth and easily "explodes" as if there is no solid substance between your palate and the liquid.
- There is no need to let the calcium bath rest for 12-24 hours before using it to obtain optimal results. This allows you to start and finish the preparation within an hour. In Reverse Spherification the sodium alginate bath needs to rest in the fridge for several hours to eliminate the air bubbles created by the process of dissolving the sodium alginate with the immersion blender.
- It is easier to get a perfect sphere on the plate with Basic Spherification than with Reverse Spherification. Even if the resulting product is not a perfect sphere it will most likely look as one once you plate it as the subtle and flexible membrane will adapt and reshape when the quasi-sphere is placed on the plate. (for optimal results read "10 Tips to Create a Perfect Sphere")
-This is the preferred spherification method for producing “caviar” (small spheres) since the viscosity of the bath is thin allowing the small droplets to cohere into a spherical shape in the bath and the spheres don’t stick together as in reverse spherification. (for optimal results read "7 Tips for Making Spherification Caviar")
Cons of Basic Spherification
- Needs to be served immediately and cannot be stored. Once the sphere is removed from the sodium alginate bath, the process of jellification continues even after rinsing the sphere with water and it will convert into a compact gel ball with no magical liquid inside.
- Jellification does not occur if the liquid acidity is high (PH<5) but this can be corrected by adding sodium citrate to the liquid to reduce the acidity level before the spherification process. However, sodium citrate has a sour taste as well as a salty taste so adding too much of it will change the flavor of the liquid in the sphere.
- The consistency of the liquid inside the sphere is made a little gummy by the addition of sodium alginate. The good thing is that sodium alginate has no discernable flavor so it just increases the viscosity.
- The delicacy of the resulting subtle membrane with the Basic Spherification process reduces the versatility of the resulting product. Any slight pressure will break them so they need to be manipulated carefully and they cannot be used as fillings in mousses or sponge cakes for example.
Preparing the Main Ingredient for Basic Spherification
Liquids with Watery Density (e.g. melon cantaloupe juice)
Add the amount of sodium alginate indicated in the recipe to 1/3 of the main ingredient and blend with an immersion blender until the sodium alginate is dissolved. Keep in mind that the sodium alginate will become sticky when it comes in contact with the liquid and it may take several minutes until it is completely dissolved. Then add the remaining main ingredient liquid and let it rest in the fridge for 1 hour to eliminate the air bubbles created by the immersion blender. This last step is just for aesthetics.
Thick Liquids (e.g. mango puree)
In this preparation, water is added to the main ingredient to obtain the right consistency for spherification. Add the amount of sodium alginate indicated in the recipe to the water used to correct the main ingredient density and blend with an immersion blender until the sodium alginate is dissolved like explained in the previous process. Then add the main ingredient and let it rest in the fridge for 1 hour to eliminate the air bubbles created by the immersion blender.
Correcting Acidity for Spherification
The Basic Spherification process that does not work if the main ingredient is too acidic (PH<5). If necessary , the acidity can be reduced by adding sodium citrate to the main ingredient (if watery liquid) or the water used to reduce the main ingredient density (if thick liquid) always BEFORE you add the sodium alginate.
Creating the Spheres in the Calcium bath
While you wait for the main ingredient to settle in the fridge, prepare the bath by dissolving the amount of calcium chloride indicated in the recipe in a bowl with the water. You can just stir it since the calcium chloride dissolves very easily in water. Then prepare another bowl with plain water that you are going to use later for rinsing the spheres to remove the excess of calcium.
Now grab the syringe (if you are making caviar) or the measuring spoon of the desired size (if you are making ravioli, gnocchi, etc.) and carefully pour the preparation in the calcium bath. Wait for the time indicated in the recipe and carefully remove the sphere from the calcium bath using a slotted spoon and rinse it in the bowl with clean water.
I recommend you always start with one sphere first to adjust the pouring process and the time in the calcium bath. If the sphere membrane is too subtle and the sphere easily breaks when handling it with the slotted spoon carefully or when plating it, extend the time in the calcium bath until you get the desired strength. Keep in mind that the thinner the membrane the better experience people are going to have when eating it.
Remember that the spheres made with the Basic Spherification technique need to be served immediately or they will eventually convert into a compact gel ball since the spherification process continues even after removing it from the calcium bath.