Bartending Techniques - Agar Clarification
There has long been some sort of obsession in the world of bartending with crystal clear liquids. In many ways seeing crystal clear version of a juice or a product that your mind 'knows' is usually opaque/murky is always treated as a sort of 'MAGIC' by the brain. In fact it could be said that it is all part of the 'genetic memory' of our ancestors that tells us whether something is 'safe' to drink or not. You're not going to drink water that isn't clear are you? So the search continued until we developed many techniques to finally make things like lemon, apple & orange juice crystal clear fascinating both our guests & bartenders alike. Bars have been purchasing expensive centrifuges & hard to find enzymes to break down proteins & spin liquids at ridiculous speeds in order to yield that crystal clear juice. For the rest of us without a ridiculous budget for equipment as well as manpower that still crave that crystal clear result we have to go back to the more old school practices for clarifying BUT with an accessible modern twist. Clarifying using a catalyst - in THIS case we'll be using Agar Agar (a gelatinous substance obtained from certain red seaweeds and used in biological culture media and as a thickener in foods).
For this technique we turned to the author of Liquid Intelligence Dave Arnold on his old blog "Cooking Issues". Famous for his scientific approach to food/drink & an 'experiment first & speak after' attitude. All words after this are his:
Anyone with a packet of agar and a whisk can clarify fragile fresh juices, or anything else for that matter, in under an hour with zero pieces of special equipment. The yield on the technique is high—as good as gelatin clarification. Read more for details. Not only do you not need the centrifuge, you don’t need the bag and you don’t need the vacuum. All the bag was doing was slapping the agar silly. I could do that with a whisk! It was 3am. I jumped out of bed trying not to wake my wife, got dressed, jumped on my bike and dashed off to get agar, orange juice & cheesecloth. I wanted lime juice, but at 3 in the morning I didn’t want to squeeze any limes. Orange juice was fine. Well, it worked like a champ.
The advantages of this technique are:
- It is fast so fragile juices like lime can be clarifiedYou need no special equipment - It is vegetarianIt is foolproof - The results are clearer than gelatin for some products - You don’t tie up fridge space with hotel pans - You don’t tie up freezer space with hotel pansYield is high - Because there’s no freezing involved, you can clarify alcohol without liquid nitrogen
Agar needs to boil to hydrate. Don’t boil heat-sensitive juices like lime. Instead use 4 parts room temp (25°C) juice and hydrate in 1 part water. After the juice is added to the boiling agar-water mix (off the heat) the temperature will be perfect. If you are using refrigerated juice that can tolerate some heat, boil 1 part liquid with the agar and add in 2 parts refrigerated juice.Use real cheesecloth. Don’t use the stuff from the supermarket with the picture of the turkey on the package. That stuff is ludicrous. I don’t know why they make it. If you can’t get real cheesecloth use muslin, a large cloth napkin, or a smooth-finished dish towel.
The Process: 1.) Measure out 500 grams cold OJ, 250 grams cold OJ, and 1.5 grams of Telephone brand Agar (0.2% of total juice weight). 2.) Whisk the agar into the 250 grams of cold juice to disperse the agar then heat to a boil while stirring and allow to simmer a couple of minutes to hydrate the agar. 3.) While briskly whisking the boiling-hot agar solution add the 500 grams of cold juice in a thin stream. Don’t allow the mix to drop below 35°C or pre-gelling could ruin your result. 4.) Put on an ice bath to set. 5.) Using a whisk, gently break up and stir the gel into agar “curds.” 6.) Dump the curds into a cheesecloth lined chinois. 7.) Lift and gently squeeze to drain. 8.) After a while you can dump the curds back into the bowl to break them up some more.
9.) Alternatively, you can just stir the curds in the cheesecloth to release more juice. 10.) Twisting the cloth presses juice out gently and quickly. Don’t twist too hard or you will extrude the agar through the cheesecloth. 11.) The clarified juice. 516.8 grams! And I started with unstrained juice! If there are any agar particles in the juice, filter it through a coffee filter. 12.) The leftovers. 87.7 grams. Yeah I know the numbers don’t add up to 750 grams.