Xanthan gum is strangely versatile: It’s essential in molecular-gastronomy kitchens and in supermarket salad dressings, too. Home cooks have discovered that it’s also helpful as a gluten substitute, so now a growing number of grocery stores have begun selling it. Turns out there are myriad ways for home cooks to use xanthan: The whitish powder, a by-product of bacterial fermentation, can thicken sauces and dressings in an instant, at any temperature. “With xanthan, you can change the texture of a liquid without changing its flavor,” explains chef Jason Fox of Commonwealth in San Francisco. He blends a very small amount of it into simple, cold sauces, like a puree of fresh herbs and water. “Without xanthan, I couldn’t make the sauce; I’d have to make an herb oil that would taste more like oil than herbs.” Chef Jesse Schenker of Recette in New York City, meanwhile, relies on xanthan to blend oil, lemon juice and water into a vinaigrette that won’t separate. Turn the page for those and other xanthan recipes, including a clever fruit meringue and a simple syrup that adds a silky texture to any cocktail.
Jason Fox’s Molecular Gastronomy Tips
“I like modern ingredients like xanthan gum because they help lighten food,” says chef Jason Fox. “You get great mouthfeel and flavor without using a lot of fat.”
Use a scale that weighs in 0.1-gram increments, such as one from Ohaus, to accurately measure xanthan gum. $45; amazon.com.