Whipping siphons tools that seem best for fancy restaurant chefs. I appreciate everything you can do with them, but I'm not topping my weeknight dinner with a smoked salmon espuma. I'm interested in how it can help me speed things up, particularly infusions. Here's are some clever ways you can put one to use at home. Photos by Claire Lower.
To see if a whipping siphon could help me make food and beverages tastier, faster, I grabbed my iSi Gourmet Whip (I have this model, about $200) and tried my hand at infusions, foams and fizziness.
What Is a Whipping Siphon?
If you've never heard of a whipping siphon before, they're basically a system that allows you to infuse a liquid with gas. Two types of gas are used: Nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide. The gas you use depends on what you're trying to do. Carbon dioxide is only really good for carbonating beverages (or fruit), and nitrous oxide is used for pretty much everything else. According to Modernist Cuisine, nitrous plays particularly well with fat:
Whipping siphons were designed for aerating creams high in fat. Nitrous oxide dissolves much better in fat than in water, so high-fat liquids generally foam better in a siphon than low-fat ones do.
This is makes them great whipped cream dispensers, but it has many uses beyond that. In fact, I'm not even going to talk about whipped cream, you all know how to do that, and that's what most people buy whipping siphons for in the first place. Let's explore some of those other, more interesting uses together.
Infuse Alcohol and Oil With Flavour
Infused liquids are more fun than boring, "regular" flavoured ones. I mean, vodka is great, but vodka that has been infused with flavour like — I don't know, juniper? — is much more exciting. You can use your whipping siphon to quickly infuse pretty much any liquid, like water (boring), vinegar, oils or ethanol. Guess which one I decided to test out?
If you guessed "ethanol", please move to the head of the class. The main way the whipping siphon helps with infusions is by speeding up the whole process. While homemade bitters usually take days, using the siphon can get you there in half an hour.
To test how well and how quickly the siphon extracted flavour, I wanted to focus on one, very recognisable ingredient: Vanilla. Most mass-produced "vanilla-flavoured" vodka out is cloying garbage, and I wanted to see if I could whip up a better product in a short amount of time.
Leave the vanilla bean in there so you don't mistake it for water.
I poured 250mL of plain vodka into my siphon with one halved vanilla bean. I then charged it twice with nitrous oxide (this is how many charges you need for a siphon my size, always check your manual to make sure you are charging the correct amount), shook it up six times and let it sit for 10 minutes. At the 10 minute mark, I de-gassed the siphon and poured myself a little aliquot for "testing". The vodka was more vanilla-scented than vanilla-flavoured, so everything went back in the siphon for another round of charging and another 10 minutes of hanging out. That additional time really helped; this was some of the most vanilla-y vodka I've ever had, and it tasted like real vanilla, not that sugary-sweet swill you may have seen at liquor stores.
So, there you have it: Flavoured vodka in less than half an hour. Now, obviously different ingredients infuse at different rates, so you may have to play around with times, but generally "wetter" ingredients like fresh, leafy herbs and fruits will infuse pretty quickly and drier, tougher ingredients will take a little longer, but 30 minutes should be enough time for almost any alcoholic infusion.
For infused oils and vinegar, the iSi website recommends 15 minutes of rest after shaking for most recipes (like their garlic oil and tomato vinegar) but shorter times for super strong ingredients like hot peppers, which should sit for around five.
Make Quick Pickles and Booze-Infused Fruit
In the same way that the siphon can infuse a plain liquid with a flavorful solid, you can infuse mild-tasting foods with tastiness by putting them in the siphon with a more flavorful liquid. As someone who powers through pickles, I am always in search of my next "emergency pickle" recipe, so I decided to start there.
I made Alex Guarnaschelli's "Quick and Easy Pickle" brine and poured it in with a sliced garlic clove, a few sprigs of fresh dill and half a kilogram of cucumbers cut into spears. I charged it twice with nitrous oxide, and let everyone get to know each other for 15 minutes. This produced a very fresh, lightly brined pickle, but I wanted more pickle-y goodness, so back into the siphon everything went. After another round of charging and 15 more minutes of chillin' (as in "hanging out", not actually getting cold) a more pungent pickle emerged with a good vinegary bite, and I have been snacking on them ever since.
They will fizz for a bit.
You could use this method to quick pickle pretty much any vegetable with pretty much any brine, but you can make it work double duty by infusing fruit with alcohol. Want some whiskey-infused cherries for cocktails? Just throw them in siphon with your favourite bourbon, rye, or whatever it is you drink; charge; shake and rest for half an hour. After de-gassing, you'll have fantastically drunk fruit, but you'll also have fruit-infused booze.
Infuse Your Own Refreshing, Fizzy Fruit and Seltzer Goodness
I am only hydrated because of carbonated water, mostly La Croix. My favourite flavour is the pamplemousse (grapefruit), so naturally I wanted to see if I could make my own, better-tasting version of this life-sustaining beverage.
I didn't really follow any recipe for this, I just peeled the zest off of a ruby red grapefruit and threw it in the siphon with a litre of cold water. I charged that twice, and let it sit for an hour, after which I was greeted with some super-flavorful, super-fizzy, super-grapefruity water. If you are a carbonated water addict like myself, this is huge, because it means you can become your own custom La Croix factory and produce super exclusive flavours that no one else has access to. It's not as cheap as buying a 12-pack of La Croix, but you essentially get a litre of your own custom fizzy beverage for the cost of two cartridges (about $2 each) so it's not that bad of a deal.
But the fun doesn't end there. Though it take a bit longer, you can carbonate actual pieces of fruit. Just throw your favourite tree lollies into the siphon, charge and let it sit in the fridge overnight (at least 12 hours) and wake up to carbonated berries, oranges or pineapple chunks. It's like Pop Rocks, but good for you.
Make Some Impressive, Fancy Foams
This next trick is great for two types of people: Those who like to impress their house guests with fancy culinary techniques, and those who hate eggs. This recipe from ChefSteps uses nothing more than fruit juice and gelatin (and your trusty siphon), and with it you can make a fancy, flavorful foam perfect for topping cocktails, desserts or even savoury dishes. If looks super elegant and chef-y, but it could not be easier.
To make a fruity foam, you will need:
- 500g fruit juice, or other liquid
- Ice, for an ice bath, as needed
- Water, for an ice bath, as needed
- 3.8g gelatin
Set up an ice bath for chilling and set it aside. Combine gelatin and 125g of your chosen juice and heat gently until all of the gelatin dissolves. Combine with the rest of your liquid, charge with three cartridges of nitrous oxide and shake vigorously. Dispense a bit of foam, and charge more if you want your foam even foamier. Set your siphon in an ice bath or the fridge until you're ready to unleash it upon the world.
I had some pineapple juice that needed to be used up (almost exactly 500g) so I went a tropical route and made a super simple "cocktail" of pineapple and rum. I put "cocktail" in quotes because two ingredients barely feels like one, but the moment I topped this two-ingredient libation with rum, the whole thing was elevated, and suddenly seemed very "craft".
Just as a note: This recipe makes a lot of foam. "How much foam?" you ask? Five hundred grams of foam, which looks like this:
Is this what people mean by "foam party"?
So, keep that in mind.
Though this recipe was developed for cocktails, foams are a fun and playful way to garnish a whole variety of dishes. Cherry foam would be delightful over chocolate ice cream, and lemon foam could be a fun way to liven up a delicate seafood dish. Pickle brine foam is an intriguing concept to me, I'm just not sure what I would put it on.
So even if I never use this thing to make my own burrata or root beer float cryosicle, I'm still pretty thrilled to own one. Heck, even if I only used it to flavour ethanol and quick pickle, it would be worth it.