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Pearls in the Kitchen

November 8, 2010

Photo courtesy of boutiquepointg.com

By Pat Tanner

On a recent trip to Montreal I stumbled upon a small, sleek gourmet shop called Boutique Point G. Its specialty is macarons, those round, sweet, pastel-hued sandwich cookies beloved by Francophiles the world around. While munching on a bright green pistachio version, I spied a smallish glass jar containing what appeared to be glimmering beads of black caviar. But it cost only $12 so I knew it couldn’t be. It turned out to contain Point G’s own balsamic vinegar “caviar.”

The creation of “caviar” such as this can be traced back to Ferran Adria of El Bulli, whose spherification technique of molecular gastronomy is now being widely copied by chefs and, happily, a few food entrepreneurs. I bought the jar on the spot, untasted and untested.

Upon my return to the States I cracked it open, spooned a few of the liquid-center spheres into my mouth, and was smitten. I began sprinkling them everywhere – atop deviled eggs, scrambled eggs, salmon fillets, oysters on the half shell (oysters and black pearls – get it?), tomato halves, baby greens – anything that provided color contrast and could use a hit of sweet acidity.

I had hoped to order up jars and jars of Point G’s le caviar de vinaigre balsamique to give as gifts to my favorite home cooks. No such luck. The store’s website does not include e-commerce. But I refused to give up. Scouring the internet, I found two online sources of similar vinegar-based edible jewels.

Christine Le Tennier, a native of Brittany who started out in the seaweed business, introduced her Flavor Pearls – in 30 varieties, yet! – at this past summer’s Fancy Food Show. The closest flavor to Point G’s is the vinegar & shallots, but there are many intriguing options – including hot chili, pink grapefruit, and truffle – available at finesaler.com. Price is $17.50 for 1.75 ounces. (The beads are so lightweight that 1.75 ounces will go far.) A tasting set of thirteen makes a fantastic splurge gift at $182.

Among TV chef Michael Chiarello’s Napa Style line of kitchenware and specialty foods is a selection of Ottimo! Olio Aceto “Pearls.” These are a bit different in that each jar contains vinegar pearls sitting in flavored oil. The idea is that you mix them together just before serving as a bread dipping sauce or salad dressing, or spooning them over steak, chicken, or fish. Each of three varieties cost $15 for a 6-ounce jar, or $39 for the set of three. Flavors are (1) roasted garlic oil and balsamic vinegar, (2) smoky paprika oil and sherry vinegar, and (3) basil and balsamic. Available at napastyle.com.

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