Foams: Not Dead Yet

In the ‘90s, chef Ferran Adrià of Spain’s El Bulli restaurant used a whipped cream dispenser to froth up warm, savory sauces, and it was considered avant-garde. Then foam made the rounds of white-tablecloth American establishments and became totally tired.

Who cares if foams are so yesterday in the restaurant world? We still think it would be pretty cool to bring out a platter of spicy wings served with Gorgonzola foam at your next barbeque. Here’s how. But first, know that when chefs talk foam, they’re actually talking about two different things. One is made with a cream whipper, resulting in a dense, silky foam. The other is a wispier, bubblier kind made with an immersion blender —the handheld appliance used to puree soups. Which foam to use when is a matter of personal preference. You might opt for wispy foam when you want the foam to be more of a complement, and a denser foam when the foam is the main attraction. Your choice might also depend on your plating. For instance, we’d suggest the dense kind with backyard wings, so that you can walk and talk with your Gorgonzola foam intact.

Braun Impressions Multiquick hand blender (Model MR5550MBC)
Bed Bath & Beyond, $69.99
To make foam with an immersion blender, you can add a few grams of lecithin per liter of liquid to your base. This common food supplement and emulsifier can be found at any GNC or Whole Foods and can help stabilize your foam. Pour your liquid base into a small pot and leave room at the top for your bubbles to grow. Immerse your blender, turn it on, and then raise the blades until they’re skimming the surface. Angle it slightly to work in air and furiously make bubbles. That’s your foam —just spoon it off.
Braun is the most popular brand of immersion blender among chefs who make foam. Braun models have pop-off blender shafts for easy cleaning, and the attachments are dishwasher safe, except for the electric gearbox. This model plugs in, which beats cordless, as it doesn’t slow down or need recharging. It’s also strong enough (400 watts, or 13,000 rpm) to power through chunks of vegetables if you’re using it for soups or purées. Nobody wants a one-trick foam pony cluttering his or her kitchen.

iSi Thermo Whipper
Williams-Sonoma, $149.95
You make foam with a whipped cream dispenser just the way you make regular whipped cream. But first you may need to strain your liquid base—let’s say, a creamy carrot soup—through a fine mesh sieve. The fat in the cream will stabilize your foam, but you can also add gelatin if you’re serving it cold or starch if it’s warm, as needed. Pour the finished base into the bottle, screw on the top, charge with a cartridge of nitrous oxide (sold separately), shake hard a few times, remove the empty cartridge, turn the canister over, pull the trigger, and out comes foam.
Some cream whippers need to be refrigerated or held in a warm-water bath to get foams at their desired temperature, but iSi (EYE-sigh) invented the first thermal unit, the Thermo Whipper. It’s insulated, so it keeps contents cold for eight hours or hot for three hours with the canister standing at room temperature.
The Thermo Whipper looks exactly like a normal whipped cream dispenser —it’s just a little heavier because of its double-walled body. It comes with three different tips so that you can dispense cream smooth or with decorative ridges. While it’s dishwasher safe, it also comes with a tiny bottlebrush for cleaning those otherwise impossible-to-reach openings.