One of the longest-running dishes at Chicago’s Alinea restaurant, where the 20-something-course menu sometimes shape-shifts within a single night, was the Mango: A frosty quarter-sized frozen disk of fruit purée held a dark droplet of fragrant roasted sesame oil in its center, with a dusting of shaved dried bonito on top. Chef Grant Achatz designed the order in which the ingredients would melt in your mouth and the flavors would appear: first the nutty taste of sesame, then a hidden touch of soy, and finally the musky tropical sweetness of mango.
This little mouthful of technical achievement was one of the first dishes perfected on the Anti-Griddle.
About the size of a jumbo microwave, the Anti-Griddle features a one-foot-square stainless steel “cooktop.” But instead of being searingly hot, it’s icy cold (–30°F), allowing you to nearly instantaneously freeze almost any substance.
The machine was created for Achatz in 2004 by PolyScience, an industrial-lab-equipment manufacturer in suburban Chicago. The company’s president, Philip Preston, built it in his garage with spare factory parts after Achatz went to him with the idea for a freezing device.
Preston, an avid home cook, likes to play with what he calls “crème brûlée textures.” He squeezes freshly made crème anglaise out of a bottle onto an Anti-Griddle cooktop, and then lays a stick in the thick cream before carefully turning it with a spatula. Voilà—a frozen crème anglaise lollipop with a still-creamy center.
In the world of cutting-edge cuisine, where surprise itself is often an ingredient, a similar device was unveiled at El Bulli restaurant a few months earlier. Dubbed the TeppanNitro, it is simply an insulated metal bowl filled with liquid nitrogen and covered with a metal plate, which is used as the freezing surface. The name is a play on the word for the Japanese iron griddle called a teppanyaki, and liquid nitrogen.
But the difference between the TeppanNitro and the Anti-Griddle is like the difference between cooking over an open flame and using an electric grill. Unlike the TeppanNitro, which is fueled by a cauldron of wild, ghostly liquid nitrogen, the Anti-Griddle plugs into any standard wall socket. Flip the switch, and it will take about 15 minutes to get down to its constant –30°F temperature. You might want to give it a light coating of nonstick spray. For best results, use thicker liquids. And because cold numbs tastebuds, use stronger flavors.
For something fun, try creating frozen Mexican hot chocolate foam from an iSi Thermo Whipper. Dispense a bite-sized mound onto the Anti-Griddle, letting the bottom set to about the thickness of a cracker (about 20 seconds). Carefully flip it—use nonmetal utensils only—and then let the other side set. When it’s ready, slide it off, dust it with cinnamon and cocoa, and serve with a warm, spicy chocolate sauce. It’ll be like a crispy ice cream sandwich melting in the warm sauce.