Darkplace soup

May I tempt you with this alluring and sophisticated dish?

It’s a poached egg in soup.

Used since ancient Greek times to woo one’s objet d’amour, poached egg in soup remains one of the most alluring, enchanting and salacious gastronomical expressions of undying passion. The egg, representing fertility and perched perkily upon the thick molten soup, is like an unblinking bulbous eye within which you glimpse an unmistakeable come-hither look.

Or so I imagine. All I can say is that this is my loving, labour-intense, bizarre, gastronomical tribute to Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, one of the greatest television shows ever. In the mighty concluding episode of the series, Dr Lucien Sanchez, hotshot surgeon, woos Linda, the woman who is slowly turning into broccoli, using an egg poached in soup. Such a poignant and beautiful gesture… that looks like this:

My variation has nothing on the original, of course, but I have exerted myself and my creativity to produce this dessert version of the egg poached in soup: a strawberry mousse tinged with Grand Marnier and dark chocolate (and a bucket of food colouring — damn, that mousse was a delicate pale pink), a circle of vanilla milk gel, and a yolk made out of a sphere of saffron-flavoured apricot nectar.

And so with this I salute you, Garth Marenghi: author, dream-weaver, visionary, plus actor. You taught me to love, and to convey that love through an egg poached in soup (mayhap with a pork pie or sausage roll). If only there was more of such epic beauty in the world.

(Darkplace Episode 1 Part 1 here.)

As for the neuroscience for this post, just a quick mention of something very interesting I came across when reading up on lexical-gustatory synaesthesia, when people experience particular tastes in response to hearing, reading or thinking particular words (see my previous post if you haven’t already).

We’re all familiar with that indecently enraging thing known as the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon. You’re trying to think of a word and YOU. JUST. CAN’T. BUT. YOU. HAVE. ALMOST. GOT. IT. IT’S ON THE TIP OF MY TONGUE. OH. GOD. I’M SO ANGRY. This is a pretty difficult thing to research — everyone will have different words that cause this phenomenon for them (compromise and renege do this to me endlessly for some reason, and yes, they did it while I was writing this, gaaarrghhh), and once you’ve reminded someone of the word then there’s no point in testing them with that word again any time soon.

Apparently researchers have worked out some words that are pretty good at generating the phenomenon. For example, “What’s the name of the navigation instrument you use to measure the angle between two objects?” — the answer is a sextant, which is apparently a difficult word to recall (I had no problem recalling when my psychology lecturer asked that in one of my undergraduate courses, and it’s not like I’ve ever so much as held one, although at least half of the class did have trouble recalling the name). Another one that often generates tip-of-the-tongue is platypus, apparently. That’s really not going to work for anyone who grew up in Australia, that’s for sure — I think most 5-year-olds here could name a platypus without hesitation.

Anyway, the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon occurs when you can access the word’s meaning from your memory, but you can’t quite remember its actual sound.

The particularly interesting part is when you try to generate a tip-of-the-tongue state in a lexical-gustatory synaesthete. Why?

Because they experience the taste before they can recall the word.

So for instance, one participant, MK, was shown a picture of castanets and was asked to say what they were. She couldn’t quite remember the name, but she did experience the taste of tuna while trying to figure out the name of what she was looking at. Then, later on, when she was asked what taste is usually associated with castanets, she confirmed it was tuna. And just to be extra thorough and make sure she wasn’t just saying that castanets was associated with the taste of tuna because that’s what the researchers would like to hear, a year later, the participants in this study were given a surprise re-test and asked which tastes were associated with which words. And yep, MK again said that castanets was associated with tuna.

This tells us something pretty interesting about lexical-gustatory synaesthesia, then: it’s not the actual phonological sound of the word that triggers the associated taste, but its meaning, since the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon occurs when you can dredge up the word’s meaning from your memory but can’t quite get the word itself.

Which makes it all the more odd that these synaesthetes experience tastes in association with made-up, non-existent words, like keach or spluk (like I mentioned in this post). Maybe there are different levels of processing going on in lexical-gustatory synaesthesia? One involving the meaning of words and one involving their orthographic and phonological aspects, and these levels of processing can sometimes work independently of each other? Maybe the initial association between the word and a taste is based on orthographic or phonological aspects of the word, but then the association becomes so strong and automatic that the taste is conferred to the word’s meaning instead? I don’t know, but there is the potential for some very interesting and elegant studies to be formulated to answer those questions!

And now, what you really wanted: the recipe for fake egg poached in soup, brought to via a brief detour through the outer regions of molecular gastronomy land.

Read on for the recipe for fake egg poached in soup — strawberry mousse, vanilla milk gel and saffron apricot nectar sphere.

Strawberry mousse

2 eggs
2 tbs sugar
100g strawberries, blended or mashed
50g dark chocolate, melted
2 tbs Grand Marnier
250ml (1 cup) thickened cream

Separate the eggs and keep the yolks and whites in separate bowls. Add the sugar to the egg yolks and whisk with a fork until thick and pale.

Melt the chocolate and stir it into the strawberries along with the Grand Marnier. Add this mixture into the sugar/yolk mixture.

Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks and set aside. Whisk the cream until thick. Put the egg whites and cream in the same bowl, add the sugar/yolk/strawberry/chocolate mixture and fold gently until well combined and smooth. (You may need to add red and yellow food dye at this point to stop the mixture from being too pink.)

Pour into a bowl and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Vanilla milk gel

125ml (1/2 cup) milk
1/4 tsp vanilla paste or extract
0.5g agar powder (I used Texturas Agar)

Prepare a dinner plate by spraying it with non-stick cooking spray or greasing with a small amount of oil or butter. Combine the milk and vanilla in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly until steaming, then quickly whisk in the agar. Immediately pour onto the dinner plate and tilt the plate around to try to spread the mixture out (it should be quite thick and won’t flow very quickly). Leave for 10 minutes to set. It should be solid but flexible. Cut out a circle with a round cookie-cutter (or just use a knife to cut out whatever shape you’d like).

Saffron apricot nectar sphere

175g apricot nectar
75g water
a pinch of saffron threads
1g sodium alginate (I used Texturas Algin)
500g water
2.5g calcium chloride (I used Texturas Calcic)

Boil the kettle and pour out 75g of water into a bowl or jug. Into it, place the saffron threads. Leave to steep for 10 minutes, then remove the saffron and allow the water to cool.

Using a stick blender, blend the apricot nectar and the 75g of saffron water. Add the sodium alginate and blend that in thoroughly. Set aside.

In a separate container, mix together the 500g of water and calcium chloride until the calcium chloride is completely dissolved.

Suck the apricot mixture into a large-gauge syringe. Put the tip of the syringe into the calcium chloride bath, almost touching the bottom, keeping it almost vertical, and slowly expel the apricot mixture into the bath. This should form a sphere that slowly expands outwards as you expel more apricot mixture. Make a sphere roughly the size of an egg yolk. Leave in the bath for a minute or two. Carefully detach the sphere from the bottom of the bath, drain in a slotted spoon, wash by dipping in a bath of plain water, drain again, then place on a plate, ready for assembly of the dish.

And then yeah, it is what it looks like: push the milk gel disc into the mousse, then carefully place the apricot sphere on top. Done.

Although I have to say that next time I would take a different approach to this dish. I would make a thick fruit soup (an actual soup, not a mousse, possibly thickened with xanthan) and I would add something crunchy to it (probably by making the egg white into a large flat biscuit/wafer/tuile of some sort topped with marzipan, instead of the milk gel). The apricot juice sphere I am happy with.

Simner, J. & Ward, J. (2006). The taste of words on the tip of the tongue. Nature, 444, 23.

  22 comments for “Darkplace soup

  1. October 19, 2010 at 11:57 am

    Wow!!! I honestly thought that egg was real at first. Your creativity is fantastic.

    While I am not sure I will be getting my chemistry set out any time soon to make the faux egg (I know when I am out of my cooking depth) I am bookmarking the strawberry mousse recipe as it sounds divine!

    • Jess
      October 19, 2010 at 2:09 pm

      I was pretty happy with how the egg turned out. I was thinking for a while about what to make the yolk out of, then I realised how perfect apricot nectar would be. Definitely the right choice.

      The mousse recipe was actually originally a chocolate one that I got handed from a friend of a friend — just substitute the strawberries for 200g melted dark chocolate and forget about the other 50g dark chocolate. It’s pretty amazing.

  2. October 19, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    I think I’m going to start using spluk on a daily basis now. As in… “I really need to print out and tick all these assessment sheets and do the stupid reading for tomorrow’s tutes and respond to a billion emails (yours is, of course, the best of the lot :P ) but I’m feeling really anxious and spluk so instead I’m going to go look at tastespotting because I never used before your bingo game introduced me to it”.


    P.S. Love the saffron apricot idea, but why oh why the grand mariner? ;)

    • Jess
      October 19, 2010 at 2:13 pm

      I don’t know, spluk seems like a verb to me rather than an adjective, but I think that’s because I think it sounds like spelunking. Just going splukking in a cave, see you later!

      You know very well why oh why Grand Marnier: because orange is awesome and you need to learn to comprehend this awesomeness. I clearly need to stage an intervention for you…

    • October 19, 2010 at 2:50 pm

      If you even try, I’ll spluk all over you.

  3. October 19, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    Yea, it really does look like an egg. LOOL :) )

    Greets from BFC !!!

  4. October 20, 2010 at 3:35 am

    looks fantastic. I would love to try that one.

  5. ~L.K.
    October 20, 2010 at 3:44 am

    I was lucky that I was actually reading this article when my friend with the lexical-gustatary synesthesia was around. (She said that none of her words really tasted horrendous, except for asphalt, which tastes like sand. She tends to avoid it, but then doesn’t really mind using it because its not too terrible of a taste. However she said it was more like grapheme-gustatory because its the individual letters than have taste and colour. So personalities have colour, or vice versa, but then colour also has taste and letters have both? She was in a hurry, but that was her short explanation.)

    Keach, which resembles peach, does actually have similar colours. Peach, being an actual colour, I do associate peach with peach, and keach with peach, however the colours in the actual word is different. Its sort of like seeing two modes of colours at once. So peach is peach coloured, but then its “peach-light blue-red-yellow-brown” at once. Its sort of confusing. Keach is a little weird because its K isn’t the right colour for the word, peach, so its a slightly darker peach. (K is orange-ish yellow while P is yellow. Sometimes letters are ‘weak’ in that they will mold slightly to the word or those around them. Like O. O is either bold orange or white. W is either tan or black.)

    I absolutely love your food post. I have a dear love for desserts shaped like other non-dessert foods. Like poached eggs and soup. Its sort of one of those confusing things. It LOOKS like an egg but it tastes like apricot and vanilla??

    • Jess
      October 20, 2010 at 7:55 pm

      Honestly I’m surprised that the researchers find anything consistent within a group of a particular type of synaesthetes — it seems like the experience can be quite different for different people because the synaesthetic associations were formed from such a huge range of experiences which will vary wildly from person to person. Then again, even if the specifics of each synaesthete’s experience vary within the group, it’s still all underpinned by the same difference in neural wiring — even if that whole less-neuron-pruning hypothesis is true, the networks of neurons that are responsible for the cross-modality of the senses will still have followed the same developmental pathways from person to person, more or less. So many questions, so much to learn!

      I’m starting to develop a distinct fondness for these non-dessert-looking desserts. I’ve already got an improvement on this fake egg look that I plan to work on this weekend!

  6. October 20, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    what a great idea! this is really cute!

    • Jess
      October 20, 2010 at 7:55 pm

      Thank you!

  7. October 20, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    Jess, this is such an awesome blog! Thanks so much for finding mine and leaving me a comment that led me here because honestly, I might have never made it here otherwise. (so…many…food…blogs…) Since I’m also a PhD student, I love finding fellow grad students/food bloggers, especially ones blogging about both science and food – brilliant! I’m very excited to read more. Cheers! :)

    • Jess
      October 20, 2010 at 7:58 pm

      Thank you for making pide, that’s what I say. Everyone needs to be enlightened about the wonders of pide!

      I’m coming across more and more PhD students with food blogs. As if we didn’t have enough to do already in our lives! But I guess we just can’t help being so multi-talented…

  8. October 21, 2010 at 12:43 am

    Garth Marenghi is so many types of awesome. So many. Please woo me with your soup, I promise not to get all broccoli-y on you!

    I’ve been somewhat sleep deprived the past week and yesterday was REALLY feeling it. I was not only unable to think of particular tip-of-the-tongue words, but just basic ordinary old words. Sentence structure had me stumped. It was amusing for my friends but so frustrating. If only I had some trick dessert soup to make it all better.

    • Jess
      October 21, 2010 at 8:06 am

      You better not come down with a case of the creeping moss from the shores of Shuggoth or I’ll be very disappointed.

      Tip-of-the-tongue is just the worst. I was writing a literature review the other day and seriously, I don’t know what was up with me (probably sleep deprivation like you) but I could not go a sentence without not-quite-being-able-to-get-that-word-what-is-it-ARGH. I spent ages at thesaurus.com searching for words that I thought had a similar definition to whatever the word was that I was trying to come up with. That was amazingly frustrating.

  9. October 21, 2010 at 6:00 am

    I was fooled. I really believed that was an egg atop a pink soup.
    I don’t know anything about Garth Marenghi…so I’m going to have to do some research now :)

    And re: your comment about Yuzu perfume…have you ever tried ‘The Perfumed Court’…they sell decants of scents, hundreds and hundreds of niche scents…so maybe you can a few that claim to have some Yuzu? I’ve actually never had a yuzu, but a gourmet store that I frequent has several yuzu flavorings for desserts. Would you recommend trying to make a yuzu-curd filled cookie?

    • Jess
      October 21, 2010 at 8:01 am

      No, I’ve never heard of The Perfumed Court but I just had a look and yeah, that is a fantastic idea. Thanks for the recommendation. I didn’t have much hope for finding more than about two scents featuring yuzu notes (and I did — Kenzo Pour Homme, which I don’t care is a men’s perfume because it’s quite bright and I like it and would be happy to wear it, and Burberry Brit Sheer, which made me want to throw up because all I got from it to start with was a sickly sweet grapefruit scent). There are definitely some promising ones on the Perfumed Court website that feature yuzu — going to put together an order, methinks!

      A yuzu-curd filled cookie would definitely be a success. The flavour would go perfectly with a buttery cookie, I think, like a shortbread. I actually made yuzu curd last night, but using just a quick molecular gastronomy shortcut — I just sweetened the yuzu juice with sugar than then thickened it with gelatin and methylcellulose, so it kept a pure yuzu flavour (I then put it in the bottom of a shortcrust tart casing I’d made and topped it with a dark chocolate tart filling and it worked beautifully). But the consistency of the “curd” was a bit… jiggly… so a proper curd would really be the way to go. I hope you give it a go!

  10. October 21, 2010 at 9:27 am

    Wow great job, Jess. I was totally convinced it was really a poached egg and was ready to ask how you made it so perfect. Of course, with my sweet tooth, this dish also looks a lot more tempting now that I know it’s a unique dessert.

  11. October 21, 2010 at 11:31 am

    This is simply amazing! So creative, absolutely gorgeous – and much more appealing than an actual poached egg atop soup.

  12. October 22, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    very creative! i like how the show inspired you.

  13. ~L.K.
    October 24, 2010 at 4:54 am

    Even talking with my friend that has the same synesthesia, we have such a different way of getting to it. She says that graphemes have personality and colour and both of which are based by their shape. So E and 3 are both green. However, to me, colour has personality and grapheme colour is sort of based arbitrarily. So 7 and A aren’t shaped similar at all, yet they’re both red. (And therefore both exhibit red personalities.) Its amazing how we have the same type of synesthesia, yet its so different at the same time. (We love talking about it between us, but its so aggravating hearing that 3 or E as green, as much as she hates hearing that 7 is red. Its really weird to realize no one sees colours with graphemes, let alone that people who do see it that way, see different colours.)

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