Conference consommé

Banana consommé. Pure, clear, unadulterated, liquid essence of banana. (Actually, it’s technically a consommé of roasted, caramelised bananas.) This precious liquid was obtained using a gelatin filtration method, which allows the liquid containing the soluble flavour compounds to be removed while the flesh of the banana remains trapped behind due to the network that the gelatin forms in the mixture.

I bet you never knew how much you needed banana consommé in your life until now! It must have a million purposes! Mix it with… other liquids! Make it into… ice cubes? I don’t know…

But there’s a beautiful story behind this banana consommé’s existence.

When some other lab members and I went to a conference on the frontal lobes of the brain in Toronto in March this year, we were all horrifically jet-lagged. I spent the week experiencing almost constant nausea. We were falling asleep during so many of the talks. Our resident psychiatrist was have lucid dreams in which he saw the current speaker giving harsh scores to children for their figure-skating routines. However, in our semi-conscious state, there was one thing that several of us took away from the conference: banana juice, and the importance thereof. Turns out that macaques (the primates often used in neuroscience experiments) absolutely love banana juice. One of the speakers was saying that macaques love banana juice above all else: apple juice, sultanas, grape juice, whatever, don’t bother, it’s all about the banana juice.

If you want to train a macaque to do a task, use banana juice as a reward. If you want to study the reward circuitry of the brain in macaques, use banana juice (or cocaine… or juice and cocaine, as this study did). If you want to see macaque neurons fire in response to a cue on a computer screen, make sure that cue is usually followed by a drink of banana juice, and then you’ll see particular neurons fire in anticipation of the banana juice.

But what is banana juice? Is it just puréed banana? Because that, my friend, would be banana purée. How does one juice a banana?

These were incredibly important questions in our jet-lagged brains.

Ultimately, it resulted in my decision to make banana consommé, to bring into existence an unadulterated banana essence. This, I decided, was closest one could possibly get to the definition of banana juice. And it was beautiful to behold.

I imagine macaques would gnaw through a brick wall to get to this stuff.

Later on, I decided to follow up my consommé-ing success with another tribute to our Toronto trip: clamato consommé, since clamato juice was served on the plane between Vancouver and Toronto. Clamato juice is clam juice and tomato juice, for the lucky souls who have been fortunate enough to avoid knowing about its existence. None of us had heard of it or tried it before and we all desperately wish we could repress our memories of it now, because our simple minds were not prepared for it.

I couldn’t get any clams for my recipe, so I used mussels. I blended them with tomatoes (almost breaking my 600W stick-blender in the process because of the horrible sinewy tissue of the mussels), did a gelatin filtration, and produced clamato (well, musselato) consommé.

Then I took it to work and made our resident psychiatrist drink it. I think he had tears in his eyes.

I then put the clamato juice in the fridge at work, with a smiley-face on it and I don’t know what happened to it but it did eventually disappear.

Read on for the recipe for banana consommé using gelatin filtration. And feel free to suggest interesting potential uses for banana consommé, because I only really made this as a proof of concept and didn’t think much beyond that…

Banana consommé

2 bananas
1 tbs brown sugar
2 cups of water
powdered gelatin

Preheat oven to 200°C. Peel the bananas and put them on a lined baking tray. Sprinkle the brown sugar over them. Bake until browned (20-30 minutes). Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature.

Blend the bananas and the water together thoroughly with a stick blender or in a free-standing blender. Measure the combined weight of the bananas and water and make a note of this. Measure out 0.5% of this weight in gelatin (e.g. if your banana/water mixture weighs 600g, measure out 3g of gelatin). Place one cup of the banana liquid in a small saucepan over medium heat. Heat until warm and just steaming and add the gelatin to it, stirring until the gelatin is dissolved. Take this liquid and add it back into the original banana/water mixture and stir thoroughly to combine.

Pour this mixture into a bowl and freeze overnight. Remove it from the bowl (you might have to place the bowl in a sink with some hot water in it to warm the outer edges of the frozen mixture and get it to detach from the bowl). Place the frozen mixture into a muslin bag then place it in a sieve and suspend the sieve over a bowl.

Allow the banana mixture to defrost slowly. You can leave it in the fridge to do this, but it takes ages (or might not happen at all, if you have a temperamental fridge like ours that’s always too cold even when you adjust the thermostat). A quicker way is to place the bowl in an insulated cooler bag, along with some frozen ice-packs, frozen vegetables or bags of ice-cubes. Keep in a cool place if possible, and let it defrost during the night if possible.

The banana consommé will drip down out of the block and through the muslin and sieve into the bowl. Collect and store in the fridge until you figure out what to do with it.

  10 comments for “Conference consommé

  1. October 22, 2010 at 10:52 am

    I often wonder just how much scientists actually NEED to do research with drugs like cocaine…or how much they just want to have access to it. Craziness.

    Also crazy. this consomme. It sounds kind of magical. And mysterious. I’m intrigued.

    • Jess
      October 22, 2010 at 12:09 pm

      Eh, cocaine is pretty useful for studying the reward system of the brain and how it can be hijacked during addiction… as for the scientists, every milligram of cocaine they use in their experiments has to be accounted for, so hopefully there aren’t researchers out there skimming a bit off the top of the container of cocaine in the lab for other purposes. Although I’m sure a cocaine addict could find ways to do that if they were driven to… “oh yeah, I did an experiment… you just didn’t see it…”

  2. October 22, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    I wonder what kind of juice would work best on me as positive reinforcement? Blue cheese juice? Peanut butter juice? Why do both of those sound so wrong? Still, I have faith that you could make them both work ;)

    • Jess
      October 22, 2010 at 12:11 pm

      Oh no! An indirect challenge! You know how I react to those…

    • October 22, 2010 at 12:21 pm

      I do, I do! *giggles evil-y* However, fair’s fair, seeing as you indirectly challenged me to spend my scrapings-on-income on a hardcover book… Yep, Delusions of Gender should be on its way to me as we speak!

  3. October 22, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    You may appreciate this article on agar clarification, which skips the freezing step: http://www.cookingissues.com/2009/07/14/agar-clarification-made-stupid-simple-best-technique-yet/

    I’ve been thinking of how to turn a Hot Buttered Rum into a Bananas Foster drink for the Christmas holidays — you may have just given me the secret!

    • Jess
      October 22, 2010 at 1:16 pm

      Yeah that agar clarification looks like a pretty good alternative. Thanks for that. I want to make a cucumber consommé on the weekend (for use in a cake I’m inventing based on a Pimm’s Cup), so I might give it a shot using agar rather than gelatin.

  4. October 24, 2010 at 1:54 am

    Oh god, the jetlagged conference experience. Generally made much worse by the amount of alcohol that is so often consumed at conferences (in my field anyway, I assume most of them are booze fests). Actually, I got to experience the quadruple whammy of jetlag, being suddenly in a desert summer, at high altitude, and the booze. Hmm.

    I think it would be cool if you did one of two things with the juice – used it either within, or in replacement of the caramel component of creme caramel OR got extra busy with gelatin/agar-agar and added some to the juice then created a thin jelly film with it to use within a dessert, somehow? Or you could use it to host a macaques cocktail party.

  5. October 24, 2010 at 2:16 am

    What a fascinating technique and funny story to go along with it. I can’t believe people finished the clamato consomme though. It definitely would have gone bad before anyone dared touch it in the office where I used to work. Not an adventurous bunch, I’d say hehe.

  6. October 26, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    The consomme sounds amazing. Even if I’m not a macaque.
    Oh, I also wanted to tell you that I picked up some yuzu peel. Even if it not wearable, the scent is indeed amazing. And I know I’ve smelled perfumes that claim to have a yuzu note, but nothing has even come close…

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