Soft Saffron Gel With Purée And Air Of Beetroot

This dish is all about using two very simple ingredients that you wouldn't normally expect to see on the same plate. This small dish brings together the flavours of beetroot and saffron, while at the same time balancing texture and colour to create something quite extra-ordinary. Is it a savoury starter? Or a dessert? Actually it's a dish that transcends the traditional boundaries of sweet and savoury. Most chefs are scared to try such a thing, but I'm certainly not. How about you?


1 medium beetroot
10-12 strands of saffron
1g iota carrageenan
1g soy lecithin
1 tsp honey

Saffron and beetroot are about as distant from each other as any two culinary products can get. One is the world's most expensive spice - made by drying the stimga of the saffron crocus - the other is a cheap root vegetable. One is a bright orange-yellow and the other is a dark purple. One has a delicate, honey-like aromatic fragrance, the other a bold earthiness. So how to pair these two totally different ingredients? The idea of this dish is to combine the two in a way that accentuates and differentiates, their intrinsic qualities.

The starting point is to make a saffron infusion as a base for the dish. Bring water to the boil, remove the pan from the heat, add strands of saffron and leave to infuse for 10 minutes. Now take a stick blender and use it to shred and disperse all of the strands within in the water, maximising the release of 'crocin', the caretenoid dye that produces saffron's characteristic golden colour. Leave the mixture to infuse and cool for a further ten minutes, before passing it through a fine sieve. Once cool, ass a touch of honey to enhance the liquid's sweetness.
My jellified saffron water

Grainy beetroot pureeNow create a gel by adding iota carrageenan to the saffron water in accordance with the gelling instructions from the iota supplier. Now bring the mixture back to the boil to activate the gelification properties of the iota, remove the pan from the heat and very carefully decant the gel into spoons. Put these aside to set.

The next step is to make a roughly textured purée from the beetroot, offering a stark contrast to the gelatinousness of the saffron. Boil the beetroot until soft and then use a stick blender to blitz the cooked beetroot, gradually adding small amounts of cold water until it reaches the consistency shown in the picture. Don't strain the purée - just leave it with a grainy texture.

Set aside some purée for serving and thin the remainder with cold water while blitzing, passing it through a fine sieve and adding a small amount of soy lecithin. A few revs with the stick blender on the surface of the liquid will produce a bright pink cloud of foam that is stabilised by the emulsification properties of the lecithin.

Top a quenelle of beetroot purée with the beetroot air and serve the saffron gel alongside as shown in the picture below. To eat the finished product, take the spoon with the saffron gel and use it to scoop up some of the beetroot quenelle with the fluffy pink air and consume in one mouthful. The dish is an amazing combination, with perfect flavour, colour and textural balance.

Soft saffron gel with purée and air of beetroot