Deep Space Slime

Movie Set

GUESTS: Movie Director
             Director's Assistant
             Camera Man

    [in a space suit on a movie set] Investigating. It's some kind of ... can't quite tell ... hanging from the ceiling ... some kind of ... I'm going to reach out and touch one. I'm not sure ... [object moves] Did you see that, Control? Definitely some kind of bio-luminous ... maybe a defense system? I don't know. I'm going to try and get hold of one. Did you get this? Did you get this? Aaaaahhhh! [bulb of ooze splashes all over space suit]

MOVIE DIRECTOR: Cut! What the devil is that supposed to be?
DIRECTOR'S ASSISTANT: Uh, I think it's strawberry, sir.
CAMERA MAN: Isn't it a boysenberry?
AB: Blackberry, actually.
MD: Mr. Brown why, pray tell, are there berries in my space slime?
AB: Contrast? Flavor? Texture? Acidity?
MD: Nobody cares what it tastes like. It's a monster.
AB: Sir, you hired me to make gelatin and gelatin I will make. But mark my words: it's going to taste good.
MD: Fine. Whatever. Just keep your berries out of my slime monster.
AB: Fine.

    Directors just don't understand. I mean, gelatin is probably the most mysteriously versatile force in the entire interplanetary pantry. What other substance can convert any water-type liquid into a jiggly jewel-like gel? Is it spooky? Yeah. Sure. Is it good eats? Definitely.

PC&E Stage: Atlanta, GA - 7:02 am

GUEST: Lab Technician

    Most of us grew up loving gelatin desserts because they're fun and, hey, they taste great.

LAB TECHNICIAN: [hands AB gelatin in a martini glass]
AB: [takes and examines it] Oh.

    Our moms loved them because they could whip them up in a flash.

AB: Yeah, that's good. Good. [hands glass back]

    Truth is, you can do some pretty cool things with pre-mixed flavored gelatins. But making your own gelatin mixes, that's even more fun because you can control everything—the shape, size, texture, color and flavor—just by conquering a few simple formulae. Of course, in the old days, folks had to make their gelatins from scratch and that was a real horror show.

AB: [clicks remote and screen comes down] Lights!

"Night Of The Jiggling Gel"

GUEST: Gelatin Maker

    [voice over] In days of old, the Gelatin Maker's task took him to the barn where he had to find a pig, or better yet a calf. After dispatching the creature, the collagen rich legs and hooves had to be 'harvested'. Then the appendages were scraped and split and boiled for up to 12 hours so that the collagen would dissolve into gelatin. After de-fatting and straining, the brew had to be boiled yet again, this time clarified with whites and shells of a dozen eggs. Once the liquid was strained and flavored, it had to be poured into molds and refrigerated overnight. A tough task considering there were no refrigerators at the time. The next day, if nothing had gone wrong, the Gelatin Maker was rewarded with a quivering tower of jewel-like jelly. Wha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

PC&E Stage's Kitchen

AB: Lights!

    As you may have discerned, gelatin is little more than a concentrated and clarified stock. Anyone who's made a chicken stock at home will tell you that the one way to know you really got it right is to refrigerate it overnight and see this [solid, jiggly mass] the next morning. It gelates. Why? Well, it starts like this. You see gelatin contains specific amounts of 18 different amino acids joined together in sequences to form polypeptide chains scientifically known as the primary structure. Now three of these polypeptide chains form this way, joined together as a left-handed spiral to create the secondary structure. In the tertiary structure, the spiral winds and folds itself into a right-handed spiral which results in a rod- shaped molecule, the so-called protofibril.
    Do I know what this means? No. But what I do know is that gelatin strands are long and very thin. And they move around a lot. That is, until they drop below about, umm, 50 degrees. Then they slow down and start to tangle up. The result? A microscopic mesh capable of holding a flavorful liquid, say a margarita, in a firm gel. What's really cool is that the electrostatic bonds responsible for holding this together are relatively weak. In fact, as long as the gelatin isn't very acidic and isn't exposed to heat in excess of 150 degrees, it can be melted and reset again and again and again and again ...

    Unless you can set aside a couple of days for boiling calf's feet, you're going to need to rely on prepared gelatins. Now sheet gelatin is preferred by 4 out of 5 pastry professionals because it's, well, easy to measure. A sheet's a sheet. And a lot of classical recipes are formulated to use this. The problem is unless you've got a local Pastry Pros-R-Us, you're going to have a hard time finding it. Powdered gelatin on the other hand is readily available, easy to use, always comes in the same size package, and when properly handled produces a jewel-clear gel. Next we need a liquid.

Gilbert Chemistry
Experiment Lab

today's adventures in science will create tomorrow's America

    Now lucky for us almost any water-based fluid will do from soda-pop to wine to mixed drinks to fruit juices with the exception of fruit juices taken from fresh fruits such as pineapple, mango, papaya and kiwi, okay? All of these juices contain a protein-munching enzyme which likes to eat gelatin for lunch. Now heat deactivates this enzyme so canned and pasteurized juices are okay as are the canned versions of the fruits themselves but that's for later.


    Now for the next scene, Herr Director wants me turn an unfortunate spaceman's face into goo. It sounds like a lot of fun to me. I think I've got a surprise for him. A nice bottle of ginger ale. The real McCoy. The stuff that will put a hurtin' on ya. "Ginger" ale. Tastes kind of like it has alcohol in it but it doesn't. Now I only need about a cup of this, okay? This is just to get the gelatin started. So just pour one cup, 8 ounces.

1 Cup Ginger Ale

    Now on to this we are going to sprinkle 2 packets, that's 4 teaspoons, of powdered gelatin. Now why bother with this kind of step? Well basically this is priming or blooming the gelatin granules, okay. It's going to make it dissolve much more evenly once we put the heat to it. If you were to skip this step, in fact, you'd probably end up with clumpy, lumpy, uneven, or at least foggy gelatin. Definitely not good eats. Three minutes at least. Five would be better.

2 Packets = 4 tsp
Powdered Gelatin

Always bloom gelatin in cold liquid.

PC&E Stage's Kitchen

GUEST: W, Mold Mistress

    Most recipes call for dissolving gelatin in boiling liquid, which is kind of strange because that kind of heat can actually damage the gelatin's ability to gel. I never go with anything more than 150 degrees because 150 degrees is enough. And I do like the microwave to do this job. Microwave this on high for about 3 minutes but stop once a minute to give it a gentle stir and take its temperature. Remember, you're looking for 150 degrees, no higher.

For a firm mold use one packet of powdered gelatin
per cup of liquid. For a softer set use 1/2 a packet

    Hmm. Now that the gelatin is completely dissolved, we can go ahead and add the remainder of the liquid. A cup of champagne is going to add a certain yeastiness, it's going to temper the sweetness of the ginger, and of course it's going to cool things down so that we can get this into the refrigerator faster.

1 Cup Of Champagne Or Other Sparkling Wine

    Now it's important that you pour the cold into the warm and that you do it very, very slowly. Try to stir or swirl the whole time. If you this the other way around, you're going to end up with nasty gel that's going to have a bunch of clumpy, little, nasty, wormy things in it. And I'm not talking about the good kind, either.


    Now this could go straight into a mold but I want time to consider other modifications. I'm going to refrigerate this for about an hour until it reaches the consistency of raw egg whites. Now speaking of molds, she's back there, isn't she? [moves a jar out of the way and we can see W in the distance].

AB: You're late.
W: If you had any imagination you wouldn't need a mold. Anything can be a gelatin mold.
AB: Oh yeah? A tennis racket?
W: Any clean, non-porous, airtight form.
AB: Well that pretty much rules out 'anything', doesn't it?
W: Today, most molds are made from spun or extruded aluminum ...
AB: Aluminum.
W: ... so they can double as cake pans.
AB: Cake pan.
W: This design was taken from a Victorian mold originally made from copper, iron or pewter.
AB: You know, I'm the first to admit that Victoriana is really creepy but I think I need something a little more intense.
W: Mmm. Then we have the newer, less traditional molds. Vacuum formed from food-grade plastic. Here you go tin-man. [slides him a mold of a heart]
AB: Wow. A heart. Who would of thought you would have had one of these?
W: And who would have thought you had one of these [brain shaped molds]?
AB: Aww, what's the gray matter? Don't you like me anymore? You know it's nice but what the director really wants is ...
W: [slides him a face shaped mold]
AB: ... a human head. Wow. Old boyfriend?
W: Old boss.
AB: Okay.

SCENE 6 Movie Set

    [voice over] W's face mold was a 6 cupper so I had to make 4 more cups of my champagne-ginger gelatin. And I added a few extras.

[camera pans around gelatin head]

Gelatin Eyeball

Raspberry Blood
Keep Watching ...

MD: Cut. Passable. Get ready for the heart surgery scene.

SCENE 7 PC&E Stage's Kitchen

    Nothing's going to break your heart quicker than showing up to fill your brand new human heart mold with cinnamon gelatin than figuring out you don't have enough gelatin. So do yourself a favor. Every time you get a new mold, fill it right up to the top with tap water and then pour that off into a measuring cup and see exactly what it is you're dealing with. Two cups. Perfect. It just so happens I've got two cups of this stuff. Oh by the way, I'm going to write a big two on the side of this so I'll never forget.

    Remember, always bring the mold all the way to the refrigerator before you pour in the gelatin. If you wonder why, try this experiment. Pour just about a tablespoon of liquid gelatin on the bottom of your refrigerator. Wait 30 seconds then come back and try to clean it up. You'll get the point really fast.

Cinnamon Gel

    Now at this point we've got a few choices to make. If we were to just pour in a gelatin freshly ... freshly mixed, it would set up nice and clear, kind of like this [gelatin mold]. Jewel-clear and solid. If we waited until it reached an egg-white consistency—which is about what we have here—we'd have more options. For instance we could put this inside a blender along with a, say, a tablespoon or two of sour cream or whipped cream, turn it on, and it would literally hold all of that in suspension along with zillions and zillions of little, bitty bubbles. So it would be completely opaque once the mold set.

1 Cup Of Gelatin Mix
1 to 2 Tbls Sour Cream, Whip Cream or Mayo

    Now if you want to suspend big chunks into gelatin but you want the gelatin itself to be clear, then you want to wait until it sets to what's called "slightly thickened." Now slightly thickened gelatin will support a plastic knife, but when you pull out said implement you'll notice the hole completely closes up. And at this point you could use a whisk and beat in large bubbles, or you could suspend pieces of fruit like blueberries or anything that didn't contain those enzymes that we were talking about.
    At this point I think I'm going to go with the light and frothy heart. So the set is here and pour it in. And then the last thing you do is make sure that it is level by using the aluminum foil [which is around the form as a base set inside a larger bow] you can make small adjustments. Now push this into the back of the refrigerator. You want it as far away from the door as possible.

Use crumpled aluminum foil to support irregularly shaped molds.

PC&E Stage's Kitchen - 6 Hours Later

    That is what I call a dandy set. Indeed, you could bounce a quarter on it. Of course, now we've got to get it out of there. And to do that I like to give this a quick dip in hot water. [approaches sink full of dirty pots and pans] You know, maybe hot water's not such a good idea. After all, it would dissolve some of the fine detail which you often find on this kind of mold. Of course, since this is plastic it's flexible. So maybe we can get away without it. Generally what I like to do is—using a clean hand—put right on top of the mold and kind of wiggle it around as you pull the mold away from the sides of the plastic. Then start letting gravity do some of the work for you. Let it pull out half one way then turn it around and repeat. Now I'm betting that will pop right out of there.
    The thing about the plate. Let's consider the landing zone. You know once this gelatin hits the plate, it's not going to want to move around because things kind of don't like to move around on plates. So just so you've got a little adjustability, give it a quick spritz with a little bit of water. That'll change the traction, so to speak. Okay. Plate on top and flip the mold. Just slowly peel it off. Aww. There, see. If you wanted to move it around, you could move it around all day long.

MD: [over walkie-talkie] The director needs a heart on the set right away.
AB: Don't have a coronary. I'm on the way.

    Coronary ... heh.

"Gelatin" comes from the Latin "gelatus" meaning stiff.

    Let's say you wanted a yummy dessert that actually resembled a human brain. And hey, who wouldn't. Well, you'd need something opaque. And that reminds me of a favorite dessert of mine: panacotta. That's Italy-speak for cooked cream. Which may not sound very creepy to you but remember, it's traditionally gelled with colla di pesce, that's gelatin extracted from the air bladders of sturgeon. Mmm.

    First we need to bloom and that's going to require liquid. Now since our recipe calls for evaporated milk, I don't see any reason not to bloom in it, so a 12 ounce can. As for the amount of gelatin, our brain's got a volume of 6 cups—a little skimpy if I remember my medical school days. Anyway, we would normally use a packet per cup, a very nice firm set, but panacotta needs to be softer and creamier. So I'm going to go with just four packages. That's a total of 8 teaspoons. Just kind of jiggle that on and leave that to soak.

12 oz Can of Evaporated Milk

4 Packets = 8 tsp
Powdered Gelatin

    In the meantime, combine three quarters of a cup of sugar and half a vanilla bean, split. Now you could scrape this if you want but I rarely bother. Another two 12 ounce cans of evaporated milk—not condensed, that's another show—and a cup and a half of heavy cream. [a blood pressure cuff is thrust at him] A blood pressure cuff. You know, it's not like you're going to be eating a panacotta brain everyday. And if you'd like, a jigger of bourbon although, you don't have to.

3/4 Cup Sugar
1/2 Vanilla Bean
2 12 oz Cans Evaporated Milk
1 1/2 Cups Heavy Cream
1 Jigger of Bourbon (Optional)

    Anyway, bring this to a bare simmer over medium heat stirring to distribute the vanilla and melt the sugar. Oh by the way, that's a really great carry of flavor so you could add a crushed sprig of mint or basil or both and it would be a very nice thing indeed.

1 Sprig of Mint Or Basil, Crushed

    As soon as you see bubbles, time to evacuate the heat. Just take this straight over and strain it into the blooming gelatin mixture. Now since we bloomed this, it is probably going to dissolve very, very quickly and easily. But, just to be on the safe side, once we've got this in, I'm going to give it a little bit of a stir just to make sure that everything is taken care of. It's going to look a little lumpy but don't worry. That's going to go away very, very quickly.
    Now I can't help but notice that this looks just a little bit white, brains aren't. No problem. We've got science. We also have food coloring. I'm think I'm going to go with maybe two drops of red food coloring and, I don't know, what do you say, maybe, three of green? One. Two. Three. We'll see how that looks. Hmmm. One more of green just to be safe. Ahh. Now if that's not delicious gray I don't know what is. Let this sit for about an hour until it cools to room temperature and then straight into the refrigerator ... in the mold, of course.

Gelatin is used in everything from pharmaceutical
capsules to photographic supplies.

Movie Set

GUESTS: 6 Stage Crew Members

    Mmmm. Brainy, yes. But lacking in 'ick', wouldn't you say? No problem. Bloom one package of plain gelatin in half a cup of cranberry juice for 10 minutes and then dissolve that with an extra cup of cranberry juice heated just off the boil. Darken with a little blue food coloring and cool to room temperature.

Bloom for 10 minutes 1 packet of powdered gelatin in 1/2 cup cranberry juice dissolve in 1 cup cranberry juice, just off the boil.

AB: Brains up.
MD: You idiot. That's supposed to be 8 feet across, not 8 inches. You're fired.


AB: Come and get it, fellows.
STAG CREW: [a la zombies] Uuhhhmmmm.

    This show business doesn't make any sense. But luckily, gelatin does. Let's review, shall we? For a firm gel go with one packet of dried powdered gelatin—that's 2 teaspoons—per cup of flavorful liquid. If you want a softer set, go with 1 teaspoon per cup.

1 Packet = 2 tsp Dry
Gelatin For 1 Cup Liquid

1/2 Packet = 1 tsp Dry
Gelatin Per Cup of Liquid

    And remember, there are 4 degrees of gel set. There's "egg white consistency", good for adding to layered molds, beating into opaque gels or for adding mayo or cream. There's "thickened", which will support a plastic knife as well as fruit, say berries, in suspension. "Soft set" is perfect for building layers onto. And then, of course, there's "firm set" which is ready for un-molding.

4 Degrees Of Gel Set

  • Egg White Consistency

  • Thickened

  • Soft

  • Firm

    By the way, speaking of layers ...

AB: Roll it!

PC&E Stage's Kitchen


    Want the layered look? Here's how. I'm going to go with this Victorian mold. I know it's kind of spooky looking, but I still kind of like it. It holds six cups and I'd like to have 6 layers. So I'm going to make a little more than a cup of each flavor. Now I like to start with light colors first. That way when the mold is turned out, prospective dinners can gaze longingly down through the mold before they dig into it. I also want to make sure that this top layer is jewel-clear, okay? So I'm going to pour it in while the mixture is still relatively warm. Warm means loose and loose means no bubbles. Those'll clear up before I get to the refrigerator. Now as soon as this layer starts to set, we'll start working on the next one.
    Have a look at this. It looks set but when you touch the surface, you see it sticks to your fingers. And if it sticks to your fingers you know that it'll stick to other things, too. This is called soft-set consistency and now is the time to add other things. What kind of things? Well, let's say layers of fruit for instance. Just take pieces of, say, apple—which I have here—and just lay them right on the surface of the gelatin. Now the only thing you've got to do is make sure that there's plenty of room open around the fruit pieces so that the next layer of gelatin can get in there and stick. If you don't do that, you're going to end up with a sandwich that's just going to fall apart on you when you try to un-mold.
    There. Now speaking of the next layer of gelatin, it's got to be egg-white consistency. Which I guess that's actually more motor-oil consistency. The point is is that it can't be hot, obviously, or it's just going to melt the layer beneath it. If it's too cold it's just going to fall out in clumps. So when you first pour it, be kind of careful that you don't dislodge any of your fruit. Once it's covered, you can be a little more aggressive with it.
    Now you can repeat this as many times as you want. You can make as many layers into a single mold as you want. But you've got to be really careful and remember to check them. The thinner the layer is, the faster it is going to set. And if sets all the way, it's not going to stick to anything.
    When it comes to un-molding, plastic molds can be manhandled but metal molds need a little coercing. Skip the traditional hot water routine and simply turn your mold over, place it on the target platter and hit it with a hair dryer. As long as you've left a quarter of an inch of head room at the top of the mold, it's going to fall right out.

The Kitchen

    Well, it looks like any way you cut it, homemade gelatin is definitely good eats. Speaking of cutting ...

AB: Cut!

    [music dies and stops]

Proof Reading help from Jon Loonin and Sue Libretti

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010