Take a peek into the wild kitchens and labs of renowned chef and molecular gastronomy master Wylie Dufresne, with wd-50: The Cookbook. While you won’t find any quick and easy dinners in this formidable tome, make sure to pick it up if you’re looking to break into the science of his stunning dishes (or simply wish to admire them at length). Dufresne’s use of meat glue is one of his claims to fame — learn all about it right here.
Heston Blumenthal, chef/owner of the Fat Duck restaurant in England, introduced me to meat glue around 2003. The official name is transglutaminase, but Heston’s crew called it meat glue, because that’s really what it is: glue for meat. It’s an enzyme that forms a covalent bond between certain proteins, and because it’s safe (your body naturally makes the stuff) and has no discernible ﬂavor, it became an incredibly useful tool in our kitchen.
When we reformed the ﬂesh of a ﬁsh from an uneven natural shape into a cylinder or a block, we were able to cook the ﬁsh more evenly— and also guarantee that diners would never get a tough piece or cut through the meat in the wrong way.
At Jean-Georges, we used to make a rabbit sausage— diced rabbit meat, liver, and kidneys mixed with chicken and parsley and bound with egg. We wrapped that mixture in plastic, poached it, unmolded it, and sliced it. Most of the time the sausage held together, but sometimes it would fray or fall apart. When I ﬁrst heard about meat glue, this was the dish that came to mind. I wanted to solve that problem and get perfect, sliceable, casingless sausages every time. So an updated version of Jean-Georges’s rabbit sausage was our ﬁrst meat glue dish.
While phase 1 of our meat glue work was about bonding piece A to piece B, later we started gluing ground protein to itself to give it a new shape, which is how we ended up with shrimp noodles. We also ﬁgured out how to make noodles out of puréed vegetables and grains. The amino acids required for meat glue to function were missing in these ingredients, but we realized we could add gelatin to solve that problem. This discovery led to pastas made almost entirely from puréed vegetables, quinoa glued together into deep-fried chips, and so on.
Our deployment of meat glue occasionally led to accusations of “playing God” in the kitchen, but we weren’t making fantastical medieval beasts, and sparrows didn’t ﬂy out of our meat-glued chicken. Although honestly, I think that would have been awesome.