Now why am I showing you a tin? There is method to my madness. Mastic mainly comes from the Greek Island of Chios and this is authentic Chios Gum Mastic.
Some class Mastic as a herb, others a spice but it is in fact the resin of an evergreen shrub Pistacia lentiscus var. Chia (a member of the Pistachio family). Cuts are made in the bark and the resin seeps out in "tears" - if you make note at the top left hand side of the tin just above the weight, the mastic is this package are small tears - and they look like this
They are quasi-translucent crystalline grains - some round, some tear shaped - tinged in a yellow-golden hue. Unfortunately there's no real indication on how small they are but the largest pieces would be no more than 5-mm in diameter.
Traditionally Mastic would be chewed to help relieve intestinal problems and studies have shown that it has anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties. Some believe that it can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure and also stop ulcers, though there have been contradictory reports of it's ability to heal peptic ulcers.
When you place one of these tears into your mouth the flavour is quite pronounced to begin with as it begins to break down into a chewing gum like texture - it also changes to white as you chew. Paalo wasn't very impressed with it's flavour - he likened it to pine - it is interesting to note that I've read it's flavour described as "tasting like mastic"... how very helpful! I should note that the more you chew, the less intense the flavour and it does leave your mouth feeling refreshed - I can only liken it to the after effects of mouthwash.
I suppose you might be wondering where the culinary use comes in - my only experience of it comes from Greek Cuisine and in particular at The Press Club here in Melbourne. At the end of the meal, you're offered Hypovrychio, which is a small glass of cold mineral water served with a spoon of a sticky sugary paste of vanilla and mastic. It takes a while but as you stir the paste eventually dissolves. They also incorporate Mastic into Panna Cotta which I decided would be the perfect dish to make!
500mls pouring cream
80 grams caster sugar
1 teaspoon Chios Gum Mastic, ground into a fine powder
2 titanium grade gelatine sheets
First soak the gelatine sheets in cold water - you can use agar agar or powdered gelatine if you prefer. Substitution information can be found at the bottom of this post.
Place the cream, caster sugar and mastic into a saucepan and over a low heat, stir until the sugar and mastic has dissolved. Keep stirring occasionally to ensure the mixture doesn't stick to the pan - you want it to almost reach boiling point. At that stage, remove it from the heat.
Remove the softened gelatine sheets from the water and squeeze them to remove any excess water before adding them to the hot cream mixture - stir well to ensure the gelatine has dissolved.
Pour the mixture into 4 serving dishes and place in the fridge to cool and set. I place a sheet of paper towel over my dishes to absorb any moisture from the hot liquid.
At the restaurant they serve their pannacotta with macerated strawberries but I decided to top mine with a puree of stewed quinces. I found the flavour of quince really completed the perfume notes of the mastic. Paalo believed that the mastic actually accentuated the creaminess of the pannacotta and the mastic infused the cream with a delicate perfume.
The amount of Sheet Gelatine required is dependant on it's grade.
If you are using "titanium" gelatine than the rule is that 1 sheet will be able to set 250ml of liquid.
If you use a lower level of gelatine, it might be labelled "gold" then 3 sheets will be needed to set 250ml of liquid.
For this recipe you use 2 sheets Titanium grade or 6 sheets Gold grade.
For powdered gelatine:
2 teaspoons will set 250ml of liquid so for this recipe use 4 teaspoons.
10g of strands = 7g of powder and will set one litre of liquid so for this recipe use 5 grams of strands or 3.5 grams of powder.