We study the expansion dynamics of super-heated material during ultra-fast laser ablation of water and gel, using transient-reflectivity microscopy. We find that the expansion dynamics of water and gel, as observed during the first few nanoseconds, are extremely similar over a large range of ablation energies. We measure the crater topography of the gel after irradiation with a single laser shot, using optical interferometric microscopy, and estimate the mass that is ejected during the ablation. We calculate the laser energy deposited during irradiation by simulating the precise spatial distribution of the electron plasma density and temperature. We link the amount of removed mass obtained experimentally with the simulations of the deposited laser energy.