Monthly Archives: February 2010

A fabulous first trial with chicken breasts.

 
It was very easy to get the breasts ready to go. I packed them up with my ordinary household vacuum packer, the Food Saver 3840, using the plastic material included with the machine. I was happy to see that I could put two breasts in the package. I really don’t like unnecessary waste and besides, the plastic is no bargain.
 

I picked the lowly chicken breast as my initial trial for a number of reasons. First, in the relative grand scheme of things, they are cheap. I bought the air chilled, all natural, organic, pasture raised chicken breasts from Whole Foods (alas, I had been unable to get to my usual farmer source). It is hard to ruin a chicken breast, unless you overcook it terribly. Even with no experience, I knew the SVS would not let me do this. Finally, I want to become familiar with the most basic flavors and textures while in SV infancy – there is plenty of time to get complex. Better to concentrate on learning about doneness issues, the effect that the SV process has on texture and how seasoning and flavorings differ with cooked-in-the-bag food compared to conventional methods.

 
 
Into the water oven with you, my little pretties. I decided that the cooking time would be dictated by convenience. I knew this would be more than the minimum time required, so I had no concerns about safety. After all I have read, the one thing I was not worried about was overcooking the things. Very cool! It turned out to be about 90 minutes.

Various sources told me to cook these babies at 60, 62.5, 63, and 65 degrees for 1 to 4 hours. A lot of help here – but I am a person who can make a decision, where needed in order to move forward, so I picked 63.5. When the display on the SVS read my target temperature, I dipped in my instant read thermometer just so see what it said. Lo and behold, it read 63.4. I’m impressed. 

 

Now how to serve what I hoped would be buttery tender hunks of chickeny deliciousness? It was getting a little late and my teenaged step daughter was in on the meal so it couldn’t be too complex. KISS (keep it simple, step-mother). Putting the rich chicken stock I keep on hand, I settled on making an intense but light sauce flavored with shallots, tarragon, mustard and white pepper. I sautéed the shallots in butter, deglazed with some dry champagne and reduced the liquid by about a third. After straining it through the Chinois, I came up with a beautiful golden brown sauce. For my side, I steamed some potato onion pierogi (Jewish/Polish ravioli??) and drizzled them with Dijon flavored sour cream.

The chicken came out of the water bath moist and tender: there was practically no liquid in the bag when I cut it open, every bit was retained in the meat. I’m so new to this so I have to apologize for having forgotten to take a photo of the naked breasts. They got their color because I quickly seared them in a pan coated with a film of grape seed oil which I brought to the smoke point before taking the chicken out of the bag. Learning ways to get things cooked sous vide to have a wonderful color or crust (which results from inducing the Maillard reaction) is part of the process. I can’t wait to get a blow torch!

 I sliced the breasts on an angle and got ready to serve my family my first sous vide adventure. On the plate, I added the sauce and used a tiny amount of flat leaf parsley for a bit of color.

 

My finished experiment was not beautiful, but it tasted great.  The texture was very good: not the least bit mealy, stringy or dry, though not quite the “buttery” I am looking for. It was juicy and very moist. There was absolutely no comparison to conventionally cooked chicken breasts. I was a little too quick with the searing  so they did not come out as well carmelized as I would have liked. Also, I think that next time I will try butter (flavored?). Maybe I need to get an iron skillet?

I can see endless uses for chicken breasts prepared sous vide. In fact, I had one left over and I could not keep myself from enjoying a good old fashioned chicken sandwich for lunch the next day. It was a perfect moist consistency and eating it cold did it no injustice. I don’t know about you but I can’t stand it when meat has any kind of spongy consistency to it. I particularly hate those industrial breasts that chain restaurants use in everything, including on top of salads. They really gross me out. The SV breast would be so much better for this application.

 What I learned: (1) I will dial down the temp on the chicken next time to 61 or 62. I think this is enough. They were not at all overdone but I  have a sneaking suspicion that they could handle a tad less heat. (2) I seasoned them in the bag with just salt and a tiny bit of white pepper. They can use stronger seasonings: some herbs would work very well. If you like flavorings, a little ginger-teriyaki glaze, or Dijon mustard would do well. (3) This will be a great item to cook off and then quick chill for future use. I am going to do this and then freeze and then reheat them in the SVS. I’ll let you know what happens.

Next up: What am I going to do with those lamb shanks?

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Filed under Chicken Breasts, sous vide cooking, Sous Vide Supreme, water oven

FOOD FANATIC DIVES IN TO THE WATER OVEN

I got my fabulous machine 9 days ago but I couldn’t use it for several days because, alas, I travel for work and had to leave town the next day. It is no exaggeration to say I thought about it a lot!

 With no small amount of trepidation, I returned to face the intimidating stainless steel cube that sat waiting for me. While on the road, I read the manual from cover to cover. (This took a disappointingly short length of time – the thing is tiny.) Just before buying the SVS, I had studied guru Douglas Baldwin carefully and read Thomas Keller’s (and others’) Under Pressure from cover to cover.  Now that’s some reading!

I still I feel I know nothing about the process I am about to start playing with.

In the relative grand scheme of things, the quantity of available information for the home cook is sadly, quite limited. At the same time, what is out there often does not agree in at least one important way. Specifically, one writer’s concept of the ideal temperature at which to cook a particular item, especially protein, very often seems to be different from another’s. There is also a real dearth of actual recipes geared for the home cook to follow. The SVS booklet has a scant 13 of them (plus three sauces to add on top). Dr. Baldwin has a few and if you search a lot, you can find some around the internet (I will be telling you about these places as we go along).  Oh, and don’t ask me about Alinea, or The French Laundry, etc. – these may have some sous vide items within some of their recipes, but they are NOT sous vide cookbooks. There simply is no full-fledged, honest to goodness, cookbook (The Joy of …, Mastering the Art of …) dedicated to sous vide at home, for us, yet. (Hmmmm??????)

SV cooking, while not at all new, has been kept in the industrial and professional kitchens all too long. (I am certain that we will all be grateful to the Drs. Eades for developing the Sous Vide Supreme, I can just feel it!) The few books I have found on the subject are mostly for the professionals (look here). Yes, Borders and other big box book sellers featured Under Pressure on their gift tables for the Christmas season of 2008. But, this tomb is definitely not for the weak hearted or easily intimidated. Even though it looks like a lovely coffee table book, it is written with the professional in mind. The recipes are exactly those used in Keller’s restaurants and ingredients are not those commonly found or easily obtainable for the home cook who doesn’t have plenty of time and a fat pocketbook.

There are, of course, safety considerations which come first. Food pathogens are dangerous and nasty and some can even kill. But I have to assume that the people presently writing about this are not dead. Nor do I believe they are interested in killing others. Sure, I take note of the fact that there seems to be some serious covering of derrières going on in the SV arena. If it turns out that temps and times are a little pumped up, we can’t really blame these folks for erring on the side of overkill (or, actually underkill), now can we? At any rate, safety seems to be expressed as a minimum temperature for an item for a minimum amount of time – long enough to pasteurize the food or to kill, entirely, what may lurk within. I refer you to the experts for these minimums. You can assume that in my experimentation, I have applied these minimums to my process and my decision-making goes on from there. (But please, don’t rely on me if you are going to try to do something I have done - always check the experts on safety matters, and I am definitely NOT an expert.) All in all, I don’t feel too worried about the safety issues, but I am very respectful of them.

Assuming you’ve got safety handled, second are textures and flavors one can achieve through the manipulation of the variables within the technique. Who knows what is right when it comes to texture or doneness? As is often the case, I am sure that it will be much easier to tell what is “wrong.” I also get the impression there is not going to turn out to be an absolute “right,” just a “pretty close” or “good enough,”  “just fine” or, more likely “what I like.”

Third, and to me, leaving room for the most fun and creativity of all, is what you do with it once it comes out of the water bath. Some of it, won’t need to go any further – you can make a sous vide “baked” apple and serve it right out of the bag. But, other items will themselves be ingredients, part of a greater whole  (like the lowly chicken breasts I am about to prepare) and here I definitely will be flying by the seat of my pants!

Oh well, I’m grabbing my ankles….

Next up: Your Basic Chicken Breasts (with pictures!)

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Filed under Cookbooks, sous vide cooking, Sous Vide Supreme, water oven

I recently acquired a Sous Vide Supreme.

I have been meaning to start a blog for a long while. Everybody who knows me knows I have a lot to say – especially about food. Read my About Me section and you will learn that food is my favorite subject, its one of the things I like to think about the most. But it was important for me to pick a place to start, otherwise I might just drown you to death with too many boring details or lots of very ancient history that may or may not be relevent now or ever. Then, you wouldn’t come back. And I don’t want to make you feel unwelcome.

ENTER THE MYSTERIOUS AND WONDERFUL SOUS VIDE SUPREME (“SVS”).

OMG, the moment I saw this thing I was possessed with the I wants. Generally, I suffer from BIG-TIME aparataphilia and this particular piece of aparatus made me drool with desire. I needed it. I wanted it. But what was I going to do with it? Nearly everyday for almost 4 months, I sat at my computer each morning, coffee in hand, wistfully pulling up the web page advertising this virtuous beauty (as if something was going to change?).  

Turns out that the SVS is a small, shiny, stainless steel wonder that makes sous vide cooking possible for the home cook without needing to have a long list of other gizmos in order to make it work. Sous vide cooking?

For these 4 months I have also been trolling the blogs looking at any and every mention of the thing I could find. After all, if I was going to shell out the nearly 500 smackers it would take to buy this puppy (as I knew, eventually, I would), I was damn well going to thoroughly investigate the thing first.

What did I learn? Sous vide cooking is here to stay. It has been around for decades and many of our favorite restaurants are using this method, whether we know it or not. When done properly, it is believed to be safe and healthy. SV cooking enables cooks to utilize lesser cuts of meat and to achieve great results with these, as well as that finer stuff. Some claim that a london broil will taste better than a filet mignon, when cooked SV! (I have to try this.) An item cooked sous vide retains more of its juicy, nutritious goodness than the same item cooked conventionally. The textures one can achieve with SV cooking are far superior to those obtained with other methods for many items we regularly prepare. There is lots more, but I will save it for later.

So, I did my usual thing. I googled and googled and googled leaving no google ungoogled. I read every comment on eGullet I could get down my own gullet. I was thrilled when I found a blog post on Ruhlman that included comments by the inventors/makers of the product explaining how the thing works and answering a number of questions I had. I put out an APB to friends out in the blogosphere and directly asked everyone to tell me what they could and what they knew about the SVS.

And then, I bought it.

Starting very soon, I am going to be telling you about my adventures with this culinary wonder. I am going to experiment as much as I can and I will report my findings to you as best as I can. This won’t be the only topic I wax poetic about on this blog, but it is where I will begin. I hope you will come and visit often and share your insights and comments as much as you like! It’s nice to meet you!

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Filed under sous vide cooking, Sous Vide Supreme, water oven