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!)