Category Archives: Sous Vide Supreme

FANATIC FINALLY FINDS A FUNCTION FOR FORMERLY FUTILE CHUNKS OF LAMB (well almost)

A friend and I bought a lamb a while back. We each received about 25 pounds of organic, all natural, pasture raised meat from the animal. Yum, I love lamb! My half included 8 pounds of ground meat, 2 pieces of rack, 12 nice thick loin chops, 2 shoulder roasts, 2 leg roasts, 2 shanks, and two breast pieces (my friend gave me hers).

One of the not-so-good things about getting a big ol mess of meat like this is that you end up with parts you would never buy, let alone have any idea of how to cook. In the case of our little lamb, I got two pieces of breast. I looked at this meat like a blocked writer looks at a keyboard. For so long as it has been in my freezer, I’ve been looking at the strange, frozen hunks of protein and skipping right along to the burgers or the chops. I don’t have a dog anymore or I would have boiled it up for her. When I took out cookbooks looking for help, there was none. And, when I did what I do best, i.e., comb the internet, I found total lamb breast (aka belly) nothingness.

I have to be honest and tell you my bad attitude is tainted by having watched an experienced chef-who-shall-remain-nameless fail miserably at several different tries with this stuff. He could not tame this sinewy, only moderately meaty lump of lamb. He worked with the boned out version. He rolled and roasted it, he braised it, he cooked it slow and low in the oven. It was still a disaster. In fact, it was so bad the guests he fed it to were embarrassed for him.

In contrast to the breast pieces, I was anxious to cook up the lamb shanks, especially now that I finally had the Sous Vide Supreme. So what did I have to lose by throwing those breast pieces in there along with them?

I seasoned everything with some kosher salt, and then to the breast pieces added garlic powder, fresh rosemary and a whole mess of cumin. In envisioned a very middle-eastern sort of flavor. I used garlic, dried oregano, fresh rosemary and thyme for the shanks. I bagged up the two chunks of lamb breast and the two shanks, individually and placed all four pieces in the SVS at 60 degrees C. This would be a real adventure – we will see what tomorrow will bring. I planned to leave the shanks in for 24 hours and, having absolutely nothing to lose, I decided to go for 48 with the breast pieces. In that amount of time I hoped that the collagen would be all broken down and everybody would be nice and tender.

I was able to get a really good seal around the lamb pieces even though they are shaped so irregularly. The pros put down the Foodsaver because it does not get as strong a vacuum as you might like. But most of us at home have neither funds nor space for a chamber-type vacuum sealer. The plebian version will just have to suffice. You can get a good enough seal out of the Foodsaver by using plenty of plastic and manipulating it to hug the contents as the vacuuming is taking place. The breast is curved so I held the plastic tight along the curve so it would keep good contact with it.

It was the shank of the evening (I was dying to say that) 24 hours later when I reached into the water bath with my bear fingers and pulled out these puppies. I was I little nervous. I have braised (osso buco style) many a lamb shank slow and low in my oven and it was always a challenge to keep the meat on the bone. But when I took these sous vide, slow cooked shanks out of the plastic, nothing fell apart. To tell the truth, I really did not expect it to fall apart but it is still an amazing thing when you first experience this.

The meat was soft, extremely flavorful and a beautiful medium rare. There was very little juice in the bag but definitely more than with the chicken. I poured this juice (from both bags) into the sauce I was preparing for this fantastic meat. The sauce, made from a base of veal stock, had San Marzano tomato paste, mirepoix (sweated first with butter and then deglazed with red wine) and a little salt, had been simmering for about and hour. It was rich and aromatic but when I added the juice from the meat, it came together beautifully. 

I was getting very excited about this experiment – I could tell it was going to be good. I pulled most of the meat from the bones with my fingers and the rest had to be tamed with the knife.   

Then I strained the sauce through a chinois, put it back in a clean pot, reheated it with the meat.

I was very careful to only briefly reheat the meat, not wanting to do anything to ruin the wonderful texture and flavor it had right out of the SVS. I made up a pot of creamy polenta (thank you muse Lydia for suggesting I add bay leaves to the pot when making polenta) to serve the meat on top of. I was going for a kind of Mediterranean comfort food.

Here is the finished product. It was was fabulous food – a meal we would have happily eaten at our favorite bistro:

 

Ok, so I’m not going to tell you what happened with the breast, quite yet. It was good! Come back soon!

Next up: Formerly Futile but now Finger Food – Breast of Lamb Panini…Really

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Filed under sous vide cooking, Sous Vide Lamb Shanks, Sous Vide Supreme, Uncategorized

A FAR LESS THAN FANTASTIC FEAST

First off, I need to make a confession before I get too far down the bloggy road: I am terrible with a camera. I have no idea why it is that other people can just point and shoot and get great photos and mine simply suck. I know that FOOD PORN RULES here in the blogosphere so I am bound and determined to get better at it (unless I become instantly famous and am able to hire an all-purpose live-in photographer and chauffeur). So, please have patience with my photos or the lack of them.

Second, I’m sorry to say that I am not yet ready to tell you about the lamb shanks. Soon. But I have a small consolation prize:

I just happened to find a flank steak at the winter farmers’ market this weekend and I was so excited that I had to cook it in the SVS. I am also here to tell you that I am mortified and humiliated by the results. It was TERRIBLE. All the resources I could find on the subject of flank steak said to cook it for 24 hours at 55C . Well that seemed rather extreme to me but I am a novice – who am I to buck authority? So I followed the instructions I had. Don’t try this at home, kids.

No photos of the flank, either folks. No need – it looked totally ordinary after I gave it a quick sear in butter. And frankly, I just want to forget about it. I seasoned it in the bag with salt, pepper and garlic powder.  Actually, it came out disgustingly mushy and falling apart, in addition to being completely flavorless. Next time I do a flank, I will do it for 4-6 hours at 55C. Unless some other authority tells me otherwise and convinces me that my prior experience was a fluke!

Soon com mon: Lamb Shanks (which came out yummy, BTW)

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

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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