Category Archives: water oven

Short Ribs: Nothing Short of Fabulous

I have been working with the Sous Vide Supreme  since last February and I continue to be amazed at how great most of what I produce using this gadget. That having been said, let’s just face the truth: this machine is a complete luxury. There is nothing I have cooked with it that can’t be cooked conventionally. It is also true however that certain things come out of the SVS off-the-charts fabulous. So far, the short ribs I made recently top this list.

Short ribs are, IMHO, a fantastic food in their own right though they are also difficult to cook well. Absent an SVS or some other kind of sous vide rig (such as this one or this one), short ribs must be slow cooked using conventional means. This usually involves braising: a method which inherently removes flavor from its subject in order to obtain a desired tenderness and texture. The challenge then is to spice the braise in such a way as to impart some intensity back into the protein and, mostly, to sauce the final product so as to give the consumer back some of the flavor that was unavoidably removed in the cooking process. Take for example a traditional stew. Often made with plenty of aromatics such as onion, carrot, celery, garlic, and bay. But without all that sauce, the meat is otherwise rather dry and tasteless. It is often stringy, too. One of the beautiful things about sous vide cooking is that flavor does not leave the food for the water, as it does with a regular braise and, if cooked at the right temperature, the meat does not become stringy.

With all that fat surrounding it and nestled close to a bone, short rib meat actually has an astoundingly delicious natural flavor. In the sous vide cooking process, unless you cook meat at a high temperature (at least 70C/158F), the fat does not render out into the braising liquid, either. Instead it stays in place, moistening and tenderizing the meat all during the  cooking time. In addition, with sous vide cooking, even at a very low temp you are able to cook protein for a long enough time to precipitate the break down most of the collagen within without turning the protein to mush or, worse yet, string. This method results in a level of tenderness that cannot otherwise be achieved in normally tough cuts of meat. All the while, you can maintain the doneness of the meat by choosing a temperature low enough to leave it pink and juicy even after the hours required to break down the collagen.

I bagged my short ribs after patting them dry and sprinkling them with salt, white pepper, a little paprika and some garlic powder. Each rib got its own pouch.

I cooked them in the water oven for 72 hours at 55C/131F. That’s right 3 whole days the meat was swimming! The temperature I chose is the one generally used to obtain what I would call medium rare beef, though some might call it rare.

The above photo shows what the short ribs looked like after their 72 hour swim.

You can see that they are still very pink and you can also easily see why the fat had to be cut away. But let me tell you, that fat did its job. The texture of the meat was way beyond incredible. As usual, to make the dish more appealing, some browning was in order. I used my handy Iwatani Torch though a searing in a red-hot skillet would have worked just fine too.

Though I removed a great deal of the fat, this meat was beautifully marbled which meant that a quick searing produced a perfect crust. The fat left on the meat became crunchy while the juices carmelized on the outside My mouth was watering as I plated our meal.

When I took the meat from the pouches I had reserved the juices. This I cooked, strained and strained again. I enriched the clear liquid with a red wine reduction that I had flavored with mirepoix, minced garlic and spices. I added all this to some veal demi-glace and reduced it a little more. In the end I had a beautiful and rich sauce which I lightly ladled over the meat.

A while before dinner time, I took a bounty of summer vegetables which I had picked up at one of my favorite farmers’ markets and roasted them in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil and sea salt. Roasted turnips, baby summer squash, new potatoes and golden carrots made a beautiful rainbow on my plate.

Decadent? Absolutely. The meat had the look and richness of the finest prime rib but it was melt-in-your-mouth tender with a texture that I could not possibly do justice to in words. You simply have to try this if you can some day. No, I could not eat a meal like this with any frequency (though I would love to). But my oh my, we savored every bite we took with our eyes rolling back in amazement – it was truly a religious eating experience. We are not likely to forget this meal anytime soon!

Now consider this: short ribs are considered a cheap cut of meat! They are often reserved for soups or stews or the meat is removed and ground for burgers! If you really enjoy short ribs or other meats usually reserved for braises, put a sous vide rig on your wish list! You will find a new dimension!

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

Pork Belly Divine

Every once in a while I am able to get my hands on a whole pork belly from my local pig farmer, without having purchased the whole animal. This may seem like a simple matter, but it is not. Our local restaurant chefs and artisanal (local/retail) charcutiers always get first dibs. The short supply for us ordinary folks is also due to the fact that pork belly has become one of those “it” foods I have talked about before (here). The stuff is being roasted, braised, and sautéed. I’ve even seen it make an appearance  breaded and deep fried. On many of the more modern or experimental restaurant menus, said pork belly is showing up increasingly more often and it is being used in a greater variety of ways: it’s not just your mother’s bacon anymore. 

In the summertime, when the tomatoes are at their best, we can go through a whole mess of bacon here. So, for my family, it takes a lot of fortitude to resist curing every last drop of fresh pork belly I am able to get my hands on. A fresh whole belly weighs about 17-20 pounds with the skin on. When all is said and done, you will probably yield about 65-70% of that weight as  home cured, smoked bacon – maybe 12 pounds in all. Bacon is easy to make, too – have a look here.

This time, with this belly, I was ready to try making something other than bacon with at least a portion of the slab. By the time I recieved word from Colby Jones (Farrar Out Farms) that he had a whole fresh belly for me, I had chosen my strategy. I sliced off two (approximately) 1 1/2 pound chunks of meat and took off the skin with my great big chef’s knife. (I reserved and froze the skin. Eventually I will smoke it and use as seasoning for greens and other vegetables.) I made a brine using 6% salt and 3% superfine sugar. The superfine sugar dissolves very well in tepid water, as does the salt. Adding a touch of pink salt to the brine helped to maintain the pink color of the pork. To the brine I added two bay leaves, some fresh thyme, several whole garlic cloves, and some peppercorns. I made the brine directly in a jumbo zip lock bag and put the hunks of belly in the brine. This was left in the fridge for a day.

Once it was ready to be cooked, I took one chunk of the brined meat, dried it off and put it in a vacuum packing bag. I added a good half of a cup of local honey to the bag – enough to coat the meat, once the vacuum was applied. Now this is somewhat difficult to do with the Food Saver machine I have, since it is not the greatest with liquids. But there is a good trick that I use to make it work. Use a bag that is large enough so that the meat and the liquid hangs about a foot or so over the edge of your counter after it is inserted into the mouth of the machine. This means that your bag will need to be about 18-20 inches long. With the help of gravity, the Food Saver will pull out the air and seal up the bag without sucking out the liquid or creating a faulty closure.

The belly went into the Sous Vide Supreme water oven which was set at 79C/175F. I left it in the bath for 14 hours. When the time came, I took it out of the water oven and quick chilled it to stop the cooking. This is done with a large bowl filled with half ice and half water. Once the meat cooled down, I removed it from the bag, dried it off with paper towels, wrapped it tightly in plastic and popped it in the fridge. I reserved the sweet honey flavored pork juices for a sauce.

The next day I took the belly out and brought it up to room temperature.

Just before it was time to sear and serve my fatty and hopefully delicious treat, I cut the belly into two inch cubes.

Searing was no job for my good old Iwatani torch, however. Instead, I placed the meat into a very hot skillet. As each side of a cube of pork crisped and released, I turned it until all sides were very well caramelized. This took less than a minute per side and by the time all sides were crispy, the inside was nice and warm.

I was able to make a wonderful sauce out of the juice that I had reserved from the bag. I took some apple juice (pure, organic and unsweetened) and reduced it by 50%. I added a couple of tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, some cloves and the stuff from the bag that was already highly concentrated with porky, honey flavor. Before thickening the mixture with a little cornstarch, I strained the liquid. My meal was now ready for plating. As sides, I served whipped parsnips and glazed sous vide carrots.

This dish is a real keeper. I would happily serve this to guests. Because of the use of a relatively high temperature in the SVS, the fatty part of the belly was rendered well enough to leave just the right balance of both meat and fat. The pan searing process gave the chunks of belly exactly the right crispness and a perfect texture. The unctiousness of each bite was beautifully counter-balanced by the  mildly sweet and sour, apple flavored sauce. No doubt, this is an incredibly rich and calorie filled meal that can’t be consumed too often without dire consequences to the waistline. However, as a special treat…well all I can say is “everything in moderation.” Actually, my husband’s enthusiastic “wow” said it all.

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Filed under Charcuterie, Comfort Food, Cooking, Farmers Market, Food Trends, Pork, sous vide cooking, Sous Vide Supreme, water oven

Braunschweiger: How can something with such an ugly name taste so fantastic?

I have mentioned to you previously (here) about the great group of folks who get together every so often to buy whole animals. When you do this, you get all of the animal including the offal. Yes, say it just like you would say “awful” – an unfortunate coincidence to those of us who love the stuff. The word is derived from the expression “off fall” (hence the pronunciation, you see) which describes that which falls out or off of the animal, on to the floor of the abbatoir when the carcass is hung and sliced up by the butcher, thought of by many as the stuff nobody is willing to eat. People also call these parts “specialty meats.” I guess that is perceived as a little nicer. A rose by any other name?

Well, I am a big fan of offal – I cannot tell a lie. I am one of those weirdos who absolutely adores well prepared beef liver (with carmelized onions, especially). I drool over sweetbreads and dream of a well prepared torta de lengua from my favorite taqueria. So, when nobody else wanted the livers from our first Berkshire pig and later from our Red Wattle pig, I happily volunteered to take them home. A pig liver is about 2.5 pounds – not small! But from a pure, organic, well fed, all natural, free and happy pig, you can expect pure and tasty eating.

Being a person who makes it a habit never to eat mystery meat, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with that liver. Pig liver, you see, is the main ingredient in braunschweiger (aka liver sausage that is usually smoked or has a smoky flavor). Since I gave up mystery meat (about 8 or 9 years ago after reading Molly Ivins, but that is another story) I had not tasted said sausage. I grew up on the stuff and truly loved it all my life. Who thought about it being made of anything questionable back in the good old days?

Come on, there is just nothing to compare to a sandwich made on a couple of slices of good, light rye bread, a generous slathering of mustard or mayo, fresh lettuce and tomato, and some generous slices of braunschweiger. The stuff is spicy, unctuous and just plain delish! Nevermind the fat, cholesterol and (after a few tough years in college) heartburn. This food is well worth eating and, after all, all things in moderation. When I saw the recipe for Braunschweiger in several of my charcuterie cookbooks and realized that ordinary humans could make the stuff, I decided to give it a try.

The recipe I settled on came from my recently acquired book on garde manger from the Culinary Institute of America. Being who I am, I couldn’t resist a few little, tinsy, weensy adjustments, but the basic technique I learned from this book was essential. Sausage making of any kind requires very meticulous mise en place – gathering and measuring out everything that you need for your recipe and making it all ready before you begin the actual production. Emulsified sausages, such as braunschweiger, hot dogs, bologna, etc. (i.e., those with a fine texture) also require extremely careful adherence to technique. Truthfully, it is not easy and is best done with two people.

Unfortunately, all I had was little old me – my darling was off to China on business. Nevertheless, being the pioneer woman that I am, I was bound and determined to get it right on this, my second try. My original effort (with the liver from the earlier pig) had resulted in a product that I was only willing to serve to Sadie (my wonderful and now departed furry little, 7 pound companion). It tasted fine but the consistency was just terrible. This is because the emulsion “broke” meaning that the fat cells did not get bound in the protein, resulting in a grainy product with a mouthfeel that was just plain wrong.

Well, all of my concentration and attention to detail this time paid off. Truthfully, I have never tasted braunschweiger so perfect in consistency and flavor. I am convinced that two main things are essential. First is to keep everything, including bowls and all tools as cold as possible while you are working. Second is to religiously follow the proper order of operations: cut up your meats and fat into one inch pieces, including liver, well smoked slab bacon, and pork shoulder. Put the liver and pork mixture and the fat on  separate cookie sheets (parchment lining helps). The pork and liver combination is first tossed well with the salt, tinted curing mix (instacure #1) and sugar, prior to being set in the freezer to become slightly “crunchy.”  The bacon is also put in the freezer. When just barely frozen, all of these things are put through the grinder using the 3-4 mm disk. The minute it comes from the grinder, the meats are put back into the freezer on the cookie sheet to become crunchy again. The bacon is put through the finer disk a second time, and again, put back in the freezer. Once everything is good and cold again, the other spices (white pepper, nutmeg, ground cloves, allspice, marjoram, mustard and thyme, rubbed sage) are sprinkled over the ground meats. This is placed in a food processor with some crushed ice and  emulsified. My food processor is on the smaller side so I had to do it in two equal batches, keeping the unused portion of the meat and fat in the freezer until the moment it was ready to go in the processor bowl. Every 30-60 seconds you take the temperature of the mixture while processing. When the temp gets down to 32F, you add the bacon, emulsifying until the temp rises to about 42-45 F. It is pretty amazing to see the gloppy mess that results but you can see it working correctly right before your eyes.

By the time the emulsion was ready to be stuffed into the casings it was the consistency of very, very gooey dough. I wish I had remembered to take a photo for you because it is a little tough to describe. I used large collagen casings  which I am able to purchase locally instead of beef middles which are very expensive and only available on the internet. After all, you just peel off the casing anyway and it does not make any taste difference.

The next step, which can be eliminated, is to smoke the sausage for about 2 hours at 175F. I chose to skip this step because it was raining like a mother and my smoker is not supposed to get wet (due to its digital circuitry). My bacon was very, very smoky anyway and this flavor seriously comes through in the end product. So skipping this step did not make much difference in my opinion.

For the final step I was instructed to poach the sausage in a water bath at 165F until the braunschweiger reaches an internal temperature of 150-160F. But how? How do I control a water bath at that temperature? Sure, I can turn the burner way, way down but even still, 165F is far less than even a bare simmer. Restaurant kitchens have flat tops on which they can accomplish this task fairly well (this is where they often keep the stock and other hot liquids at the ready). Commercial kitchens have way hi-tech equipment for this, not to mention immersion circulators for controlling the temperature in water baths. Wait….

DID I HEAR SOMEONE SAY SOUS VIDE SUPREME????? What a perfect opportunity for the use of my trusty water oven! I heated her up to 165F/74C. I took the stuffed pieces and placed them in zip-lock bags. It is fine to use these in the SVS and, because I would need to take the temp of the sausage during the cooking process, this was the most practical thing to do in this application. When you use this kind of bag, you leave it open while you lower it into the water. The pressure of the water pushes the air out of the bag and just before the bag is fully immersed, you zip it up. When the internal temp of the sausage reaches 66C (definitely well done meat) it is ready to come out and be plunged into an ice bath to stop the cooking. This also serves to help avoid the multiplication of bad microbial spores which could cause spoilage or illness.

When the temp is reduced to below 17C/60F in the ice bath, it can go into the fridge where it will keep for at least two weeks. Also, you can easily freeze it for a very long time, due to the generous fat content. I vac packed it with the Food Saver before freezing, which also goes a long way toward keeping things for a long time in the freezer.

 

 

Well, as I have said, the finished product was better than I any version of braunschweiger I ever recall eating. I am thrilled that I get to enjoy this delicacy for many months to come – I cut and packaged it in small portions to ensure our long-term enjoyment. It was a lot of work but worth it and I learned tons.

Next up: Come back soon for the pork belly I promised you!

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Filed under Charcuterie, Cooking, Offal, Pork, sous vide cooking, Sous Vide Supreme, water oven

Fanatic Fiddles with Fire; Lamb roast gets torched.

My mother-in-law (Libby) loves lamb. However, she also thinks that it is only for a special occasion. Thus, she only eats lamb at a restaurant…unless I cook it for her. I, on the other hand, eat lamb when ever the mood strikes. This is good for my mother-in-law! I was raised on the stuff (steak or Chinese food was what we ate on a special occasion). As a kid we ate lamb burgers, lamb chops and roast leg of lamb. My mom’s meatloaf even had lamb in it. From the left-over leg, we had lamb sandwiches. I don’t think I ever at lamb at a restaurant until I got a little older and went through a fancy French (aka a we-sauce-it-all)  restaurant phase when Carré D’agneau came into my lexicon.
 
So, when I seasoned up the last of the shoulder roasts I had in my freezer and sent it swimming in the Sous Vide Supreme, I gave Libby a call. Because of its size and somewhat tough nature, the roast was going to be in the water oven (at 57.5C/135.5F) for at least 36 hours. When it came time to take it out, if I didn’t serve it immediately, I knew I could hold it in the fridge for a couple of days after that as long as I quick chilled it down in an ice water bath before storing it. (See this if you have any questions about that.)  I stored it in the the bag I had cooked it in, with all the spicy juices infused with the garlic, herbs, and pepper I had put into the bag with the meat. There was about 1 1/2 cups of jus in the bag at the end with which I planned to make a sauce.  But I got distracted by spring. 

 

The season arrived here in the midwest like it has not done in several years and with it came plethora of articles containing recipes about cooking lamb. Springtime is, you see, the time when lambs are born, not to mention Easter, a traditional holiday for eating lamb (why not try rabbit…ok, ok, just a bad taste joke).  By the way, the spring lamb is not really ready for Easter, at least here, because our lambs are not harvested until May. Anyway I digress: I had seen one article in which people were mercilessly diss-ing that good old fashioned mint jelly (which is actually apple jelly flavored with mint) that we used to eat with lamb as kids. That stuff is really pretty disgusting. So I decided to try something suggested by one of these writers.

As instructed in the recipe, I took a whole mess of fresh mint from my garden, chopped it up with my favorite tool (the immersion blender) using the little chopper attachment. In the end, I had about a cup of chopped mint. I boiled a half of a cup of apple cider vinegar and a quarter cup of water with a half cup of brown sugar, making sure that the sugar was well dissolved. I set the liquid aside and when it was a bit cooled, I added the chopped mint. Voila! This was described by the writer of the recipe as a traditional English “mint sauce” and touted as being a much tastier accompanyment for roast lamb.

Meanwhile, back at the lamb, I heated the roast back up in the SVS about an hour before my mother-in-law was expected to arrive. This was more than enough time to get the roast heated back up to the 57.5C temp at which I had cooked it. And here is something beautiful about sous vide cooking: by heating the meat no higher than the temp at which it was first prepared, the meat does not become more well done!

Think about it. It is impossible for anything in the water bath to get heated higher than the temperature of the water it is cooked in. Even more important is the fact that heat transfer in water is far, far faster than it is in air (like in your oven). On the re-heat, by allowing the meat to spend only as much time as was needed to bring it up to temperature, the meat is not further cooked! If you re-heat something in a conventional oven, in order to get to a desirable eating temperature internally in a reasonable amount of time, it must cook more on the outside.

Just before I was ready to serve this dinner, I took the roast from the SVS, removed it from the bag and patted it dry with some paper towels. 

   

I took out my Iwatani Pro kitchen torch and worked that baby over thoroughly with the fire.

The effect of this was to put a yummy crust on the outside of the roast and also to heat up the outside just a little bit more.  Here is the roast after I torched it but before it was sliced completely. Look at that fabulous crust!

The roast was tender and moist and sliced with ease. It sliced up beautifully and looked so pretty on the platter. 

 

I served it with some lovely pasta from the farmer’s market which I sauced with a little mascarpone and butter. The pasta was flavored with pepper and lemon so it didn’t need much. I tossed together some organic greens with a very light vinagrette and let the lamb do all the talking.

Dinner is served

It was fabulously tender, juicy and so flavorful that it really did not need any sauce at all. This was a good thing because, in all honesty, I just hated that traditional mint sauce. I took one taste of that stuff – way, way, way too sweet (much sweeter than any nasty mint jelly, in fact) – and shoved it off to the side. It might have been nice to have a sauce made from the jus but actually, I was the only one to notice. Bob and Libby ate their meal with relish and my mother-in-law continued to rave about how she loves lamb.

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Filed under Cooking, kitchen tools, Lamb, Sous Vide, sous vide cooking, Sous Vide Supreme, water oven

Pulled Pork Preeminent

One of the justifications I used to talk myself into buying the Sous Vide Supreme was that it would replace my crock pot. Now those who know me are aware that it is my intention, in just a little more than two years (781 days, but who’s counting), to move to New York City. So this rationale is no matter of little importance. I am going to have to fit a s#%tload of rooms worth of all my important stuff into a shoe box apartment in order to become happily ensconced in the Big Apple. Thus, until such time arrives, I have come up with a rule to live by: anything new which is brought into the house must give rise to the throwing or giving away of something of equal or greater volume. The crock pot, while being shorter than the SVS, definitely has a bigger footprint, i.e. takes up more space in a closet or cabinet.

I have one friend who has an SVS and when he heard this, he said “nooooo, the SVS will not replace the crock pot.” I took that as a challenge. Actually, my friend should have asked me just what I do with the crock pot. All I do with the crock pot is (1) make soup, and (2) make pulled pork. Try though I might, I have never found anything else to do with this appliance that can’t, just as well, be done on top of the stove.

“Slow cooker” you say? Oh no, that is just not so. The darn thing simmers the bejeebers out of everything. I can braise just fine in the oven and I can cook soup on the top of the range, thank you very much. But for pulled pork…well I bought the SVS and so it was time to put up or shut up.

Lets just say that something magical happens to a fatty chunk of pork shoulder or boston butt when it goes into the crock pot for 6 or 8 hours. Even my darling, adolescent, loving, sweet, wonderful, adorable brat of a  step-daughter asks for this dish regularly. Rubbed with a beautiful spice mix I have developed (mild chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, ground mustard seed, granulated garlic & onion, ground coriander seed, and salt) this relatively cheap cut of meat becomes an intensely flavorful pile of porky deliciousness that my family adores. Most often, we stuff it into fresh tortillas with refried beans, spanish style rice, sauteed veggies and other favorite condiments. I call it our “make your own fajitas” meal.

So I had to prove to myself that pulled pork would make the grade coming out of the SVS. For this experiment, I just happened to have a beautiful chunk of Red Wattle in my freezer, perfect for the main ingredient in our fajita fest. I thawed that chubby chunk-o-piggy out and rubbed my spice mix all over the surface of the roast with abandon before bagging it up with my Food Saver. Many sous vide recipes talk about how you have to use a little restraint with spices when cooking by this method but I have found this applies to only a limited range of items. This includes some herbs, especially bay and rosemary, and garlic (which I am, alas, unable to eat much of anyway). I was not worried about overdoing my pork rub. I set the water oven on 60C (140F) and put the sealed up meat in to cook for 48 hours!

 

The results were, if I may say, award winning. Better than out of the crock pot, by far, the pork was tender, exceptionally moist, just the right doneness and orgasmically flavorful. There was not a trace of dryness as is often the case with the slow cooker. The meat pulled away from the fat very easily so that in the end we were left with a much more low calorie version of our old crock pot standard. The spice rub gave the meat a wonderful, smokey, complex flavor that was exactly what we had come to love. One interesting thing is that we poured a couple of cups of spicy meat juice out of the cooking pouch. I froze this wonderful liquid figuring that it will make a delicious sauce for a chop or tenderloin in the future.

Say bye bye, crock pot!

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Filed under Cooking, Pork, Shoulder, Sous Vide, sous vide cooking, Sous Vide Supreme, water oven

Fabricating Fabulous (Comfort) Food From Fowl

Meanwhile, back at the chicken breast…

Ok, so I have been working on learning about sous vide cooking for a while now (I got my copy of Under Pressure Christmas 2008). I didn’t start the actual hands-on part until February when I took delivery of my new, shiny magic machine. In spite of the lack of available recipes for the home cook, I have soldiered on, experimenting and learning as I go. I have made chicken breast, strip steak, flank steak, lamb shanks, lamb breast, duck breast, and chicken breast again. (Do I see a trend here?) You have heard about many of these in prior posts. It has all been very instructive and rewarding, but thus far the poultry breasts, both duck and chicken, have been the most amazing. A big challenge has been figuring out what to do with stuff once you have cooked it sous vide.

Now I don’t know about you, but I adore chicken pot pie. (I’m not talking Swanson here – that’s what we were raised on. In those days, they went on sale at 10 for a dollar and you understood why: you could never find any chicken inside. I hated that junk – even though in those days I’ll bet it did not have nearly the chemicals and additives that it has today.) No frozen chemical kits for me! I’m talking about the real, honest–to-goodness, made-from-scratch kind of chicken pot pie. I decided to try a pot pie with sous vide cooked chicken breast, instead of my usual method which uses breast meat poached on the stove top. Chicken pot pie is an easy dish to master and man oh man did it come out fabulously with that chicken.

Here is what I did: I cooked the chicken breasts sous vide for the pot pie at a slightly cooler (57.5C/135.5F) temp than for other chicken breast dishes. This helped to ensure that the chicken did not get overcooked because I knew that I was going to cut the meat up and toss it back into a hot béchamel sauce to combine it with the other ingredients just before serving.

I considered the option of putting the chicken into the sauce with the vegetables after removing it from the stove, covering it with a crust and baking the crust in the oven. I think this would have worked too – especially if I put the whole pie under the broiler, instead of baking it in the oven. In either case, I knew the chicken was going to have to endure an assault of more heat and I was working on finding a methodology that didn’t significantly alter the wonderful texture and juiciness the chicken takes on in the water oven.

A béchamel sauce is fairly quick and easy, especially a lower fat one. I always keep good, rich chicken stock on hand in my freezer. I make it from stewing hens – one good old bird will make a gallon of strong stock which I divide up into pint containers. I took a pint of that stock and brought it up to a boil on the stove, then turned down the flame and reduced the stock by a good quarter. Once reduced, I turned off the heat and stirred in a cup of low fat (2%) milk, some freshly grated nutmeg, a good heavy pinch of cayenne pepper, ¼ tsp white pepper and lightly salted it to taste.  In a bowl I mixed a quarter of a cup of half and half (you can use heavy cream if you want) with 1/3 cup of granulated flour. I then added in some of the seasoned broth/milk mixture, a little at a time, much like you would do if you were tempering egg yolks for custard. I continued whisking this mixture until it was nice and smooth. I strained this mixture into the broth and stirred constantly while I reheated the sauce got it to come to the desired thickness.

If for some reason you do this and your sauce is not as thick as you would like, you can add more liquefied flour in the same manner. It is best to correct the consistency of the sauce this way before you add back the solid ingredients. By the way, I have tried cornstarch and other thickeners but for pot pie I prefer flour. Of course, I really prefer to make the sauce the “right” way – first making a white roux with lots of butter and flour and then whisking in the hot reduced whole cream and stock little by little. But alas, in order to keep the very overweight person (“Big Merri”) inside of me from getting out, I have come up with this “skinny” method. It is not at all disappointing. Close enough to its more fattening counterpart the end result is a thick and velvety béchamel  into which you can put all the other ingredients to produce a delicious pot pie filling.

A wonderful thing about a pot pie is that it is well suited to individuality and variation. A great variation to the plain béchamel is to add a heavy dose of your favorite curry seasoning to the sauce. If you do this, hit it with a tablespoon of sugar because the curry tends to be a little bitter. Also, you will want to first simmer the sauce with the curry a little while before you start the thickening process.

The other ingredients can be altered or added to, as well. You like celery? Just lightly sauté some and add it to the sauce. My mom used to like it with lima beans (feh!). I make mine with fresh diced waxy potatoes, pearl onions, and carrots, and thawed frozen petit peas (I use the frozen variety as fresh peas are near impossible to come by). If my family ate mushrooms, I would definitely add these in. Remember to saute these well to release water so your sauce won’t thin out too much. I pre-cook all vegetables to just slightly al dente, individually so as not to overcook any of them. (Don’t you just hate mushy vegetables?) I add these to the final mixture, just before the chicken, gently stirring just long enough to get everything up to the desired temperature. The meat always goes in last – another bit of insurance to avoid overcooking.

Here is the end result:

Now you can see I had other motivation for settling on the stove-top method of pot pie construction: I had a sheet of puff pastry on hand that I wanted to use for my crust. The beauty of doing it this way is that it eliminates some time pressure, not to mention that a puff pastry crust is effing fantastic! You can cook off the puff pastry and hold it in your warm oven while you are getting your other ingredients ready. You can even re-heat the stuff once it has been cooked. Though this is less desirable to me, it is doable. Just before serving the pot pie, take your big French knife to the cooked puff pastry to cut it into smaller pieces. You can get a fine shape and a clean edge with a swift push of the blade. Cooked puff pastry looks great and you can portion it out however you like.

No, smarty pants, I did not make the puff pastry from scratch. It may be very satisfying and therapeutic to do so, but the quality of the ready-made puff pastry, which can be bought from the gourmet grocer, is totally fabulous. Moreover, I am not a martyr! (Just make sure you are buying a puff pastry that is pure and simple – and made with real butter.) I thawed out that puff pastry dough and made my crust on a sheet pan in the oven. By placing a second sheet pan crosswise on top of the one holding the dough. This way I was able to leave plenty of space for it to cook while at the same time prevent the dough from rising unevenly.

Though I can rarely get my family to tell me what they want for dinner, they do ask for this dish from time to time. They gobbled up this version up and they were not at all unhappy that it was lacking the more traditional crust. In fact, my adorable, darling, precious, sweet, lovely teenaged step-daughter even went back for seconds – a real rarity. For a formerly finicky pastatarian (a vegetarian who only eats carbs), I took that as a great complement.

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

Fanatic Found Fiddling with Fowl; aka DUCK, Part 2

A few posts ago, I showed you box containing a cooler full of duck  that I found on my doorstep one day. Well, I didn’t really find it, I ordered it from HVFG without having the foggiest idea of what I was going to do with it once I had it. A number of folks congratulated me on my purchases, and one person even expressed duck envy, but no one came up with any suggestions for what I ought to do with all or any part of this booty.

Oh, what’s that you say? I am supposed to tell you what to do with it. Moi?

Well, for future reference, if while reading about my culinary exploits you find yourself thinking “I would have done something like this …, or “why doesn’t she just do…”, please feel free to leave a nice comment. (“Hey, stupid” is not gonna fly for me.) Kathy recently did just that (left a nice, polite and informative comment) on Pi day and I very much appreciated it!

Nevertheless, it is my little red wagon so I guess I am going to have to push or pull it myself. And so, ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, I give you the first sous vide DUCK BREAST I ever cooked (drum roll):

 OK, it was fairly crappy, IMHO. I cooked it too long and too hot. It was in the SVS for 4 hours at 59C (138.2 F). It was just a little too well done, at least for me since I like my duck on the more rare side and this was decidedly medium. Additionally, it was not the right texture. I could tell that I had cooked it for too long because it was too tender. It was not quite mushy like the expensive, grass-fed flank steak I destroyed, but it completely lost its steak/meat-like quality. 

My family, including my sweet, adorable, darling, teenaged, step-daughter, who is the pickiest eater on the planet, didn’t notice. Hubby and she ate it quite happily. I think it was the cherry and honey demi-glace together with the crispy, bacon like skin that I garnished it with. I will tell you how to make that below. I served a rocket salad with watercress on the side. It looks terrible in this photo. But trust me, it was not drenched with dressing or wilting as it appears. Note to self: don’t dress the greens before the photo, simply spray them a tiny bit to get a shine. I actually used a delicious, very mild lemon juice and olive oil emulsion to dress the greens, which was a nice complement to the rich duck and its sweet sauce.

Anyway, live and learn.

The second duck was, if I do say so myself, divine. Bob took a bite and I watched as his eyes rolled back in his head in a foodgasmic state. He said he would have gladly paid the big bucks for this duck in a restaurant. So here, for your enjoyment is the food porn with a little bit of explanation:

Preparing duck breast for sous vide

 I removed the skin from the breast meat. It was easy to do. All I had to do was carefully pull it away. In a couple of places I had to use my handy-dandy boning knife to help me out, but not much. I reserved the skin, wrapped in plastic, in the fridge. 

I cooked the duck this time around in the SVS at 57.5 C (135F) for one hour and 15 minutes. This was exactly right, as it turns out. It came out perfectly medium rare and it retained its steak-like quality. There was nothing tough or chewy about this duck, it was plenty tender and easy to chew. But you definitely knew you were eating some good meat.

When the duck breast was ready I took it out of the bag and patted it dry with a paper towel. Now this is the exciting part. I already told you that I am a serious apparataphilliac (pronounced: ap-uh-rat-uh-fil-lee-ak). I especially love kitchen gadgets. So, for the first time, I got to use my new blow torch. It was quite the thrill as you might imagine!

Food comes out of the vacuum bag and water bath cooked evenly, all the way through. No one part is more done than another because NOTHING can get hotter than the temp of the water. It’s brilliant! This, to my mind, is the number one benefit of this cute toy.

However, we the eating public have a preference for food, in particular protein, to have a nice “crust” on the outside, an area that has been carmelized or “browned” as my mother used to say. This is called the Maillard Reaction and it is all about a complex chemical change that occurs when you touch food with high heat. I highly recommend you read Dr. Baldwin or Harold McGee, if you really want to know more about this. Suffice it for me to say here that there are several ways you can accomplish this.

The easiest and simplest is to just heat up a good heavy skillet with a light coating of some neutral, high smoke-point oil (I like grape seed, Thomas Keller  likes canola) and toss that baby in the pan on the “show side” for no longer than a minute. Just don’t do your tossing until the oil barely begins to smoke (then, watch that sucker like a hawk) because you will risk overcooking the protein – the precise problem of using the skillet. You don’t want to do that, now do you, since you spent so much time and money figuring out how to cook it evenly throughout, sous vide in your water oven?

Another way to get the Maillard reaction is to use just the right tool (aka gadget). This is where my endorphins kick in, big time. There are a number of different kinds of torches you can use for this purpose, mine is the Iwatani Pro. This is the guy they use in the big leagues. Don’t bother with those namby-pamby creme brulee torches (wanna buy mine from me) they work only for that one purpose and they don’t really do that too well, either. And besides, the big (well, more like medium) Bertha is much more fun!

So, here is the finished result, after slicing but before it was plated:

This time I served it with a much milder, not so overwhelming, sauce. I made it from a very hearty clear chicken stock I had on hand. To the stock I added miripoix (that’s French for diced carrots, celery and onion which gets sautéed in a little butter) and a sachet (that’s French for a little bag) of a sprig of parsley, a sprig of thyme, some peppercorns, a couple of cloves and a bay leaf) and reduced the liquid by half. Next, I added some blueberry syrup (I made that last summer from hand picked blueberries and sugar). While that was reducing, I carmelized a shallot, deglazed it with Cointreau and then strained in the reduction. I strained the sauce one more time to get rid of the little shallot pieces and voila! The veggies you see are parsnips glazed with nutmeg infused brown butter and haricots vert. I got the inspiration for the parsnips from one of the many wonderful food blogs I read. Here it is plated and sauced and ready for feasting on.

Now, finally, I’ll tell you about the crispy skin I garnished the otherwise healthy and very low-fat duck breast with. I dried that sucker off again real well with a paper towel and rubbed it down with my favorite-for-duck Chinese 5 spice. I scored it in a diamond pattern and placed it in a skillet with bacon press on top, turned on the fire and let it rock. Watching it very carefully as it turned the entire stove top into a greasy mess, I fried that skin until it was just like crispy bacon. The whole piece of skin was crisp and most of the fat was rendered off. I drained the skin between more paper towels, weighting it down once again with the still hot bacon press (wiped off) until I was ready to cut it into strips for the garnish. Really, this was just to keep it warm. The end result was unctuous, yummy, deliciousness in a small enough quantity (it’s just a garnish, after all) to keep you from feeling too guilty. Bon appetit!

Soon come, mon: Chicken pot pie?

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Filed under Cooking, Duck, kitchen tools, Sous Vide, sous vide cooking, Sous Vide Failures, Sous Vide Supreme, water oven