Tag Archives: sous vide cooking

Lucky Lobster Lover lives to eat her words…AND lobster, as well

In March, 2010, I put up a post on the subject of lobster (here). I discussed my “allergy” to it, how Mr. Homard (scientifically known as homarus americanus)  was one of my absolute favorite foods and how I believed I would never be able to eat it again. Today I am happy to report that I have overcome this intolerance. I am once again able to indulge in this luscious crustacean. “How did that happen?” you ask.

My inability to eat the stuff, really not an allergy at all, was on account of a badly diseased gall bladder. I had my strong suspicions about this angry organ for nearly 20 years.  That was when it first started bothering me. Fortunately, during the first 10 years, it  would attack me only on a rare occasion. After a good night’s rest with the help of the sleeping pill du jour,  I could mostly ignore the problem. However, for the last 10 years, it increasingly got louder; the attacks became more frequent. I eliminated avocado from my diet (another food I adore) because it always stirred up trouble for me. Other things were eliminated when I could link them to the pain.

I’m really no hero. It is just that whenever I would go with my symptoms to a doctor I would be told to go away. Yes, after poking and prodding me and taking a picture (ultra-sonically) of my gut, I would be told that although it sounded like my gall bladder, it seemed to have passed. This happened three times. I always knew it would be back. I just never knew when. Worse yet, I had no idea what I would be forced to eliminate from my diet next.

Several years ago I realized, after four trys, that every time I ate lobster my diseased organ unleashed it’s tremendous wrath inside my gut. Now lobster was out and this really pissed me off. Still, I put off returning to the doctors, only to be sent away once again.

Finally, the thing became acute. This time I was determined not to let the attack pass without seeking medical attention mid attack. Not to worry. The “attack” became a massive siege. I actually had all the time I needed since the agony would not subside. I spent a miserable week in New York. Even a small burger without the fries at the Shake Shack  had me bent over clutching my waist. It seemed eating anything was a problem.  As we drove home from the airport, I turned to my darling and said “take me to the hospital.” This time, sure enough, the diagnostics backed me up.

 At the risk of  TMI, I’ll tell you that my gall bladder was actually 97% dead! Yep, completely non-functioning but thankfully not gangrenous. It had to be yanked. This was a very welcome determination. Though for me the procedure was not easy to recover from, eventually I regained much improved digestive health. A big reward for a lot of suffering. Little by little, I am thrilled to report, that I was able to reintroduce every single eliminated food back into my diet.

Lobster is the one I rejoice in the most.

I love the concept of “butter poaching” just about anything. So, when I read on eGullet all about how people were doing it with lobster in their sous vide machines, my mouth watered. Yes, yes, I am a hardcore locavore and lobster certainly does not fit the test. But, fanatic be damned, one has to make reasonable exceptions especially for the things one loves…especially for the things one has been deprived of for so many years.

In Costco of all places I spied these gargantuan tails and impulsively decided one of these guys would be a good place to start my experimentation. After all, if I blew 20 bucks and didn’t have to wrestle to pull it out of the shell, I wouldn’t be so bummed if my first sous vide go around with lobster came out terrible.

I forgot to get a photo of the tail before I yanked it from its shell, but you know what a lobster tail looks like, right? Just imagine a HUGE one. The thing was a full 10 inches long and weighed a full pound! This must have come from a relatively old lobster. Attached to its body I would speculate that this fellow must have weighed at least 3 pounds.

In sous vide cooking, you don’t put the lobster in the bag still in its shell because of the risk of piercing the bag and making a mess of your sous vide machine. At the open end of the tail, I took my flower shears (yes, smarty pants, I cleaned them first) and began clipping the bones on the underside, one by one, right up the middle. Then I took my thumbs, placed them on either side of the tail with the cut bones up, and gave the thing a good strong pinch backward to expose the raw meat inside. A solid but gentle pull of a fork freed the meat in one big piece. The meat alone was at least 2 1/2 inches in diameter!

Here is a photo of the tail meat after it was bagged. Yes, that IS an entire stick of butter in there with the seafood. Now I am one of those weird people who does not dip my lobster in butter before stuffing it down my gullet.Perhaps this is why the tail is not my favorite part since it usually comes out so dry. But butter poaching is a horse of a different color. When you butter poach a protein such as this, the butter does not get infused into the substance. The butter simply serves to keep the meat nice and soft and totally moist. Once out of the poaching medium, most of the butter remains behind – these are not the calories one needs to be concerned with.

I left the bag in a 61 degree C water bath for 1 hour. Happily, the poaching medium that was  left over after the lobster was cooked, was infused with lobstery deliciousness which had to be used somehow.

Rice was my choice, other than French fries, the perfect accompaniment for this peasant seafood. I put the lobster in a ziplock bag, without the butter, and set it back in the Sous Vide rig to stay warm. This is one of the beautiful things about Sous Vide – the temperature never goes higher than you set it to so holding food during prep is no issue. Meanwhile, I sautéed some arborio rice in the lobster butter. For the liquid, I used a simple chicken stock amended with a healthy dose of puréed preserved lemon, a dash of nutmeg, a little white pepper and some kosher salt. The lemon provided plenty of contrast in flavor for the rice, even though it was cooked with the lobster butter.

When the rice was ready for serving, I took the lobster out, trimmed the ends (which got sent back into the rice) and sliced it in neat 1/2 inch disks. On the plate, I drizzled a tiny bit of the remaining lobster butter and garnished the plate with parsley. Plain and simple, but lobster really doesn’t need to be anything else.

In truth, I really expected to be disappointed and much to my thrill and surprise, the lobster was moist and succulent. It was not overly tender as I had feared and although it was not from the best of sources, it was sufficiently fresh and flavorful. I suppose that with today’s flash freezing methods, a decent commercial product really is made possible.

I enjoyed every last bite and suffered no pain for the indulgence.

Thanks for reading and thanks for everyone’s support during my long absence from this blog. I hope to have a number of interesting posts coming your way on a regular basis very soon.

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Filed under Cooking, Lobster, Sous Vide, sous vide cooking

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

Flowers for Foodies: You are what you eat?

When last we met, I made a promise about squash blossoms. These are lovely things and when I see them on restaurant menus, I am always captivated. Generally speaking, I really like the idea of eating flowers. This may be silly but I do. A flower is a thing of beauty and I happen to like the idea of eating things of beauty. Especially if it is true that you are what you eat.

You probably won’t find squash blossoms in an ordinary grocery store. If you do, I would not advise buying them unless you are going to pulverize them into soup. They could not possibly be fresh enough for stuffing. I found mine at one of my favorite local farmers’ markets. Squash blossoms are extremely perishable and difficult to keep. It is best to prepare and serve them on the same day they are picked, especially if you are going to stuff them. Mine had been picked the morning I purchased them and even still a couple were so badly bruised that I  had to toss them in the compost bucket! Don’t you just hate that?

You can see in the photo how beautiful they are. They have these delicate green veins – look closely. Mine were female as they had small squash attached which I removed for another time. The flowers tend to be about 4 inches in diameter and about three inches long. This leaves them with plenty of space to put some filling.

Apparently, squash blossoms open up early in the morning. One article I read encouraged picking them at that time so they would remain open and be easier to stuff. I had no problem gently coaxing mine open to get them ready for filling. I carefully washed them out. In one, I found a little bug. Unlike flowers, I am not interested in eating bugs. I also removed the stamens. Why? Because several recipes suggested that this part tastes bitter. It was easy to do. I just stuck the tip of a small kitchen shears inside and carefully clipped it away.

Most of the recipes I found called for stuffing the flowers, coating them in some way and then frying them quickly. Some called for a simple dusting with corn starch or flour and others suggested using a batter. I decided to use the same  basic batter I use when making Mexican style chile rellenos only with different seasonings.

 Here is the mis en place for the batter: a separated egg and a little bit of  flour (mixed with some onion powder, salt and pepper).

I also decided to use a fairly mild filling because the blossoms are hardly about flavor. With a lightly seasoned batter fried just so, this dish is so much more about mouthfeel than anything else. My meal consisted of polenta with guanciale and sous vide duck breast with a cherry gastrique in addition to the squash blossom rellenos. This dinner was a wonderful study of contrast in texture and taste: crispy and subtle vegetables set off against the meaty poultry with its pungent, fruity sauce and the creamy, bacony polenta.

To make the filling I used fresh ricotta flavored with preserved lemon, fresh mint, thyme, just a touch of basil, and some salt. I plucked the herbs from my garden – some of the few things I can grow in spite of my cursed black thumbs.

I finely minced the herbs in the small bowl fitted to my immersion blender (still my favorite kitchen implement), added the other ingredients and gave it a couple of pulses.

I ended up with a lovely emulsion though I wish it would not have thinned out so much. Next time I might add some flour or walnuts to bind it a bit.

To make the batter, I whipped the egg white until it was stiff but not dry, folded in the yolk which I had stirred well and then sprinkled on the seasoned flour. The flour was then lightly folded into the egg mixture, keeping the batter plenty light and fluffy.

Earlier, when I opened and cleaned out the blossoms, I set them on some plastic so by the time I was ready to prepare them for frying, they were pretty dry. As I filled each blossom with the cheese mixture, I brought the petals together and gently pinched them between my fingers just enough to keep them closed while I slathered them with the batter.

The batter more or less “glued” the petals together so the filling did not come out during frying – at least most of the time. I fried them up in very hot, but not smoking, canola oil. Canola works well because of its total neutrality. The frying went very fast – it took maybe a minute or two to get one side a nice golden brown. I flipped them over with a spatula, rather than a pair of tongs, to avoid having them break open and spill the filling. They came out looking really good.

I lost a little filling from one, but it was still  fine for serving.

Our dinner was lovely and romantic. We had great fun taking bites of the three dishes and experiencing the different flavors and textures. 

A couple of notes: Sour pie cherries have about a 3-4 week season here. I picked 25 pounds this year and canned them all. I made the gastrique from some juice that was unused after I had canned all the fruit. It was mildly sweet and intensely cherry flavored. After reducing the juice to 1/4 of its original volume, I amended it with some 18 year old balsamic vinegar and a tablespoon or so of honey. The polenta was actually left over from a meal we had earlier in the week. While it was in the fridge, the guanciale permeated the cooked polenta in a wonderful way. It tasted even better the second time around! The duck breast was cooked in the same manner described in my earlier post here.

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Filed under Comfort Food, Cooking, Duck, Farmers Market, kitchen tools, Sous Vide

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

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

Formerly a Lobster Lover, Fanatic Finds this Food Fascinating

You know the deserted island game, right? I play it a lot because it just so happens that you can easily play it with yourself and I’m the person I spend the most amount of time with (awwww). I used to say that if I could only take three foods with me to the deserted island, one of them would definitely be lobster.

Sadly, a few years ago I developed an allergy to them. Everytime I ate one I experienced abdominal pain (right under my rib cage on my right side, if you must know) that made me want to kill myself. I should have gone to the hospital, it hurt that bad. But the thought of going to a hospital made me want to kill myself. I ate lobster two more times after my initial experience with the pain/lobster connection, just to test the hypothesis. Ever the experimenter, I am. Research resulted in more excruciating pain. Each time I said, “ok, next time I am going to the hospital.” I think it is my gall bladder but that is not a nice subject for a food blog so we will save it for another time. And besides, I am not really a doctor and I don’t even play one on TV.

Anyway, the moral of the story is that I still love to look at lobster, wax poetic and think about how wonderful I know it tastes. I do this even though  I know I will never eat more than just a tiny bite or two (or a spoon or two of that wonderful bisque), ever again.

That having been said, back on the subject of sous vide cooking, here is a wonderful blog post  that tells you how to cook the stuff. If you don’t want to kill your own, you can just do a tail (IMHO, the inferior part) using this guy’s techniques. Enjoy…and think of me!

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Filed under Cooking, Sous Vide, sous vide cooking