Tag Archives: Sous Vide

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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What’s all this talk about Sous Vide, anyway?

The internet is such a wonderful thing. Rich with information (and, unfortunately mis/dis information) and debate. I have learned a tremendous amount of the very little I know and understand about sous vide cooking from several great internet sources. Recently, I discovered a site called Cooking Issues. These guys are the real deal – they have a cooking school and they do tons of cutting edge culinary magic including all sorts of experiments with chemicals and processes that we, the ordinary folks, have no concept is even going on.

I don’t make a habit of quoting big passages from other sites but since Cooking Issues is so dense and chocked full of information, I thought I would give you an exerpt which is, I hope going to give you some food for though regarding just what sous vide cooking is about. This is from the February 10, 2010 blog post of CookingIssues.com:

Sous-Vide Defined:

In contrast, the simplest way to define sous-vide may be to refer to its French meaning, “under vacuum.” Anything associated with a vacuum machine is sous-vide. In restaurants, the sous-vide process usually (but not always) consists of:

  • placing products into impervious plastic bags
  • putting those bags under vacuum
  • heat sealing those bags
  • releasing the vacuum
  • further manipulating, processing, or storing

This is where it gets confusing: sous-vide techniques are often used for low temperature cooking, but not all sous-vide cooking is low-temperature cooking. The classic example of this is boil-in-bag meals. The cooking medium is boiling water—not low temperature. Yet, because there is a vacuum process involved, it is sous-vide. That said, sous-vide is very effective for low-temp cooking because food inside the bags neither dries out nor loses flavor during prolonged cooking if proper temperature is maintained. The vacuum bags also eliminate evaporation and evaporative cooling. The temperature of the food’s surface becomes identical to the cooking temperature after a short time.

Chefs and diners alike often confuse sous-vide and low-temperature cooking. Sous-vide must involve a vacuum process; but the food may be cooked at high or low temperatures. About 90% of what cooks want to achieve with low temperature cooking can be achieved without a vacuum.

For the full article, you can go to here.

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Fanatic Falls For a Flight of Fancy: Duck, that is.

Ok, so were gonna have to do this one in stages. Feel free to send in any ideas you might have or things you would like me to try with this stuff. I don’t know what I am doing with it all. I just got a bug in my bonnet and had to have it. Here we go:

That’s my darling husband. (I purposefully cut off his head so he could stay incognito and so I could get you to focus on the box.) That’s the box sent to me after I placed an order with Hudson Valley Fois Gras. I was surprised that they just left it at the door and did not even ring the bell. Thank goodness I was home and watching for it! They make you pay for overnight delivery cause the stuff is really fresh. Needless to say, I didn’t have any issue with this.

That’s what the contents looked like before I unloaded the packages from inside of the styrofoam cooler which was inside of the box (who gave his father two zuzim). I was expecting, at least, some dry ice inside of that. But nooooooo, it was only Nordic Ice (a cold pak to you and me). Know what the Ruttles said when the learned that Leggy Mountbatten had left for a teaching job in Australia? Repeat after me in your best Liverpudlian accent: They were “shocked and stunned.”

After I unloaded the stuff, this is what the contents looked like:

So, what’s a girl to do??????

Coming soon to a blog near you: Sous Vide Duck Breast

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Channeling Tom Colicchio: Breast of Lamb Panini

So the meat from the lamb breast that came close to getting the better of me continued to be a challenge to my hopes of culinary greatness. Yes, it came off of the bones and out from in between the sinew very easily after a mere 48 hours in the 60C bath. Yes, it took the middle eastern flavors I placed in the vacuum with it like a Gyro takes to pita. And yes, that meat turned out to be flavorful, tender, succulent, and perfectly unctuous.

But still…what was I going to do with it?  I already told you that I could not find a single suggestion out there in the digital ether (Edit: see comments). I really thought something would come to me in a dream. So sorry. 

As I stood in my kitchen one morning thinking I barely had enough of this meat to put on a sandwich so why was I struggling over it so much, I spied a hunk of fresh ciabatta. Uhhh? Did somebody say sandwich? I immediately began to visualize Tom Colicchio and headed to the fridge. I grabbed a hunk of ordinary green cabbage that had otherwise been wasting away. With my mandoline, I thinly shredded it up. In a plastic container I put a couple of teaspoons of superfine sugar, some sesame oil and a healthy bit of rice wine vinegar. I hit it with some cayenne, stirred it till the sugar was dissolved and added the cabbage. By lunchtime, that cabbage would be lightly pickled and perfect for what I had in mind.

Thinking ahead, I brought out the lamb breast to let it come to room temperature. When my man and I were hungry for lunch, I sliced the bread and filled it with the meat topped with some sliced organic Fleur de Nord cheese from Whole Foods. This is an Edam type cheese with a medium creamy feel and a flavor strong enough to stand up to the lamb but not at all overpowering. I placed the sandwich in the Pam sprayed panini pan I got for free with my purchase of a bazillion dollars worth of All-Clad pots and put the press on top. Then I smushed the begeebers out of it for a good spell. 

I let it cook, turning once, over a medium-low fire until the cheese was nice and melty, the meat was plenty warm enough and the little bits of fat were gleaming.  Before serving, I stuffed the sandwich with as much of the slaw as I could keep between the two pieces of bread.

The sweetened vinegar dressing on the cabbage combined with the heavy middle Eastern spices to make a very tasty mid-day meal.

Next up: Quack, quack

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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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