Tag Archives: water oven

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

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

I recently acquired a Sous Vide Supreme.

I have been meaning to start a blog for a long while. Everybody who knows me knows I have a lot to say – especially about food. Read my About Me section and you will learn that food is my favorite subject, its one of the things I like to think about the most. But it was important for me to pick a place to start, otherwise I might just drown you to death with too many boring details or lots of very ancient history that may or may not be relevent now or ever. Then, you wouldn’t come back. And I don’t want to make you feel unwelcome.

ENTER THE MYSTERIOUS AND WONDERFUL SOUS VIDE SUPREME (“SVS”).

OMG, the moment I saw this thing I was possessed with the I wants. Generally, I suffer from BIG-TIME aparataphilia and this particular piece of aparatus made me drool with desire. I needed it. I wanted it. But what was I going to do with it? Nearly everyday for almost 4 months, I sat at my computer each morning, coffee in hand, wistfully pulling up the web page advertising this virtuous beauty (as if something was going to change?).  

Turns out that the SVS is a small, shiny, stainless steel wonder that makes sous vide cooking possible for the home cook without needing to have a long list of other gizmos in order to make it work. Sous vide cooking?

For these 4 months I have also been trolling the blogs looking at any and every mention of the thing I could find. After all, if I was going to shell out the nearly 500 smackers it would take to buy this puppy (as I knew, eventually, I would), I was damn well going to thoroughly investigate the thing first.

What did I learn? Sous vide cooking is here to stay. It has been around for decades and many of our favorite restaurants are using this method, whether we know it or not. When done properly, it is believed to be safe and healthy. SV cooking enables cooks to utilize lesser cuts of meat and to achieve great results with these, as well as that finer stuff. Some claim that a london broil will taste better than a filet mignon, when cooked SV! (I have to try this.) An item cooked sous vide retains more of its juicy, nutritious goodness than the same item cooked conventionally. The textures one can achieve with SV cooking are far superior to those obtained with other methods for many items we regularly prepare. There is lots more, but I will save it for later.

So, I did my usual thing. I googled and googled and googled leaving no google ungoogled. I read every comment on eGullet I could get down my own gullet. I was thrilled when I found a blog post on Ruhlman that included comments by the inventors/makers of the product explaining how the thing works and answering a number of questions I had. I put out an APB to friends out in the blogosphere and directly asked everyone to tell me what they could and what they knew about the SVS.

And then, I bought it.

Starting very soon, I am going to be telling you about my adventures with this culinary wonder. I am going to experiment as much as I can and I will report my findings to you as best as I can. This won’t be the only topic I wax poetic about on this blog, but it is where I will begin. I hope you will come and visit often and share your insights and comments as much as you like! It’s nice to meet you!

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