Final thoughts on cooking Sous Vide at home

It was quite the adventure and I am thankful for the loan of the SousVide Supreme. When they lent their unit to us there were no conditions attached – we only post about things we genuinely like and this made the cut.  There is enough negativity in the world without us adding more to it here!

There were several lessons learned, some victories and challenges.  I’ve had some time to reflect on the experience and here’s what has stuck with me:

  • The machine was easy to use, accurate and allowed us to adjust temperature quickly.
  • It was the easiest cleaning kitchen appliance I’ve ever used.
  • Using a proper sealing system would have offered more options, control and reliability than what we had to work with us.
  • The precision of control is exciting – and knowing that you can come close to replicating a world-class recipe is a definite benefit of the technique.
  • As superficial as this is, it was darned cool to cook Sous Vide at home and share the results with friends.
  • The use of plastic in cooking offers some potential challenges – both sustainably and, possibly, for health.  I am not a scientist and do not know the facts well enough but a comment left by Diane mentioned the possible estrogen content that could come with this.  A dear friend of ours is a scientist and I remember her telling me of experiments involving control groups of snails – one group raised in a plastic bottle and another in glass.  The group in plastic had significantly higher estrogen content.  On the flip side I think of the amount of bottled water (and pop) I drank in my past and tend to think that it would be far more plastic than the amount I’d consume from SousVide cooking at home.
  • The texture, flavor and taste of food are definitely different than any I’ve had before.  It can be hit or miss depending on your taste.
  • The technique is very easy – I believe further experimentation with recipes would have found some we love.  The hard-cooked egg was definitely on the right track.  I’d love to take it further and try moose, ribs and a lot more vegetable dishes.
  • There are few cookbooks.  Do your research in advance – learning what is possible is far more work than cooking it.
  • I would like to try to eat more Sous Vide prepared by people with more experience than I have – though I think I could have learned plenty more without this luxury.
  • I would try to cook it again.

We`d love to hear about any other adventures out there – for now, this is the end of our Sous Vide adventures at home.

Sous Vide – Eggs two ways

My interest in Sous Vide was all the fault of Herve This (ThEEs).

Dr. This is a mad scientist.  He dedicates his studies to understanding food and cooking and coined the term `Molecular Gastronomy` (based on work he had done with Nicholas Kurti).  He was the first person in the world to obtain a PhD in molecular gastronomy.

Sous Vide   Eggs two ways January

His field of study is often confused with a style of cuisine which stole the title to describe cooking with tools of science (such as mysterious powders and processes).  The focus of his art is to understand what happens to our food as we cook it and learning how we can modify our approaches.  He teamed up with Farran Adria, Heston Blumenthal, Thomas Keller and Harold McGee to create a mission statement for their approach to food and technique that could form the mission statement of almost any cook – professional or pedestrian (we wrote about his super cool project here).

Thes challenges age-old techniques to determine the best way to approach cooking.  He discovered that one set of egg white proteins solidify at 142°F, the yolk starts to solidify at 158°F and a final set of egg whites solidify at 184°F.  He determined that the optimal temperature for cooking an egg is precisely 149°F for as long as you want.  As long as the temperature the egg is being cooked in is stable, you cannot overcook it (after all it can`t get hotter than the temperature it is cooked within).

Thes uses a precise oven to cook `soft boiled eggs.`  If you are interested in his writing, Google Books has an almost complete version of Kitchen Mysteries (we wrote how to access this and others online for free, legally, here).  There is also a great review of his egg science in Discover Magazine which reviews eggs he cooked at 140°F (60°C), 153°F (67°C) and 70°F (158°C) .  You can find that article here.

Thes also proved that you can overcook a hard boiled egg.  There are two consequences to this crime: the yolk will be off center and the proteins of the egg (which naturally contain sulfur atoms) will release a gas (dihydrogen sulfide) which creates a foul smell and reacts with iron ions in the egg and creates a greenish rim around the outside of the yolk.

All of that is a very long introduction to our migration towards the Sous Vide Egg.  Our experiences as Sous Vide `chefs` was off to a rocky start – in the terms of traffic lights we had found a yellow light (the pork belly) and a red light (the tuna).  Sous Vide was proving to be interesting but challenging to the palate (yet remarkably easy to do).  We were in need of a hit.

We had two options – soft cooked and hard-cooked in shell.  Soft cooked would yield a soft yolk and white while hard-cooked would cook both parts to a tender firmness.  The SousVide Supreme recommended soft cooked to be done at 147°F (64°C) while hard-cooked asked for 160°F (71°C) – both for 45 minutes.  Simply set the temperature, wait for the water to come to temperature and drop the whole eggs in the water.

Sous Vide   Eggs two ways January

The soft cooked egg was unlike any we had eaten before.  The entire thing was soft – which is, of course, entirely different from runny.  The whites were cooked through but had the texture of jelly.  It was tough to peel the shell back without them spilling over.  It reminded me of discovering surface tension as a child when you filled the glass just over the rim.  With each prod of a fork I expected the entire soft egg to spring a leak and drain on to my plate.  I have left the photos in Toronto (I am in San Diego) and will update this post by next Friday morning to include photos of them.

Soft cooked eggs were good – but an acquired texture.  With time I could see that I could be converted to these possibly being the best eggs I ever ate.  Another yellow light – it was getting late in our experiments to find a big win.

The hard-cooked eggs went in. These were the best eggs I ever ate in my life.  Delicate, soft, yet cooked through  The yolk became a moist golden nugget of pure happiness.  The whites were tender and moist and beyond tasty.

I am not a breakfast person – these eggs would change that.  They were everything I looked for in an egg – and never knew I wanted.  If you own a small brunch shop, you really must consider an investment in this type of thing – you could own the hard-cooked egg in an entire city; just make sure we get an invite!

We finally found our success!  I am sure there would have been many more with more time to experiment (and more knowledge).  I`ll wrap up our final thoughts on the experiment tomorrow.

Sous Vide Tuna – Chicken of the sea

Our Sous Vide adventure continued with a fish course.  This time we trusted a very reliable source – Thomas Keller’s Sous Vide Cookbook, Under Pressure.

The recipe was simple.  A great piece of tuna sealed with precisely weighed oil – 50% olive oil and 50% canola.  There was no final seer and the recipe was quick (14 minutes).

Sous Vide Tuna   Chicken of the sea Tuna January Cooking Recipes [Read more...]

Cooking Sous Vide at home – pork belly

We had mentioned the Sous Vide Supreme a few months back.  It is a new product that joins a few competitors in offering home consumers an appliance that they can use to create sous vide at home.  We were curious so we wrote to them and they kindly arranged to send a sample unit for us to borrow for 2 weeks (there was no compensation, promise of posts or other benefit – we will only review things we genuinely like).

The machine is attractive – stainless steel, simple controls and trimmed in black.

Cooking Sous Vide at home   pork belly Pork January Cooking Recipes [Read more...]

Sous Vide – a video walkthrough

If a picture tells 1,000 words, what must a video be worth?  Here are two short ones with further insight into Sous Vide – less than 5 minutes total.

Under Pressure – an introduction to Sous Vide

Today marks the start of a short mini-series featuring recent adventures with Sous Vide and learning to cook in this style at home.  While many here may be familiar with the term, we thought it would be a good idea for a short introduction to this technique.

Sous Vide was pioneered in France in the 1970s.  It was based on the centuries old technique of water-bath cooking.  Many airlines used water baths to keep their in-flight meals warm (something many opponents of the technique will remind us of).  The technique picked up steam in the last 5-10 years as some of the worlds finest chefs started to adopt recipes and ingredients with Sous Vide.  It is now a semi-normal tool that is seen on Food Network competitions such as Iron Chef, Top Chef and others…

The principles of Sous Vide are fairly common.  Generally speaking, the cook places chosen ingredients in a vacuum-sealed pouch and places that in a precisely heated water bath for a long period of time.  The name is French for UNDER PRESSURE but it could have been called slow-slow-cooking.

The water baths have to control temperature within 1 degree fahrenheit to control the results.  A traditional water bath (used to make Sous Vide) could easily run a kitchen close to $2,000.

Now that we’ve discussed the HOW, let us turn to the why…

A traditional roast is a difficult thing to cook.  We choose an ideal serving temperature and attempt to raise a log of meat to that temperature.  For the sake of argument, imagine that we are trying to cook it to 120 degrees.  It is popped into a hotter oven and warmed until the center its that temperature.  The exposed exterior reaches a higher temperature than desired and we risk over cooking the roast.  The accelerated cooking process also does some odd things on a molecular level that change the structure of the roast such as a dark and crunchy exterior (in this example the molecular change is often desired).

With Sous Vide we start by determining our end temperature of our ingredients and heat the water to that temperature.  We then place our food, often in vacuum-sealed bags into a water bath at that temperature and bring the contents of this parcel up to a uniform temperature which we want.  We can never overcook the end product (it can not get any hotter than the water and the water is set to our goal temperature) and our molecules do not become transformed in the same way (more about that later this week when we post about eggs).

The result is a different way to cook which is very precise and interprets ingredients in totally new ways.  It is possible to cook proteins, veggies and just about anything with the right equipment, patience and experience.

We had a few weeks to try a demo unit of a new Sous Vide appliance for the home chef in early January named the Sous Vide Supreme.  We used the unit several times and will share the adventure over the next 4 posts…

Sous-vide… at home?

Sous-vide may be a term that is unfamiliar to some – it’s a relatively new style of cooking (developed in the 1970′s and popularized recently by Thomas Keller, Heston Blumenthal, Joel Robuchon and other world-famous chefs) which cooks food at a snails pace under a vaccum.  “Sous-Vide” is French for “under vacuum.”

Chefs seal ingredients in a plastic with he intent of removing all air from the package.  This package is then placed in water which is typically heated to around 60°C or 140°F).  Food is left to cook at these temperatures for up to, and sometimes longer, than 24 hours.

Proponents of this method rave about it.  Their argument is poignant though largely scientific.  This low temperature keeps the integrity of the original product – fat does not render off, water content does not evaporate, cell structure remains in tact, texture of the original ingredients remain in tact and hte original appearance often remains in tact.  There is no liquid loss and cannot be overcooked – the two-minute video below shows how UC Davis uses slow-cooking in their cafeteria to reduce food waste and incrase overall quality of what they produce:

Sous-vide is possible at home though not common.  Chefs use expensive water-bath machines to maintain the integrity of temperature and acknowledge that even the smallest change of temperature can change the results – including the possibility of botulism (just like preserving in jars) as the food is in an air-tight environment.  I can’t imagine trying to keep a pot of water consistently at 60°C for 24 hours on my relic of a stove.

Along comes the SousVide Supreme – a new product that has yet to ship (it promises to start in the next few weeks).  It’s a home water bath that (for $400) will allow you to consistently create sous-vide at home (vacuum sealer not included).  It’s essentially a slow slow-cooker (that’s even slower than a normal slow cooker).  It offers the potential of gourmet-level meals with very little work.