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Archive for January, 2010

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.

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.

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.

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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).

There was a temporary hiccup – the water had to be 20 degrees (Fahrenheit) lower than our pork dish.  I was surprised at just how easy this was – two of us worked for a few minutes and had it dialled in very quickly.  One of us removed hot water while adding cool water and the other stirred the bath.  Stirring was crucial to make sure we didn’t water the entire bath down too far and have to wait for it to come back up to temperature.  I figure that raising the temperature could be done as easy as long as you were patient and stirred the water like it was risotto.

The Tuna was sushi grade.  I actually felt a little more evil for cooking it at all.  I made peace with my soul as we bought it at a great deal and we were, after all, following Keller’s technique.  And there’s something to be said for that – I’m not sure that when one of the world’s best chefs tells me to sear something for 30 seconds that I am getting the same results as he (or she).  They may have their pan hotter or colder, they may have a better pan, they may use a spatula and I used tongs and so forth…  But when it comes to putting an exact weight of tuna with an exact amount of oil in an airtight bag and cook for 14 minutes at an exact temperature; that I can do.

The tuna went in and we waited…  After 840 seconds we pulled out the magic bags, emptied the contents and patted them down.  It looked just as the master (Keller) prophesied:

We also needed a side.  I wasn’t able to build Keller’s recommended architectural plate so I turned to my fondest memory of tuna from the last year – Italian Sashimi that was based on a recipe from Dave Pasternack of Esca in New York City (if you are a fan of raw tuna, click the link).   We paired two small side salads featuring our home-grown sprouts and added a dash of lemon, oil and a shaving of cheese.

How was it?  Erm.

Hmm.

Mmm.  (For the sake of clarity, that was a thinking sound not a licking lips MMM).

Interesting?

Yes, indeed: interesting.  I don’t think any of us were sold on it.  It was definitely different.  It subtly rendered the tuna fat out (there were small globules on the fish as we removed it) and it was cooked with a blush red hue.  The texture was different from any I had before and the oil didn’t overpower.  But there was something else going on…

An awkward silence filled the room of four (all of us are never shy for words).  Our host guests were trying to be polite (we are dear friends usually well past any such formality).  Then someone said the thing we were all thinking:

“This kind of reminds me of canned tuna.”

Let us remember that sushi grade tuna, even at a deal, is a long way away from chicken of the sea.  But what was said cannot be taken back.  Especially when it was somewhat true.

Perhaps I don’t have the sophistication to get it.  Maybe the sides that Keller recommends bring this to a new place that I can’t see from where I stand.  I certainly don’t question his taste – in fact I’d kind of like to try his version to compare.

I loved the experience but know how I’ll eat my sashimi in the future – raw.

Come around tomorrow for another recipe we attempted and our final experience – it blew us away!

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% olve oil and 50% canola.  There was no final sear and the recipe was quick (14 minutes).

There was a temporary hiccup – the water had to be 20 degrees (Fahrenheit) lower than our pork dish.  I was surprised at just how easy this was – two of us worked for a few minutes and had it dialled in very quickly.  One of us removed hot water while adding cool water and the other stirred the bath.  Stirring was crucial to ensure we didn’t water the entire bath down too far and have to wait for it to come back up to temperature.  I figure that raising the temperature could be done equally as easy as long as you were patient and stirred the water like it was risotto.

The Tuna was sushi grade.  I actually felt a little more evil for cooking it at all.  I made peace with my soul as we bought it at a great deal and we were, after all, following Keller’s technique.  And there’s something to be said for that – I’m not sure that when one of the world’s best chefs tells me to sear something for 30 seconds that I am getting the same results as he (or she).  They may have their pan hotter or colder, they may have a better pan, they may use a spatula and I used tongs and so forth…  But when it comes to putting an exact weight of tuna with an exact amount of oil in an airtight bag and cook for 14 minutes at an exact temperature; that I can do.

The tuna went in and we waited…  After 840 seconds we pulled out the magic bags, emptied the contents and patted them down.  It looked just as the master (Keller) prophesized:

We also needed a side.  I wasn’t able to build Keller’s recommended architectural plate so I turned to my fondest memory of tuna from the last year – Italian Sashimi that was based on a recipe from Dave Pasternack of Esca in New York City (if you are a fan of raw tuna, click the link).   We paired two small side salads featuring our home grown sprouts and added a dash of lemon, oil and a shaving of cheese.

How was it?  Erm.

Hmm.

Mmm.  (For the sake of clarity, that was a thinking sound not a licking lips MMM).

Interesting?

Yes, indeed: interesting.  I don’t think any of us were sold on it.  It was definitely different.  It subtly rendered the tuna fat out (there were small globules on the fish as we removed it) and it was cooked with a blush red hue.  The texture was different than any I had before and the oil didn’t overpower.  But there was something else going on…

An awkward silence filled the room of four (all of us are never shy for words).  Our host guests were trying to be polite (we are dear friends usually well past any such formality).  Then someone said the thing we were all thinking:

“This kind of reminds me of canned tuna.”

Let us remember that sushi grade tuna, even at a deal, is a long way away from chicken of the sea.  But what was said cannot be taken back.  Especially when it was somewhat true.

Perhaps I don’t have the sophistication to get it.  Maybe the sides that Keller recommends bring this to a new place that I can’t see from where I stand.  I certainly don’t question his taste – in fact I’d kind of like to try his version to compare.

I loved the experience but know how I’ll eat my sashimi in the future – raw.

Come around tomorrow for another recipe try and our final experience – it blew us away!

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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.

It is a simple interface.  Load with water, turn on the unit, set the temperature and wait for it to bring the water to temperature.  If you are familiar with sous vide (or have read our previous posts), there isn`t much more that I can say about the unit other than saying it is pretty and it was very reliable.  Once it looked on a temperature, it stayed within 1 degree fahrenheit of the target for 154 hours.  (Their website:  SousVide Supreme).

We hosted two friends for dinner.  Paul and Paul are also adventurous in food and we have shared many food adventures (including a trip to Chicago for dinner at Alinea).  We decided to cook 2 SousVide dishes and see what would result.

We had access to a few fancy zip-lock type bags that came with a small unit to remove the air from them.  I wans`t overly confident that the seal would hold for an extended time and considered buying a vacuum sealer.  I needed something that would allow me to seal food and food seasoning in a food safe bag.  So I cheated:

That`s right – salted pork belly!  I wouldn`t use this as a long-term solution but it did save buying an expensive sealer for a single use (though I can see how one would be otherwise useful).

The pork entered the machine at 8.30 in the morning.  It was well under the boiling point (around 165 F if I remember correctly – I will confirm and edit this post by next weekend when I return home to my notes).  They went in for 12 hours.

We were surprised with what came out of the water bath.  The bags had a tonne of liquid.  Fat had gently rendered off and the 4 small bellies almost filled a bowl with liquid.

The pork was also very pink.  So pink that it was difficult to imagine that it was actually cooked (which it was).  We often associate cooked meat with a crusty browned exterior and tender interior.  Since the entire piece of meat is brought to the same temperature, the outside will look exactly like the inside.

Loosely following a recipe from Thomas Keller, we quickly seared the bellies to give them a small shot of colour and a crispy exterior.  We had to be carefull not to cook them for too long – the more we seared, the more we would alter the entire effect of the cooking technique.

Dinner was a combination of 3 types of roasted peppers, maple syrup squash, roasted tomatoes, orange beets (roasted in oranges), maple syrup pears stuffed with drained ricotta that infused with kalhua and the pork:

The pork was fascinating.  It was very salty (something that could obviously be altered by sealing it yourself) and the texture was  entirely new.  The fat was very gelatinous – each of us skipped most of it and the flesh was moist, soft and fell apart.  I easily carved mine with a fork and marveled that I had never felt something like it in my mouth before.  It`s not that it was necessarily better – but it was fascinatingly new.

We will post on Tuna tomorrow before introducing some breakfast options on Monday – stay tuned!

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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.

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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…

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Cheap Tuesday Gourmet continues with another vegetarian option this week – after a month of pork I feel like we are paying our karmic duty.  🙂  I suppose that baked beans challenge the definition of gourmet but this was not a series emphasizing gourmet – it was about trying to eat healthy home cooking without burning a hole in your wallet.

Learning to work with dehydrated (“dried”) beans can be a massive help for healthy, affordable living if you live in a cold climate.  With local food at their lowest availability, dried beans make a lot of sense.  They don’t contain the additives that cans do, use less packaging, ship in lighter quantities and are ridiculously affordable.  The tradeoff comes in patience as you rehydrate the beans before cooking (not always necessary – most can be cooked without this step though you will have firmer beans that some don’t like).

rehydrating beans is a simple process – soak them in water for a prolonged period and wait for the water to absorb and soften them.  Baked beans are typically done with navy beans that take 5-12 hours of soaking to properly soften.  Once that’s done the rest is smooth sailing in a slow cooker (you could use a pot on a low simmer if you would rather)…

Ingredients (you can double this with ease):

1 pound of dried navy beans (soaked)
1/2 an onion
Small bit of oil – canola, olive, vegetable or any of your choosing
2 cups vegetable broth (we cheated with bouillon cubes again)
1 cup water
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/2 can of tomato paste
1/2 cup of ketchup
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1/4 cup molasses
Garlic powder (as much as you’d like)

Directions:

Fry the onions in the oil.  Drain and rinse the beans.  Place everything in a slow cooker on high for 8 hours (or until soft) or on low for about 12 hours.  TADA!

There is a lot of sugar to my liking but also a ton of fiber.  I really must pledge to work with dehydrated beans more through this winter – any favourite recipes out there?

Cheap Tuesday gourmet is a series of posts on eating more affordably and has been running for several weeks..  The full details are here but the premise is simple – creating good, wholesome food at affordable pricing as a means to support and create a dialogue in which we can share how to eat wholesome food at a fraction of a price of fast food alternatives.  The terms gourmet and cheap are relative – the term Tuesday is not.  Click on the tag Cheap Tuesday Gourmet (below this paragraph) will link you to all of the articles.

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For those of you who followed WellPreserved over the Holidays you may recall a post on infusing vodka.  The idea was simple and we followed tested techniques.  We were on a path to success.

And then I left the fruit in too long…

Despite warnings in all I read, I did not pull the apples and pears out in the recommended 24-26 hours.  The fruit went brown and the liquid followed. The colour isn`t the end of the world – in fact I like it.  It`s lovely on the shelf – medicinal to the mouth.

Since this experiment started with almost a litre of vodka, this was an expensive flop.  It was time for a rescue mission – all faith is not lost.  I am pleased to say that while it was not ready for the Holidays, our infusion experiment is turning the corner towards success.  We did some research, tweaked our recipe and it`s starting to taste fantastic.

Here`s what we`ve learned about `saving`an infusion that was left too long:

  1. Don`t panic.  Don`t throw it out.  Keep calm.  Carry on.
  2. Strain the entire lot through several layers of cheesecloth to remove any solids.  This worked well and lowered the bitterness from battery acid to that of a 9-volt battery.  Progress but not success.
  3. Wait patiently.  Like preserves, taste can change over time.  It will likely get milder over a 30-day period.  I`ve been tasting it weekly and it`s calming down.
  4. Dilute with more vodka.  An obvious remedy that I would have missed.
  5. As a measure of last desperation, mix in sugar – I would create a simple syrup (water and sugar) to mix at the last-minute.

We tried a combination of things:

  1. Strain it.
  2. Mix the two infusions together.
  3. Add vanilla bean to infuse a smoother, sweeter undertone.  We left it in for a long time (about 7 days).  The beans will be used with ice cream.
  4. Wait 30 days and see if it needs further tinkering.

Our tipple on New Years Eve was tough to swallow.  A small sample last night showed clear progress is happening – it`s not a struggle to force back and, in fact, tasting smooth and special.  I think we are headed in a great direction here.

Our future infusions (starting soon) will be done in smaller quantities and will risk under-infusing as opposed to soaking for too long.  We could always add a second batch of apples to continue a mild infusion if we wanted more flavour.  Just like cooking, it is easier to add more flavour than remove it after all.

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