This special blog post today is sponsored by both Foodbuzz and Electrolux. Electrolux has committed $750,000 to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, and Foodbuzz is getting involved not only by sponsoring all the 24×24 posts, but also by donating a matching amount to the OCRF.
Having spent my career working at companies that research cancer-fighting drugs, I find this cause particularly close to my heart. I’m sure all of you know someone who has struggled with cancer and can agree that current treatments are far from satisfactory. Thanks so much to Foodbuzz and Electrolux for investing in this important cause.
Although cooking in a water bath has been a technique that’s been around since medieval times, it wasn’t until the 1970’s that sous vide, a method of cooking food under vacuum in precisely temperature-controlled water baths, was invented in France. It would not be adopted in the US until 2000, when Daniel Boulud learned this fascinating technique from French chef Gerard Bertholon.
With the recent popularity of food shows and celebrity chefs, this method has taken the cooking world by a storm. In fact, many fine dining establishments across America now use this technique.
Despite its popularity in restaurants, it has not really caught on at home. A quick search of Amazon.com only yielded a handful of books about sous vide cooking at home, three of which published within the last six months.
“Sous vide” literally means “under vacuum” in French. Sort of a misnomer, this method of cooking actually involves two parts. Food is first sealed under vacuum in a plastic bag and then cooked in a water bath set at a very precise temperature.
Sous vide cooking has a lot of interesting benefits. First, because you can precisely control the temperature of your water bath, you won’t overcook your food. This is great for restaurant cooks who can’t always predict exactly when something needs to be served. You can keep a steak at 130�° F (medium rare) for hours in that water bath and take it out to sear just moments before the guests arrive.
Second, this technique allows you to obtain textures of food you could not obtain with traditional cooking. I’ll go into this more later, but a sous vide egg has an beautiful velvety creamy texture that is difficult to obtain with traditional methods. Likewise, you can cook shortribs at a low temperature for hours, softening it until it is melt-in-your-mouth tender yet still medium rare at the same time!
Finally, sous vide cooking, in many instances, allows you to reduce significantly the amount of cooking liquid you use. You can marinate with just a small amount marinade in the bag. Similarly, you can confit a piece of meat with just a small amount of fat, unlike the traditional method where you needed to submerge the entire piece of meat in a pot of melted fat.
You can rig your own sous-vide system with a magic cooker, beer cooler, or a cast iron pot. I’ve tried the magic cooker method, with great success. Alternatively, if you’re not the tinkering type, you can use a professional unit, such as the SousVide Supreme
An Exploration of Sous Vide Cooking Applied to Various Cuisines
Thanks to Foodbuzz, I was able to create a meal exploring sous vide through various cultures for this month’s 24, 24. I decided to be ambitious and try using this method on a variety of different cuisines and different “classes” of restaurants.
First, we will look at traditional French cooking done in super high-end fashion as interpreted by Thomas Keller. This fancy take on the traditional French duck confit bistro salad, uses sous vide in several of the components. This is a recipe for a dish actually served at his flagship restaurants per se and The French Laundry.
Second, we will explore homestyle Italian cuisine. I have taken a traditional Italian recipe by Marcella Hazan for spaghetti carbonara but have “deconstructed” it by removing the eggs from the sauce. Instead, we will cook an egg sous vide and break it over the top during service.
Finally, we will look at Korean cuisine via David Chang of Momofuku. His 48-hour short ribs are served at Ko, his Michelin-starred flagship restaurant. He transforms a humble piece of meat into something glorious partly by using the sous vide method.
Course 1: Traditional French Bistro Salad with a High End Twist
from Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide by Thomas Keller
Confit of Liberty Pekin Duck Leg, Pommes Sarladaise, Fried Hen Egg, and Frisee Salad
Thomas Keller mentions how the sous vide method is invaluable in a commercial kitchen where a million things are going on at the same time and everything has to be cooked to perfection at a moment’s notice. In this dish, you prepare multiple components using sous vide.
First, you cure duck legs in an herbed salt mixture for at least 6 hours.
Second, seal the rinsed and dried duck legs in a vaccum bag with duck fat and herbs. Cook sous vide for 8 hours at 180° F. Cool, dry, and pan sear the duck legs until the skin is browned and crispy. Serve skin side up.
Similarly, cook the potatoes sous vide in duck fat with an herb sachet filled with herbs. Pan fry these for about a minute afterwards to crisp them up.
Finally, bring a pot of water to boiling and cook a very fresh egg for 5 minutes. After carefully peeling the egg, cover it in flour, beaten eggs, and potato starch, and then deep fry for about 3 minutes.
Make salad dressing by reducing down a mixture of red wine vinegar and sugar and then mixing this concentrated syrup with duck fat to make a “broken vinaigrette.” Pour over frisee and toss.
Finally, bring ALL the components together. I veered a bit from the Thomas Keller recipe, which actually involves deboning the duck leg, pressing it down, and cutting out a nice 2×2 inch square for service. You can cut the fried egg open to allow the runny yolks to ooze all over the plate. Delicious dish that really worked well together. This was probably the guests’ favorite dish.
Spaghetti Carbonara with Sous Vide Egg
This recipe was MUCH easier than the other two since it came out of a home cooking cookbook (Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan). The carbonara part is pretty much the same. I pan-fried some pancetta, tossed it with olive oil, grated cheese, parsley, and pasta, and then just put the sous vide egg on top.
Sous vide egg is one of the easiest things to make – you don’t even need a vacuum sealer! Just drop the egg into the sous vide machine and cook at 146°F for about 45 minutes. Some say that the “perfect” sous vide egg is actually cooked at 148°F. I think it depends on what you want from your egg.
If you want a runny yolk, 148°F is probably too high. I went with 146°F, which creates this wonderfully creamy yet still raw-ish egg yolk. It’s not exactly runny, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you may be a bit disappointed. My guests had wanted to mix the sous vide egg yolk all over the pasta. Since this custardy egg was not as runny, they all unanimously told me they preferred the fried hen egg (5-minute egg) from the first course.
48 hour Short Ribs with Dashi Braised Daikon
This dish by far took the most planning. The ribs themselves are cooked for 48 hours before being briefly deep fried and served with dashi-braised daikon, a blanched scallion, and pickled carrots.
Traditional home vacuum sealers typically are not able to vacuum pack liquid. In commercial kitchens, they use chamber vacuum sealers. There are a couple ways around this if you don’t have one of those fancy chamber vacuum sealers. One, you can freeze the liquid and then vacuum seal the frozen liquid chunks along with the meat. Or, you can try to seal the liquid-filled bag by hanging the bag down as far as possible (see photo above). This allows most of the air to be removed before the machine starts trying to suck up the liquid, at which point you manually turn the machine off.
After cooking for 48 hours, the meat was still pink (medium rare?) but very soft from having been cooked for so long. Because I was not cooking this right away, I dunked the bag quickly in an ice bath to chill rapidly (for food safey reasons, see below) and stored the marinated meat in the refrigerator for a few days. On the day of service, I removed the blocks, briefly deep fried the pieces, and served with the other components: braised daikon, pickled carrots, blanched scallions, and mustard.
This dish had beautiful flavors which paired with each other very nicely. My short ribs were not “fall-apart melt-in-your-mouth” soft despite being cooked for 48 hours. I think I may have deep fried them for too long. Nevertheless, the flavors were great and the guests enjoyed the meal.
A few notes on food safety
The US food code recommends that raw or unpasteurized food be held at temperature between 41°F (5°C) and 130°F (54.4°C) for a maximum of four hours. Anything longer than that will give harmful pathogens a chance to multiply to possibly dangerous levels.
On top of that, one particular hazard that relates specifically to sous-vide cooking are bacteria that can proliferate in anaerobic (oxygen-free) environments. Salmonella, Clostridium botulinum, E. coli, and Listeria can multiply to dangerous levels in the anaerobic conditions of a vacuum pack when held at temperatures in the “danger zone” (40°F (4.4°C) and 140°F (60°C).
What’s the practical application of this? Be VERY CAREFUL when handling raw foods that will be cooked sous-vide. Basically, treat the food as you would any raw meat product. Make sure you purchase very fresh meat, and keep meat refrigerated until just before cooking. Similarly, if you plan on storing sous-vide cooked food after cooking, cool the cooked meat immediately in an ice bath to bring the temperature down below the danger zone as quickly as possible. Finally, don’t cook meats at temperatures in the “danger zone” for more than four hours.
In general, I think the sous vide method is a wonderful additional cooking “tool.” There are so many interesting advantages related to this method. I love how you can confit duck in such a smaller amount of fat compared to the traditional method. After all, you need enough to cover the duck leg while it’s sitting in the bag.
The textures of food made with this method are really unique too. The sous vide egg is delicious and definitely worth trying. Similarly, it’s cool how you can take tough cuts of meat and transform them into really soft and buttery high-end dishes.
There are drawbacks, though. The most difficult part of making sous vide at home is that you have to cook everything serially. Unlike in a restaurant, where there may be various different water baths going at different precise temperatures, I only have one machine. Virtually every sous vide component I was making for this meal needed to be cooked at a different temperature. The result? I had to start the 48-hour short ribs on Wednesday morning in order to finish cooking all the components in time for this meal!
Although there may not be much active work that needs to be done, you need to be VERY WELL ORGANIZED and plan ahead in order to pull off such a multi-course meal. I barely finished, and in the end had to take certain short cuts in order to get the meal on the table.
I have learned to have an even greater appreciation for some of the really nice meals I have had in high-end restaurants. After seeing the crazy amount of work that goes into just one course, I can understand why a meal at The French Laundry or per se costs so much. There really is an insane amount of work that goes into each course!
Again, thanks so much to Foodbuzz and Electrolux for sponsoring this meal. Stay tuned later on this week as I post specific tutorials (step by step photos) along with the actual recipes for all of these dishes!
Duck leg confit, Pomme Sarladaise, Fried Hen Egg, and Frisee Salad
Confit of Liberty Pekin Duck Leg
Fried Hen Egg
48 hour Short Ribs with Dashi Braised Daikon
Spaghetti Carbonara with Sous Vide Egg
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