I happened to stumble across a recent article from Food & Wine this morning about crispy fried chicken skin. Looks like I’m not a lone voice in the woods about this delectable treat, which I wrote about exactly one month before the aforementioned article from Food & Wine.
Food & Wine suggests that chicken skin may be the next bacon. And another article in Toronto Life mentions that David Chang of Momofuku Ko (a restaurant that’s on my dining bucket list) uses crispy chicken skin as a garnish with pasta. Wise chef!
I believe self congratulation is in order for my being, unwittingly, a trend setter.
Fresh garlic is a wonderful thing. Did you know that if you rub a garlic clove over the bottom of your feet you will soon have garlic breath? But I prefer my garlic to not have touched feet, and instead cook with it frequently. However, we can’t always find fresh garlic, and frankly, even when we can, we’re admittedly a bit lazy when it comes to peeling garlic and mincing it each time we want to use some.
The solution we’ve come up with is to make our own jars of minced garlic, which requires extensive effort only once every six months or so.
We start with a big bag of fresh garlic – typically 5-8 pounts (2.5 to 3.5 kilograms), and then park ourselves in front of the TV with a movie while we remove all the “paper” from the garlic and separate all the cloves from each other. For our most recent “garlic night”, we rented a download of “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” from iTunes, based on a comment that due to all my gadgets I was becoming more like Steve Zissou every day. We collectively agreed that the movie was a dud. But we were still peeling garlic, now removing the skin from the cloves, so we watched the latest episode of Fringe, also courtesy of iTunes.
After we had naked cloves, the next step was to remove the hard little nubs at the end of the cloves as well as any noticeable blemishes.
Once that was complete it was time to mince the garlic. Doing it all by hand would take forever, so we use mechanical processes to mince our garlic. We have used food processors in the past, but find that they puree the garlic too much, plus with the amount we typically make during our “garlic nights” we have to keep emptying the machine too often. The solution we have settled on is the grinder option of our KitchenAid – the same thing you would use to grind meat, for example.
It’s still time consuming, since you can only feed a few cloves of garlic at a time into the opening of the grinder accessory, but it produces a constant flow of minced garlic.
Once all the garlic has been ground, we liberally mix it with a neutral tasting oil, such as canola oil, and sea salt. The oil and salt act as preservatives to prevent a deterioration of flavor due to oxidation. You can use olive oil as well, but that tends to impart a strong flavor to the garlic, and could affect the flavor of foods you cook with the garlic unless those foods already include the use of olives or olive oil.
The garlic/oil/salt blend is then used to fill jars that we have collected. I will oil the jar a little bit first, then add garlic up to the last half-inch, and then pour more oil on top to create a better seal against air.
Note that over time the jarred garlic will turn brown, but that does not impact its flavor negatively at all.
The amount of garlic pictured above will last us about 6-9 months of regular cooking.
One additional tip – take a heaping teaspoon of minced garlic and blend it with a cup of mayonnaise to create a quick and dirty garlic aioli.
While I love chicken, I absolutely adore duck in all its many forms, from duck confit and Peking duck to duck liver and duck a l’orange, and everything in between. Unlike a chicken, which at best struts about and thus only has dark meat around its legs and thighs, a duck is designed to walk and fly, thus using all of its muscles. That means that all of a duck’s meat is rich, dark meat, laden with delicious bits of fat.
My goal, therefore, was to cook a duck, sous vide style. I searched around for ideas on how to best prepare sous vide duck and found components in various places, including the Foodie at Fifteen (now 17) Blog, Thomas Keller’s “Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide”, and my own father’s recipe for slow-roasted duck.
First step was procuring a duck. Being that other than goat and occasionally chicken, we have no access to fresh meat on Bonaire, I managed to procure a frozen whole duck from the aptly named “The Island Supplier”. After thawing it out over a couple of days in the refrigerator, I split the duck up into six parts (thanks to the directions of Nick of the Foodie at Fifteen blog) for easier cooking in my water bath later on.
Adapting part of a duck confit recipe from Thomas Keller’s book, I made a salt rub mixture containing garlic, thyme, salt, pepper corns, and bay leaves which I then applied to all of the pieces of duck liberally and then leaving in a refrigerator for several hours. The salt rub both draws out moisture from the duck while also seasoning it at the same time.
Next step was to rinse off all the salt from the meat. This went pretty well except for the wings, where I later discovered I had not rinsed quite as rigorously as I perhaps should have. I then vacuum sealed the duck parts, and set them to cooking in a water bath at 83°C for over five hours. Because duck is such a fatty meat, this resulted in rendering the fat to liquid form and then self-basting the duck in the meat juices and rendered duck fat, much like how one would prepare a confit.
Because of the high temperature of the water bath, we were generating a lot of steam, which was causing both water loss and forcing the immersion circulator to work a lot harder to keep the bath at the right temperature. We solve both problems by insulating the water bath with aluminum foil.
The final step was to crisp up the skin of the duck, as there’s nothing quite like crispy duck skin to make a meal of duck complete. But this is where we ran into some problems.
The first attempt at crisping the duck was to simply take all the rendered duck fat and juices and try to fry one of the pieces of duck in it. However we could simply not get this to brown the skin. We figure that’s because there was too much fat to get it up to the temperature we needed.
We solved our browning/crisping problem in two different ways. One was using a small broiler. This, by far, did the best job of giving us the uniform brown, crisp exterior we were looking for. The other was to use only a little bit of duck fat in a hot pan and sear the outside of the duck. This worked, but not as well, because duck is, well, lumpy, and we could not evenly heat all of the exterior of the pieces of duck we tried to finish off this way.
However the duck was browned, it turned out excellent. The meat was moist, tender, and flavorful, and the crispy skin was mouthwateringly delicious. Definitely a meal to repeat (with the caveats listed above).
After eggs, our next thing to try cooking sous vide was meat. We have consistently had excellent beef served to us at restaurants which use sous vide cooking to get their meats to the perfect internal temperature and thus wanted to see what if we could do the same.
The results have been great for beef, and mixed for pork.
In our family, all of us enjoy our beef medium rare (with my son leaning towards medium, but that doesn’t stop him from enjoying steak tartare either). My research found that the temperature of medium rare beef should be in the vicinity of 130°F /54.5°C, so I took a small roast beef, gave it a nice salt and pepper rub, vacuum sealed it, and cooked it in a water bath for about six hours at 54.5°C. After taking it out of the bag, I heated up a pan with a bit of sunflower oil and quickly browned the outside of the roast.
The beauty of sous vide cooking meat is that you also don’t have to rest the meat for 10-15 minutes as you do when you oven roast, since it’s already at the right temperature. You also don’t have to worry about the meat cooking more after you’re done cooking it sous vide style. In fact, quite the opposite – since it’s already at the perfect temperature internally, you should serve it quickly before it cools off.
One of the interesting things we noticed about our sous vide roast was how much redder the interior was. This gave it a bit more of a rare look, but the texture was perfectly medium-rare, and it was also very tender (a surprise considering the cheap cut we had used). The redness, as I understand it, is a result of the cooking in a vacuum. As there is virtually no oxygen in the bag, the meat does not oxidize and turn brown from oxygen exposure.
We have repeated the roast beef sous vide with an even cheaper and leaner cut of beef with similarly excellent results. Definite a thing to repeat.
Our pork sous vide experiments have been less successful, and in retrospect it’s entirely due to the cuts of meat being used being too thin and lean, and being cooked at too high a temperature (70°C for the most part), followed by too long in the pan to crisp up the meat. This will require more experimentation with other cuts of meat, such as pork loins.
However, the one cut of pork where sous vide turned out great was with pork short ribs. I created a marinade made with oranges, apples, and onions, pureed in our Vita-Mix blender, and then vacuum sealed the small racks of ribs.
I cooked them at 64°C for a couple of hours, and then at 70°C for three more hours, and then finished them off in the broiler to give them a nice brown crisp exterior.
With ribs, there’s a lot of chewy collagen in the meat, and cooking at 70°C breaks that collagen down and makes the meat very tender. The result were tasty ribs where the meat just about fell off the bone.
As mentioned in my previous postings about sous vide cooking, my own adventures and exploration of sous vide started with the noble egg. Eggs are a wonderful natural food, and for those of you interested in the specifics of an egg’s composition, characteristics, and cooking, I again have to recommend Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking, 2nd Edition“, pages 68-117.
I still recall my first encounter with a sous vide cooked egged in a restaurant a couple of years ago, and after trying it I was in gastronomic heaven – the whites were like a soft, delicate custard, while the yolk was thick, rich, and gooey. I could not believe that I had simply settled for chewy, poorly textured, and mediocre eggs all my life. But if you don’t know about alternatives, you never know what you might be missing.
I personally am a huge fan of liquid yolks, and prefer my traditional eggs over easy or poached, and so my first sous vide cooking foray was to make the perfect soft-boiled egg.
McGee explains that egg whites and the yolk are composed of a variety of different proteins, all of which coagulate (solidify) at different temperatures, with the proteins in the egg whites thickening at higher temperatures than the egg yolks. He indicates that egg yolks tend to thicken at around 150°F / 65°C, and the various proteins in egg whites thicken at temperatures ranging from 145°F / 63°C to 180°F / 80°C.
Experiment #1 – Eggs au Naturel @ 64°C – Failed
My first attempt involved just putting the eggs in a water-bath at 64°C to get still runny but nearly solid yolks. Turns out it was a bad idea to put the eggs in the water directly, as they cracked slightly from both the temperature and from bouncing around as a result of the current caused by the immersion circulator, gumming the immersion circulator up with wisps of egg white as a result. I managed to get it clean, but it provided a great first lesson about cooking in a water bath – make sure that your ingredients are sealed away from the water to ensure the water remains clean and pure.
Experiment #2 – Eggs Sous Vide @ 64°C – Better
For the next experiment in cooking eggs sous vide, I actually used sous vide – I vacuum sealed the eggs to prevent them from cracking into the water bath and gumming up the works.
Here too I learned something. Normal sized eggs are less likely to crack when you vacuum seal them into a bag than bigger eggs. I assume that’s because big eggs are likelier to have thinner shells. I learned my lesson quickly, and only cracked one egg out of the dozen or so I used during my experiments.
One of the interesting things about cooking in a low-temperature water bath is that for most things, as long as your temperature is within a proper range for the thing you’re cooking and you have reached the point where the food has reached the target temperature throughout, you can cook the item for a wide range of time and still achieve the same result. Thus, the result of cooking an egg at 64°C for an hour is not hugely different from cooking it for three hours or five hours. The same applies to many meats in my experience.
With that in mind, I cooked my sous vide eggs at 64°C for around two hours. When I took them out of the bath and cracked them open, I found the yolks were unfortunately a bit more solid than I would like, but the whites had that wonderful light custard texture. The rest of the family agreed the yolk was too firm, and found the whites a bit runny.
Experiment #3 – Eggs Sous Vide @ 63°C – Perfect Yolks
Undeterred, I sealed up some more eggs and cooked them for a couple of hours at a slightly lower temperature – 63°C. The result was the whites were a wee bit runnier, but still like a delicate custard, and the egg yolks were perfectly cooked – gooey and rich but fully cooked. However, the rest of the family was still not wild about the consistency of the egg whites.
Experiment #4 – Long-cooked Eggs @ 70°C
As I was curious about the effect of long cooking of eggs to see whether time really doesn’t make a difference, I also cooked some eggs at 70°C for about 10 hours while I was experimenting with cooking pork ribs in the water bath at the same time.
The yolk was firm, but creamy, and the whites less runny but still delicate. This inspired the next and final (for now) experiment.
Experiment #5 – Separately cooking the whites and yolks
For the final egg sous vide experiment, I took eight eggs and separated the whites and yolks into two cooking-safe bowls. While I am certainly capable of separating whites and yolks using just the egg shell itself, I find I am more productive with a dedicated separating device as pictured below. Plus, it’s cute. Trick to using it properly is to slide the egg innards into the device instead of dropping the egg insides onto the device, as the drop creates enough force that the egg yolk membrane might burst.
Once I was done with separating the eggs, I vacuum sealed each bowl. Another two lessons learned here: First, use bowls or jars that leave about one-third of the top empty – do not fill them to the rim; and second, don’t seal to maximum vacuum – 85-90% vacuum (or 150-100 millibar or so) should be sufficient. Not having known these things, I found my whites and yolks sucked a bit out of the containers during the vacuum sealing process, which in turn burst a couple of the yolks. Fortunately burst yolks still taste good.
Both were cooked for about an hour at 63°C (to cook the yolks just right). The yolks were then removed along with enough water to keep them warm while the whites got cooked for another hour at 70°C.
Result? The yolks were great, of course, and the whites far less runny – just like when I long-cooked the whole eggs, but still custard-like, and most importantly, more to my family’s liking.
However, when we are next up for another egg sous vide experiment, we may try the whites at somewhat higher temperatures to see if that makes a difference, since coagulation of some of the egg white proteins is not complete until around 80°C.
After a year of making chili rellenos with jalapeño peppers instead of the poblanos required in the original recipe, we finally found poblano peppers here on Bonaire! Even making the recipe for the last year, it is far from perfected, but we have discovered ways to make it easier on my mom and myself.
What makes our recipe low carb is that regular chili rellenos recipes require a corn flour batter to coat the peppers with. Flour is obviously not low carb. So we use beaten eggs instead.
The first thing to do when looking for the perfect pepper for this recipe is an unblemished jalapeño or preferably poblano pepper.
- 6 poblanos (or 10 jalapeños)
- 3 x 8 oz. packs of full fat cream cheese
- 1 x 8 oz. Four Cheese Mexican blend pack
- 4 eggs
- 3 paper bags
First of all, set your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Then wash the poblanos and dry them off well. On a gas stovetop, lay a flat grill rack on the burner area. You need an open flame for roasting the peppers. Strategically place the peppers so that they are directly over the flame. Turn the pepper when the side facing the flame is entirely black with bubbling skin. When the pepper is black on all sides, stuff the pepper into a paper bag and roll up the opening to keep the steam in. After about 5 minutes, the peppers should be cool enough to pick up.
At this point, and when using jalapeños, I would search for gloves or a victim. The burn in a jalapeños can vary but I would not ever take a chance with getting a hot one while barehanded. This is due to a previous accident when making chili rellenos with jalapeños. After gutting about 10 of them, my fingers started hurting like crazy. My mom and I tried everything to make it stop, from sour cream to aloe. It did not work…. And that is why I suggest gloves.
Take a pepper out and start peeling off the skin while attempting not to break apart the flesh of the pepper. My mom used a small knife for this, but finger nails are almost as successful. We peeled the skin into the sink because this is long process.
Take a knife and slit one side of the pepper, from the stem to the very tip of the pepper. The seeds will be just as hard to take out of the pepper as the skin was to remove and just as sticky. The likelihood of making a gaping hole in the opposite side of your slit is high, so be wary of pulling on strings of the flesh. And wear gloves if it’s a jalapeño.
Mix the cream cheese and the four cheese Mexican blend in a bowl until thoroughly mixed.
Take out a large casserole dish and spray with Pam or grease it with butter. Lay the peppers on the bottom of the casserole dish and start stuffing the peppers with the cheese mixture. Don’t overstuff them. The rest of the cheese can rolled up into little balls and placed around peppers. They melt really well and are yummy to eat separate from the peppers as well.
Beat the eggs in a bowl and brush it over the peppers and dump the rest into the dish. Put the peppers into the oven for 30 minutes, or until the egg is cooked.
After my post last week on cooking using “sous vide”, I received some e-mails as well as a rather interesting public comment by a Foodie Moment reader. The comment, by Peter Black, made a number of interesting observations about sous vide and low-temperature cooking (two separate things, although frequently connected), and suggested, among other things, that lower-cost solutions existed for both vacuum sealing and low-temperature water baths.
Peter’s comments were welcome, because they provided a reminder that there are many ways to achieve a particular goal. Peter, however, went beyond just opinion and provided a couple of rather useful links in his comment as well – one on research that seems to indicate that a lesser vacuum would be better for less firm meats like chicken and fish, and another on food safety in sous vide cooking. I would encourage you to check those out in his posted comments.
In terms of the lower cost equipment, Peter suggested that a consumer vacuum sealer (e.g., such as what FoodSaver offers) or even a Ziploc bag with most of the air squeezed out of it would suffice as immersible food containers for low temperature cooking. They well might, but I will say my personal experience with several models of consumer vacuum sealers has been less than stellar. A bigger concern would be weather the plastic bags in either case would be safe to cook foods in for hours at a time. I presume they would be, but that would need to be researched by anyone planning on using such for sous vide cooking.
For doing the actual low-temperature cooking, Peter’s suggestion for an alternative to an expensive immersion circulator is the $160 Sous Vide Magic temperature controller. The Sous Vide Magic (and I will mention that I do not have one to experiment with) is a pretty interesting “hack” (and I mean that in a good way), which embodies a temperature sensor and voltage/power regulation. You plug in a simple rice cooker or other electric kettle which can hold a decent volume of water into the Sous Vide Magic, and then plug the Sous Vide Magic into an electrical outlet. As I understand it, the Sous Vide Magic will switch power on and off to the cooker to try and maintain a desired temperature, which is one reason you would want to pair it with a simple (non-intelligent) cooker and not one with all sorts of fancy electronics which might get upset by constant power fluctuations. Based on various on-line reviews of the Sous Vide Magic unit, it seems to perform its task pretty well.
And apparently, there are other low-cost low-temperature cooking solutions coming out. Another e-mail I received was about the SousVide Supreme, a more self-contained unit in a slightly higher price range, but still half the price of a good immersion circulator. The $449 SousVide Supreme combines a water bath and temperature control all into one attractive countertop package. Definitely worth a look. The company offered to have me review one, and I hope to do so in March after I get back from my Antarctic expedition.
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention yet another (much costlier) alternative that the executive chef at McCrady’s Restaurant (highly recommended – get the tasting menu) in Charleston, South Carolina showed me a couple of weeks ago – the CVap from Winston Industries. CVap is short for “Controlled Vapor Technology”, and is a fully integrated professional cook and hold oven that can accurately cook for long periods, accurately, at low-temperatures. I will mention though, that although McCrady’s had a CVap in the kitchen, they also had three immersion circulators too, and used them all over the course of a typical day.
In any case, the take away point of my post here is that if you want to try sous vide cooking at home, you have some options available to you that will set you back for about a 10th the price of what I invested in for my sous vide cooking.
Still coming up in a later post: my sous vide egg experiments and last night’s duck sous vide experience.
I spent a couple of weeks last month performing experiments in my kitchen using a cooking technique known as “sous vide” (means “under vacuum” in French).
In sous vide cooking you generally vacuum seal (or use inert gases to supplant oxygen) foods and then cook them for a long time at low and consistent temperatures (typically in the range of 50-72 degrees Celsius / 122-158 degrees Fahrenheit).
Sous vide cooking is quite equipment intensive, as it requires, at a minimum, a decent vacuum sealing device, and a way to cook at specific temperatures with a high degree of accuracy (.1 degrees Celsius accuracy is desirable). While there probably are some passable low-priced solutions, if you’re serious about doing a wide range of sous vide cooking at home, I would strongly suggest budgeting about $5,000 for the two key components you will need – the vacuum sealer being one, and the other discussed below.
The common way to achieve the accurate temperature needed is via a device known as an thermal immersion circulator, placed in a water bath. The immersion circulator sucks in water, and then jets it out, heating the water in the process. A highly accurate thermometer built into the immersion circulator is used by the device to ensure the water is not over-heated, but instead kept at the exact temperature programmed into the device. Thermal immersion circulators originated as a piece of laboratory equipment for chemical and biological work, and the original idea to use such a device stems from the “bain marie“.
For my kitchen, I had invested in a C-100 vacuum sealer from Multivac, based on a recommendation and contact information provided by Wiley Dufresne, chef at wd-50, New York’s landmark molecular gastronomy restaurant (although they call it “New American” cuisine on the web site).
Interesting side note: Unbeknownst to us, Wiley sat behind us at a presentation on cooking with liquid nitrogen in New York City about 16 months ago, and by coincidence recognized us from that class when we dined at his restaurant the following night. Wiley invited us into the kitchen for a tour after dinner to show us his modern kitchen and equipment, including containers with all of his “ingredients”, and described some of the cooking techniques he uses. All I can say, other than “Thank you Wiley!”, is that you should not miss an opportunity to try wd-50 the next time you’re in New York City!
A web site on sous vide pointed us to some sources for immersion circulators. We ended up going to the Cole-Parmer web site, which offered a number of options for immersion circulators. I opted for the Techne TE-10D (pictured further above), which features a digital display (and settings), and also a screw clamp which can be used to mount the immersion circulator onto a large pot which holds your cooking medium (water), and which is turn is used to cook your vacuum sealed bags of edible goodness.
Sous vide, as a form of culinary artistry, is still evolving. Its origin in food preparation came from a desire to seal food away from the things that cause it to go bad, such as oxygen and the bacteria that need oxygen to multiply (although there are anaerobic bacteria that could cause problems). At some point someone tried cooking vacuum sealed food while still in the plastic bag and found it could make a dramatic improvement in juiciness, as well as retention of flavor and nutrients. Part of that is because the food is not exposed to air while it cooks. Air will oxidize meats and change their color (brown, typically) and flavor, and similarly, vegetables will lose flavor when cooked in water, steam, or in a pan with fats of any sort.
However, in a vacuum, that’s not an issue – the meat cooks in whatever marinade you have it stored in, as well as its own juices, which would otherwise evaporate. Further, by being able to cook meat and other foods at exact temperatures, you can select the proper level of done-ness throughout instead of the temperature variations that oven-based cooking produces – namely higher heat and thus dryness on the outside going into the meat, and cooler temperatures and less done-ness inside at the center.
What I find fascinating about this process is that it combines science with food, as you need to learn and know at what temperature various foods change states. For example, the proteins in egg yolks firm up at just around 65 degrees Celsius (149 degrees Fahrenheit), but the several different parts of egg whites coagulate at different temperatures, both higher and lower than the egg yolk. And beef is a perfect medium rare (as far as I’m concerned anyhow) at 54.5 degrees Celsius (130.1 degrees Fahrenheit).
One of the cautions with sous vide cooking is that the same low temperatures at which you cook meats are the same temperatures at which bacteria thrive, so if your food source or preparation are not properly hygienic, you could be breeding organisms which lead to food poisoning. There are a number of ways to minimize or remove the risk, including thoroughly cleaning and washing foods before sealing them, searing the outside of meats at high heat in a broiler or pan to quickly kill off any unwanted guests, or using alcohol in your sauces or marinades. More details on this subject can be found here.
A book I am reading about Sous Vide right now which promises to be excellent (and some say it’s the “Bible of Sous Vide”) is the difficult to obtain and unfortunately expensive ($160 and up) “Sous-Vide Cuisine” by Joan Roca and Salvador Brugués. I bought mine here. Thomas Keller of French Laundry and Per Se fame also has a book out on sous vide cooking, “Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide” which has some fascinating recipes but does not really address basic sous vide experimentation. And finally, no discussion of food science would be complete without a recommendation of Harold McGee’s most excellent “On Food and Cooking, 2nd Edition“.
In order to not make my posts novella-length, I’ll address actual sous vide cooking experiences in another entry to be posted early next week. For now, let me leave you with a photo of a sous vide cooked egg – creamy, custardy whites with a thick gooey full-flavored yolk. Trust me. It was delicious.