Sous Vide

Cooking Sous Vide At Home After Cancer Treatment

Since my last post here five months ago, my melanoma cancer escalated into an aggressive Stage IV metastatic melanoma, invading my liver, right thigh, and lungs, and most recently my brain. In early October I underwent treatment under a clinical trial at the National Cancer Institute (NCI, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)) outside of Washington, D.C. to get my melanoma under control, and that, for the most part seems to be working. One post-treatment requirement, however is that for a period of three months I eat only neutropenically-safe food. This is in order to prevent accidental food poisoning which could jeopardize my recovery.

This neutropenic diet requires that all the meats I eat be cooked at 165 degrees Fahrenheit or higher (74 degrees Celsius). If you try to cook meats in a pan, that makes the meats borderline “well done” – a terrible way to treat meats of any sort. “Well done” connotes shoe leather, with about as much moisture and tenderness. Fortunately my experimentation with sous vide cooking over the last couple of years has provided me a way to still create juicy, flavorful cuts of meat which are edible even on my neutopenic diet.

Sous vide translates to “under vacuum” in French, and is a way to cook foods at low temperatures using a water bath (a “bain marie” for prolonged periods of time) in order to create a desired texture and doneness, taking advantage of the temperatures at which proteins in food bond and components like collagen dissolve.

I have been experimenting with sous vide cooking for nearly two years now (see for a list of my articles on the subject), and have among my efforts one of the most widely cited articles on how to cook the perfect egg via sous vide techniques (see ). When I started my sous vide cooking efforts back in late 2009, I opted to purchase an immersion circulator to regulate the temperature of my water bath – this was an expensive industrial unit. I also purchase a professional chamber-based vacuum sealer because I had not been happy with previous table top sealers I had used (and am still not happy with them). The Multi-Vac chamber-based system I bought was and is a real dream to use with all sorts of contents. A few months after I started my experiments, I came across word of the SousVide Supreme, developed in cooperation with old acquaintances of ours – Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades, authors of some excellent books on low-carb, protein rich diets. Linda and I had met the Eades at a conference some years ago.

The SousVide Supreme is a consumer-oriented kitchen appliance which holds about 10 liters of water and product. And the appliance takes up about as much counter space as a large bread making machine. Built into the the SousVide Supreme is a thermostat and heater to keep the water in the machine stable to about half a degree Celsius. I ended up purchasing a SousVide Supreme unit to use on Bonaire to supplement my immersion circulator (this way I could cook at two different temperatures). The device was originally priced at $499, but is now being sold for $399 (or $479 with a counter-top vacuum sealer).

The Sous Vide Supreme
The SousVide Supreme

There is also now a smaller “Demi” unit available for less as well.

When I was diagnosed with my cancer earlier this year and arranged to sublet an apartment in Boston to be close to Massachusetts General Hospital for my melanoma treatment, I arranged to have my original immersion circulator brought up from Bonaire. But, a few months ago, when the PR company for SousVide Supreme offered to send me a full unit for my use in Boston, I jumped at it, as it’s easier to use than the immersion circulator and it does its job very well and is easy to clean. At the time I had no idea that the special clinical trial to treat my melanoma cancer would leave me with neutronpenic dietary requirements for several months. Fortunately I was able to adapt some of my prior sous vide meat recipes to the new dietary requirement. The three meats I have successfully cooked neutropenically via sous vide have included super-thick pork chops, beef short rib, and duck legs.

One of the things I learned early on with cooking meat sous vide is that you need to start with the right cut of meat. Meats need to be well-marbled with fat so that the meat is properly lubricated as the fat and collagen begin to render. For thick cuts the amount of cooking time is generally not very important, although it’s still possible to dry out meat if cooked at a high enough temperature (like the 165F/74C my neutropenic diet requires). Thin cuts of meat are more likely to dry out than thick ones.

For the 2” thick pork chops I had the local butcher (Savenor’s Market here in Boston) cut for me, I made sure to brine the pork chops for six hours first – my brine ratio is 1 cup Kosher salt, 8 cups water and 3/4 cups brown sugar, and I rinse the pork chops after brining them before vacuum sealing them and cooking them for 18 hours at 165F/74C. Brining moistens the meat so you end up with nice juicy pork chops.

Juicy two-inch thick pork chops sous vide
Juicy two-inch thick pork chops sous vide

For beef short rib, the ribs need to be seasoned first with salt and pepper and then seared in a pan before being vacuum sealed. No brining required in order to keep the meat tender and moist (I cooked the short ribs at 165F/74C for 36 hours).

Beef short rib after 36 hours at 74C
Beef short rib after 36 hours at 74C
The beef short rib, tender and juicy
The beef short rib, tender and juicy

I mentioned previously that I’m not a big fan of counter-top vacuum sealers. When I brought my immersion circulator to Boston, I also ended up buying a SousVide Supreme counter-top vacuum sealer from Sur La Table. I admit my professional Multi-Vac chamber sealing unit, which cost about 25 times more has me spoiled. The problems I have with the counter-top unit are that I don’t get perfect seals, and when the things I’m sealing have liquid (like blood) in them, I get a lot of leakage. SousVide Supreme apparently has a chamber-based vacuum sealing system available now for around $800, but I’ve not had a chance to try it out myself at this point. If you plan on doing a lot of sous vide cooking, my advice is to save your pennies for a chamber-based vacuum sealer.

The MultiVac chamber based vacuum sealer I have back on Bonaire
The MultiVac chamber based vacuum sealer I have back on Bonaire

Learning more about sous vide cooking. When I first started cooking sous vide I had to cobble together information from chefs whose kitchens I was fortunate enough to have dined in as well as bits and pieces I found on the Internet as there were few books which covered the subject adequately (with Thomas Keller’s “Under Pressure” and Joan Roca’s “Sous-Vide Cuisine” among the first couple). Now however there are a number of more affordable book options, like Doug Baldwin’s excellent “Sous Vide for the Home Cook” and Jeff Potter’s “Cooking for Geeks”. Another great resource is the eGullet Web site. And should you be a real Foodie, Nathan Myhrvold’s “Modernist Cuisine” is a gorgeous splurge (but wait for the second edition which corrects a lot of typos). And I should add that the SousVide Supreme web site now also offers numerous instructional videos and documentation.

In about four weeks I will be off my neutropenic diet and finally able to eat my meats medium and medium rare, which will be a wonderful thing indeed. But until then I can use sous vide cooking to make my food more enjoyable and palatable.

Low-Carb Simple Pleasures

Making Pasta Less Unhealthy

As some of you know, I am presently in Boston getting treated for Stage IIIC melanoma cancer, and one of the things I am trying to understand is what the impact of a low-carb, high protein and fat diet is on the side effects of my immunotherapy treatment with Sylatron. Based on what I’ve been going through, and seeing the side effects others who eat a carb-rich diet are having, I find myself thinking that my dietary approach (which I have pursued for years prior to my recent cancer diagnosis) is the right one.

I do know from the way my body reacts to the consumption of wheat and sugars that physically I am a lot happier if I can minimize the intake of foods with a high glycemic index (meaning foods which spike my blood sugar and insulin levels).

Also, my readings suggest to me that the western diseases that have permeated our society, resulting in obesity, diabetes, and coronary/heart disease, are caused in great part by the excess (and it doesn’t take a lot) consumption of high glycemic foods, such as those with processed grains and sugars.

So it was a pleasant surprise this morning to come across an article about Kraft having come out with a Mac & Cheese where the macaroni uses freeze dried cauliflower powder to replace some of the unhealthy wheat flour in the pasta.

Kraft Veggie Mac and Cheese
Kraft Veggie Mac and Cheese

While the commentary I’ve seen so far about this new Kraft product seems to take issue with the fact that this is a sneaky and improper way to get kids to eat more vegetables, the analyses seem to completely ignore the health benefit of reducing process wheat intake for kids, especially as Mac & Cheese is something that many kids consume by the bucketload (I know my kids did, as did I when I was a starving college student).

So kudos to Kraft, and I hope we will see grains and carbs slowly disappear from Mac & Cheese and other processed food products in the coming years.

Science Tea

Water For Tea – Purified, Spring, or Tap?

I have been camping out in a hotel for a month and a half, and in order to still enjoy my whole leaf tea, I have my Teavana Tea Steeper and a small hot water heater. Local tap water here in Cincinnati is rather foul (my apologies on multiple levels to Cincinnatians), so I have been buying cases of bottled water for me tea brewing.

A couple of weeks ago instead of buying my usual case of spring water (no brand preferences), I went and bought a case of Niagara “purified” water, which appears to be pretty much pure water with nothing in it. I thought that would be better for my tea making, and certainly better for my hot water maker (which was constantly getting crusty with white mineral residue from the spring water I had been using).

However, over the last week I have noticed that the purified water produced much paler and weaker flavored teas (also lacking in aroma). This result applies to all the teas I have tried, but for me has been most apparent with green teas. Increasing the brewing times or steeping temperature makes no difference.

Today I switched back to spring water (Ice Mountain brand, in case that’s of interest), and voila, flavor and color had returned to my brewed teas, at normal brewing times and temperatures.

So, what I take away from this accidental experiment is that apparently a bit of alkalinity and mineral content is necessary for the water to release the full flavor and color of the tea. Interesting thing to learn.

I did some online research about the subject and came across this article (which is experiential, and not really scientific, but interesting nonetheless) – Water for Tea.

In any event, I have learned my lesson, and while the purified water resulted in a much cleaner hot water pot, it’s not something I ever want to voluntarily use to brew tea again. I’ll suffer with mineral residue in the pot in exchange for better tea brewed with spring water.

Definitions Dining Out Reviews

Dining at Morimoto in New York City

I was in New York City for a week at the beginning of December (last month), and made sure to have dinner reservations set up ahead of time for just about every night. One of the reservations I snagged was for the Omakase Bar at Morimoto, named after Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto.

At the back of the restaurant is a sushi bar where people walking in might be lucky enough to find seating (the restaurant is usually otherwise fully booked a few days in advance). However, you can also reserve seats at the bar for a chef’s “omakase” – basically the Japanese version of a chef’s tasting menu. I made that booking for two, and then scrambled to find a dinner companion as Linda and the kids were still back home on Bonaire.

I was happy to learn that my friend David Gelles was in town and free, and so come December 9th, after a drink at Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain in midtown, we made our way to Morimoto in the warehouse district of New York City for our 7pm reservation.

That's me at left and David Gelles at right, with our chef for the night in back (and I feel terrible because I forgot his name)

We spent the next five hours enjoying a dozen courses, each specially made for us, and we even order seconds of one dish.

This was by far our favorite dish - raw oyster with foie gras, uni, a sweet sauce, and black truffles. We liked it so much we ordered seconds.

Along with the meal we consumed a couple of bottles of sake, and some nice desert wine after that. Details blur, but thanks to my trusty Canon S90 point and shoot camera (the best small camera I have found so far for natural light photography in restaurants), I have a visual record of the entire feast.

Toro tartare with ossetra caviar

The full set of 36 photos from our gastronomical engagement can be found here on Flickr.

Condiments Holidays Modernist Cuisine Molecular Gastronomy Simple Pleasures Traditions

Thanksgiving Plans

As Americans who live outside the U.S.A., the day of American Thanksgiving holiday (which is tomorrow) has special significance. It’s the day we gather with a few close friends who are half-American (one member of each couple is American, the other is Dutch) and their multi-cultural children, share food everyone has prepared and brought with them, and generally have a wonderful, relaxed day.

Of course, the day involves lots of eating, lots of shooting the breeze (an American euphemism for spouting off, er, random intellectual discussions), and utilizing each other as culinary guinea pigs. (Oh, I wasn’t supposed to say that out loud?)

My contribution to tomorrow’s feasting are the following items:

  • A turkey injected with and brined with a savory sour orange marinade, from a recipe provided by La Caja China – it’s the mojo criollo marinade, and then roast in my Weber grill.
  • Two turkey drumstrucks, dry-brined.
  • A cranberry cinnamon rum ice cream, with rum included because it will keep the cream soft in the freezer (since I use Splenda instead of sugar, and that produces a very solid cream otherwise), and, of course, because rum tastes good.
  • A cranberry compote ice cream for those who don’t like rum (with guar gum to keep it soft).
  • Orange juice caviar (small spheres of alginate filled with orange juice – just because I had leftover orange juice from the marinade described above).
  • Cranberry relish pearls (larger alginate spheres using a cranberry orange relish puree that Linda made yesterday) – should be a nice topping for turkey and other treats tomorrow
  • Cranberry powder – I first had this at Mark’s American Cuisine (great restaurant, by the way) in Houston a few weeks ago with a foie gras dish, and decided I needed my own tart dusting powder. Required my dehydrator, cranberries, and an awful lot of patience.
  • Garlic mashed cauliflower – made with lots of butter and cream and a touch of white pepper, and virtually no carbohydrates

Linda is making a peanut butter pie and a pumpkin pie, Krystyana is making a garlic parmesan mayonnaise vegetable casserole, our friends Caren & Frans are providing more veggies and Dutch apple cake, and our friend Dan is bringing a turkey smoked in his Big Green Egg.

All in all, it should be an interesting experiment meal tomorrow!

Photos to follow, I hope.

Modernist Cuisine Molecular Gastronomy

Inspired by elBulli – Modernist Cuisine at Home

Yesterday morning a sense of anticipation was pervasive in our home. I had made a date with our favorite chef on Bonaire, Andrea, to experiment on creating some interesting molecular gastronomy (now being called, more appropriately, modernist cuisine) items so Andrea could see how the process worked.

Getting ready for modernist cuisine experimentation in my kitchen
Getting ready for modernist cuisine experimentation in my kitchen

The menu was a bit haphazard as we wanted inspiration and creativity to guide us. The only thing that was certain was that we wanted to try making olive spheres, a la Ferran Adria (whom I had the pleasure to meet in Spain in early October at his world famous elBulli restaurant – but that will be the subject of another post here soon). A version of that recipe and discussion of spherification is here.

My daughter Krysytana joined Andrea in the kitchen, and we were off, trying to figure out the best way to create olive spheres. I had already made up the olive juice blended with calcium chloride and Xanthan gum a day before, as well as the sodium alginate bath, so the real trick we were trying to perform was make the olives look round as we submerged a spoon of the treated olive juice in the alginate bath. It’s a lot more difficult than it looks, but at the end Andrea had perfect a technique which involved submerging the spoon with the olive juice in the bath and then slowly turning it over to let gravity pull the juice out of the spoon. The rolling action created minimal tearing and both Krystyana and I were able to duplicate his results (Krystyana better than I). After a few minutes in the bath we took out the olives, rinsed them in water and added them to seasoned olive oil (garlic, fresh rosemary, peppercorns, lemon zest).

Here’s the result:

Our collection of olive spheres
Our collection of olive spheres

The thought had come across at some point to make a Caprese (tomato, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, basil, and mozzarella) salad, so I worked on creating mixtures to make balsamic vinegar spheres, also referred to as caviar due to the small size. The first attempt was to try to make them via reverse spherification, like the olive spheres, but that failed miserably. So I went the other way and made a balsamic alginate solution and then created spheres by dripping the alginate into a bath of water and calcium chloride. Much better results. Again, after about a minute we rinsed them in fresh water, and voila, balsamic vinegar caviar.

Caviar of balsamic vinegar, made using spherification
Caviar of balsamic vinegar, made using spherification

Next we needed to reconstruct mozzarella somehow. Thanks to some suggestions in the wonderful book “Cooking for Geeks” by Jeff Potter, we managed to create a decent mozzarella liquid (we had to strain the solids out first though), and using reverse spherification, created mozzarella spheres.

We were almost there. We were going to use fresh tomato and basil, but still wanted to provide some sort of treatment of pure olive oil. Attempts to create olive oil spheres failed as well, so I decided to create an olive oil foam using my nitrous oxide injected iSi pressurized creamer. In order to get the olive oil to foam, however, I needed to add an emulsifier, which I did in the form of glycerol monostearate (8% by weight) into heated olive oil so it would dissolve. After putting it into the creamer and pressurizing it with the nitrous oxide I managed to create olive oil foam – intensely flavored. Interestingly, if it sat long enough, it turned into an olive oil butter, which created nice contrasting textures.

With this last ingredient in place we witnessed Andrea’s culinary creativity as he created three different approaches to a Caprese salad with modernist influences. For the last one I also experimented with creating an air/foam using balsamic vinegar and soy lecithin which Andrea then used to creative a piece of edible art.

Caprese salad - revised first version, close up
Caprese salad - revised first version, close up
Caprese salad - second version
Caprese salad - second version
Caprese salad - third version, using Balsamic air, close up
Caprese salad - third version, using Balsamic air, close up

We were all very pleased with the results, and learned a lot from each other and our experimental successes and failures.

Jake - food scientist, Andrea - chef and creative talent, in front of our combined handiwork (Photo by Krystyana Richter, our other important contributor)
Jake - food scientist, Andrea - chef and creative talent, in front of our combined handiwork (Photo by Krystyana Richter, our other important contributor)

In fact I felt so inspired that I attempted to make an olive gel (failed) and a tomato gel (success) using agar agar after Andrea left. You can see images of that result along with more photos of the day on Flickr.


A Foodie Moment in First Class

Linda and I are featured in a photo and story about dining in First Class over on CNN’s Eatocracy web site today. Fun!

The story is based on a post on one of our other blogs, The Traveling Richters.

Our week here on Bonaire has been filled with sous vide cooking in our new Sous Vide Supreme (killer pork chops) and making various sorbets and ice creams in our Lello ice cream machine. Lots of photos but not enough time yet to document it all.

Molecular Gastronomy Science

Sneak Peak: Hazelnut Caviar and Pearls

This morning’s kitchen science experiment was making hazelnut caviar. More specifically, caviar using hazelnut syrup (sugar free, of course). It involves using sodium alginate and calcium chloride, but I will save the details for later.

For now, let me tease you with a photo:

Hazelnut caviar and pearls
Hazelnut caviar and pearls

Why, you might ask, is the caviar green? The short story is that we weren’t sure the process was working because our hazelnut syrup, water, and sodium alginate mixture was almost the same color as the aqueous calcium chloride bath, so we wanted to add some color to make the process more visible. Green food coloring was the closest food color at hand.

Suffice to say that the above pictured caviar and pearls release a rich sweet hazelnut flavor when you chew them.

More details later next week hopefully.

Recipes Spicy Hot

Hot and Sweet Beef Jerky Recipes

A couple of weeks ago or so, I wrote about experimenting with a food dehydrator. Since then, we made a few more batches of beef jerky as well as dehydrated lime zest.

Home made Hot & Spicy Indonesian beef jerky
Home made Hot & Spicy Indonesian beef jerky

I came up with two marinades that produced a rather tasty set of jerky, and wanted to share them here.

Both of the marinades below cover 2-3 lbs of lean beef (I used a top round), sliced relatively thin. To give you an idea of what thin means to me in this context, the average slice of beef was about 1/8″ thick, 3″ long, and about 1″ high.

I found that with our dehydrator, it was sufficient to dry the jerky for 3-4 hours at 155°F.

Directions that came with the food dehydrator suggested using paper towels to blot any fat left on the jerky after dehydration to cut down on the chance that the fat would turn rancid after a few days, and then storing the jerky in the refrigerator after it had cooled down. They also suggested using sodium nitrate (saltpeter) to preserve the jerky longer, but we didn’t have any available, and the jerky was great without it.

Here are the two recipes I came up with.

Sweet Chipotle Beef Jerky Marinade

  • 2 canned chipotle peppers with a bit of the sauce from the can (1-2 Tbsp)
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1 cup Splenda Brown Sugar Blend (or regular brown sugar if you wish)
  • 1 Tbsp Chili Powder
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tsp salt
Place all of the above ingredients in a blender and puree. Then cover sliced beef with contents of blender and let marinade for 3-6 hours (or even overnight) before dehydrating.

Sweet Chipotle marinated beef for jerky
Sweet Chipotle marinated beef for jerky

Hot & Sweet Indonesian Beef Jerky Marinade


  • 1 cup ketjap manis (soy sauce with molasses and sugar)
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 Tbsp sambal oelek (an Indonesian-style chili paste)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • (optional if you want it sweeter) 1/2 cup Splenda Brown Sugar Blend (or regular brown sugar if you wish)

Place all of the above ingredients in a bowl, mix with a spoon or fork until all ingredients are well mixed and distributed. Then cover sliced beef with contents of bowl and let marinade for 3-6 hours (or even overnight) before dehydrating.

Spices Spicy Hot

Another Birthday Present – Fresh Peppers

This may not seem like a big deal to many of you, but here on the island of Bonaire we live in near desert conditions. Not much grows here naturally other than hardy, thorny plants. Anything else requires a lot a of water, which in turn is expensive since all of our potable water comes from desalinated ocean water.

So when my family showed up with a fresh pepper sampler (along with a few dried peppers), I was thrilled, since they have to be imported, and usually aren’t too fresh by the time they arrive in our markets on Bonaire.

For my birthday my family got me fresh peppers
For my birthday my family got me fresh peppers

Pictured above are jalapeño peppers, banana peppers, Serrano peppers, Habañero peppers, Poblano (what we were told, but they don’t look like Poblanos to me), and dried Ancho chili peppers.

One of the interesting things I learned about pepper varieties today is that Ancho chili peppers are dried Poblano peppers. They also go by the name “Pasilla” (incorrectly).

There’s a video about dried chili peppers here, which explains that the narrower the pepper and the more seeds, the hotter (spicier) it is. That did not prove to be the case for the narrow banana peppers above, which were flavorful but not at all spicy.