Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Trying Sous Vide

I've been curious about sous vide for sometime and took the plunge when I came across an Anova One for ~$160 on Amazon's Cyber Monday deal. Sous vide cooks by submerging vacuum sealed food in water at perfectly controlled temperature compared to traditional cooking methods where you heat up a pan or oven to few hundred degrees while trying to cook until desired doneness and try to pull the food from the heat source at the perfect time which becomes a quickly dwindling window. The problem with traditional methods is that it over cooks the outside with food like steak creating a grey band while aiming for between 130~139 fahrenheit in the center for medium rare where else sous vide doesn't run this risk because the water immersion is heated between 130~139 fahrenheit to cook the steak to a perfect medium rare from edge to edge. After sous vide traditional methods to cook a steak feels like the very definition of Schrodinger's cat. Another amazing benefit is not running the risk of overcooking your meat and can even leave it cooking longer to tenderize. The one shortfall with sous vide is that it doesn't create a Maillard reaction, which in laymen's terms is to brown your food. Specifically Maillard reaction is when proteins are super heated where sugars and amino acids breakdown to create that savory flavor, those lovely smells when steaks are cooked on a grill. With the Anova One delivered today I am in the midst of sous vide cooking a couple of blade cut steaks with carrots and asparagus to follow.

The Anova One is extremely straight forward to setup. The box contains device, power cord, and manual along with warranty and looking at the Anova One there is no mystery as to where the power cord goes and how it mounts on the side of a container. Initial power up has you pick either Celsius and Fahrenheit and then you're onto picking temp and time. Like I said, simple. So simple in fact I read the manual only to find out how to clean and maintain the device. Next comes food prep and that means a way to seal your food in an air tight bag. I didn't want to invest in a vacuum sealer quite yet so I used zip lock bags with the water displacement method, which like anything has its pros and cons. With the proteins I was able to get a better seal and the weight made up for any air in the bag to keep the food submerged, but with vegetables I couldn't get as much air out in comparison and would float which is slightly annoying having to binder clip a wooden spoon to pin the bags down in order to keep the veggies submersed. Another option with zip lock bags to to simply keep it open and clip it to the edge of the container, which I plan on trying out.

Cooking if you want to call it that is as simple as cooking with a crock pot. First I cooked the meat at 138 fahrenheit and the veggies followed at 190.

The meat pulled and veggies in, I realized an error in my methods. I'm so used to cooking various things at different timing on the range and to account for meat to rest that I now have to worry about the meat getting cold while the water comes to temp for the veggies which is slower than I imagined would be. I left the steaks in the zip lock bag to keep them as warm as possible while I busied myself preparing the next steps. I planned on searing the steaks in an iron skillet with fresh thyme and sage with oil and butter in the last few minutes of the veggies cooking. Once the water comes to 190 I drop the carrots in which have a fifteen minute cook time and the asparagus five minutes which mean they will be dropped the last five minutes of the carrot's cook time. I bring the skillet with oil to temp and as the asparagus are dropped I begin to sear the steaks basting with a spoon once I add the butter. Everything comes out at the same time, which is awesome and really easy to time things with sous vide compared to traditional cooking. To my joy the steaks aren't cold and the searing brought the steaks up to perfect serving temp. The vegetables are finished simply on the plate with olive oil, salt, and pepper. I pull the red herb potatoes from the oven and plate and couldn't be happier with the results. The steak was very tender and the medium rare just perfect and the vegetables maintained a vibrant color with perfect texture.

I left the Anova One running to hold temp at 140 and when I finished dinner I started cooking the tomorrow evening's dinner, country style pork ribs. The ribs were cooked at 140 for twenty two and a half hours and seared seared in the iron skillet with garlic and scallion infused olive oil. I cooked another round of carrots and asparagus sous vide and reheated left over potatoes. It was by far one of the most tender ribs I've ever made, and tasted amazing.

My first experience cooking sous vide is a positive one with lessons learned. Veggies should be cooked first and then the water temp dropped quickly with ice to cook proteins. While the proteins are cooking the veggies can be placed in the water to keep warm without cooking further. Furthermore this means that you can pre-cook veggies at portion size in a vacuum sealed bag in advance and bring to serving temp as the meat cooks as well. With sous vide I found it much easier to time everything coming out at the same time with that translating to being able to plan for exact dinner times next time I invite friends over. Clean up was really easy with the Anova One wiped and dried. I find that an immersion circulator is a worthwhile investment and if you've been thinking of trying sous vide, but aren't convinced yet you can try the stovetop method and see for yourself. The only thing to think of now is what to cook next.

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