The Importance of Temperature

An easy mistake to make when first cooking sous-vide is to under-estimate the importance of temperature. Since sous-vide lets us be so much more flexible with time it extracts a price in temperature.

The reason for this is simple. Unlike with traditional cooking where a too hot or too cold oven or grill can be compensated for by careful monitoring of the food temperature with sous-vide our meat or fish will never become hotter than the temperature of the water bath–no matter how long we leave it in.

And complicating that is how difficult it is to actively monitor the temperature of the food–even with careful application of weatherstripping it is hard to use a temperature probe on meat in a sous-vide pouch without destroying the waterproof seal.

A final issue is the long cooking times. Too low a temperature is difficult to compensate for by simply “cranking it up” (although for meals which get a final searing you can of course fudge things a little by doing a little cooking during your searing).

And if your temperature was too high your meal might well be ruined long before you notice.

All that said, the choice of temperature is often–literally–a matter of taste. Whether you like your salmon rare (maybe 108) or a little more cooked (maybe 112) is up to you. Similarly you can have your steaks range from very rare to medium rare by fiddling with the temperature on your bath.

You can even experiment by cooking short ribs, for example, at a steak temperature to make them taste more like a chop.

So take notes, learn from others and share your findings on temperature, the secret ingredient of sous-vide cooking!–David

January 22, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , . Technique. 3 comments.

Sous-vide Tri-tip

We have a local favorite steak here in the bay area called “Fred’s Steak” which is a secret marinate on a tri-tip sold by a local family run butcher shop. Traditional preparation is either grilling or baking. But sure enough, a sous-vide treatment (45 to 60 minutes at 128-135 depending on taste) followed by searing in an iron skillet (or with a torch) worked out great and has won hands down in blind taste tests we’ve run here.

I’ve done the same thing with tri-tips prepared several different ways. Another winner for the sous-vide cooker!

January 16, 2010. Recipes, Technique. 3 comments.

Foodsaver Rescued!

The achilles heel for home sous-vide cooks has increasingly become the vacuum sealing. With the introduction of sub $500 thermal baths the fairly cheesy Foodsaver has become the weak link in the chain for those who don’t have the money or room for a $1500 commercial vacuum sealing unit.

Aside from their inability to vacuum seal anything wet and their inability to really provide pressure, the worst thing about Foodsaver is they have never stood behind their product. Once the gaskets died (which they always do eventually) they would never sell or send you another one.

But now jardenstore is actually selling Foodsaver replacement parts. Thank goodness. Our ailing unit was salvage completely with $20 worth of parts.

January 16, 2010. Tags: , , , , . Technique. 4 comments.

New Sous Vide Equipment Resource

One problem for “do it yourself” sous-vide has been the high cost of a thermal bath. We’ve written before about the approach of getting a refurb unit from an eBay seller, but of course we’d all like to get a nice, new digital unit.

Finally those are starting to be available for a discounted price. BCU Plastics (www.bcuplastics.com) is offering new units for as low as $650 for a 5 Liter unit, and $800 for the more versatile 10 Liter unit. They also offer an alternative to the FoodSaver product line and other sous-vide equipment.

The thermal bath units look similar to the Cuisine Technologies units, but discounted?

–David

 

March 16, 2006. Technique. 21 comments.

Sous-vide Pork Shoulder Reprise

I made another pork shoulder roast sous-vide tonight. I started by using a rub of Bone Sucking Sauce Rib Rub and some garlic oil then vacuum sealing the pieces of the roast overnight. Then this morning I put them in the bath at about 160F for about 9 hours. I was a little nervous when they came out as the very ends of the smaller pieces were somewhat dry.

The good news is that most of the pork was very succulent and tasted excellent. So overall it was a big success and the meat was quite popular. Once again I regreted not having a commercial vacuum sealer though, as with the FoodSaver level of vacuum the juice seeps back out of the meat and extends the bag pouch. From all I have read if you have a serious commercial unit the vacuum is strong enough that the juices tend to stay in the meat more.

I did learn one important lesson on the way. My test for how much water I needed and how important a cover was was at 165F. At that temperature there wasn’t much evaporation. But I decided to make pulled pork from some of the pork and cranked my thermal bath up to 200F. At that temp (much like we all learned in high school about partial pressures!) the water evaporates much faster and my bath almost went dry. Lesson learned, hopefully.–David

 

March 13, 2006. Recipes, Technique. 7 comments.

Sous-vide ala Thomas Keller & The French Laundry

We were fortunate enough to have been invited to lunch at The French Laundry yesterday, Thomas Keller’s California property and the West Coast mecca of gourmet sous-vide.

The two dishes which the menu advertised as using sous-vide were a Maine lobster tail and one with sunchokes sous-vide.

In both cases it was clear that Keller has a lot nicer cry-o-vac unit than my FoodSaver:-) The lobster tail piece in particular had a great shape which appeared to have been the same shape in which it was cooked (and not that it had been cut afterwards).

Both dishes, like all 40 or 50 we ate (okay, maybe 9 plus a special cake for the occassion) were insanely good. Interestingly the wait staff never used the term sous-vide and instead described the lobster as poached.

–David

 

March 13, 2006. Technique. 11 comments.

Sous-vide Steak

I experimented with sous-vide market steaks. I cooked them to 126F (after vacuum sealing) in the thermal bath and then finished them with about 30 seconds on each side in a hot iron skillet. As usual the steaks were very juicy, but the lack of browning flavors was evident. The searing didn’t fix that. NOTE: I’ve made similar steaks many times since and as long as I seared them long enough they were excellent and universally well received.

Alternatives might be to sear the steaks first, change the time and temperature of the searing, or of course to give up and just do steaks the “old-fashioned” way.–David

February 22, 2006. Recipes, Technique. 18 comments.

Spare Ribs “sous-vide”

I’m a big fan of slow-cooking spare ribs in my smoker. So it was natural to try them in my water bath “sous-vide”. I applied one of my favorite rubs (“Bone Sucking Rub”), vacuum sealed them in my FoodSaver and put them in 150F for 24 hours.

Then I finished them by coating with Bone Sucking Sauce and placing them in a 350F oven for 30 minutes.

In general they were quite promising. Most of the ribs were “fall apart tender” without being as well-done as if they were smoked to that point. However, portions of the ribs were fairly dry. I’m not sure if that was because of their structure or because the FoodSaver doesn’t really “shrink-wrap” food so a fair amount of juice can seep out into the bag. In future I may try rotating the bags around in the bath to see if I can ensure that all portions get plenty of liquid.

As with other sous-vide dishes the ribs didn’t have as intensive a “browning” reaction, but the juiciness helps make up for that. I’m not quite sure what to fiddle with in this approach, so I welcome suggestions!–David

 

February 22, 2006. Technique. 11 comments.

“Osso Bucco” — Sous-vide Style

I really wanted to try an ultra-long cooking time sous-vide recipe, so I bought some veal shanks and after seasoning them (garlic, olive oil and Thyme) I seared them in a pan, vacuum sealed them and put them in 140F for 24 hours.

As with most sous-vide dishes they were incredibly tender and juicy, so the time worked out find. However, the texture was a little “greasy” and some of the fatty areas were still there and a little “gamey”–this seems to be a common side-effect of sous-vide since all the fat and other tastes are locked into the meat in the bag and not allowed to burn off. I’m not sure if a second searing at the end of cooking would have fixed this issue.

 Overall the veal shank did taste good, so I can’t complain too much, but I’ll be looking for ways to improve the finish.

 

February 5, 2006. Recipes, Technique. 11 comments.

Pork Shoulder Blade Roast (“Boston Butt”) — Sous-vide

I’ve read so much about the ultra-long cooking times for some sous-vide recipes that I was anxious to find a cut of meat where I could experiment with a long, slow cook. So, borrowing a page from my BBQ cookbooks, I bought a pork shoulder blade roast at the local Safeway for the rock bottom price of $1.29/lb. and decided to experiment.

I used some Bone Sucking Rib Rub, garlic, salt, pepper and garlic olive oil as a rub the night before, and then put the vacuum-sealed roast in at 163F. After about 7 hours the roast was moist & worthy of serving as barbeque–without the smokey flavor unfortunately. It made a great main course for dinner.

Then I decided to push a little further and see if I could get some great “pulled pork” by keeping the rest of the roast in the bath. I cranked the temperature up to 202F and after a couple more hours the pork was practically falling apart. Texture-wise it was great. Of course we were still missing the smokey flavor. Smothering the pork in BBQ sauce went a long way to dealing with the lack of smoke, although I’ll be trying some other options for flavoring in future.

 –David

 

January 23, 2006. Technique. 14 comments.

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