Adam Fields (weblog)

This blog is largely deprecated, but is being preserved here for historical interest. Check out my index page at adamfields.com for more up to date info. My main trade is technology strategy, process/project management, and performance optimization consulting, with a focus on enterprise and open source CMS and related technologies. More information. I write periodic long pieces here, shorter stuff goes on twitter or app.net.

10/6/2010

Sous Vide Poached Egg

Filed under: — adam @ 9:38 am

Sous Vide eggs are tricky, because the yolk sets at a lower temperature than the white. If you cook a whole egg in the shell, you either get a properly cooked yolk with a runny and gelatinous white (some people like this, some think it’s like eating a ball of snot), or you get a properly set white with a really overcooked yolk. As far as I can tell, it’s not possible to get a perfect “poached egg” with the sous vide method, if you cook the egg whole in the shell.

To deal with this, I separated them and cooked them individually at two different temperatures. You can cook the white first at a higher temperature to just set it (160-162F or so, depending on how firm you like it), and then lower the temperature (to 144F or so) and add the yolk. To make this a little more convenient, you can even do the white in advance, chill it, and keep it and the separate yolk in the fridge overnight, then add the yolk and cook them in the morning. The white takes about 60-90 minutes to set (depending on whether you start from fridge or room temperature), and then the yolk takes about another 60-90 minutes. Cooking the yolk will also bring the white back up to serving temperature without overcooking it. It’s not quite fast enough for a rushed morning, but that’s acceptable timing for a lazy morning. 

I tried leaving them in the water overnight at 144F, and that didn’t work – the yolks got completely overcooked and gummy. There might be a lower temperature at which that would work. Even still, unlike with regular poached eggs, there’s very little fuss. This method takes longer, but it doesn’t require you to do anything while it’s cooking.

As I looked around for a proper vessel to cook them in, I found something I’d dabbled with but never really gotten good results with, which in retrospect is actually pretty perfect for sous vide cooking: an egg coddler.

Sous Vide Poached Egg

Yes, you can use your hands to separate eggs, but I wanted to be extra careful not to break the yolk membrane. I put the yolks in a covered bowl in the fridge while the white cooked.

Sous Vide Poached Egg

Here you can see the thin layer of undercooked white that was left over with the yolks, and the more properly cooked white layer underneath:

Sous Vide Poached Egg

You can serve it directly out of the coddler, or turn it out into a bowl:

Sous Vide Poached Egg

Here you can see how perfectly runny the yolk is, and the white is creamy and well set:

Sous Vide Poached Egg

This is a great poached egg. I’m not sure it’s that much easier or more convenient than regular poached eggs in terms of timing, but it certainly requires less effort for excellent and tasty results. I think this is probably overkill if you’re just cooking for one (the above was an experiment and I didn’t want to ruin a lot of eggs if it didn’t work out), but it would work just as well with a dozen or more. Doing a single poached egg isn’t that much effort, but doing a lot of them can add up. I also got very good results using a small Le Creuset ceramic crock with a lid, though that can’t be submerged in the same way that the egg coddler can. If you want to use something like that, you’ll need a rack to keep it near the top of the water level.

 

I’ve found that this silicone rack is the perfect size for the SVS. You’ll need two of them for a short crock/ramekin.


9/22/2010

Sous Vide French Toast

Filed under: — adam @ 9:27 am

After a great success with scrambled eggs, I wondered if it would be possible to make french toast in the SVS. I’ve had some good results with french toast the regular way, but it requires a lot of advance planning, and I find it difficult to ensure that the egg mixture gets absorbed and cooked all the way through without making it soggy in the middle.

I whipped up 8 eggs, added about 3/4 cup of milk, a splash of vanilla, and a pinch of salt. I added this to two slices of homemade challah in a ziploc vacuum bag and sealed it. I then shook the bag to distribute the liquid evenly and sucked the air out with the pump. These bags are much easier than the Foodsaver bags when you’re dealing with liquids, because you don’t have to worry about the seal getting gunked up.

Sous Vide French Toast

I then cooked them in the SVS for an hour and a half at 147F, removed them from the bag, and put them in a hot skillet with a little butter to brown the outside on both sides.

Sous Vide French ToastSous Vide French Toast

They came out perfectly – slightly crispy on the outside, and evenly cooked throughout, with a wonderfully creamy yet substantial texture.

Sous Vide French Toast

 


9/2/2010

Making Sous Vide Custard

Filed under: — adam @ 11:35 am

Drawing on some inspiration in this post on creme brulee at SVKitchen, I decided to try a custard. Since I bought entirely too many blueberries this season, and the last of the bunch is rapidly aging in my fridge as I try to use them up before they go bad (I’ve already frozen as many as my freezer can handle), I decided to top this batch with a blueberry gel.

The SVKitchen folks used a set of fiberglass rods to elevate the tray to allow the custard cups to sit near the top of the oven while maintaining the proper water level, but it turns out that one of my cooking racks fit perfectly underneath the included one:

Making Sous Vide Custard

Making Sous Vide CustardMaking Sous Vide CustardMaking Sous Vide Custard

The normal way to make custard is to cook the cream and sugar at a moderate heat together to mix them, and then add beaten eggs and cook in a water bath. I thought the SVS could make this easier, so I just mixed all of the ingredients together in the mixer until they were combined but not frothy (do the last little bit by hand for more control). I doubled Bittman’s standard custard recipe (I’ve pretty much given up on the book and use his $2 searchable iPhone app all the time) and substituted vanilla for the nutmeg and cinnamon, since I’m allergic to nutmeg and I like vanilla. This doubled recipe calls for 4 cups of cream, 1 cup of sugar, 4 whole eggs, 4 egg yolks, and a pinch of salt plus flavorings:

Making Sous Vide Custard

This recipe made enough to fill 8 8-oz ramekins all the way to the top, plus a little left over. I filled the cups through a mesh strainer to get out any last unmixed bits, covered them with plastic wrap, and cooked them (covered) in the SVS at 175F for an hour:

Making Sous Vide Custard

When they were almost done, I cooked about two cups of blueberries over moderate heat with a tablespoon or so of sugar and bloomed a packet of gelatin in a bowl of water. When the blueberries were cooked through and starting to burst (about 5-7 minutes), I stirred in the gelatin and let them cook for a few more minutes. Then I drizzled the hot syrup over the top of the cups:

Making Sous Vide Custard

After chilling in the fridge for about 4 hours, they were absolutely fantastic. The texture is flawless, the flavors are great, they’re perfectly cooked all the way through, and the whole thing only took about 15-20 minutes of actual effort.

Sous Vide Custard

Lovely.


7/28/2010

Sous Vide Black Beans

Filed under: — adam @ 8:53 pm

I couldn’t find a recipe for making dried beans sous vide for my Sous Vide Supreme, so I winged it. It worked really well.

1 cup dried black beans, rinsed 1 diced medium red onion Roughly the same volume of beans in ice cubes

Preheat SVS to 180F. Seal all ingredients in a vacuum bag.

Sous Vide Black Beans

Cook for 36 hours. After 24 hours, I squeezed the bag and it still felt a little firm, so I put them back in. The beans were completely tender all the way through, but not squishy and had a really pleasant texture. Salt to taste before serving.

Sous Vide Black Beans


5/17/2010

In praise of the Sous Vide Supreme

Filed under: — adam @ 10:56 pm

Since I last wrote about cooking at home, I’ve been looking for more ways to try to cook at home. Cooking large portions in advance helps, but I think it’s somewhat unsatisfying to eat that way on a regular basis. Those foods that can be more easily prepared beforehand tend to be heavier and less appealing during the summer – lasagnas or casseroles or big braises. I’ve recently acquired a Sous Vide Supreme oven, and it’s completely changing the way I look at this.

Sous vide cooking is actually pretty simple – you seal the food in a vacuum bag (like a Foodsaver bag) and then cook it in a precise temperature water bath at very close to the temperature you want the final product to be. If you’ve eaten in a high end restaurant in the past few years, you’ve had food cooked sous vide – almost all of them are using it now, with good reason. When the food is done (at minimum, enough time for the middle to reach the equilibrium temperature), you take it out of the bag, sear it in a hot pan if needed (most proteins will benefit from a little browning to develop more flavor, but they really only need about 30 seconds per side in a very hot pan on the stove), and serve it right away. If you leave it in the water bath for a few extra hours, it’s no problem – the texture of some food will break down after an extended period of time, but for the most part, it’s hard to overcook things (fish and eggs are two exceptions – they’re more finicky about timing, but that still buys you a margin of an hour or two over). Because you can set the oven at 1 degree increments and it will stay at pretty much exactly that temperature, you can get exquisite results with very little effort, and if you get distracted, it’s no problem.

There are a few issues with trying to get dinner on the table with small children in the house, and these problems are triply compounded with only one parent in the house – you can get distracted by having to change a diaper or give one of the kids a little extra attention. Right before dinner is crankypants time. The kids might want to stay out at the park for an extra half an hour or 45 minutes. You might want to stay out at the park for an extra half hour or 45 minutes. There goes your prep time. Watching a chicken breast or a steak cook on the stove for 15-20 minutes with a small child is far too long (and takes away from the time to cook the rest of the meal), but searing for a minute or two while everything else comes together is completely doable. What’s even better is that you can do the sous vide step the day before, plop the bag right into an ice bath, and then put it in the fridge until dinner time, when you just have to take it out and sear it or warm it. What’s even better than that is that you can put the bag in the sous vide oven directly from the freezer. And what’s even better than that is that this entire process actually makes your end result tastier and more nutritious instead of compromising quality. Commercial frozen convenience food is generally pretty terrible. Sous vide food is simply… better.

My wife and I both work long hours, and getting dinner on the table can be a challenge. Often, our window for doing so may be as little as 15-20 minutes from the time we walk in the door, otherwise the kids will start to get hungry and have a hard time settling down to eat. In the past year, we’ve missed that window more often than I’d like, and if we have a half an hour or more of cooking ahead of us, we’ll usually end up ordering instead. In addition to being less healthy overall, this can cost us around $30-$40 per meal over the cost of what we would have paid for ingredients for dinner, even buying top quality ingredients at the farmer’s market. At $450, the Sous Vide Supreme is pricey, but if it can prevent us from ordering out even once a week, it will literally pay for itself in four months. We’ve already used it five times in the first week. Time will tell if this is a novelty effect, but so far I’ve been overwhelmingly thrilled with the results. There’s been a lot of focus on 30 minute meals, but for a busy working parent or two, that can be an eternity. I love to cook, but even after years of practice, my timing isn’t perfect. Pair the Sous Vide Supreme with a rice cooker with a timer and a microwave vegetable steamer and it becomes possible to get a completely freshly cooked dinner on the table with minimal work in less than ten minutes. Even without going to that extreme, it significantly cuts the amount of stove time required for a “regular” meal.

Sous vide cooking certainly requires some planning ahead – it’s not for quick dinners unless you start early, but you don’t have to really figure out how early to start – putting the bag in before you leave in the morning is just fine. It’s also a huge psychological boost, because when you get home, dinner’s already on the way to being cooked. When all you want to do is sit down after a long day and the kids are hungry, it really helps to have things already started.

We’ve done chicken breasts, steak, 30 hour country style pork ribs, carrots in butter – all pretty perfect. Soft boiled eggs and pork chops deserve special mention. Eggs do completely different things in sous vide, because the yolk actually cooks at a lower temperature than the white, and so it cooks first. A soft boiled egg in sous vide gets you a creamy but cooked yolk and a runny white. It’s strange, but entirely delicious. Hard boiled eggs were a little off, because cooking at a high enough temperature to set the white actually overcooks the yolk a little bit. I prefer 8 minutes in water just off the boil. Big fat scallops came out intensely creamy and tender.

And then, there are the pork chops. I’ve struggled for years to get a perfectly cooked pork chop. I’ve tried pan frying, broiling, baking, and braising, and nothing works reliably. They’re just too lean and too thin. They overcook before the outside starts to brown. With sous vide, they’re just right, every time, with almost no effort. They’re cooked all the way through, but not overcooked, and they’re so tender that you can cut them with a fork.

The oven comes with a few recipes with common timings, but there’s little news there if you know what your target temperatures are for regular cooking – steak at 130F, pork chops at 135F, chicken at 142F, fish at 140F, etc… There is no shortage of recipes on various food blogs, and this is a very good intro guide, though it seems meant for a more industrial setting. There are some extra safety considerations, but it’s mostly just common sense, and much of it doesn’t come into play in a home setting where you’re not storing the bags for long periods of time. You just have to be careful that you’re dealing with a somewhat anaerobic environment that can breed microbes that usually aren’t a problem in home kitchens. As long as you’re buying quality food, treating it with respect (understanding the rules of heating, chilling, and storage), and eating it promptly, you shouldn’t have any problems.

In short, this device is amazing, and it’s the future. For me, it fulfills every convenience promise of the microwave and the crock pot, neither of which I’ve ever been happy with from a culinary perspective. There is a small consideration of the extra waste in plastic bags, but I balance that against the amount of waste generated from takeout, which is far greater.

I can’t recommend it enough.


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