A Sous Vide Diary: Recommended for the home?Saturday, November 12, 2011
|This is a simple cheap grain-fed sirloin steak bought from a nearby supermart|
If you, like me, cook regularly, my answer is most definitely yes.
For those who are new to this rather mysterious-sounding cooking technique, I will give an overview here.
Sous Vide is basically about placing food in a vacuumed pack and then cooking it in a water bath at a precisely controlled constant and gentle temperature.
This way of cooking is not new. For centuries, Chinese cooks have wrapped glutinous dumplings (rice with mushroom and meat) in lotus leafs to retain moisture, add and mix flavours, and steam it. Malays have long known that one of the best ways to eat fish is to "pangang" it: wrap the fish in a banana leaf and cook it slowly on charcoal fire.
Some think that SV is boiling food. On the contrary, it is about controlling the temperature; this technique hardly needs heat near the boiling point. It is more akin to poaching and slow cooking at low temperatures. Cooks have have long known that slow-cooking produces great results.
Think about tougher cuts of meat like oxtail, Osso Bucco and chuck tender. Or seafood and double-boiled soups.
But why would you want to SV tender cuts like rib eye or sirloin? For the reason that it provides more control over the doneness of the meat. You can have it cooked at the same doneness from edge to edge without any under-cooked or overdone parts. No thermometer, no poking, no pressing, no guessing, no messing.
The bane of every cook is the 'mastery' of a dish. This means the dish can be done nicely not just once or twice, but repeatedly. And mastery is about control. Like many home cooks - and unlike hawkers - we don't cook the same dishes everyday. I can't even remember which pot I last used for my Tau Yew Bak and each time I cook it, the amount varies. SV reduces complicated methods to a few things to remember - i.e. how hot and for how long. It gives control and predictability to the cook. A lot of cooking stress is reduced when a cook is assured of the outcome.
|Chicken breast in Miso Butter sauce|
There is still a long list of "SV-enabled" dishes which I will be experimenting with, including rice wine, pork belly dishes and oxtail.
- You are making steaks for a tableful of guests? Hmm.
- You are preparing a big roast for Christmas? Double hmm.
- You are thinking of braising pork knuckle for your CNY Eve dinner? Triple hmm.
Understand and start with this concept (not as often as we do, with the appliance) and you will be less apprehensive about learning this rather novel technique of cooking for the home kitchen. In fact, it is my experiments with trying to make the "perfect egg" which opened me up to SV.
Bear in mind that SV does not replace traditional techniques like searing or roasting but complements them.
This SV advantage is more obvious when you cook multiple course meals or dishes within a short time window.
Recently, I had to host some American guests for dinner. I went super-marketing at 3 pm plus and bought the meats vacuum-packed. By 6.30 pm, dinner was ready to be served in 3 courses: Foie Gras Salad, Chicken Breast in Miso Butter Sauce with Asparagus and Mash Potatoes and ending off with Beef Tenderloin with Mushrooms with some Greens.
I was confident that these dishes would work with my American guests. They have been fed for the last 10 days with chopstick necessitated Asian food. I can tell that they were craving for familiar fare.
I took about 1.5 hours of cooking time. How is this possible?
The humble rice cooker, enabled by the SVM gadget.
The foie gras, chicken breast and beef tenderloin were all SV-cooked. Except for the foie gras, I bought the rest vacuum packed. They went straight to the rice cooker. While it was cooking, I prepared the other ingredients, plating etc
My guests were glad to hold a fork after so many days devoid of it and they showed me how fast they could eat with it! Accompanied with some Muscato and Shiraz, I have never seen such satisfied diners for a long time.
I served the food warm and I disappeared into the kitchen for only a few minutes each time. It takes a minute to sear each side of the chicken breast and the pan can take 4 pieces at once. This means I could both cook and also host at the table. I was enjoying the meal myself and the conversations.
I cannot tell you how pleased I was as a host.
This fact of consistency, efficiency and "cooking for dummies" (after all, you don't need great culinary skills to drop a bag into a bath and time it) in SV-cooking is something which many restaurants have known for a long time. And now, you can learn to do the same.
|It is easier to manage mise en place with SV|
Linked to the idea of efficiency is neatness and ease of storage.
As I am using vacuum packed food, it is neat to move the packs around without worrying about hygiene, spillage of liquids or cross contamination. It also keeps the food in its marinade and warm before the final sear on the pan.
I cooked 6 portions. But they showed up two guests less as there was a change of plans. No problem. The vacuum packed portions goes into the fridge or to the freezer if I anticipate that they will not be eaten in the next few days.
Cool, isn't it? Now, I am using language which my teenage daughters can understand. They chorused, "Yes, very cool Daddy!" as they get to enjoy the leftovers.
Is Sous Vide Expensive?
|Sous Vide Magic|
Sous Vide sounds mysterious and expensive. Really? My own experience is to the contrary. You have a rice cooker, don't you? In fact, I have three. I use a temperature regulator to ensure that it cooks at a constant temperature and voila! - I have a convenient and inexpensive SV set-up.
|My professional Itimer :)|
The SV Magic does only one thing - it measures and regulates the cooking temperature of the rice cooker. It has a built-in timer which you can choose to ignore if you prefer your own timer.
It can use any rice cooker as long as it does not have digital or electronic switches. The "up-down' buttoned ones work perfectly with it. It does not take up any additional table space (a big plus in my cramped kitchen). It is easy to set up and easy to store. I can easily carry it along to do my cooking elsewhere as after all, just about any Asian kitchen has a rice cooker somewhere. I have done this a few times to do half boiled egg-duty and feed a party of people.
What is even more cool is that I have had a word with the online supplier. If you mention that you were referred to this purchase by my blog (just mention Food Canon) in the notes section when you are ordering, they will send you the US IEC C13 power cord with no extra charge. This power cord can be used to attach the rice cooker to SVM directly without the use of an SGP to US power plug adapter.
|Lacor Home vacuum pack|
It will take you a while to use this technique well if you are just starting out. I had my initial doubts but having used it for a variety of dishes, I am convinced that SV has many benefits and any serious home cooks will have no regrets using it. Just don't buy into the idea that this has to come with an expensive tag.
Like me, you can start with a simple inexpensive temperature regulator. And like me, you may end up liking it so much that you will start recommending it, as I am doing here.
|My perfect egg-maker set up. For me, this alone is a good enough reason to buy SVM, |
which can do this and a whole lot more!