Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Update on sous-vide

When I ordered my sous-vide circulator, I thought I'd probably use it occasionally, but I was worried I wouldn't use it often enough to justify the cost.  Since then, I don't think I've cooked normal meat any other way.  (Normal meaning minimally processed, not including things like bacon, ham or hot dogs)

One of the huge advantages is repeatability--Either Wife or I can cook medium rare beef reliably every time.  We switched from 135 to 134 degrees F--that small tweak made an improvement, but that amount of difference wouldn't be repeatable with traditional methods.  It turns out that 133 is too rare.  Another advantage is that you can get the tenderizing effect of a long cook time while keeping medium rare--London Broil is a cheap cut, but is tender and tastes fantastic sous vide for 6 hours or so.   I like it better than Sirloin--more flavor and as tender.

We often cook in bulk, running a beer cooler full of meat that needs to cook at the same temperature, then cooling in an ice water bath, and freezing most of it still vacuum sealed.   This means that for a later meal instead of a 4 hour (or 36 hour) cook, we just put it in the sous-vide bath long enough to warm back up, usually about an hour.   I've started marking the cook temperature on the package so whoever is cooking knows how hot to reheat.   I still have to look up temperatures other than beef.  I'm keeping a notebook of times and temperatures.

Even hamburgers benefit--did a batch of burgers at 140 for 2 hours.  Next batch will be at 138, but the burgers were very good--not as good as the best charcoal grilled, but well above average for indoor burgers.  I'm guessing that over a blazing hot charcoal fire for a minute or two would make them excellent.    Burgers from loose ground beef need to get a large dimple in the center, otherwise you wind up with meatballs. Pre-formed frozen patties don't go spherical, but they weren't improved over fried, tasted too processed, possibly cooked too long.  (I may try making my own frozen patties to see if they go spherical)

And while sous vide takes a little more planning, the time the cook has to spend watching, stirring, flipping, etc is a lot less.  Fill the pot, set the circulator, drop the bags in and come back for dinner, a minute or two searing.  No defrosting necessary for most foods.  Cleanup is easier too, no baked on goo.

Using a torch for searing is easier than a pan, and for some foods can be more even.  I started with a hardware store propane torch, but I got the wrong model--its nozzle was mostly upright, and tipping the torch enough to reach the food made the flame sputter out.  Others have reported nozzles at right angles to the tank work well.  I bought an Iwatani butane culinary torch, that works very well, and I've wound up using it for other foods, like crisping leftover pizza or toasting cheese.

When I bought cans of butane fuel, Amazon's "people who bought this also bought" list lead me to butane hash oil equipment.  Apparently some people soak marijuana  in liquid butane, throw the marijuana out, then cook the butane away and smoke what's left...if nothing catches fire.

Having hours between "barely long enough" and "cooked too long" is great--get everything else ready, the meat won't overcook or sit out getting cold if your timing is off on side dishes.  One downside is that meat needs to be served immediately after searing, since even with a sear the outer 'well done' extra hot layer isn't thick enough to keep the rest warm very long.   I got some cast aluminum platters at a restaurant supply place, that helps.

Not everything has been completely successful.  I've tried smoking meat to start, and sous vide to finish--texture is great, but the smoke flavor changes in a way I don't like. Apparently some of the smoke migrates through the bag, there's a smoky smell in the water.   Chicken can be overcooked, it turns mushy and grainy.  Chicken also has different ideal temperatures for light and dark meat, a minor inconvenience.  Medium rare chuck roast cooked for 24 hours is tender...but the combination of strong beefy "pot roast" flavor is odd with the medium rare texture.