Monday, September 29, 2008

You Paid 50 Dollars for a book?!

Yeah, I got classy roommates.

He was joking, I think.

But, no I only paid $34.14 from Amazon and it's basically awesome.

I plan on doing one of these recipes while I wait for Under Pressure. We will see how it goes.

In other news I did a little maintenance and fixed some images that were loading very large images and scaling them down. Now they are only slightly larger and should load much faster. Yes I could make them exactly the same size as they are displayed at and save your precious bandwidth but its not thaaaaaat much more and I am terribly lazy and want to use my Flickr account to store them and save MY precious bandwidth.

On a side note my previous post saw me wishing that the salmon I got was in fact wild. Well it turns out that it IS wild but it may not really be salmon (at least according to this post).

Additionally, according to my friend Jacob those potatoes are in fact Yukon Gold and not Russet as I had thought.

Oh, before I forget; here is a picture of my assistant, Master Shake, posing with the book:

Update: The book is excellent, read through the essays and skimmed most of the recipes. Unfortunately the website does not let you enter in the serial number or whatever they are doing for registration yet, they are probably waiting for the 15th, too bad.

Fun fact though, the website stores your password in plain text and not a salted hash (not as in sea) , a clear violation of industry best practices ;), tsk tsk.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Vanilla/Pepper Mi Cuit Salmon

Still waiting for the book of course so I have decided to keep myself busy with various other recipes. One thing I have been dying to try is salmon mi cuit (half/semi cooked). This is salmon which is cooked in 104F oil. Nathan M offers a recipe in the WSL Article that I thought would do the trick.

So I decided to copy that but cook it sous vide by taking hints from Nathan and Douglas.

I headed over to Whole Foods for the salmon as well as the vanilla beans and herbs. I got two fillets of coho salmon from WF, not sure if they were wild or not but it was the most expensive at ~$16/lb so lets pretend it was. mmmm kay? In any case the fish looked delicious for a Sunday night with no smell and, I later found out, fresh taste. I would did eat it raw and it tasted delicious.

A fun fact to mention is that salmon has all sorts of parasites and germs that you may want to kill via freezing for 24 hours. That being said I usually eat it raw and do not pay much attention to the food safety aspect. If you are making this for immune compromised people, you probably should. More information can be read on Douglas' site.

At the same time as copying it I wanted to add some flavor. Being the inventive sort that I am I Googled "Salmon Mi Cuit" and came up on this recipe.

In reading this article one of the things I remembered from Douglas was that salmon could develop some ugly looking albumen leakage. Which is unpleasant to consider, let alone eat. So I made a brine of 10% salt by adding 100g of salt to 1L of tap water. I left the skin on one piece for comparison purposes. I also left some skin on the salmon for want of better knife skillz.

After a little bit of finesse I cleaned it up a bit into:

That's my super sweet Yanagi (japanese fish knife) underneath it. I carefully wash it and always dry it completely before putting it away, unfortunately you will notice the tip is slightly broken off and it has some staining (rust?) which is just one of the perils of roommate living. If anyone knows how to take better care of this I would appreciate the info.

At this point I realize I had to infuse the oil by cooking it on the stove for 30 minutes. So I put the salmon back in the fridge and mix up the infused oils.

Here is my mise en place (I don't know why that squash is in the picture either):
That vanilla bean looks delicious so here is a close up:

I actually only used half the bean and 1/3rd the other ingredients. I only needed 2 tbsp for these fillets and 1/3rd the recipe still yields 6.8 tbsp of infused oil. I was feeling awesome so I decided to make the infused oil by heating it in a water bath @ 55.5C for 35 Minutes. In order to do this I filled a ziplock with half a bean, split and scraped along with the other seasonings.

I zipped all but a little bit of the seal and submerged it in water to push most of the air out and then zipped it fully. I employed a complicated retaining mechanism, aka a wire basket with a plastic doohickey wedged in to counteract not all the air getting out and expanding to make it float:

I then blended the basil (fresh from my little herb garden), parsley and olive oil in this mini food processor gadget that came with my immersion blender:

A little straining later and I end up with this semi-opaque oil:

Now it was time to start cooking the taters, russets I believe:

The recipe says to boil these whole for 15 minutes or as long as it takes for them to soften, and then peel them. Of course this did not work at all and after 15 minutes and I ended up quartering these to cook them faster.

When they were cooked I just pulled the skins off, I left them on to add that little bit of extra flavor, you can see below how easily the skins were to remove before mashing (or left on if you want):

I was left with the skins, which I would normally put in a compost pile. However, I have never actually owned a compost pile so I was going to throw them away. Instead I fed them to my dog roommates.

I added some butter and and 1/3rd of a cup of milk and mashed my little heart out until I was left with a smooth puree. I let this sit on low while I completed the recipe and added the basil oil before mixing one last time and serving it.

I then took my oil filled bags out of the freezer, I was concerned they wouldn't have frozen but was greeted by opaque oil so I was all set:

Ok, that shot looks pretty gross, but that's what you should look for, add the brined fillet and vacuum seal. I set mine to high vacuum and moist contents to get it out quickly before the oil melted and to get a good seal just in case some did get sucked out. I was left with this delicious looking salmon:

I cooked it for 14 minutes @ 40C as per the WSJ article.

I then cubed some yellow summer squash and sauteed it for a hot second in some olive oil.

While that was sauteing that I crisped the skin with my trusty little blowtorch. This will probably be replaced by a new torch soon but it did the job nicely here:

Now with 100% less flash:

I plated the entire dish and drizzled some basil oil on the mashed potatoes and squash. It looked pretty delicious.

The texture was really out of this world and the taste was just right, I am glad I put in a little bit extra vanilla but it may have been helpful to crack or coarsely grind the pepper because not a lot of that flavor made it through to the salmon. This was almost the texture of gravlax or smoked salmon but more tender with an exquisite mouth feel, and yes it was that very vivid color, it seems that sous vide often has the nice effect of setting the color pleasantly.


With the crisped skin, also delicious (but I am not really a big fan of fish skin in general):

Friday, September 12, 2008

Meet The Tech

Ok so this is going to be the list of essential equipment that I will be using for this grand experiment of mine. The basic list for sous vide goes something like this:

Vacuum Sealer
Hot Water

I know, I know, you are saying to yourself - "Kevin, this is impossible! I knew I was right to denounce this whole sous vide thing, there is no way I can attempt this!"

Or not.

This is not rocket science (but you can certainly make it so if you wish, just check out NathanM's posts on eGullet) but you actually do need one more thing. The ability to regulate the temperature of that hot water. Unfortunately precise temperature regulation can be difficult to achieve and as with most things in life the harder it is, the more expensive.

I am a 26 year old living in Manhattan spending money on things 26 year olds in NYC spend money on so it is important to me to do this as cheaply as possible while not degrading the final product. I have an excellent job that I love doing, but rolling in dough I am not. Hopefully I can do this inexpensively enough that most anyone can follow this blog / book and cook it at home as I do.

I first started my adventures in sous vide with just my FoodSaver V2840 and a large pot of water on the stove with a candy thermometer on it.

This method works great for tender proteins (steak, pork, chicken) that require cooking times of 2 hours or less. It is not so great (due to the necessary careful watching of said pot) for cooking short ribs for 36+ hours.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Lets cover the vacuum portion of this first.

You have many options for vacuum sealing your food and the option you pick is going to be dependent on several things:

a) Your level of commitment
b) Your level of income.

You can do something as simple as sucking the air out of a ziploc bag with a straw to get a tight seal or as complex as a $15,000 high speed dual chamber vacuum sealer. The choice is up to you.

I went with the food saver and have been very pleased with it so far, it ran me about $110 on sale at amazon (please note that none of my links are affiliate links and I encourage you to shop around to find the best deal).

The things to think about in a vacuum sealer are:

  1. Is it a chamber or an "anvil out of chamber" / edge sealing type machine? If it is not a chamber vac it will be much more difficult to work with liquids but I hope to show several ways you can work around this in future posts.

  2. How strong is the vacuum (only important if you are looking to compress cook fruit/veggies)?

  3. How easy is it to get the bags and how expensive are they? (edge bags can cost 4 times as much as a comparable sized chamber bag)

  4. How hot can the bags get? I believe I read somewhere that the Reynolds handivac bags have a max temp of ~180F/82.2C. No one likes duck confit w/ plastic leaching surprise.

A Reynolds Handi Vac:

A (my) edge sealer/out of chamber anvil machine:

A chamber machine:

Contrary to popular (or maybe just my) belief, the amount of vacuum a machine can pull isn't really a concern unless you want to do things like compress fruits or cook via compression (more on this in a later post). The most important thing is that it gets most of the air out; this is required to halt oxidation. Additionally, if there is too much air in the bag it will float and cause uneven heating.

So for 90% of sous vide recipes a Reynolds handivac is the same as a foodsaver.


The challenge is when you want to do recipes with a marinade or other liquid.

One possible solution is to freeze the marinade first. Something to note is that things like sugar and salt lower the freezing point of liquids. If you have a wimpy freezer this means some of your marinades may not freeze. I prefer to freeze the liquid marinade into cubes without the sugar and salt. Then you can put the sugar/salt into the bottom of the vacuum bag, add the food as a barrier to keep the sugar/salt from getting sucked out, and then add the marinade cubes.

If you are lucky enough (or just rich enough) to afford a chamber vacuum then this isn't a concern for you and you can vacuum pack anything from short ribs to stocks; color me jealous.

If you are not rich and just starting out, I would recommend the handivac route. Splurge on a decent food saver for vacuum sealing if you want to dive in head first, or think you will use it for actually saving food.

Water Temperature Regulation

Ok so now hopefully you have some idea of how you are going to be sealing the delicious flavors in and the nasty oxygen out.

So lets talk about actually cooking with this. Sous vide is traditionally thought of as "boil in a bag" cuisine and as such has a, ahem,
low-brow, connotation to it. Nothing could be further from the truth of course but the basic idea of boiling in the bag is correct. So long as you replace "boil" with "gently simmer".

You could technically cook something sous vide in a regular oven providing you can obtain precise temperature control but, frankly, air is a crappy conductor of heat.

Now if you want to cook with the big boys and girls you need to move on to an advanced medium. That's right, di-hydrogen monoxide. Often the subject of clever pranksters it's more commonly known as water. You can get fancy and use a CVap (with or without the vacuum bag, of course without wouldn't be sous vide) or you can go the commoner route and just use hot water.

I, of course, went the route of the noble but struggling proletariat and opted for the hot water. At first I used a very simple mechanism:

Combined with:

These two tools combined make for an excellent beginner sous vide setup, with a small bit of practice.

I was able to cook some of the best steak and pork I have ever made in my (albeit short) cooking life.

Once you get bitten by this bug however you will probably want to experiment with more precise temperature control for longer periods. Some things (like eggs) need a very precise temperature and small variations result in large differences. A great example of this is on Douglas Baldwins amazing "Practical Guide To Sous Vide" (There used to be pictures of the eggs right on the site but they are definitely in the PDF version, worth looking at). A difference of two degrees F can make a lot of difference in the final product.

Once you decide to move up from the pot and thermometer you have three options:

1) An Immersion Circulator (mine):

2) A circulating water bath:

3) Rice Cooker (or crockpot) and a PID temperature controller:

One - My choice was the immersion circulator, depending on how lucky you are this can be the cheapest to get. I watched E-Bay for a while and ended up getting one for the low low price of $130 shipped. Now that being said. This was the original condition:

You may say to yourself "Self, that don't look half bad".

You would be wrong.

You would be very, very, very, very wrong.


This bad boy was NasT with a capital T.

There was some sort of dried film over the entire bath and circulator portions. Besides that this thing is awesome. It's making me 36 hour short ribs right now and it is very quiet and has not deviated even .1 from 55C.

So this is what I did (and you should do) to clean it. I soaked it in very hot tap water, and scrubbed off all the grime I could. I then filled it with water and put it on boil.

Let it sit there for as long as you want. Make sure to cover it with a specialized steam containment cover:

So that is a bit wrinkly because the cover is well used by this point. At some point I am going to have to splurge and make myself another one. There goes another penny! But seriously, you can use whatever you want, you can buy fancy ping pong balls or you can use aluminum foil. Whatever's clever. Oh and that pic is at 55.0 because it is already cleaned and is now cooking delicious short ribs.

Ok so the water is boiling, awesome. now dump it out, and fill it back up with warm water. Add enough bleach to make a sterilizing solution (call me paranoid but I used double the bleach as recommended). Let it sit for 2+ hours. Then dump it out
rinse well (be careful to keep the upper house dry if using an IC) and fill with water, let it boil again, scrub again, rinse again.

Then get your self some Citranox, described in this thread as one of the strongest acid cleaners you can reasonably obtain. This is a bit expensive. I ordered it from amazon and it wound up running me a less then 50 dollars. Now I have a bunch so I guess I can sterilize more things?

Then boil, rinse, scrub, rinse and you are done!

Does that seem hard? It may be, I dunno I spoke briefly to a really smart scientist girl I know and she said it sounded about right so, it's got that ringing endorsement.

If you do this, fully expect to get ebola and die from your IC. I take no responsibility for this regimen to actually do anything besides make it shinier under certain conditions and moonphases, neither of which can actually occur together.

So basically use at your own risk, please don't rely on me for sanitation advice, I play with computers all day.

Two - Ok so you can also get a water bath. This thread (again, for the slow ones) is very helpful, I imagine the cleaning is relatively similar. In fact some water baths have a removable IC, that was how mine was sold. (Lauda MA6 with Type B Circulator) so it really is very similar. If you do not know how to operate your IC/WB then maybe the following picture may help you:

Keep in mind that the display is the current temp, when you press the button it becomes the desired temp. There is a small switch on the knob. This locks the knob and prevents accidental changes (which are already unlikely because you need to press the button at the same time), the knob is very sensitive on mine so it may take a bit for you to get used to it.

Three - Rice cookers / crock pots and PID Temperature Control Units.

Ok so technically it doesn't have to be a PID, it could be a simple on/off switch (the cool kids call this a "bang-bang" switch). According to Douglas Baldwin an on/off switch leads to fluctuations of ±2.1°F (±1.2°C) and the PID is only ±0.7°F (±0.4°C). Keep in mind an IC is only ±0.1°C. So ±1.2°C may be a deal breaker for some recipes. It's your call.

Using these are very easy and you just plug the pot into the back of the unit and put the probe into the pot (at least with the auber type units anyway):

So the main advantage here is cost its the cheapest (1-200) unless you get lucky with an IC. That being said it's just not that hard to "get lucky" (well in this case anyway!). The other advantage is that you know this stuff is all new and clean and you don't have to spend money on Citranox and other nasty chemicals.

Decisions, Decisions.

Well that just about wraps up this Meet The Tech post expect more as time goes on. I hope this is helpful to people trying to get into sous vide cooking.

What Am I Thinking?

I'm thinking that I have a tendency to bite off more then I can chew.

I'm thinking that I jumped into this too soon.

I'm thinking that I want to make some really delicious food.

I'm thinking that I love learning new things.

This is a "cook the book" blog. There are many like this, but this is my own. I love the process of learning something new and frankly my life was getting a little dull and I wasn't learning new things at the pace I would like. I recently got a very nice Canon DSLR and an immersion circulator to experiment with and I thought the best possible way for me to do this was to force myself to cook Thomas Keller's new book "Under Pressure" which, to my understanding, is all sous vide recipes.

I thought this because I have been reading Carol Cooks Keller: The French Laundry at Home and Cooking Zuni both of which are fantastic and I will do my best to imitate with out ripping them off. I am just amazed at the results "amateur" (in terms of day jobs only, natch) are able to achieve and I want to achieve those same results myself. I ate at per se for my birthday and it was truly amazing, the best food I have ever eaten and if I can get to the point where my cooking is even half as good I will be elated.

I am not an expert cook by any means. I enjoyed cooking when I was younger but that fell off as I got older and found other fun things to do. I started cooking again about a year ago and jumped into it whole heartedly and I haven't looked back. I enjoy every aspect of cooking from picking out the best ingredients at the Union Square greenmarket to taking the time to make things properly (as well as experimenting with recipes which more often turns out much worse but occasionally produces some real gems).

What I am, is an expert nerd, I love reading new things, getting all "science-y" and basically dorking out. This is why I spent way too much time figuring out exactly what sort of vacuum my Foodsaver V2840 can pull (23inHg, ~200mbar) and exactly how much my immersion circulator (Lauda Type B) drops if I load it up with food (no more then .5 C).

Speaking of which I hope to be adding an equipment page very soon that details exactly what my setup is, what I had to do to get it in usable shape, and how I use it. I truly believe you can do this with a home setup.

Having said that, I have not seen the cookbook yet but I have been told by a little bird (yeah I'm that awesome that I get confidential informants, I feel like I'm on the wire! o_O) that in the book Keller says you need a chamber vacuum. I truly hope I can figure out away around this but it will have to be something I worry about when I actually get a chance to see this book.

Having said that I have some ground rules that, while not set in stone, I intend to follow to the best of my abilities.

  • I will not "half-ass" any recipes in this book. If I can not make something as it is meant to be made (minor variations to account for equipment shortages will probably have to be used, so long as they do not significantly affect the dish) then I will wait to make it until I can do it the proper way.

  • This means I will do my very best to make all ingredients from scratch, even the stuff that isn't sous vide.
  • The one exception that I will grant myself is bread. I am truly awful at baking bread, its a secret shame of mine, none the less I will still attempt it and but if I fail I will gladly pick up a nice loaf from somewhere (anywhere) more competent than I.
  • I will make every attempt to get the correct ingredients, I will not sub out lemons for yuzu, etc.
  • I will do my best to plate the dishes as shown within reason, I will probably not buy dishes that are worth a ton just so the plating can look right, but I will do my best.
  • Where possible I will document this adventure with photos as completely as I can.
  • There is no time line, but depending on how many recipes there are in the book I intend to do this over no more then a year, we will see how realistic that is once I get my hands on it.

So that's it. I am very very excited for this project and I just can not wait to get started (Amazon tells me I will have the book October 16th so that's something at least. In the mean time I will put together my equipment page as well as some hints on how to get your own setup going and maybe post my amateur attempts.

Wish me luck.