n. pl. things that interest Stewart P. Slocum

Bathing in the Kitchen | Sous Vide Demystified

In Chefs, Eats, Innovation, Nutrition, Reads on March 14, 2011 at 1:09 pm

I am enamored with food.  I watched every episode of The Frugal Gourmet as a child, have journeyed to both CIAs east & west coast, studied in Lyon, France (home of the tire bouchon,) dined my way around Napa & Sonoma vineyards, appeared on a Food Network program cooking in the back country of Montana, spent 10 years with a global restaurant brand, enjoyed a seat at many a chef’s table, flown halfway across the country for a F&W fest on multiple occasions (& trekked via bus, ferry and foot to the remote island of Nantucket for another) … so without any formal training, I’ve picked up a few tricks.

That said, I’ve never been very confident in my own cooking until now.  I wouldn’t even subject myself to it very often – my overcooking and constant prodding of proteins to ensure doneness was neurotically pitiful.  While I adore & respect fresh product & live within stumbling distance to Union Square Green Market, purchases more often than not would rot in the fridge.  This is all before discovering the Sous Vide Supreme.  Nowadays, I might have a custard or perfectly cooked eggs in the morning (what a perfectly cooked egg means is a hot topic in the SV blogosphere,) a perfectly cooked med-rare ribeye for lunch and a perfectly cooked wild-striped bass for dinner.  All made with little prep time or prep skill, in the smallest kitchen I’ve ever had (a trade off for proximity to things like the Union Sq Market).

In short, Sous Vide allows perfection without years of studying the technical craft of cookery.  It’s easy to apply the “diner/reader” food knowledge you’ve acquired over years by the words or spoonfuls of others’ labor.  If you can read a time/temp chart, you are free to explore & apply your knowledge of flavors & cultures with ample additions of risky ideas & whimsy.  On the purely functional side, you can save time & money, if either are your goal.  For time saving, just batch & freeze.  As an example, one flank steak can be portioned & take on several different forms via spicing.  For cost savings, just batch & freeze what’s on sale or available bulk.  When you’re ready, grab a pre-portioned & spiced fish, beef, pork or fowl bag from the freezer & dunk it in the oven.  Sous Vide breaks down connective tissue in tough meat to gelatin, thus enhancing the quality of lesser cuts to fillet standards.  It’s amazing.

Sounds like magic, but it’s more like science. The results are spectacular (especially given the little effort/skill required), but I have to warn you, it ain’t sexy.  It’s just an oven that uses water instead of air.  So it just sits there on the counter at a consistent temperature — no whizzing, sparks or climax during cooking or after, none of that alcohol-in-the-saute-pan flair.

In the hopes that you might want to give this a shot, I’ve compiled my ample research.  Naturally there’s more out there, but this is the best of the best that’s readily available.

FOR THE VERY, VERY INTIMIDATED (and for complete dumb dumbs):

Sharone Hakman for Sous Vide Supreme Register for access to 8 introductory videos.  These are very basic so very good for anyone who’s completely unaware/never used Sous Vide, if for no other reason than just to demystify and relieve any intimidation.  Plus, Sharone seems like a good guy who’s fun to watch.  While these may seem a bit infomercial-ly, give them a pass on that front since after all, the purpose is for them to be very very basic.  (That said, please do yourself a favor & skip all the Richard Blais vids on the SV Sup site.  Blais comes across a million times worse than the worst guy schlocking gimmick gadgets on the last day of a state fair when he hasn’t made quota.  The SV Sup is an incredible piece of equipment and deserves better.)

FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO GET UP TO SPEED FAST:

Jason Logsdon (Cooking Sous Vide website, Ipad/phone application, Beginning Sous Vide e-book/book)  From the approachability and informational aspects, this is the website for getting up to speed on SV (history, how-to and reference tool.)  Spend a few minutes perusing it and you’ll truly “get” Sous Vide.  That said, from the design standpoint, it seems like they’re still using a Commodore 64.  The overall experience is like saddling up next to some fascinating genius in a charmless dive bar.  The Ipad app is a great reference tool for quick access to times/temps.  The inexpensive e-book book is all you’ll need to get started, but feel free to go paperback if that’s your pref.  It’s an easy read & reference.

Sous Vide Supreme time tables Handy quick reference.  If you were on a desert island, had a SV Sup machine & had never touched one before, you’d have everything you’d need to survive on this one sheet.

FOR THE ARTIST:

Chef Joan Roca at Harvard Oh my god.  I watched this entire 2 hour presentation in rapture, breaking out in giddy smiles, oooooohs & ahs.  Please get me to Spain ASAP!  There are more noteworthy chefs in this series that are on my “to view” list.

FOR THE GEEK COOKING AT HOME:

Practical Guide to Sous Vide If you don’t trust the SV time tables of the experts, Douglas Baldwin, a PhD, will get all mathematical on your ass.  He also has some You Tube videos, which aren’t pedantic & I quite like, and a SV Home Cook book, which is not at my local bookstore, not shipped via Amazon nor available electronically.  So I’m like screw that.  It’s SV, catch up with the rest of us on the publication front!  Maybe one day, I’ll stumble upon a copy or it will finally be available electronically.  His creme brulee YT video won my heart.

French Culinary Institute Primer (I & II, charts)  Oh, I love the French.  Starting with a promise of seven installments, the FCI seems to have petered out on April 13, 2010 with two.  Nevertheless, what was completed before surrendering is good in a chef tech way.  Helped me decide not to buy an expensive, mildly effective vacuum machine & just go with Ziploc Freezers & the easy-to-find Ziploc Vacuum bags for my Sous Vide endeavors.

FOR INSPIRATION FROM REAL PEOPLE:

Nom Nom Paleo She’s a fitness nut, but also a working mom & wife who runs the kitchen for a family of four, largely thanks to Sous Vide.  You can go straight to the SV recipes & skip all the paleo cooking, which basically means cooking with fresh whole foods, by clicking here.  But you’ll miss all the pretty pictures, colorful narrative and inspiration to eat unprocessed.  Helped me realize that SV would not only up the amount of healthy, whole foods in my life but also make a busy lifestyle just a notch or two easier.

SV Kitchen Ladies, please invite me over.  Fried chicken, garlic confit, enchiladas, risotto & creme brulee, what can you not do (perfectly) with SV.

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH:

Having tried eggs at all sorts of temps. IMHO the perfect egg  is 149, wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-craving-them perfect. Ehhh, how do you say in French, “Ahhh, set eeet & forget eeet”?

Long story short, invite me over to dinner & I might show up with a Ziploc of something delicious for you.  If you’re smart you might greet me with something of the same!  If you already have Sous Vide experience to share, feel free to use the comments below.

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  1. Thanks for the shout-out. And wonderful roundup of all things sous vide: insightful and frequently hysterical. Get in touch the next time you’re in California.

  2. Just where is the facebook like link ?

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