Technique: Sous Vide… What is it?

Sous Vide is magic.

It’s like a jacuzzi for meat.

What is sous vide [soo veed], really, you ask? Technically, according to www.epicurious.com it is “French for “under vacuum.”  Sous vide is a food-packaging technique pioneered in Europe whereby fresh ingredients are combined into various dishes, vacuum-packed in individual-portion pouches, cooked under a vacuum, then chilled. Sous vide  food is used most often by hotels, restaurants and caterers, though it’s expected to become increasingly available in supermarkets”

That is a boring definition. 

I would say that sous vide is the most exquisite way to cook a piece of meat. Picture this: You have 60 minutes left to live before the end of the world. Forget sex, calling your loved ones, or crossing off a bucket list item, you want to have your favorite last meal; perfectly cooked medium-rare, marinated steak on the grill. So succulent, juicy and flavorful, that you can die happy (am I projecting here?). Good thing, you miraculously have all the ingredients and equipment needed; a bad ass piece of beef, a really good marinade, a state of the art sous vide thermal immersion circulator, a vacuum sealer, and hot char-coaled grill.  We’re in business.

The sous vide method works like this: Steak, in a vacuum ready plastic bag. Marinade, poured in. Pouch, vacuumed. Sous vide in an immersion circulator, 125*F for 30 minutes.  Open bag, place on a high-heat hot grill, sear to perfection, 3 minutes. 7-10 minutes of rest.

Slice.

Eat.

Enlightenment.

59:59.

Death.

Ok, so it’s not really the end of the world, but forget 24 hours of marinating, or “overnight in the fridge for best results” With the help of one of these you can have a little end of the world, steak party for yourself.

Joking aside, using a sous vide method under vacuum pack eliminates most of the air, allowing whatever marinade or spices placed inside the bag to be absorbed by the meat and to lock in flavors normally lost when cooking.  Cooking in a water bath, or thermal immersion circulator, of constant temperature penetrates the protein from all angles and evenly cooks throughout. Overcooking is pretty much impossible considering the constant set temperature.

One disadvantage that can be easily fixed is the lack of a caramelized (maillard reaction) crust. Because the protein is being cooked so evenly and not over an extreme heat, there is no maillard reaction of the protein surface caramelizing.  One way to fix this is to sear  on a hot grill after sous vide cooking. This will give a juicy evenly cooked steak the crusty texture and char it deserves.

Lets not forget about vegetables! Using the sous vide method on vegetables also has its advantages.  This method will thoroughly cook  the veg while maintaining a firm to somewhat crisp texture, the cell walls do not get destroyed by high heat, and the gelantinization of starch in the vegetable can be achieved without over cooking!

There are a few food safety risks with using the sous vide method, in particular botulism. Duh duhn duhnnn. Don’t freak out! It’s not prevalent but like any other food safety and proper handling are important. To prevent this bacteria from happening always remember to pack food under vacuum pack below 38*F.  The means, don’t put a 45*F steak in the bag if its been on the counter for 8 hours thawing.  Time and Temperature safety- just like all other foods we handle. If you are cooking meat for a long duration, it must reach 135*F within 4 hours and be kept there in order to pasteurize the meat. For example, 48 hour short ribs.  Sound good huh.. tender delicious and botulism free if correctly heated!

Buying a sous vide machine will cost you a pretty penny ($400-$1000 +), but if you are an avid home cook and like exploring new cooking techniques this will not disappoint.  Also to learn more about this cooking technique, pick up a copy of Thomas Keller’s Under Pressure- you’ll be a pro in no time!

For accurate cooking times and temps here is a handy chart from TK; http://www.sousvidecooking.org/tag/thomas-keller/

Making Fresh Pasta

Thomas Keller knows good food.  He may not be Italian but his recipe for fresh pasta in the The French Laundry cookbook is spot on.  I know this because at my very first attempt of making fresh pasta on my own, I quadrupled the recipe, made 4lbs of dough, and served over 20 people. Pasta making is not as hard as I thought it would be. The only thing that is require besides quality ingredients, is a good amount of space to work in. To get started, you will first need to make the pasta dough.

Ingredients: (yields 14 oz of dough, just under a 1lb)

  • 1 3/4 cups (8 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon milk

Directions by hand:  (for incredible easy directions in a mixer or food processor with a dough hook, scroll down to Incredible Easy Directions)

Mound the flour on a board or other surface and create a well in the center, pushing the flour to all sides to make a ring with sides about 1 inch wide. Make sure that the well is wide enough to hold all the eggs without spilling.

Pour the egg yolks, egg, oil, and milk into the well. Use your fingers to break the eggs up. Still using your fingers, begin turning the eggs in a circular motion, keeping them within the well and not allowing them to spill over the sides. This circular motion allows the eggs to gradually pull in flour from the sides of the well; it is important that the flour not be incorporated too rapidly, or your dough will be lumpy. Keep moving the eggs while slowly incorporating the flour. Using a pastry scraper, occasionally push the flour toward the eggs; the flour should be moved only enough to maintain the gradual incorporation of the flour, and the eggs should continue to be contained within the well. The mixture will thicken and eventually get too tight to keep turning with your fingers.

When the dough begins thickening and starts lifting itself from the board, begin incorporating the remaining flour with the pastry scraper by lifting the flour up and over the dough that’s beginning to form and cutting it into the dough. When the remaining flour from the sides of the well has been cut into the dough, the dough will still look shaggy. Bring the dough together with the palms of your hands and form it into a ball. It will look flaky but will hold together.

Knead the dough by pressing it, bit by bit, in a forward motion with the heels of your hands rather than folding it over on itself as you would with a bread dough. Re-form the dough into a ball and repeat the process several times. The dough should feel moist but not sticky. Let the dough rest for a few minutes while you clean the work surface.

Dust the clean work surface with a little flour. Knead the dough by pushing against it in a forward motion with the heels of your hands. Form the dough into a ball again and knead it again. Keep kneading in this forward motion until the dough becomes silky-smooth. The dough is ready when you can pull your finger through it and the dough wants to snap back into place. The kneading process can take anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes. Even if you think you are finished kneading, knead it for an extra ten minutes; you cannot overknead this dough. It is important to work the dough long enough to pass the pull test; otherwise, when it rests, it will collapse.

Double-wrap the dough in plastic wrap to ensure that it does not dry out. Let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour before rolling it through a pasta machine. The dough can be made a day ahead, wrapped and refrigerated; bring to room temperature before proceeding.

Incredible Easy Directions:

Using the paddle attachment, sift flour into the mixer, add egg and egg yolks, salt, milk and olive oil.  Mix until dough forms.  Swap out the paddle attachment for the dough hook, and knead in the mixer for 10 minutes. Check your pasta with the Window Pane method. The Window Pane method,  requires taking a small piece of dough and stretching it out, if the dough threads are clear and smooth then your pasta is done, if it is clumpy, continue to knead.

Double-wrap the dough in plastic wrap to ensure that it does not dry out. Let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour before rolling it through a pasta machine. The dough can be made a day ahead, wrapped and refrigerated; bring to room temperature before proceeding.

Rolling out pasta dough:

Unwrap the dough or the first portion of the dough from the plastic wrap.  If you made 4lbs like I did, then this will be done in sections.  If you made the exact recipe above, then you can do this in one fell swoop or insections you feel comfortable with. Anchor your pasta machine to the table and get whatever cutting attachment you would like to use.  In my case, I cut fettuccine. If you are using a powered kitchen mixer, you may have an automatic attachment you can use. On a well floured surface punch the dough down to roughly 1/2 inch thick.

Begin passing the dough through the roller at the widest setting.  Once passed through fold the dough in half and pass it again.  You should do this a few times, cranking down the setting to make the pasta thinner and thinner.

Here is a video from No Recipe Required to give you a better idea of what you should be doing: 

After you are finished thinning the dough to your liking, switch the attachments to cut the pasta.  I slid on the fettuccine  attachment. Using well floured, 1 foot segments of the rolled pasta dough, pass through the cutting roller.  Lay cut pasta on a parchment covered sheet tray to dry naturally or prepare boiling water to cook pasta right away.

It is good to note a few things while making pasta:

  1. Always flour your surfaces and the surface of the dough, this will prevent sticking and breaking.
  2. Make sure your cut pasta does not overlap each other, the pasta will stick together.
  3. Stick to the recipe measurements, this will ensure the right consistency.
  4. If you are not ready to roll pasta right away, wrap it tightly and store in the fridge for no longer than 2 days.  When you are ready to roll it out, let it reach room temp.

Have fun and I hope you enjoy! xo-G

Smoked Salmon Crisps

Photo © Quentin Bacon

Need a great, no bake, party app idea?  Take one from me and Thomas Keller, this will be a hit.  I often have people tell me they “hate cooking” “don’t know how” or  “f*%k it up every time”  well then, this ones for you.   Follow these steps to an easy, frustration free, party hors d’oeuvre.

Go the store and buy:

  • 4 oz  sliced smoked salmon
  • 1 large shallot
  • Sesame and seaweed crackers
  • 1 lemon
  • chives
  • 4 oz of crème fraîche or if you can’t find it, sour cream will do just fine.

To assemble:

1. Dice the smoked salmon and place in a medium-sized bowl.

2. Mince the shallot,  add to the bowl.

3. Mince 1 tbsp of chives, add to the bowl

4. Add 1 tbsp of lemon juice.

5. Add a few pinches of white pepper, if you have it (no need to buy, just to add)

6. Give it a quick toss.

7. Lay out the sesame-seaweed crackers on a platter, top each cracker with a tablespoon of the salmon. Dollop with a small amount of crème fraîche and garnish with a 1″ piece of chive.  Serve right away.

My finished product; a bit rushed on presentation, but the flavor was all there!

Let me know how it turns out! I hope you enjoy…

Adapted from Thomas Keller’s, The French Laundry Cookbook