Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sous Vide in a bucket

Tonight I’m cooking Sous Vide (SV for short) Lamb fillet, served with with cous cous, roasted vegetables and goats cheese.

I am becoming obsessed with cooking meat this way.  Mainly because cooking meat is something that I always used to fuck up.  Trying to cook steak or lamb chops would always result in a raw interior and a burned exterior or just dry, rubbery bullshit.  I even made fish tough once.  How. The. Fuck.

So learning how to cook SV at home has been really worthwhile for me.  There are machines that you can buy now for a few hundred dollars but really, for me at home playing around, I can do without the machinery.  It comes out so perfectly it’s almost like cheating.

A quick google of “sous vide at home” will provide a number of links to home-made machines and alternative solutions to playing with your food and having it turn out amazingly well.

There are two things you need to properly sous vide meat: a zip lock bag and water at a constant temperature.  Professionally you would have the meat vacuum sealed in plastic however you can get the home 90% version by filling a large bowl with water, placing your meat inside the ziplock bag, half sealing the bag, then nearly submerging the thing into the bowl.  The water will force the majority of the air out of the bag.  Once it is almost entirely submerged, seal the bag then take it out of the bowl.  Done.

In the past I have cooked Salmon and duck breast SV at home.  The Salmon was the easiest to cook.  I read about this method on a couple of places online but I couldn’t say where it originated.  All you do is seal your salmon in a zip lock bag and then turn your hot water tap on.  Once the water is as hot as it’s going to get, fill your sink up with water. Place the Salmon in the sink and wait for 16 minutes.  That’s it.  You can then just sear the Salmon in a hot pan and serve it as you like.

The Duck breast I made was a little more involved – it needed to cook for at least 1 hour (or up to 3 hours) at 60 degrees.  This involved me getting a kitchen thermometer and measuring the temp constantly as time progressed.

All I did was bring the water to 60 degrees and then turn the heat down until it was able to maintain that temp for a couple of minutes.  Then place the bag full of duck in there and hope for the best.  I had a pot of cold water next to it and would scoop out some hot water and add some cold every couple of minutes.  Checking with the thermometer this seemed to work pretty well.  It did need to be checked every couple of minutes and so you can’t really leave the kitchen if you use this method.  I had some WTF podcasts to listen to on my ipod, which helped.  I cooked the Duck for about 75 minutes in the end and the fat under the skin didn’t have time to properly render down.  It is recommended that Duck breast is SV’ed for a couple of hours at least to allow for the fat and sinew to soften and melt away.  The meat was good but the skin was way too chewy/fatty.

Sous Vide Duck breast

So today I read about the Serious Eats method of using the thermos like qualities of an esky (or ‘beer cooler’ if you’re American) to maintain heat for long periods and SV’ing meat this way. So not quite a bucket but near enough.

There are cuts of meat that are supposed to be SV’ed for 24-48 hours and if you were going to do something like that you would need to go ahead and buy a machine – but for me tonight, I’m going to be testing out the esky and seeing what kind of results we get.

The thing I love about the idea of using an esky is that it means that anyone can cook meat using this method.  It becomes a big ‘fuck you’ to any kind of exclusivity around SV purely due to the cost of machinery or time standing over a pot.  Basically fill your esky with the right temperature water, throw your meat in, place the lid on top and Serious Eats reckons you are good to go.

Everyone has an esky.  Everyone likes perfectly cooked meat.  This is the kind of set up they make romantic comedies about.  The thing that is missing from this is getting the right temperature.  I have a cooking thermometer ($15 online) now but a lot of people might not.  What I am going to try and see is if there is a ratio of hot and cold water that will provide the right temp to start off with and then I will gauge how long the temp lasts for in my esky at home.  The lamb is going to cook for about an hour so let’s see how it goes.

Okay, with a bit of further googling I found this page which details a mathematical method of estimating water temp by mixing hot and cold water. 

If we’re using water from a freshly boiled kettle we’re looking at this being at around 95 °C.  The tap water is more of an issue – it should be around 20 °C but I’ll add a bit of a range of temps into the calculations below.

Cold water temp
Hot water temp
Ratio (rounded up)
Litres cold water
Litres hot water
End temp
15 degrees
95 degrees
58 - 60 degrees
20 degrees
95 degrees
58 - 60 degrees
25 degrees
95 degrees
58 - 60 degrees

If you’re unsure of your tap water temperature, leave it on your kitchen bench for an hour or two before you need to use it then check what the current temperature is using BOM or your in house gauge if you have one.  Maybe a fridge magnet from Bali or something.  Otherwise just take a guess at 20°C.  Really this going to be a little hit and miss but should work out okay.  I’ll be testing this out a bit more and will see what results I get.

So I was using about 600 grams of Lamb fillet.  This will easily serve 5 people.  The meat had been marinated for a couple of days in garlic, basil and olive oil, inside the zip lock bag.  I left the meat out of the fridge for an hour or so to get closer to room temp  Then the zip lock bag went straight into the esky full of 60 degree water. 

After about 30 mins I tested the water and it had dropped a couple of degrees, which is actually what I wanted (57 degrees for medium rare – assumed that the meat would lower the temp of the water).  I had a kettle boiled and poured a little water in every 15-20 mins to keep the temperature stable.  About a cup each time.  The lamb was in there for about 80 minutes in the end.  I checked on it about 4 times.  It came out really beautifully and using this method it really wasn’t that hard at all.

After it was out, I browned the outside a little by searing it really quickly in a hot pan.  It was served with cous cous and some vegetables, some goats cheese crumbled on top.

I really enjoy cooking with this method – I don’t think überjoi really cares how it’s cooked just as long as it’s not tough but using the SV method you are guaranteed tender, perfectly cooked meat.  It is so easy to do that it seems stupid not to do it like this as long as you have the time.

The next time I’m using steak or lamb chops and will probably use the esky method again.  I’m keen to even try cooking meat like this for a stir fry or for cumin lamb.  For tougher cuts of meat I’ll probably still go with my pressure cooker but nicer cuts of meat, breast, etc are going straight to the esky from now on.

- words by pisso | image by überjoi.

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