Modernist Eats: Sous Vide Egg Souffle
"It's an egg yolk nestled into a cushion of stiff egg whites then topped with more egg white."
No discussion on modernist culinary techniques is complete without giving voice to temperature-controlled cooking. Several methods fall under this category, the most popular being sous vide. Sous vide means "under vacuum" in French; the name refers to the fact that food is traditionally vacuum-sealed before it is immersed in a precision water bath.
Sous vide cooking has been around since the 1970s in restaurant and industrial settings, but only recently, with the advent of several consumer sous vide devices, has it captured the attention of the home chef. The basic premise of sous vide is that you cook food over a relatively long period of time at the temperature which you intend to serve it. The result is food that's evenly cooked from crust to core. Because the food has been vacuum sealed, all of its moisture is locked in and it stays tender and succulent. Proponents also claim that there are health benefits, since nutrients do not dissipate as they would with most traditional cooking techniques.
Sous vide cooking is particularly suited to meat, especially tougher cuts. There is nothing like biting into a short rib that is fall-off-the-bone tender and medium-rare at the same time. Because meat is cooked over a relatively long period, the collagen has a chance to break down, which results in an incredibly-silky texture.
Vegetables also benefit from sous vide cooking, especially root veggies like potatoes and beets. I like to toss them with a little salt and duck fat and let the water work its magic. One great thing about cooking vegetables sous vide is that you avoid the "granny" effect. The "granny" effect is what happens when you throw something like broccoli into a simmering stockpot and promptly forget about it. When you do remember and swoop in to rescue the broccoli, you discover it's flaccid and tasteless.
Because you're cooking food at the temperature it's meant to be served, there is very little risk of mutilating it beyond recognition.
Perhaps my favorite food prepared en sous vide is the humble egg. The 63°C custard egg on many modernist restaurant menus these days is a thing of cult fascination. But today I want to share with you an egg prepared sous vide in an entirely different way than just tossing it in the bath. This, my friends, is a sous vide soufflé.
It's "soufflé" in the most hypermodern sense of the word. In other words, this ain't your grandma's souffle. It earmarks the fruits of my recent experimentation with egg whites and sous vide. It's no secret I'm an unabashed fool for all things uova, but I was really more of a yolk kind of a girl. Until now.
Now I'm enjoying a renaissance of my appreciation for albumen and this is the culmination of my experimental accomplishments. I got the concept from the Spanish chef Raphael Peña, however I altered times, temperatures, and ingredients so much (after preparing the dish numerous times) I am going to share my recipe.
But first I'm going to tantalize you with the sheer genius of this dish and assure you that if you make it, you'll be licking not only your chops, but your plate and your neighbor's plate.
It's an egg yolk nestled into a cushion of stiff egg whites then topped with more egg white so the yolk is a hidden surprise inside the billowy cloud. I served it with seasonal Parisienned vegetables, Jamón Ibérico and cream. A little decadent, no?
About the author: Linda lives in Seattle, WA where she practices modernist food ninja sorcery and writes about it on her personal blog www.saltyseattle.com. She is a freelance contributor to many local and national publications. If you want her in 140 character snippets, follow her on twitter @saltyseattle.