Ham is not for everyone, but if you're a ham lover, lucky you, because ham is one meat that's darn difficult to mess up. Want to make it even juicier and more foolproof? Cook the sucker sous-vide. Because hams are pre-cooked, it's really just a matter of reheating them. Typically, I'd suggest removing meat from its retail packaging, seasoning it, then re-sealing it in a sous-vide bag before cooking it. But since ham's pre-seasoned, it can be cooked directly in the package it comes in, making the whole process even more appealing.
Sous Vide 101
This year, three new devices—the Sansaire, the Anova, and the Nomiku—designed for sous-vide cookery and targeted at the home cook have been released, all of them available for under $300. But how do the three stack up against each other? For the last few weeks I've been testing all three side by side, cooking with them in every type of situation a home cook is likely to run into (and some they aren't). Here's a feature-by-feature breakdown of the testing.
Turkey porchetta—deboned turkey breast cured with garlic, fennel, sage, and red pepper and wrapped in its own skin before roasting—might be the best way to cook turkey using a conventional oven, but if you want to really break out the big guns, cooking it sous-vide, followed by a stint in a hot oil bath Peking duck-style, is the way to go.
Even cooked through traditional methods, braised-then-crisped pork belly is one of the most delicious things in the world. So why, you might ask, would one resort to cooking them like sous-vide? Find out after the jump!
They say imitation is the best form of flattery. I say that flattery is the best way to get away with stealing great ideas and employing them yourself. This dish is based off of a concept I was first introduced to by Tony Maws at Craigie on Main in Cambridge. Sautéed vegetables, a bit of cured meat, and a poached egg are the backbone of any number of excellent first courses.
Pork is a prime candidate for sous-vide cooking, thick-cut pork doubly so. Why? Well, back in the day, pork used to be much fattier, meaning that it could be cooked to relatively high temperatures while still maintaining a modicum of juiciness. Modern pork, on the other hand, has been bred to be relatively low in fat, with big chunks of un-marbled meat. It's all part of the "other white meat" campaign—pork masquerading as chicken. Lean, modern pork tends to dry out very quickly unless you cook it carefully and keep it to a safe medium-rare.
The great sous-vide circulator wars of 2013 have officially started. We test out the Anova, the newest competitor to breach the sub-$200 mark for water circulators aimed at the home cook market. How does it stack up to the competition?
Sous-vide cooking may be experiencing a rise in popularity, but the problem for home cooks spans familiarity, price, convenience, and design quality. Now, Scott Heimendinger, the Director of Applied Research behind Modernist Cuisine, thinks he might have the solution: The Sansaire, a new all-in-one sous-vide solution that is designed to work in any container and retails at just $199. Is it worth the dough? We got our hands on the first working prototype to test it out. We cooked everything from steaks to eggs to slow-braised short ribs to put it through its paces.
There are countless good ways to cook a steak. So long as you start with good, high quality meat, season it properly, don't overcook it, and get a good sear on it, you can't really go wrong. But if your goal is the ultimate in tenderness and juiciness, a steak with a crisp, crackling, dark brown crust that cuts open to reveal flesh that's perfectly pink from edge to edge, then you're going to want to cook your steak sous-vide. Sound expensive? Think again. Watch the video or read the transcript to see how you can cook the best, most consistently foolproof steaks of your life, all in a $30 beer cooler.
The Food Lab: 61-Day Dry-Aged, Sous-Vide, Torched-and-Seared Bone-in Ribeyes (AKA The Ultimate Steak)
So you got your tender, well-marbled, expensive-as-all-get-out, funky-smelling, thick-cut steak. What's the best way to cook it? And I'm not just talking "the best" way to cook it. I'm talking THE ALL OUT, NO HOLDS BARRED, TAKE NO PRISONERS, THIS IS THE BEST FREAKING STEAK YOU'LL EVER HAVE IN YOUR LIFE BEST way to cook it.What does that mean? It means we'll have to do better than we've done in the past.
Sous-vide cookery is slowly but surely moving into home kitchens, but there's still a large convenience barrier that is stopping people. Enter the Nomiku. The idea is simple: a clip-on water heater with a built-in pump that heats and circulates water inside any pot, pan, or other vessel you'd like. With this nifty little guy, you can turn any pot in your kitchen into a sous-vide water bath. Heck, you could cook a steak in a flower pot or poach fish in a fish tank if you'd like.
The Food Lab: Deep-Fried, Sous-Vide, 36-Hour, All-Belly Porchetta (Or, The Most Freaking Delicious Thing To Ever Come Out Of My Kitchen)
A regular porchetta is delicious, no doubt, but I thought to myself, what if I start with the same all-belly porchetta and take it to the extreme? This was undoubtedly the mind-blowingest of all the mind-blowing meat dishes that have come out of kitchen in perhaps... ever? Bold statement, I know, but I honestly can't think of anything I've ever made that I was happier with then this porchetta.
I'm the first to admit that sous-vide is not the best way to cook everything, and that goes for the majority of my favorite vegetables. Peas, asparagus, ramps—all those delicious, fresh spring flavors do better with a quick blanch or a sauté. That said, there are some vegetables for which sous-vide cooking can't be beat. For me, carrots top that list. When cooked in a sealed bag with a little bit of butter, sugar, and salt, the natural flavor of the carrot intensifies into a sweeter, stronger, and downright tastier version of itself.
This is one of the easiest and most impressive applications of a low-temperature water oven like the Sous-Vide Supreme. The idea is that the texture of a cooked egg is determined solely by its temperature. That means when cooked to 142°F, egg whites will be barely set but still hold their shape, no matter how long you hold them there (provided you give them enough time to heat through, that is). Similarly, at that temperature, egg yolks will be hot, but completely liquid.
By this point, there is absolutely no question that the method of cooking foods at precise low-temperatures in vacuum-sealed pouches (commonly referred to as "sous-vide") has revolutionized fine-dining kitchens around the world. But the question of when this technique will trickle down to home users—and it certainly is a question of when, and not if—remains to be answered. The Sous-Vide Supreme is certainly a big step in the right direction. But at $450, for most people, it still remains prohibitively costly. In an effort to help those who'd like to experiment with sous-vide cookery without having to put in the capital, a couple weeks ago I devised a novel solution to the problem: cook your food in a beer cooler. I put the hack method head-to-head against the Sous-Vide Supreme.
There is a misconception about food safety, and particularly how low you can go with low-temperature cooking. But with a temperature-controlled water bath, you can not only cook chicken to lower temperatures, but more importantly, hold it there until it's completely safe to eat. What does this mean for a home cook? It means you no longer have to put up with dry, 165°F chicken.
Why would anyone want to sous-vide a steak, you might ask? The short answer is flawless execution. When a steak is cooked via standard methods, even with a precise thermometer, you run a certain risk of over or under-cooking it. This risk can be minimized, but it takes practice, and skill—even the seasoned line cooks who've been turning-and-burning steaks before vegans existed will produce the occasional slightly-too-well-done porterhouse.
Is the new SousVide Supreme, the $449 home version of the $1,000 machines used by the world's best restaurants, worth all the hype? Our man J. Kenji Lopez-Alt cooked over 35 different foods in it to find out.
If you've eaten at a fancy restaurant in the last five years, chances are, at least part of your food was cooked sous-vide (French for "under vacuum"). It was only a matter of time before a home version of the $1,000-plus thermal water circulators required for controlling the water baths would hit the market. And who better to shill for the new toy but molecular-gastro-uber-chef Heston Blumenthal?