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Equipment Review: We Put ChefSteps' Joule Sous Vide Circulator to the Test

@Richard in Jax: Time to bring out the big swingin' sticks! "My Sous Vide is Bigger Than yours!" Or, I'm not going to say it politely.

I have the largest sous vide bath I have seen anyone use regularly. 11 kW for 15 gallons. I have cooked a 25 pound chunk of meat in it. I can reduce its volume, thanks to its build design, to as little as 3 gallons of water. And when it is full to the top, I can bring it to a full boil in under 30 minutes and it maintains its temperature within 0.1 F thanks to the high-quality PID unit I installed in it. Due to the massive volume of water in it, its heat retention, specific heat capacity, and its ability to come back up to full temperature is measured in minutes at the worst and generally in moments. But, guess what, 80% of the time when I cook it is massive overkill.

I use the Joule to reheat the batches I do in my large bath or when I am cooking something smaller, for a normal family dinner rather than a family feast, I use it to make those normal plate items.

Of course, you're right, if I wanted to do a full boil with the full 15 gallons with my Joule with its sad little 1.1 kW, it would take almost 5 hours assuming I had the whole thing insulated enough to even get that much water up to a boil. Guess what, most of the time I am not bringing my water up to boil. Generally, I am taking at most 2 gallons of tap water that is around 60 F in the first place up to an average of 130 F. It takes a full 18 minutes to do that. Heck, most of the time, I throw the food in while the water is brought up to temperature and add a couple minutes to the cook to compensate -- I never fully saw a point in waiting for the temperature to be fully up to temp first except for items that cook quickly (less than 20 minutes).

Finally, your final sentence shows a misunderstanding of how sous vide works and what the purpose of the heater is: "Neither would cut it in less than 6 hours." You get your "big" (10 pound?) pork loin into 5 gallons of water, you go for medium rare (130 F), you throw it in the pot. You're right 5 gallons will take about 50 minutes to heat completely, so you use hot tap water instead, which is already at 120 F instead of the cold tap at around 60 F. You're increasing the water temperature by 10 to 20 degrees at most at that point, which takes you 7 minutes to 15 minutes. You throw in your "big" pork loin. Your sous vide has one job, bring the water back to temperature and hold it there. It doesn't take a minute to bring it back up, due to the limitations of heat loss over surface area. The result is that it has it back to temp in less than 5 minutes, and it maintains that temperature for the next 6 hours.

Thing is, most people aren't doing a "big" pork loin. They're doing two pork chops for dinner instead.

And while you know what medium rare looks like to you, many people know what it looks like to them as well (relatively subjective measurement). The result is that looking at it really does help, because it helps set expectations. Are you going to get the food to look like it is in the picture? Of course that is unlikely, but most people are happy with how close they got it. Then again, most people don't exactly expect their Big Mac to look like it does in the advertisements either.

Equipment Review: We Put ChefSteps' Joule Sous Vide Circulator to the Test

@dtremit: The very first pairing of Joule with your phone (or other device) requires an internet connection. After that, Joule will operate just fine without an internet connection for both it and your phone. However, if your wifi is down you must have a bluetooth connection for the Joule to work. It will keep operating if wifi and bluetooth go down (or in my case device phone died). You can then press and hold the top to stop it or . . . as I did once . . . simply pull it out of the water and it will stop itself immediately (still, not advisable to do).

You can use a Joule registered to a different account, if you have it paired to your phone via bluetooth, but it will not connect to wifi in that situation.

I have explicitly tried connecting to Joule without an internet connection and even with a second unlinked device. It works fine via bluetooth.

Equipment Review: We Put ChefSteps' Joule Sous Vide Circulator to the Test

@pbfp100: You have to sign up with ChefSteps to activate the app and device. A basic account does not require you to pay anything, ever. If you want access to their more advanced culinary techniques, there is a one-time life-time subscription fee (currently $24).

Once the device is activated, you do not have to use ChefSteps, you do not have to pay anything, you do not even have to look at their recipes. You can do manual settings on the device all you want.

I expect that eventually someone will hack the device or ChefSteps will release an API that will allow third parties to create a control mechanism. Honestly, I would enjoy a simple blue tooth external dial that I could spin to the temperature and time I want and would beep at me when done. I do not see anything other than not releasing an API to prevent that.

Equipment Review: We Put ChefSteps' Joule Sous Vide Circulator to the Test

Last night was a great example of why I like the app:

I'm going along, I start warming up the water, I want to get my fish in as soon as possible. I turn on the Joule. My daughter wants my attention. I go outside and hang out with her, oops my phone is beeping what is that oh water's ready! I go back in, hastily finish prep on the fish, toss it in the water. Quickly prep the sides. Daughter wants me again. I go out, totally forget about the fish for a second time. Now we're down at the local playground just dinking about, phone starts beeping, oh right, awesome, turn off the water from the phone. Tell my daughter it is time to wrap up. Head home, pull out the fish, quickly fry it skin side down, done.

Would the fish have been fine if I had left it in longer? Yes. But my daughter would have been screaming hungry rather than just ravenously hungry. Would a normal timer have worked just as well? Yes, but it is nice to have it contextualized and to be able to say "Yah, no need to waste more electricity" and turn the device off.

Equipment Review: We Put ChefSteps' Joule Sous Vide Circulator to the Test

I used the Anova and broke its display. Dropped it, broke it, steamed it broke it. Went through three rounds before simply returning it and giving up. I see displays and movable parts as obnoxious items that will break faster and easier.

The big thing here is being water proof. I don't mind having to connect with Bluetooth.

My only real disappointment is that the app lacks two major features: 1) the entire catalog of ChefSteps recipes; 2) any way for me to add my own recipes or presets for quick activation. That said manual mode is quick and pretty seamless.

I'm happy with it and y phone is usually with me when cooking and doing other things, so no problem there.

Hello, Tamago Kake Gohan, Your Time Has Come

This is one of my favorite things to make on the fly. So simple, so delicious.

There's a local restaurant that makes a killer bowl of rice, but then they lather it up with pork and a dozen other things. Their rice is fantastic on its own though and doesn't need all of that stuff. A few weeks ago I asked them to skip all the meat, just toss an egg in. The waitress was confused, "A boiled egg?" No, just toss a raw egg on top. "We can't do that." Just ask the chef to do it, I accept all liability. "Ok...." The chef brought it to me personally, had added a few things to it, and said, "I prefer this too, but the owner won't let me put it on the menu." then comped the meal. It rocked. And oh so good.

The Food Lab's Complete Guide to Sous Vide Salmon

Albumen is greatly reduced by the brining process.

I find a sugar brine is beneficial when a piece of salmon is not necessarily at its prime, it helps remove/dilute/something the oils/flavors that have started going off.

I usually just cook the salmon whole and cut it after. Yes the cuts are not as neat, but then I do not have to play the "did it stick together" game.

A pat of butter or other oil keeps it from sticking to the bag. Also the bag itself (bag type) can influence weather it sticks.

The Food Lab's Complete Guide to Sous Vide Smoked Brisket

I strongly suspect that the "sawdust" results are due to the cut. In the description, Kenji carefully describes the different cuts of brisket and different treatments of those cuts, basically those are: flat versus point and trimmed versus untrimmed.

For a good brisket, no matter how you cook it, you want to keep the fat on it. I always cook my brisket untrimmed. A trimmed brisket takes a lot more care and is substantially more likely to come out dry or chewy.

Most of the "sawdust" results are likely a result of using a trimmed flat cut. You want an untrimmed point cut for this recipe. Or, in my case, I used an untrimmed full cut (both point and flat).

If you are using a trimmed flat, you need to be substantially more careful. For a trimmed flat, I would cook this between 57C-63C for 24 hours. I would even consider going down to 57C. In fact, when I did my full cut I did it at 57C (had to double check) and it turned out great: but that is a function of the quality of the meat cut, high grade meat will turn out well despite the lower temperature.

I would also consider doing an injection brim for a trimmed flat, because you are going to remove a lot of that liquid and the brine will help with retention.

You will notice that most of the people talking about how great this was had a fattier piece of meat, which implies they followed the recipe and used the point as suggested by Kenji, "a point-cut brisket is far more forgiving."

I would say that 68C at 24 hours is definitely too hot for a trimmed flat, it will be dry and falling apart because you will have rendered out nearly all of the suet.

The Food Lab's Complete Guide to Sous Vide Smoked Brisket

Sous Vide is about math and science. ChefSteps put out a good Map of Sous Vide a while back: https://www.chefsteps.com/activities/a-map-of-sous-vide-cooking

Basics: Pick the food, the temperature of doneness desired, and the relevant time. Adjust time based on the thickness of the food. Thus a 2" steak will take longer to cook than a 1" steak.

More: Pick the food, evaluate the temperature range for doneness desired, pick the time based on when and how things break down/melt/dissolve/sublate/etc and cook it long enough to have that happen.

The Food Lab's Complete Guide to Sous Vide Smoked Brisket

I do not buy the uncooked meat smokes better than cooked meat hypothesis. What I do understand is that moist meat smokes better than dry meat. The moisture helps the meat uptake the smoke flavor through adsorption, but you are looking at 1/2" to 1" of smoke flavor maximum. Anything deeper in simply is not going to adsorb the flavor, unless you have cut slits into your meat and spread them to allow direct contact with the smoke.

However, liquid definitely takes up smoke flavor through adsorption, which does enter the meat when the liquid is re-absorbed. However that reabsorption is generally minimal. Take two roasts, cook them side by side, same amount of time, weigh them both immediately, pat one dry, put the other to the side, wait ten minutes, pat the second dry, weigh again. I hypothesize that the change in weight will not be substantially different. However, if you really want to test it, the make a brine out of dye, apply it to your meat, and see how far the dye spreads -- you could also do it by sprinkling dye on the outside when you pull it out, then waiting to see how much is absorbed back in. I hypothesize you would see some movement, but not a lot. It would be enlightening to do this test a few dozen times, with varying wait times and hold temperatures to see the real impact.

The reality is that the smoke is mostly on the surface. With a dry meat, you are going to reduce the amount of adsorption, as it will only be to the dry surface, and not passed through liquid as well.

The only other reason you get more smoke flavor from smoking before is that if you sous vide it after, you are going to cook that smoke flavor in more. I am not a huge fan of it though, as it often results in the meat tasting too smokey or having a metallic taste to it.

The Food Lab's Complete Guide to Sous Vide Smoked Brisket

@goatboy: For long-term storage (> 1 month), prep the meat for cooking, vacuum seal it, and then put it in the freezer raw. Then, when you are ready to cook it, pull it out, drop it straight into the sous vide, add an hour of time (really for 24 hour cooking times it does not matter much) and go for it.

For mid-term storage (4 days), prep it, sous vide it, freeze it. Reheat for 2-3 hours in hot water (same as cooking temp usually) (depends on thickness), and finish it off.

For short-term storage (

I froze my meat, because I had to travel 300 miles with it. I did not want it warming up in the cooler, so I took it all the way down instead. Otherwise, I would have cooked it Thursday night for eating Monday afternoon and just stored it in the fridge.

The Food Lab's Complete Guide to Sous Vide Smoked Brisket

I modified the ChefSteps method in a surprisingly similar way to the SE method for a 17 pound full brisket (point and flat) for the Fourth of July.

Tuesday: Lightly salted the brisket, threw it straight into a giant souse vide bag whole, cooked it at 152F for 24 hours.

Wednesday Night: Put it on dry ice and into the freezer.

Sunday Morning: Took it out, put it in a hot water bath (tap hot), let it defrost a bit.
Sunday Afternoon: Cut it open, reserved the juices. Put the ChefSteps dry rub on it (I like the added spiciness), put it in a Big Chief smoker (max temp 150 F) for 2 hours. Then put it in the oven at 250F for 2 hours to set the crust. Finally, put it back into the fridge.

Monday Noon (Fourth of July): Took it out, sliced it up, served it. It was absolutely divine and because it was chilled easier to cut and serve. After about 20 minutes it was room temperature, which was perfect. For the people that wanted it hot, they threw the thin slices on the grill for 30 seconds to a minute and then ate them. I only put out a platter at a time for food safety reasons.

Total time spent working with the meat hands-on: 45 minutes.
Total cooking time: 28 hours over 6 days.

Tuesday: Leftovers! Made fantastic french dip sandwiches with it and the juice reserved from earlier. Reduced a couple cups of red wine, put the juice on it, let it simmer down until it was about 2/3 gone, and it made a fantastic au jus.


Wednesday: Calls from friends started coming in for the recipe and asking me to make it again next year.


Note, freezing it had no substantial impact on the texture or flavor in my opinion.

6 Unexpected Factors That Can Ruin Your Gelatin Desserts

When I do not want something to be as sweet, but it needs the sugar to develop properly, I often use invert sugar instead. Invert sugar is marginally less sweet than sucrose. Great information on sugar values is here: http://owlsoft.com/pdf_docs/WhitePaper/Rel_Sweet.pdf

How to Brown Butter

For those that have a problem seeing the color change, I find bringing the butter to between 120C and 135C (with 128-130C usually being perfect) hits the mark for perfectly browned butter every time. The larger range lets you control depth of flavor.

Also, adding additional nonfat milk solids lets you make a LOT of nibbles!

Stew Science: How to Choose the Best Cuts for Beef Stew

Oxtails are amazing, but they are steadily becoming absurd in price. I get it, they're becoming popular and their really is not a lot of oxtail available compared to the rest of the cow.

Quick tip on oxtail: braise & pressure cook! You can put an oxtail stew together in under an hour if you pressure cook them.

The Food Lab: Foolproof Onion Rings

@MinorHeretic

Any chance that the type of cornstarch or flour you used was of a different grind? A finer ground would make it absorb more liquid, which plus packing too heavily would make you need to use substantially more liquid than the recipe calls.

Cornstarch and flour both come in many different grinds/weights.

The Food Lab: Foolproof Onion Rings

@MinorHeretic

Any chance that the type of cornstarch or flour you used was of a different grind? A finer ground would make it absorb more liquid, which plus packing too heavily would make you need to use substantially more liquid than the recipe calls.

Cornstarch and flour both come in many different grinds/weights.

Deep-Fried Sous Vide Turkey Porchetta (Turchetta)

I completely detach the skin from the breast. Kenji does the same thing, http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2013/11/turkey-porchetta-food-lab-recipe.html
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5. Carefully roll of the turkey meat into a tight cylinder, using the skin to completely enclose it. Tie the roast tightly with butcher's twine at 1-inch intervals, as well as once lengthwise. Transfer the roast to a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 6 hours and up to 2 days. Follow the the slideshow here for step-by-step photos.
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See Ready to Roll on the slideshow: http://www.seriouseats.com/2013/11/the-food-lab-turkey-porchetta-thanksgiving-recipe-slideshow.html
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If you can find transglutaminase in a small quantity, it would be the best source. I don't have a specific source for it, I buy it in a large packet, fire up the dehydrator, repackage it with my vacuum sealer into usable amounts, and freeze the packets. They last about two years as a result.

Deep-Fried Sous Vide Turkey Porchetta (Turchetta)

@Snead: It is not a typo. You remove the skin first, so you have a large square of it. You then remove the breasts as a single piece. Finally you remove the dark meat.

You then prepare the skin. I use transglutaminase, but you can use salt to do the same thing (just doesn't work as well). You lay the breasts onto the skin, prep the inside of the breast, put the dark meat on that, and roll it all up. I put transglutaminase inside the meat as well, to help it hold together, but again salt can do the job just not as well. You then roll it up.

I typically cook the dark meat ahead of time, just to ensure it is tender and fully cooked as it cooks at a higher temperature than the white meat. Last time I did it, I breaded and fried the dark meat, then put that in the core. It was tasty!

The Varnish's Milk Punch

@BostonAdam:

Short answer --
Straining the way this recipe calls for would be a serious endeavor. If you let it set for at least a few days it will separate. The curds will float to the top and some trub will fall out to the bottom. I then put a siphon into the middle and siphoned off the punch, taking care to not disturb the trub or curds. Simple, quick, effective.


Long rambling answer with other observations --
The length of time you let it sit mostly mellows out the flavor. I noticed very little difference between letting it sit with the curds and trub in it versus not. The longest I took to filter was 6 weeks for one batch, and it turned out great.

For what it is worth, I found that the amount and quality of the trub was directly impacted by the type of milk I used. I cannot remember which of the homogenized-pasteurized or not combos worked best and cannot find my notes on it. However, my intuition is that homogenization makes the trub lighter because the fat globules are broken up in that process. In the batch that didn't work as well, the fat was super-light and would float at the lightest stirring of the jar. It was obnoxious, but I was still able to filter the batch.

After I siphoned off the main body of the punch, I dumped the remainder into a cheese cloth, put it over a bowl, tightened it down like I was making cheese, and let it strain into the bowl. I then passed that through a coffee filter.

The batch I did with, I think homogenized milk, was really hard to siphon. I ended up running the whole batch, which was mostly non-cloudy by then, through a coffee filter just to strain it out more.

However, filtering out that last little bit with a coffee filter really wasn't really necessary. I did get a few cups of fluid, but in a large batch it was a small percentage. I imagine in a small batch it would be worth doing.

For this large batch I tried a few variations on recipe, which resulted in six gallon jars. Next time I will probably just make one batch and do it in one of my brew carboys for a simple 5 gallon batch. It would be also be a lot easier to filter out in that scenario, as the separation would be more dramatic.

Overall, I spent about 30 minutes siphoning it all off, which would have been about 15 minutes if I had done it all in a carboy instead of separate jars. The filtering took about an hour, but it was truly optional and I simply set that up and ignored it: it did not require active labor. Next time I will probably skip filtering the trub and head.


For anyone who is curious . . . I made a valiant effort at trying to find something useful to do with the curds on top. They were stripped of all oils due to the alcohol. They were dry and nasty. I tried adding olive oil and a dozen other things to make something out of them. Nothing really worked. They had a good residual flavor, but were so grainy and dry it was not wort hit. If anyone finds something to do with the recipe's leftovers like that, I would be thrilled. I simply feel bad throwing away that many curds, but see no other real option.

The Varnish's Milk Punch

I made 5 gallons of this last year for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Made it on Halloween, and proceeded to drink it over the next two months. It reached its peak right before Christmas. People loved it both hot and cold. Several variations on this as well, tastes differ.

The Food Lab: Foolproof Onion Rings

Adding some vodka (or other alcohol of choice) to your batter will reduce gluten formation, which helps you maintain a light batter even when overwhipped.

Basic Italian Meringue

First meringue: perfect.

Second meringue: perfect.

Third meringue: soup.

Fourth meringue: perfect.

Fifth meringue: soup.

Sixth meringue: soup.

No change in technique, definitely no oils, so why the heck is this turning to soup?

Hey Chef, What Can I Do With Buttermilk?

Closest thing the U.S. has in stores to Laban is Kefir. Not quite the same though. However, Lassi is readily available at Indian restaurants, but it is sweeter. A salt lassi (my favorite) is much closer to Laban though.

As long as we are discussing yogurt drinks (it would be great to see a post on SE about this, maybe there is somewhere..) one of the oddest I have had is carbonated Dhoog from Iran. I am going to have to try it again, as my initial experience with it was less than positive, but I am not convinced that was the fault of the drink or the fault of the company I had.

Ayran is good too, very similar to Laban. Very similar to Qatiq, but doesn't seem to sour as fast.

Now Kumis, that is where things get weird, especially the places that make it out of fermented mare's milk or camel milk (which is called Chal instead). My first encounter with it was from a Mongolian client who brought me airag as a thanks.

Haven't tried Chalap yet, but would be interested in giving it a try as it's basically carbonated salty Qatiq.

And if you want to stay closer to Europe, try Iceland's Skyr -- mmm.


Not really certain any of those qualify as a buttermilk replacement though, although the North African form of Laban is similar to cultured buttermilk.

As for buttermilk, I prefer natural buttermilk over cultured buttermilk. Tangier and more delicious and a great ingredient in recipes. And sadly substantially harder to get because it spoils so fast. Easier just to make your own at that point.

Hey Chef, What Can I Do With Buttermilk?

What are blood cherries? Finding a few ornamental varieties called a blood cherry due to their leaf and flower color, but no blood cherry fruit.