Chicken Breast with Candied Fennel Stems and Yuzu Kosho
Breasts: 135°F for at least 40 minutes, salt and pepper in the bag.
Fennel: 176°F overnight, with simple syrup and vanilla in the bag.
Chicken breasts are one of the few items cooked sous-vide that once you taste it, you will never want to eat a pan-roasted chicken breast again. The meat comes out unbelievably moist—spoonable, almost—and a quick sear in clarified butter or oil gives you skin just as crisp as a traditional pan-roast.
Slow-cooking tough fennel stalks overnight in syrup with vanilla yields tender, not-fibrous, yet crunchy rings, good for savory and sweet applications.
Pork Chops with Included Spice Blend and Orange Puree
Pork Chops: 135°F for at least 30 minutes, with provided spice blend.
Oranges: 176°F overnight (oranges skins were scored first) with simple syrup and aromatics.
I've had good pork chops sous-vide, but these were a bit too thin (and my stove a bit too weak) to get a sufficient sear after cooking without overcooking the center—they came out a bit overdone. One of the big drawbacks of sous-vide is that it does not brown your meat. In addition, your meat is very wet when it comes out of the bag. All of that moisture must first be evaporated before browning can begin, so unless you've got a industrial-strength burner in your kitchen, it's tough to get restaurant-quality results in dishes like these. Perhaps better blotting or a quick rest in a warm oven to evaporate moisture might help. The folks at SousVide Supreme sent over a couple of bags of mixed spices to bag with your meat, but none of them were worth a damn, including this one.
For the oranges, they were cooked skin, pith, seeds and all in a bag with simple syrup and some aromatics. The puree comes out velvety smooth, and as a bonus, you get a good pint or so of orange-flavored syrup, great for flavoring ice creams, or homemade sodas.
Slow-Cooked Broiled Cod
Cod: 120°F for at least 15 minutes, butter, salt, and pepper in the bag, followed by two minutes under the broiler with buttered seasoned crumbs.
Fish, which is very difficult to cook right with traditional methods (how many of you have had overcooked, tough or dry fish in the past?) generally fares extremely well when cooked sous-vide, which eliminates the possibility of overcooking. This cod was no exception. The main problem is that very flaky fish like cod will start to fall apart as soon as you try to remove them from the bag. I was originally going to sous-vide this, bread it, then fry it (a technique which works great with firmer fish like halibut), but resorted to merely topping it with crumbs and broiling it after it started to fall apart.
Either way, it was perfectly moist and delicious. Better than plain-old broiled cod? Not really. But a helluva lot more foolproof.
Seared Duck Breast
Duck: 120°F for at least 30 minutes, just salt and pepper in the bag, followed by a pan-sear.
Mixed success with this one. Like goose, squab, and other fatty poultry, in order for the skin to crisp up properly, most of its subcutaneous fat must render. That's the problem with cooking them sous-vide. The fat remains after you take it out of the bag, so once you try to start pan-searing it to crisp up the skin, it takes much longer than you'd expect, during which time the meat starts to overcook.
The only solution is to remove the skin and cook it separately (I press mine between two baking sheets in a 400°F oven until crips) before cooking the rest of the breast sous-vide.
Not ideal, but it works, and the duck meat you get out of the bag will be fantastic.
Wild Mallard Canapés with Miso Glaze
Mallard: 120°F for at least 30 minutes.
This is a wild mallard breast that was shot near Boston on the North Shore by a friend of ours. Unlike mild farm-raised duck, mallard has a more assertive flavor (that comes across as almost fishy in its leg meat), but can sometimes be a little tough. This makes it the perfect candidate for sous-vide. Low temperatures prevent you from overcooking and further toughening muscle fibers, and cooking under vacuum keeps the assertive flavors in the meat, where they belong. As with normal duck, the skin has trouble crisping, but in this application, I didn't mind. Delicious.
Slow-Cooked Quail Breast
Quail: 125°F for at least 45 minutes. Salt and pepper in the bag.
It's possible to get results like these—rosy pink, supremely moist meat, and crisp, well-browned skin—using traditional methods, but quail is such a small, fragile bird that even in expert hands, it's often mistreated. The breasts are only about three-eighths of an inch thick. Just try not overcooking that in a hot oven or skillet. With a water bath, it's simple.
Quail with Pomegranate and Fermented Black Bean Sauce
Same quail, seared and sauced.
I definitely believe that it's worth it to know how to cook a quail properly without resorting to sous-vide (quail for a start, that is). However, the real value of the technique revealed itself to me during this 12-course marathon sous-vide meal: All of my proteins were already cooked and being held warm in a 115°F water bath for the duration. Whenever the next course came up, all I had to do was snip open a bag, sear, plate, and serve. Without the water bath, perhaps I could have served the exact same meal, but it would have been a heck of a lot harder to cook every single item to order using traditional methods. The best line cook in the world would be bound to over or undercook at least one item.
With a water bath, it's possible for pretty much any home cook to sere multi-course meals with little to no chance of messing up the proteins.
Squab with Cauliflower Puree and Slow-Cooked Pears
Cauliflower: 183°F overnight with butter and milk.
Pears: 183°F overnight with maple syrup and Riesling.
Squab: 120°F for at least 30 minutes, salt and pepper in the bag, followed by a sear.
Fruit and vegetable cells are held together with pectin, which doesn't break down until around 183°F, which is why fruits and vegetables require much higher cooking temperatures than proteins. Pears cooked sous-vide are incredible—they emerge from the bags still able to hold their shape perfectly but are extraordinarily tender without being the least bit mushy. Go figure.
Like quail, delicate squab is made much easier with a water bath.
The Sous-Vide Burger
Hamburger: 125°F for 20 minutes, salt and pepper in the bag, followed by a sear.
This was the first time I have ever cooked a hamburger sous-vide, and I was skeptical at first. Would the pressure of the vacuum bag compress the meat and make it tough? Would I be able to get a decent sear on it? This is a picture of the burger after it was removed from the bag, but before I seared it. As you can see, weird shape, none too appetizing...
The Sous-Vide Burger (Autopsy Shot)
Holy cow, that's an awesome burger! When it was first sliced open, it oozed juices for a full 45 seconds. Literally. They just wouldn't stop coming out. The texture did not suffer in the least (having such a low-powered vacuum helped, I'm sure), and it was quite possibly the juiciest burger I have ever tasted. And as you can see, perfectly medium-rare from edge to center. Incredible.
With the right marketing, this is the application that's going to start a revolution, and is nearly reason enough for me to get a machine of my own.
Slow-Cooked Beef Heart
Beef Heart: 130°F for at least three hours.
Beef heart, an extremely flavorful but slightly tough organ is a great introduction to the world of offal. It's got the flavor of a strong steak and is very lean so it doesn't have that mushy, fatty texture that many other types of offal can have. Cook it sous-vide, and it comes out not quite as tender as a filet, but somewhere on the order of a flank or skirt steak, making it a perfect candidate for...
...Slow-Cooked Beef Heart Tacos
A little crumbled cotija, some onions and cilantro, fresh tortillas, a squeeze of lime, and some salsa. Simple, perfect, delicious.
Lobster: blanched and peeled, then cooked at 130°F with beurre monté for at least 30 minutes.
This is the one food you see more often than anything else because it's one of the most spectacular ways to cook lobster. Cooking in beurre monté (butter that has been carefully emulsified while heating it) has been done long before sous-vide was widespread. (I've worked at restaurants that used to keep five pounds of it on the side of the flattop to warm lobster throughout the night.) Sous-vide just makes it economical both in terms of space, and money. Rather than five pounds of monté, all you need is a few tablespoons per bag.
The moistest, tenderest lobster tails you've ever eaten. And applications like this, where there is not post-water bath cooking are truly 100% foolproof. There is no reason why any home cook shouldn't be able to get the exact same results that Thomas Keller is getting at The French Laundry or Per Se.
Slow-Cooked Ribeye Steak with Braised Fennel
Steal: 120°F for at least 45 minutes, followed by a pan-sear.
Fennel: 183°F overnight with extra-virgin olive oil.
Steak is fabulous and foolproof in a bag. Cooking the meat at your desired final temperature means no temperature gradient from the outside to the center—your steak will be perfectly medium (or rare, or, God forbid, well) from center to edge. People say that the vacuum bags "lock in flavor," or keep juices from leaving the meat, but that's a load of B.S. You'll clearly see the juices from the meat pooled in the bag when you remove it. In this case, as is the case with most short-cooking items, sous-vide is about consistent results and even cooking, pure and simple.
Fennel cooked in olive oil is a revelation for fennel lovers and haters alike.
Olive Oil-Poached Salmon with Tarragon-Grapefruit Vinaigrette
Salmon: 115°F for at least 30 minutes, olive oil, salt, and pepper in the bag.
Like the chicken, this is another one of the applications that you'll wonder how you ever lived without. When cooked to 115°F, the salmon is just-this-side of medium-rare. The stage where is is cooked through and opaque, but has not yet started to squeeze out white albumen. It has a luxurious, custardy-smooth texture unlike anything you've ever tasted (unless you've had sous-vide salmon before).
Turkey: 135°F for six hours, bagged with fat and aromatics.
This year for Thanksgiving, I thought I'd give sous-vide turkey a try. I've never had it before. To add a little fat to the mix, I threw in a few dollops of goose fat, some cubes of pork belly, and aromatic herbs.
Straight out of the bag, it's got no color, and frankly, looks pretty bad indeed.
After a very tedious and difficult sear in clarified butter (you try searing the four parts of a 12-pound turkey at the same time), I carved and served.
No good. It was tender and moist, but completely lacking in any sort of roasted flavors. My theory, which I devised after no research and very little experimenting, is that to get good roasted flavors, you need both drying and interaction with oxygen, neither of which you get in a sous-vide bag.
Back to slow-cooking in the oven next year.
Confit Chicken Leg with Sauerkraut and Pomegranate
Chicken Leg: Salt cure, followed by 173°F overnight with chicken fat and aromatics.
This one was fantastic. Like butter-poaching, the confit method seems almost custom-designed for being doe sous-vide. Rather than gallons of duck or chicken fat, all you need is a couple of tablespoons. The vacuum bag makes sure that it's exposed evenly all around the meat. In an oven, confit can often dry out, even when submerged in fat—at 173°F in a vacuum, that never happens. Spoon-tender meat with plenty of flavor.
Sous-Vide Duck Fries
Duck Fries: 173°F overnight with aromatics, followed by breading and deep-frying.
This was a tag-team effort between myself and Nasty Bits columnist Chichi Wang. Duck testicles. Gross, right? Having never worked with them, I treated them like other glands, slow-cooking them at a low temperature to break down some of the membranes, followed by deep-frying to crisp them up and cut through their overwhelmingly rich, creamy texture.
Duck Fries in a Wok
If you don't know this already, a wok is by far the best vessel for deep-frying at home. The wide, shallow surface of the oil gives you plenty of space to work in, making it easy to move your food around (unlike a tall, narrow Dutch oven, which is useless for pretty much anything besides braising, stewing, and baking bread).
Sous-Vide Duck Fries with Slow Cooked Egg and Trumpet Royale Mushrooms
Egg: 140°F for at least 45 minutes.
The finished duck fries served with seared mushrooms and a lemon-caper sauce. The idea was that the egg yolk should have been liquid enough to mix with the lemon and capers, creating a rich vinaigrette right in the dish. Unfortunately, the SousVide Supreme revealed its only flaw during this dish—the egg came out overcooked. From the looks of it, it came closer to around 143 to 145°F.
My guess is that in cooking so many bags at the same time, the machine gets overloaded, and has trouble circulating water properly. The egg must have been sitting in a hot spot. Still, one flaw out of 20 under extreme circumstances ain't too bad.
Gator Foot with Thai Aromatics
Gator: 173°F overnight with aromatics.
I've cooked alligator tail, but never foot. Figuring that it's a tough piece of meat that would benefit from slow cooking, I treated it like a normal sous-vide braise: overnight at 173°F, in order to break down connective tissues. The meat was going to become a component of a Thai-inspired salad, so I cooked it with lemongrass, garlic, chiles, and sugar.
Sous-Vide Alligator Salad
The meat cooked up dryer than expected (and the leathery skin looked exactly the same as before it was bagged), but once it was shredded and tossed with the remaining salad ingredients (shallots, a ton of herbs, fish sauce, palm sugar, garlic, chiles, toasted rice powder, and fried garlic), moistness was no longer an issue. The flavor was somewhat like a large, dry, frog, if you know what I mean.
Better sous-vide or not? Tough call—I've never tried it any other way.
Beef Ribs: 173°F for two nights with "flavor transfer sheet."
Another surprise hit of the evening. The spice blends that the folks at SVS supplied to me weren't that great, and I was even more skeptical of their "flavor transfer sheets" (films of mylar with embedded spices for you to wrap around your meat before cooking). Nevertheless, I tried their Mesquite BBQ sheets on the ribs that I had taken off the ribeye steaks.
The results were surprising. Fall-off-the-bone tender and moist, with a strong, distinct smoky flavor. Certainly not great great barbecue by any standards, but the best, most realistic-tasting version I've had come out of a regular old kitchen without any real smoke or fire. I wouldn't bring it down south, but I'd pit it against some of the more popular 'cue spots in the city.
Braised Lamb Shanks with Polenta
Lamb Shanks: 176°F overnight with veal and lamb jus, and aromatics.
Polenta: 183°F for at least four hours with water, butter, cream, and parmesan.
Lamb shanks were a disappointment. I believe it's the same reason that the turkey sucked. When you sub sous-vide for other slow-cooking methods in which the meat is exposed to oxygen, or when sauces are gradually reducing, you don't get the same complexity of flavor development. There was certainly plenty of lamb flavor in there, it was just one-dimensional.
Polenta, on the other hand, works great sous-vide. Put it in the bag with all your ingredients, drop it in the water, and forget about it, bar an occasional squeeze and turn to make sure the seasonings are even. You'll never have to hover over a stove with a wooden spoon for an hour again!
The machine seems compact, but it has a capacity large enough to easily cater a multicourse dinner party for a dozen people or so.
Is it useful for day-to-day cooking? That's a little harder to say. Cooking sous-vide requires a lot of forethought—not much work involved when it's actually cooking your food, but definitely a lot of planning.
The SE team in my tiny (but well-equipped) Brooklyn kitchen, around my tiny (but well-used) IKEA table.