Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Jumping to Conclusions

Sous Vide seems so easy, but there's plenty to learn.  Not every dish goes well...

Tonight was 24 hour 56 degree Skippy and salad. I've been working long hours at work so I couldn't be bothered to cook anything fancy.

Kangaroo put in vacuum yesterday night, and just left in the sous vide the whole time at 56. Very slow cooked garlic in extra virgin olive oil, just a dribble. Cooled and stick mixer pureed with some tinned sweet corn and horse radish. Salad out of a supermarket packet drizzled with store bought lime, ginger and coriander dressing (I should have made a dressing). Potatoes done at 85-90 for about 45 minutes or an hour. Threw some left over asparagus in about 5 minutes from the end (just before I threw Skippy on the bars. The whole prep was about 30 minutes (including the work yesterday) and the cook on the barbie was about 3 minutes on super over hot bars. It doesn't look that good, I only wanted to eat two potatoes, but three would have balanced the dish better. I didn't take photos of the cooked roo inside because I was starving and gobbled it down. It wasn't as pink as I expected at 56. There was still some pink, it wasn't grey. I guess you'd call it medium well.

The roo was if anything *too* tender. There was almost no texture. The flavour was great but it just fell apart. In fact it started to break up as I pulled it from the bag and I needed to slide it out with gravity.


I wrote that post but never bothered to post it. I wasn't really happy with the result. It was nice, but not *spectacular* and it just didn't feel worth my time. So I shelved the post.

Then I tried again (you may see the mention of last night's roo in the scary chicken post). This time I only cooked Skippy at 55.3 for 3 hours. What a difference! The meat was tender, but had structure rather than just being super soft. I guess the collagen hadn't all dissolved into gelatin. Much nicer. I had read elsewhere that “good” cuts shouldn't be cooked for ages. Well it was Kangaroo Fillet steak, so I suppose that's a “good” cut.
I still can't get over the roo. It was full of flavour, soft yet structured.

I cooked it again the next night. I had done it on the hot bars the night before to get it browned. I'd oiled the bars but they were so hot that the oil burnt off. They stuck a bit and it mucked up the presentation a bit. You can see it in the photo above.  This time drained the bag, then I threw EVO oil in and swished it about a bit, then onto the super hot bars. Much better result. Good caramelisation and no sticking.  Lots of bloggers say you *must* pat dry the meat with paper towels.  I've never bothered and I can't see why you would.  The temperature of the bars is so high that the moisture doesn't last a second.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Scary Chicken

I thought I'd try something a bit outside my comfort zone tonight. I had some chicken breasts that I'd vac packed and frozen. A bit more chicken than I really wanted, but there wasn't much else in the fridge, so it was going to be a bit of a scratch meal really.

Chicken went into the sous vide at 4pm and daringly (stupidly?) I set it to 55.3, same as the roo I cooked last night. This should give a medium rare but still be fully pasteurised. Chicken is *never* cooked medium rare. I've never tasted chicken done anything less than very well done. I've never really liked chicken breast as anything other than a carrier of other flavours. The meat itself is always pretty flavourless and relies on the sauce to make it worth eating. It can be very worth eating too!

So I chucked that in at about 4pm.

About 6 I started getting peckish and rummaged around in the cupboard and freezer. Found a frozen stirfry veg mix, some leftover chopped ginger, some udon noodles and macadamia nuts. Got a little bowl and chucked in some oyster sauce, mirin, bbq sauce, splash of soy and some ginger jam.

Got out the wok and discovered that it was filthy having been unused for months. That got a wash and onto the giant gas ring. In went the stuff, big stir around, and onto the plate. The chicken came out and sliced about 1 cm thick and onto the plate and into the tummy.

The chicken was a little pink, but less than I expected. Certainly not translucent in any way. The veins still had small amounts of blood showing, but it was still “white” meat. The taste... That wasn't expected. It was the most amazing chicken flavour. Almost artificial chicken taste. This is just supermarket chicken, but it was out of this world. The meat was so soft and tender. You can see the slices bending to follow the shape of the plate. It cut with 4 strokes of the butterknife under the weight of the knife alone. Yet it still retained a texture and a mouthfeel. It was in no way mushy or over done. I could never go back.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Easy to cook Chicken

Tonight I thought I'd do a real sous vide dish, so I thought Chicken and Veg. Can't get much easier than that. So I decided to get some local free range chicken and I found a place that does just what I'm after, Burrawong Chicken is only about 100 km away (which is next door by country standards). They sell to some local butchers as well as places like rockpool. I visited the local place today but they'd run out. The delivery was due yesterday but didn't arrive. As well they only take complete chickens and I've never boned out a chicken... So I took the easy way out and got some thighs from Coles. So much for being a gourmand... Along the way I grabbed some cous cous, baby carrots, broccolini (which is a variety of broccoli, sometimes sold as “baby broccoli), green asparagus spears, brussel sprouts, a lemon and some glucose.

I'd got 4 thighs so I unwrapped them and chucked them in a 5% by weight ice cold brine.

Filled the sous vide with hot water from the tap and started it off to stabilise at 64 degrees. I cut 4 thin slices from the lemon de seeded them and put them to one side. The ends of the lemon I sliced very thin (ceramic knife makes this easy) at 90 degrees to the first slices. That got tossed in a bowl with some pepper and honey. Sliced the carrot at an angle and to one side. The asparagus got peeled and the dried ends cut off. The Broccoli just had the dry ends off. All put to one side in the fridge. About 1/2 an hour had passed so the chicken came out of the fridge and under running cold water to flush the salt off. Some sesame seeds went in a hot dry pan and stirred constantly 'til they went golden brown and also put aside. Made two food saver bags up and folded the top back like a cuff to keep that away from the chicken. Pulled the chicken that had been under running water for about 10 minutes and dried it on paper towels. Chicken into the bags with a slice of lemon on each then fold the cuffs back down and into the vacuum machine then into the sous vide. Time for a break I'd been hard at it for over half an hour!

(insert time passing music)

About 2 hours later I put on a pot of water with two heaped tablespoons of bicarb of soda and start a frypan on very low with a big knob of marg and the carrots, covered with a pizza tray. While that heated up I pulled the two bags of chicken. Quite a bit of liquid had come out of the chicken, I poured that into a saucepan and put it on the stove to boil. While that heated I got the bbq going to pre heat. Back in the kitchen and the carrots got a stir and pulled the chicken juice off the boil. Poured that into a measure and made up to 125 ml with water, followed by a slop of extra virgin olive oil and back on the heat to come back to the boil. The chicken then comes out of the bags, the lemon slices are discarded and the chicken dried. Drizzle a heaped teaspoon of glucose over the chicken and massage it in. Now a helper was called in... I put the chicken on the bbq, two minutes on each side on the very hot bars. Meanwhile the helper put the brussel sprouts in the bicarb water, and 100 g of cous cous in the chicken water (off the heat), with constant stirring. After 1 minute (should have been longer) the broccoli and asparagus followed the brussel sprouts into the water and the lemon, pepper and honey mix joined the carrots in the pan. Meanwhile I'm messing around with the bbq. About 4 minutes gets a good golden colour on the chicken and it comes off to rest on the plates. The cous cous spooned out, greens come out of the water onto the plates, carrots out of the frypan (leaving behind the lemon) and get sprinkled with the sesame seeds. Couple of photos for the blog and we tuck in!

The verdict? The chicken was the best I've ever tasted. It cut with a butterknife virtually under the weight of the knife. It was far the juiciest and most flavourful chicken. The cous cous was very chickeny and I really liked it but the boss didn't like it at all. The carrots and brussel sprouts were under done but nice. Both of them could have done with another 3 minutes cooking time. All in all I was pretty impressed with supermarket chicken done like this. I can hardly imagine what free range chicken would have been like.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Bread Bread everywhere and not a slice to eat

Salt free bread. Hmmmm

There's roughly the same quantity of salt in seawater as there is in bread. It's an obscene amount of salt and simply cutting that out makes a huge difference. I went to every bakery in town (so I thought) and they all said “No” including one of the chain franchise bakeries that supposedly can produce salt free bread if it's requested. I gave up.

Some whining and whinging at work and someone suggested a bakers in town I hadn't visited.

On entering I was immediately happy. Huge posters adorned the area behind the counter explaining the dangers of salt. Success!!!!

No, they use “organic salt”. WTF????

“OH, NO” they explained, “normal salt is bad, but we have “Organic Salt” (you could hear the capitals in her voice) and that's good for you.” It was pointless trying to explain. If they could hold such a stupid idea so passionately there was nothing I'd be able to do to shift it. Never try to teach a pig to sing, it will frustrate you and annoy the pig.

So I was thrown back on my limited resources. I'd been told that salt is *essential* to bread making and that bread made without salt will rise out of control and then collapse, taste insipid (or “inedible”) yet strangely the salt is also described as not making the bread taste of salt in any way. It also “improves crumb” however I have no idea what that means, improved in what way? Lastly it makes the bread last longer. I've found every single one of those statements to be false, except for “improving crumb” (the inner part of the bread) which may be true, false or meaningless.

I found this recipe on the net.

Like so many recipes on the net it uses volumes rather than weights and things like “pkgs” as a measure. Still it was a starting point. I wouldn't say that I've got it right yet. Well I have, but sadly haven't recorded it! What I have worked out is that the correct yeast is 16 grams. The rest of the measures don't seem very critical and even the recipe says 5-6 cups of flour!

The exact method seems less than critical too. I personally mix all the dry ingredients, form a well on a table and then pour in the oil (I used extra virgin olive oil) and water, mixing as I go. I let it rise for 2-3 hours then knead again, divide and put in pans, allow to rise for about an hour or so (judged by size), cook 'til golden at 175 C.

So how does it turn out? Despite the dire warnings on the net, the loaf rises evenly and is quite stable. Far from being inedible as some websites describe, the taste is divine. Gone is the salty flavour that overpowers the taste of the bread. Instead it tastes like fresh bread smells. Warm nutty and slightly sweet. It brings to mind fields of wheat and the smell of fresh mown hay. Far from the familiar manufactured product taste, it feels and smells like it was once alive. The structure of the bread is very good. It holds together well, cutting cleanly without splitting or crumbling. The foam takes even quite stiff spreads well without compacting and turning back into dough. Far from the salt preserving the bread I've found that it keeps *better* than store bought bread. This is a slice of week old bread. Kept at room temperature there is no sign of mould (the spots are seeds) and it's still quite palatable.  I ate the model after the photo shoot with some boutique strawberry jam.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A present to myself

Got my sous vide magic in the mail today. It's been on it's way for a week and it's been a week of high anticipation. I hooked it up to the power and checked the calibration roughly by putting the sensor under my tongue. It showed 35.9 which is about right for oral temperature. I figured that meant it was about right.

The quick start guide was easy to follow. It didn't come with the machine but it was a quick download. Plugged it all in and attached the rice cooker I got from “the good guys” for 40 bucks.

It stabilised pretty quickly so I set it to 63. The guide recommends trying some eggs to start with. So a couple of eggs went straight in the pot. The first came out at 45 minutes. On home made salt free toast it was nice but strange. The white as I expected wasn't really done but the yolk made up for that. Warm, thick and delicious.

I had to go out and not wanting to leave strange electrical equipment on with no one home I turned it off at about the 1 hour mark (with one egg left inside). I got back from dinner about 2 hours later. The temperature had fallen to 55. Still above the safe temperature. What the hell, I'll eat it! The white was the same as before but the yolk was quite different. It didn't take much to tease the yolk away from the white. Rinsed under hot running water it cleared to a clean separate sphere. I put it back in a bath of hot water from the sous vide. The white begged to be fried so I fried that and put the yolk back on at the end. This is the result.

One ingredient, egg.  Warmed and then lightly fried. 
Couldn't get a much simpler food than that.

The white was quite different to normal. Not better, not worse, just different. The yolk on the other hand had the consistency of cold honey but the taste of a savoury custard. Absolutely delicious.