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mjc

Sous Vide: Recipes, Techniques & Equipment (Part 5)

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Some of these jerry-rigged set-ups you all are using sound dangerously inadequate. If you can't afford the right equipment, then don't cook sous-vide. Stop before someone gets botulism.

This is not true at all. It's very easy to set up a safe home cooking rig, you just have to be sure that the food can get to a safe temp (generally 131/141f they may not all hold the temp exactly correct but that doesn't affect the food temp.

I do however wonder if warm air is going to be a sufficient head conductor to work for sous vide type purposes. let us know how it works out.

EDIT: Let me just clarify "this is not true at all." - while food safety is clearly important sous vide is not so dangerous that a few degrees temperature fluctuation is going to cause any issues unless you are working at the extremes. I hope people aren't scared off, its as easy to do as boiling a pot of water...


Edited by NY_Amateur (log)

Sous Vide Or Not Sous Vide - My sous vide blog where I attempt to cook every recipe in Under Pressure.

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If you think a setup is dangerous, please be specific -- no one wants people to cook with an unsafe setup -- so if a setup is suggested on the list is unsafe in your opinion -- bring it up as a point of evaluation so that the safety or lack thereof can be determined.

Your comment is kind of vague with no way to know what it applies to -- there may be things that you consider jerry-rigged that are actually perfectly safe -- or you may be entirely correct. I say this because when the Auber PID's first came out, there were quite a few people making claims such as you have made but in fact they have turned out to be safe and reliable.

Some of these jerry-rigged set-ups you all are using sound dangerously inadequate. If you can't afford the right equipment, then don't cook sous-vide. Stop before someone gets botulism.

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I am primarly interested in safety, but just to clarify my setup, I've got a mercury thermometer that inserts in through a hole in the top of the incubator (and plugs the hole) so I'm confident in my temperature readings. Over a period of 12 hours there was not the slightest shift in temperature. There is also (perhaps?) an advantage to having the temperature remain constant after adding the meat in there, as it's not cooling down water.

Not worried about plastic bags in cooking myself, I can't imagine microscopic traces of harmful chemicals being any worse than all the other harmful chemicals in the atmosphere. Besides, it's between 130-140.

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I'm a little concerned about your setup... not to say that it can't hold a consistent temperature - but that's the least of the concerns... Heat transfer in circulated water is 100X better than in still air.... Still air is a really bad conductor of heat - so while it may be a rock solid 130 degrees in the chamber, that heat is not getting into your meat very efficiently. I think the true way to test how well your setup works is to get a hypodermic probe thermocouple and insert it into the center of the meat with some weatherstripping closed cell foam tape...run the thermocouple to an external thermometer and watch the temperature of the center of the meat as you start from cold... You want to make sure it doesn't take more than 4 hours or so (that's the upper limit of time) to get from cold to target temperature, or at least out of the danger zone.. this time will vary with the thickness of your package/if there are bones, etc. - so you should do this a few times with varied items to make sure your setup is safe...

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Air (even forced convection air) is not sufficient for sous vide cooking.

The heat transfer coefficient of commercial convection ovens is only about 15--30 W/m^2-C, compared to 300--10,000 W/m^2-C in water baths and convection steam ovens (also called steam retorts) [Nicolai and Baerdemaeker, 1996]. So, when cooking in a water bath or a steam retort, the surface comes up to your desired core temperature almost immediately --- the same is not true in convected air. Indeed, you can reach your hand into a 400F/200C oven without getting burned, but you wouldn't think of plunging your hand into boiling water (even if it is 200F/100C cooler)!


My Guide: A Practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking, which Harold McGee described as "a wonderful contribution."

My Book: Sous Vide for the Home Cook US EU/UK

My YouTube channel — a new work in progress.

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Ok, I think I will toss this batch and start anew. Doing it stovetop I've been raising the heat of the water to about 5 degrees F above my desired temperature before adding the meats, then adjusting with cold water if necessary after maybe 5 minutes. I thought bringing the meat more or less up to temperature in a warm water bath would be sufficient to compensate for the slow-heating of air circulation, but better safe than sorry. I just removed the ribs from the incubator and they appear just fine, but who knows.

Ahh well, time to find a nice square pot :)

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While I don't think this would be great for sous vide cooking (which is to say, food sealed in purged bags)... couldn't this "incubator" be used for low/slow baking like Heston Blumenthal does (e.g., prime rib blowtorched on the outside and then baked 18 hours at 50C)?


--

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I wanted to experiment a little bit with smoking/SV combination.

"Smoked Duck Breast, Asian Pickles, Tomato Pearls and Hawaiian Black Salt".

gallery_57905_5970_10645.jpg

That dish looks superb Mike


Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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While I don't think this would be great for sous vide cooking (which is to say, food sealed in purged bags)... couldn't this "incubator" be used for low/slow baking like Heston Blumenthal does (e.g., prime rib blowtorched on the outside and then baked 18 hours at 50C)?

50C? 18 hours at 122 F, which is well in the danger zone sounds... dangerous to me. Am I missing something here, I know the torch will sterilize the surface, but it's still the same problem too, which is how long does it take the meat to get up to a safe temperature. I'm thinking that if you monitor the meat and bring it up to the right temp in a water bath first then the speed of the heat transfer no longer matters and you can slap it into the incubator. I did 14 hour blade-roast at 133+-3 the other day... by hand and thermopen on the stovetop... man, that's a lot of work. But after say 2 hours I could have tossed it in there and it should have been safe.

Problem is, how long to bring it up to temp. The suggestion to seal a probe thermometer in there with the SV bag, or just way overshoot on the side of caution seem to be the best ways.

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If you're bringing things up to temperature in a water bath, then you can use the tables that nathanm supplied somewhere around page 7 of this thread, or use Douglas Baldwin's charts on his website... that will give you the proper times to get up to temp... Once you're at temp and you want to keep it there, I can't think of a reason the incubator couldn't be used....

One way to monitor internal temperature is using a hypodermic or needle probe attached to an external thermometer. Put a square of closed cell foam weatherstripping tape on the outside of your bag where you want to insert the probe. Insert the probe through the tape, bag and into the center of where you want to measure... the tape will keep the bag from losing its vacuum. Then leave the probe in as it comes up to temp.. I believe you'll have to leave the probe in until your cooking is finished becasue I believe that once you remove the probe, you'll lose yoru vacuum.. but I'm not sure about that... others here will know better...

The FDA considers the interior of whole intact beef muscle (like a prime rib roast) to be sterile and free from pathogens... So, if you blow torch the exterior sufficiently to kill all surface pathogens, you are safe to hold it at lower temperatures for longer periods of time...

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I guess a difference in the HB oven method and what many of us are doing is that the meat is open to the air and many of the processes here are sealing the foodstuff in a bag (in order to make it impervious to the liquid cooking medium). So there is a significantly lessened risk of anaerobic bacteria multiplying when the item is not sealed in a bag.

I can't remember enough of my high school physics to work out if there would be any benefit to putting the food into a bag, into a vessel of water and then putting the whole system into the incubator...

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As a followup to this, I spent part of the day yesterday experimenting with the incubator (or warmer as my wife and I have renamed it, because who wants to incubate their food...).

Short answer: The heat transfer is definitely too slow and this should not be used to bring any food up to temperature.

Long answer:

4 cups of water in a bowl, approx 2 lbs. On being put in the incubator the temp of the water was 87 F (higher than you would normally start with for meat by a lot), and the inc. was 131 F.

-30 minutes: water = 103F

-60 minutes: water = 110F

-90 minutes: water = 115F

-120 minutes: water = 116F

...(decidied to give it a while longer, and a better chance without me opening and closing the door every 30 minutes)

-4 hours: water = 121F

at that point I stopped. As you can see from the numbers, hot circulating air just ain't cutting it. A curve, starting with a fairly good rise in temperature, slowing annoyingly down right in the middle of the danger zone for hours and hours.

It's a food warmer now. Nice to be able to keep a pre-cooked/heated meal sitting at 140. And I'll still use it for long sous-vide applications, where I bring the meat up to temperature in a water bath and then put it in.

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The reason Heston put the meat in a 50C/120F oven for 18--24 hours after searing the outside was rapid aging (also called conditioning). According to Lawrie's Meat Science (p. 239--240), meat held at 43C/109F or 49C/120F for 24 hours had a greater increase in tenderness than meat kept for 14 days at 2C/36F; he notes, however, that while the tenderness increase was particularly high at 49C/120F, it had a somewhat undesirable flavor.

Without a doubt, this rapid aging is well within the real danger zone of -1.6C/29.3F to 52.3C/127.5F. Is there much danger if the surface of the intact beef muscle is pasteurized with a blowtorch or boiling water? If we can assume that the interior of intact muscle is essentially sterile, than it should be safe. How valid this assumption is when we don't know the provenance of our meat? I don't know. If you do plan on doing rapid aging, I would recommend the higher temperature (49C/120F) since all but C. perfringens stops growing by 50C/122F (and this is only because of the Phoenix phenomenon which (to the best of my knowledge) has only been observed in the laboratory).


My Guide: A Practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking, which Harold McGee described as "a wonderful contribution."

My Book: Sous Vide for the Home Cook US EU/UK

My YouTube channel — a new work in progress.

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Well noticed Douglas. In his writing Heston notes that tenderization is done by enzymes at these low temperatures - particularly calpains and cathespins. Calpains stop working at 40c and cathespins at 50c but below these cutoff points the higher the temperature the faster they work. I'm paraphrasing him here.

So at 48 or 49C you are giving the enzyme a long time to denature the protein.

I'll add that I've tried this process in my fan oven and the results are well worthwhile...

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OMG Brisket Sous Vide

Procedure

Using a Jaccard meat tenderizer, poke holes on both sides of a large brisket. Quarter the brisket into four equal-size pieces. Unless needed immediately put three of the pieces in evaluated FoodSaver bags, and store in the freezer.

Prepare a brine consisting of 1 liter of tepid water, 40 g Kosher salt, 30 g sugar, 2 tbsp crushed juniper berries, and 1 tbsp Liquid Smoke.

Score the fat side in a crisscross pattern, and soak in the brine solution in an evacuated FoodSaver marinade container in the refrigerator, for 2 to 3 hours.

Discard the marinade, and pat the brisket with paper towels, then spritz it with a olive oil pump and sear it briefly with a butane torch (or in a smoking-hot skillet, at high heat) to a light brown. (It will be seared again later, once it is though cooking.)

Cook for 48 hours at 135°F.

When cooked, remove and sear again, then finish with any desired sauce or vegetables.

Results:

Oh! My! God! Awesome!!!

I should have taken a picture after searing it, and again after slicing it, because it looked so nice. Next time, I promise.

It was a very pretty pink, perhaps on the rare side of medium-rare, and absolutely melt-in-your mouth fork tender. If I had set the table properly, I’m sure I could have cut it with a spoon.

I sliced it across the grain, like a London broil, into slices about 1/8” thick and three inches long. I didn’t serve the vegetables on top of the meat, because I wanted to taste the brisket by itself, but I did pour some of the juice from the vegetables over the meat.

In this case, I followed a recipe from Julia Child, and cut up a baking potato into slices, coated with pepper, and daubed with about 2 tbsp of butter, in a 350°F oven for a hour. After 30 minutes, I turned the potato slices, and added a white onion, cut into medium slices. 15 minutes later, I added some baby carrots (this probably should have been done earlier), and 15 minutes after that, I added 150 ml (1/2 cup) of beef broth, plus the juices drained from the sous vide brisket before searing it. I omitted the tomatoes she used, as it just didn’t seem appropriate for a medium rare dish, which I was planning.)

My initial plan was to cut up the brisket into four equal pieces, and then cook them one at a time at 135°F for 48 hours, 147°F for 48 hours (as the French Restaurant is said to use), and 176°F for 24-36 hours, as suggested by Douglas Baldwin.

But at this point, I simply can’t imagine getting a better result than the combination of 135°F for 48 hours, although I might push the temperature up to say 138°F. My wife isn’t that easy to please as regards some of my cooking experiments, but even she thought it was absolutely great.

Other recipes call for sweet and sour, barbeque sauce, etc., but I think that it would almost be sacrilegious to drown the taste and tenderness of the meat in such a way. Chacun à son goût!

I confess that I really couldn’t taste the Liquid Smoke or the juniper berries from the brining, so the next time I might try adding just a bit (perhaps 1/2 teaspoon?) of the Liquid Smoke, and some of the crushed juniper berries (maybe wrapped in a plastic sachet to keep them from being too overpowering) into the FoodSaver bag before sealing it.

All in all, it was extremely successful, and many thanks to Frank Hsu and Douglas Baldwin for blazing the trail .

Sous Vide Cooking Instructions:

I used the SousVideMagic™ 1500A controller (http://www.freshmealssolutions.com) with its attached thermometer probe, together with a 10-liter commercial rice cooker to control the temperature of the water bath. I double-checked the temperature with an All-Clad T201 thermometer, the only affordable ($50) thermometer I have found (out of the 10 or so I have tried) that agrees with my $350 calibration grade thermometer within +0.1 F, and includes a self-recalibration function for use with a distilled-water ice-bath. The temperature never varied within 0.1 degree F during all of that time.

For those who aren’t interested in buying another big pot, a simple Crock Pot will also work. The rice cooker maintains better uniformity, because it heats from the bottom instead of the sides. However, a $15 submersible pump of the type used for garden fountains (I bought mine at Home Depot) will solve that problem, and so will an aquarium bubbler. You don’t want to use one of the high-end micro-processor controlled cookers such as the All-Clad unit, because the SVM controller is going to be used to turn it on and off repeatedly.

The FoodSaver system is used to evacuate a food-safe bag and seal it so it is water tight, before immersing it in the water bath. Or you can use a chamber vacuum system, for roughly 50 times as much.

If this is your first time attempting low-temperature, long-duration cooking, be sure to pay attention to the important food safety issues. See “A Practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking,” by the inestimable Douglas Baldwin, http://amath.colorado.edu/~baldwind/sous-vide.html.

Good eating!

Bob

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I wanted to experiment a little bit with smoking/SV combination.

"Smoked Duck Breast, Asian Pickles, Tomato Pearls and Hawaiian Black Salt".

I smoked duck breast over oak saw dust for just a few minutes, brushed it with marinade made with light and dark soy sauces, Xaioxing wine, Five Spice powder and a touch of Kafir lime leaves ( similar marinade sans kaffir lime, is usually used in a Chinese dish called "Smoked Fish", although fish is not smoked at all, but rather gets said flavor from five spice mixture).

I will absolutely use this approach to smoking form now on - oak has very nice flavor, just a touch of it goes a long way, and five-spice accentuates the flavor and adds a pleasant, but not overpowering aroma.

The duck breast was then poached Sous-Vide at 61C for about 45 minutes. This is the final product before plating:

gallery_57905_5970_68349.jpg

Meat was then served with home-made Asian pickles ( carrot, turnip, shitake mushrooms, pickled in rice vinegar with Rock sugar, ginger, Sichuan peppercorns and smoked chilies - I wanted to enhance smoked flavor, without using a lot of actual smoke). Also, I added a touch of pickled eggplant , but kept in on the side - someone in my dinner party is allergic to aubergines.

gallery_57905_5970_10645.jpg

Plain tomatoes would be a little boring, so I made Beefsteak Tomato Pearls for garnish, and added a touch of black salt for color contrast.

This dish would pair very well with sake, but today I opted for Belgian Kriek Cherry Beer , which worked really well.

Overall, this was an outstanding plate - great flavors, texture and secondary flavors. Will do again in a hearbeat!

See the entire set on Flickr

Mike what type of duck was this? I am assuming it must have been a Pekin since I find I have to cook a magret or a muscovy breast for 4 hours to get them tender.


Ruth Friedman

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In my previous post re brisket, I suggested using a 48-blade Jaccard to poke tiny holes in the brisket prior to marinading it, but now I'm having second thoughts.

My understanding is that we can normally assume that the interior of meat can be considered sterile, except perhaps in the case of a sick cow. However, the same should NOT be assumed for the outside of the meat, or for any ground meat product.

But if in fact the outside of the brisket or any other piece of meat might be contaminated, it would seem that using a Jaccard, or even a fork, to poke holes in it might risk transporting any "bugs" from the outside to the inside of the meat.

One of the unanswered questions in my mind with respect to sous vide is whether to sear meat before cooking it, or afterwards.

My thinking now is that it might be best to do both -- lightly sear the surface, whether with a torch or in a skillet, BEFORE using the Jaccard, in order to sterilize the outside before poking any holes in the meat, and then again afterward to develop a crust.

And I am also going to be just a little bit more careful about the sterility of any components of the marinade. I have been less than scrupulously careful about storing Kosher salt, for example, and herbs may be even more suspect.

Any thoughts from anyone? Other than a pocket nuclear reactor, is there any way of sterilizing common herbs, or even pepper? Is there any significant danger lucking here, or am I just being more paranoid than usual?

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Did turkey drumstick with salt, pepper and green peppercorns with a touch of the brine. Came out very good, cooked at 155 for 18 hours then seared in a hot pan. I made a sauce out of the liquid in the bag which had great flavour. My concern with the sauce is that when it cools the gelatine seizes up.

I'm going to look for turkey thighs, I think this would make a killer sandwich-perhaps with some liquid smoke.

Is there a way to break down the gelatine in a sauce so that it does not coagulate? Syneresis through the blumenthal method? Is there a faster way? I would like to use this at the restaurant as a hot turkey sandwich but don't want turkey jelly when the plate cools.

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Mike what type of duck was this? I am assuming it  must have been a Pekin since I find I have to cook a magret or a muscovy breast for 4 hours to get them tender.

Ruth,

It was Maple Leaf FarmsPeking Duck breast with skin on and it was not falling apart tender, but rather had a nice bite to it.


"It's not from my kitchen, it's from my heart"

Michael T.

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My flickr collection

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Someone correct me if I am wrong. I think that jaccarding is safe under certain conditions -- I believe that if you are making sure to pasteurize the meat so that the interior gets to pasteurization temps within a safe amount of time and that you hold the meat at temp long enough to pasteurize that you are ok.

However, if you jaccard a steak and don't cook to pasteurization then you are inviting trouble. For example, if you were cooking a ribeeye at 125 F or 127 F then you would need to sterilize the outside of the meat before jaccarding (by searing or dunking in boiling water). Or, if you were cooking the ribeye at 133F but not cooking it long enough to pasteurize the interior, then you would been to pre-sear.

With your brisket, I think you were ok because you would have been bringing the center of the meat up to a pasteurization temp in a reasonable amount of time and then held it there long enough to kill the pathogens.

I did a couple of blind-tastings and found that pre-searing had a minimal impact on the flavor. Post-searing adds both flavor and mouth-feel.

I keep some juices and fat from roasted poultry on hand and find that adding a bit in the even with beef gives a nice flavor.

In my previous post re brisket, I suggested using a 48-blade Jaccard to poke tiny holes in the brisket prior to marinading it, but now I'm having second thoughts.

My understanding is that we can normally assume that the interior of meat can be considered sterile, except perhaps in the case of a sick cow.  However, the same should NOT be assumed for the outside of the meat, or for any ground meat product.

But if in fact the outside of the brisket or any other piece of meat might be contaminated, it would seem that using a Jaccard, or even a fork, to poke holes in it might risk transporting any "bugs" from the outside to the inside of the meat.

One of the unanswered questions in my mind with respect to sous vide is whether to sear meat before cooking it, or afterwards.

My thinking now is that it might be best to do both -- lightly sear the surface, whether with a torch or in a skillet,  BEFORE using the Jaccard, in order to sterilize the outside before poking any holes in the meat, and then again afterward to develop a crust.

And I am also going to be just a little bit more careful about the sterility of any components of the marinade.  I have been less than scrupulously careful about storing Kosher salt, for example, and herbs may be even more suspect.

Any thoughts from anyone?  Other than a pocket nuclear reactor, is there any way of sterilizing common herbs, or even pepper?  Is there any significant danger lucking here, or am I just being more paranoid than usual?

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e_monster, thanks for reminding me about the pasteurization tables. Even at 130F, 48 hours should be more than enough to kill all of the salmonella and listeria dead, dead, dead. For relatively short times, however (less than that required to pasteurize), briefly pre-searing seems like a good practice, followed by post-searing to enhance flavor and texture.


Edited by Robert Jueneman (log)

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More results: Short rib 24 vs. 48 hours.

The 24 hour ribs were good, tender but still with resistance similar to a NY or rib steak.

The 48 hour ribs were much better and the texture was between a NY and a filet. Still working on a good sauce though. Think I need something mexican-perhaps chipotle and something. Needs spice though.

NOW--I like the texture of 48 chuck or short rib at 131, but I don't like the fat. Could I cook them at 131 for 40 hours then a few hours at a fat melting temp and keep the texture I got from the gelatin formation?

What is the lowest temp to melt the majority of the fat in tough beef cuts?

Thanks.

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Is there a way to break down the gelatine in a sauce so that it does not coagulate?  Syneresis through the blumenthal method?  Is there a faster way?  I would like to use this at the restaurant as a hot turkey sandwich but don't want turkey jelly when the plate cools.

I am not sure you have to break down the protein in the gelatin. You might be able to simply dilute it to the point where the strength is inadequate to hold the gel together. My inclination would be to dilute it and add a shear-thinning hydrocoloid like Xanthan gum to thicken it up a little (and offset the dilution without adding shear strength).

Doc

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Is there a way to break down the gelatine in a sauce so that it does not coagulate?

I assume you're referring to the "scum" that coagulates when you boil the exuded meat liquid from a sous vide bag? That's not gelatin. I find that it's quite easy to remove this by skimming as much as possible while gently simmering, then turning off the heat and allowing the coagulant to settle, then pouring off the clear liquid (through a fine sieve, if you like).

NOW--I like the texture of 48 chuck or short rib at 131, but I don't like the fat.  Could I cook them at 131 for 40 hours then a few hours at a fat melting temp and keep the texture I got from the gelatin formation?

The texture you got is not only from the conversion of collagen to gelatin. It is also due to the fact that you didn't exeed the boundary temperature for "medium rare." If you raise the temperature -- and certainly if you raise the temperature high enough to melt out significant fat -- you will lose this texture.

The only way to not have this fat is to trim it out, preferably before cooking. If you can get your hands on some Activa, you could trim out most of the hard pockets of fat and re-bind the meat before cooking. I've done this with a chuckeye roast.


--

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Is there a way to break down the gelatine in a sauce so that it does not coagulate?  Syneresis through the blumenthal method?  Is there a faster way?  I would like to use this at the restaurant as a hot turkey sandwich but don't want turkey jelly when the plate cools.

You can also use a few drops of Corolase (from AB Enzymes). It will break down all the gelatin in the sauce in less than a minute, and you can then reduce it to your hearts content. It will not produce a clear sauce like syneresis will, but it is fast.


My Guide: A Practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking, which Harold McGee described as "a wonderful contribution."

My Book: Sous Vide for the Home Cook US EU/UK

My YouTube channel — a new work in progress.

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      I cooked two turkey breasts sous vide. This year had access to the Meater+ thermometer probe which I managed to vacuum seal in the bag without difficulty (it is small). Since it works wirelessly I was able to monitor and it records the internal temperatures at the thickest part of the breast.
      I thought the results were interesting. I cooked at 60C for 8 hours. I have always used https://www.chefsteps.com/activities/a-better-way-to-turkey-cook-that-bird-sous-vide-for-the-best-feast-ever which gives long cooking times at lower temperature. I have found that as according to this page https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2014/11/sous-vide-turkey-breast-crispy-skin-recipe-thanksgiving.html that 55C gives turkey which is just a little too pink for most tastes. Over the last few years have increased the temperature up to 59/60 and I find it perfect - very moist and tender, but pale not pink.
      See attached images. I changed my mind a couple of times and started at 58 then 60 then 59 again, so ignore the slight variations. The thing I found interesting was that the thickest part (of a large breast) reached 55C in around 1 hour 40 mins and target of 59 in 2 hours 30 mins. Now I appreciate that sous vide is a combination of temperature and time or duration, but the data make me think that around 4 hours would be sufficient, as per the seriouseats table. I have previously used the chefsteps 55-58 for their much longer advised times, up to 12 hours and the meat is still quite pink at the end, so I dont believe 55 for 12 hours would effectively be the same.
      From now on I will watching the internal temperatures with interest. This has always been the (relative) unkown for sous vide amateurs. 


    • By chefg
      I have to say designing the Alinea kitchen has been one of the most exciting experiences thus far in the opening of this restaurant. I have been fortunate to have been “raised” in some of the best kitchens in the country. When I arrived at the French Laundry in August 1996 the “new kitchen” had just been completed. Often times you would hear the man talk about the good old days of cooking on a residential range with only one refrigerator and warped out sauté pans with wiggly handles. When I started about 50% of the custom stainless steel was in place. The walls smooth with tile and carpet on the floors. I recall the feeling of anxiety when working for fear that I would dirty up the kitchen, not a common concern for most cooks in commercial kitchens.
      The French Laundry kitchen didn’t stop, it continued to evolve over the four years I was there. I vividly remember the addition of the custom fish/canapé stainless unit. Allowing the poissonier to keep his mise en place in beautiful 1/9 pan rails instead of the ice cube filled fish lugs. Each advancement in technology and ergonomics made the kitchen a more efficient and exacting machine.
      When I returned to the Laundry this past July for the 10th anniversary I was shocked that it had metomorphisized once again. The butcher room was now a sea of custom stainless steel low boys, the pot sink area was expanded, the walk-in moved, and an office added to the corner of the kitchen. The kitchen as I left it in June of 2001 was beautiful and extremely functional, of course it is even more so now. It is the relentless pursuit of detail and concise thought that allows the French Laundry kitchen to be one of the best for cooks to execute their craft…..16 hours a day.
      This was good motivation.
      When it came time to design my kitchen I drew on experiences at Trio, TFL and other kitchens I was familiar with to define the positives and negatives of those designs. We were faced with a 21x 44' rectangle. This space would not allow for my original kitchen design idea of four islands postioned throughout the kitchen, but ultimately gave way for the current design which I think is actually better than the original. But most the important aspect in shaping the final design was the cuisine. Due to the nature of food that we produce a typical layout with common equipment standards and dimensions do not work. Here is where the team drew on our experiences from Trio. By looking at the techniques we utilized we came to several conclusions.
      1. A conventional range was not our main heat source. We do need the flat tops and some open burners for applications such as braising and limited stock work. But our overall use of this piece of equipment is somewhat low. Given that we wanted four open burners and two flat tops with two ovens I began to source out a reliable unit. We settled on the Molteni G230.

      2. Upon analyzing our other heat source needs we decided to place a large focus on induction. By utilizing portable induction burners we are allowed the flexibility to give as much power as needed to a specific station in the kitchen. Obviously induction’s radiant heat is very low, and this allows us to keep the temperature in the kitchen reasonable, yet the power is quite high. 31,000 BTU's of highly controlable heat. But the main reason for choosing this flexible source of heat is the fact that each chef typically employed at least four different cooking applications on a given night. This huge flux in technique and the realization that the menu would change entirely in 8 weeks time meant that we had to design a kitchen that could evolve on a nightly basis. And last, we are very specific with temperatures; induction makes it easier for us to hold a liquid at a predetermined temperature for long periods of time without fluctuation. They operate between 85 and 500 degrees farenheit. We did a great deal of research on the different producers of induction and favored Cooktek. The fact that they are the only U.S manufacturer of commercial induction cooking equipment and located in Chicago made the decision easier. Their innovative approach to induction may prove to be even more exciting as we are already talking about new product development in the future.

      3. a. The complexity of the presentations and a la minute plate-ups of the food require a great deal of surface area devoted to plating. This was one of the most critical factors in determining the basic shape of the kitchen. The size of some of today's popular plates, the amount detail in each composition, coupled with the fact that producing tasting menus vs. ala carte means sometimes large waves of same dish pick ups made it necessary for us to have over 44' of linear plating surface.
      b. Virtually nothing goes vertical above the 36” counter top in the space. All food, plates, equipment, and dry good storage are contained by under counter units. There are a few exceptions such as the infrared salamanders, the three-door refrigerator, and the hood. This allows all the cooks a clear line of communication between each other and the front staff. It allows me an easy sight line to survey the entire kitchen’s progress with a quick glance.
      Given these two points it seemed obvious that we needed to combine the two and create custom pieces that would fulfill both needs. Large spans of plating surfaces with all food and equipment storage below. As you can see we ended up with two 22’ long units. Each function as a pass and under counter storage.
      The building is 21’ wide wall to wall. This allowed us just enough space to create two lines on each exterior wall with their passes forming a 60” corridor for the pick up of plates and finishing of dishes.
      4. We decided to add a station to the kitchen. At Trio we had five including:
      a. pastry
      b. cold garde manger
      c. hot garde manger
      d. fish
      e. meat
      Now that we had more space, and the ability to give each station multiple heat
      sources regardless of their location in the kitchen, we could spread the workload even further. We also realized it doesn’t make much sense to identify each station by classic French Bragade terms. A saucier did not solely cook meat with classic techniques and prepare various traditional stocks and sauces…in fact quite the opposite. This holds true with most of the stations, with the exception of pastry, but even they will have very unconventional techniques, menu placement and involvement in the kitchen systems. We will add a station that will be responsible for a large majority of the one-bite courses both sweet and savory.
      5.Given the size constraints of the building we realized a walk-in would not be possible in the kitchen. If we were to have one it would be in the basement. Having experienced this at Trio we decided to design the kitchen without a walk-in, making up for the space in various lowboy locations and a three-door reach-in. I experienced the walk-in less environment when I worked at Charlie Trotter’s. It is certainly different, but as with most things if done properly it provides a very efficient environment. It works best in situations where fresh products are brought in daily for that days use. And prevents ordering in large quantities. It also provides us with very specific units to house different items. We will utilize the 3-door refrigerator to store the majority of the vegetables and herbs along with some staple mise en place, and items that cannot be made in very small quantities like stocks. Raw meat will have it’s own lowboys as well as fish, dairy, and all frozen products.
      6. At Trio we found ourselves using the salamander a great deal. It is very useful for melting sugar, bringing on transparent qualities in things like fat and cheese, cooking items intensely on only one side, and it is a highly controllable non-direct heat source. Due to the air gap between the foodstuff and the heat elements the cook can control the degree of heat applied to the dish based on the technique he is using. It becomes a very versatile tool in the modern kitchen, so much so that we will install three Sodir infrared salamanders.

      Again, this is to insure that all the cooks have access to all of the techniques in the kitchen. As I said before it is important for our cooks to be able to sauté, simmer, poach, fry, grill, salamander, and freeze at the same time and sometimes for the same dish.
      We have a few unusual pieces of equipment in the kitchen; the most is probably a centrifuge. A few months ago Nick and I were driving home from a design meeting and ended up talking about signature dishes and menu repetition. Of course the black truffle explosion came up and he asked if I would have it on the menu at Alinea. I replied a firm no, but shortly thereafter said I would enjoy updating it. We threw around some tongue and cheek ideas like White Truffle Implosion, and Truffle Explosion 2005….I said it was a goal of mine to make a frozen ball with a liquid center….but then dismissed it as nearly impossible. Within a few minutes he said …”I got it…we need a centrifuge” His explanation was simple, place the desired liquid in a spherical mold and place on the centrifuge…place the whole thing in the freezer. Within days he had one in the test kitchen. I guess this is better suited for the kitchen lab topic that we will be starting in a few weeks…
      We are working on a upload of the kitchen blueprints. When those post I plan on going into more detail about certian aspects of the design. Doing so now would be pointless as the viewer does not have a reference point.
    • By ronnie_suburban
      It’s the first day of cooking in Alinea's Food Lab and the mood is relaxed. We’re in a residential kitchen but there’s nothing ordinary about it. Chef Grant, along with sous chefs John Peters and Curtis Duffy are setting up. The sight of the 3 steady pros, each in their chef’s whites, working away, does not match this domestic space. Nor does the intimidating display of industrial tools lined up on the counters. While the traditional elements are here in this suburban kitchen: oven, cooktop, sink, so too are the tools of modern restaurant cookery: pacojet, cryovac machine, paint stripping heat gun…wait, a paint stripping heat gun?
      In the physical realm, the Food Lab is a tangible space where the conventional and the unconventional are melded together in the quest for new culinary territory. With Alinea’s construction under way, the team must be resourceful. This meant that renting a space large enough to house both the office and the kitchen aspects of the food lab was out of the question.
      The decision was made to take over a large office space for the research and administrative aspects of Alinea and transform a residential kitchen into the Lab. Achatz and the team would work three days per week at the office researching all aspects of gastronomy and brainstorming new dishes, while managing the project as a whole. The remaining time would be spent in the kitchen executing the ideas formulated at the office. “At first I thought separating the two would be problematic,” says Grant “but in the end we are finding it very productive. It allows us to really focus on the tasks at hand, and also immerse ourselves in the environment conducive to each discipline.” The menus for opening night—containing as many as 50 never-before-served dishes--must be conceived, designed, tested and perfected. The Alinea team does not want to fly without a net on opening night.
      On a more abstract level, the Food Lab is simply the series of processes that continually loop in the minds of Chef Grant and his team. While there is no single conduit by which prospective menus--and the dishes which comprise them--arrive at Alinea, virtually all of them start in Chef Grant's imagination and eventually take form after brainstorming sessions between the Chef and his team. Menus are charted, based on the seasonality of their respective components, and the details of each dish are then laid out on paper, computer or both and brought to the kitchen for development. In this regard, the Food Lab provides something very special to the Chef and his team. “We consider the food lab a luxury,” says Grant. Once Alinea is open and the restaurant’s daily operations are consuming up to 16 hours of each day, time for such creative planning (aka play) will be scarce. Building a library of concepts, ideas and plans for future menus now will be extraordinarily valuable in the future. Otherwise, such planning sessions will have to take place in the 17th and 18th hours of future workdays, as they did when the Chef and his team were at Trio.
      Today, several projects are planned and the Chefs dig into their preparations as soon as their equipment setup is complete…
      Poached Broccoli Stem with wild Coho roe, crispy bread, grapefruit
      Stem cooked sous vide (butter, salt, granulated cane juice)
      Machine-sliced thin bread
      Dairyless grapefruit “pudding”
      Dried Crème Brulee
      Caramel orb shell made with bubble maker and heat gun
      Powdered interior made with dried butterfat, egg yolks, powdered sugar & vanilla
      PB&J
      Peeled grapes on the stem
      Peanut butter coating
      Wrap in brioche
      Broil
      Micro-grated, roasted peanuts
      Instant Tropical Pudding
      Freeze Dried Powders of coconut, pineapple, banana
      Young coconut water spiked with rum
      Muscovado Sugar
      Cilantro
      Candied Chili
      Jamaican Peppercorn
      Vanilla Bean
      The steps required to comprise each dish are, as one might imagine, intricate and numerous. For the Poached Broccoli Stem, Chef Grant begins by separating the broccoli stems from the florets. The stems are stripped of their fibrous exteriors and pared down until they are uniform in size. Grant comments on the use of the second hand part of the vegetable: “This dish started with the roe. Every year we receive the most amazing Brook Trout Roe from Steve Stallard, my friend and owner of Blis. Typically, we serve the eggs with an element of sweetness. I find it goes very well with the ultra fresh salinity of the week-old roe. This time around we wanted to take a savory approach so I began looking into complimenting flavors in the vegetal category. About the same time, our group had a discussion about secondary parts of vegetables and the stem of broccoli came up. I had a past experience with the stem and found it to be very reminiscent of cabbage. Knowing that cabbage and caviar are essentially a classic pairing, I felt confident that we could work the dish out. Now I'm struggling to decide if this is a broccoli dish or in fact a roe dish, I think they really battle for the top position and that helps makes the dish very complex."

      Chef Grant processing the broccoli

      The stems are placed in a polyethylene bag, along with butter, salt and granulated cane juice. The bag is sealed with a cryovac machine

      The sealed stems are placed in a 170 degree F water to cook, sous vide, until extremely tender; about three hours

      Broccoli stems after cooking
      The crisp bread element is fabricated via the use of an industrial deli slicer. Chef Grant then brushes the sectioned pieces of poached broccoli stem with eggwash, affixes them to the thin planks of brioche and places them in a fry pan with butter.

      Grant's mise...not your ordinary cutting board

      Poached Broccoli Stem and Crisp Bread cooking

      Ready for plating

      A bright green broccoli puree is made with a vita-prep blender. Here, Chef Grant "mohawks" it onto china given to him by Thomas Keller

      Smoked Coho roe has arrived via Fed-Ex, courtesy of Steve Stallard

      Chef Grant devises a plating scheme for the Poached Broccoli Stem while Curtis looks on

      Chef Grant ponders one potential plating of the dish. He called this incarnation 'predictable' and started over.

      Another plating idea. This version is garnished with broccoli petals and ultra-thin slices of connected grapefruit pulp cells. The yellow petals are stand-ins for what will ultimately be broccoli blossoms
      Grant is still displeased at the dish's appearance. "The dish tastes as I envisioned it....texturally complex, with the crispness of the bread, the soft elements of the floret puree and stem, and the pop of the eggs. The buttery richness from the bread gives the stem the flavor of the melted cabbage I loved at the [French] Laundry. And the hot and cold contrasts from the roe and broccoli …I like it…..I just don’t like the way it looks.” Another attempt and the group agrees, it is better but not “the one.” The use of the thinly sliced cross sections of peeled grapefruit energizes the group. In the next rendition, they make small packets with the ultra thinly-sliced grapefruit containing the roe...

      A third plating configuration for Poached Broccoli Stems; this one featuring the packets of roe wrapped in ultra thin sheets of grapefruit pulp cells
      At this point the team decides to move on and come back to it next week. After some conversation they decide that in the final dish, broccoli will appear in at least 5 forms: poached stems, floret puree, some raw form of the stem, the tiny individual sprouts of broccoli florets, and the blooms. Grant feels that Poached Broccoli Stem could be ready for service, although he still envisions some changes for the dish that will make it even more emblematic of his personal style. “Our dishes continue to evolve after they hit the menu. It is important for us to get to know them better before we can clearly see their weaknesses.”
      The thought for the dried crème brulee originated over a year ago when a regular customer jokingly asked for a crème brulee for dessert. “He said it as joke, I took it as a challenge,” says Grant. "Of course, we never intended to give him a regular crème brulee.” The team tried various techniques to create the powder-filled caramel bubble while at Trio to no avail. An acceptable filling for the Dried Crème Brulee has been developed by the Chef and his team but several different methods, attempted today, to create the orb from caramelized sugar have been less than 100% successful.

      Caramel blob awaiting formation. Chef Curtis kept this pliable by leaving it in a low oven throughout the day

      Chef Grant’s initial idea to use a metal bubble ring and heat gun (normally used for stripping paint) to form the bubbles does not work as hoped. Attempts to fashion them by hand also come up short.
      Says Grant, “At Trio we tried a hair-dryer. When Martin told me about these heat guns which get up to 900 degrees F, I thought we had it for sure. If it was easy everyone would do it I guess.” Eventually, Alinea partner Nick Kokonas garners the task’s best result by positioning a small, warm blob of sugar onto the end of a drinking straw and blowing into the other end. The results are promising. Curtis suggests using a sugar pump to inflate the orbs. That adjustment will be attempted on another day.
      “We intentionally position whimsical bite in the amuse slot, it tends to break the ice and make people laugh. It is a deliberate attempt to craft the experience by positioning the courses in a very pre-meditated order. A great deal of thought goes into the order of the courses, a misalignment may really take away from the meal as a whole.” For PB&J, the grapes are peeled while still on the vine and then dipped into unsweetened peanut butter. They are allowed to set–up, and then they are wrapped with a thin sheet of bread and lightly toasted. When the peeled grapes warm, they become so soft they mimic jelly. The composition is strangely unfamiliar in appearance but instantly reminiscent on the palate. PB&J is, according to Grant, virtually ready for service. There are a couple of aesthetic elements, which need minor tweaks but the Chef feels very good about today’s prototype.

      Chef John peels grapes while still on their stems

      Peeled grapes on their stems with peanut butter coating

      Chef Grant studies the completed PB&J in the Crucial Detail designed piece

      PB&J
      Often, creative impulses come by way of Alinea’s special purveyors. “Terra Spice’s support over the past couple of years has been unprecedented, and it has accelerated with the start of the food lab,” says Grant. “It is great to have relationships with people that think like we do, it can make the creative process so much easier. Often Phil, our contact at Terra, would come into the kitchen at Trio and encourage us to try and stump him on obscure ingredients. We always lost, but not from lack of trying. He even brought in two live chufa plants into the kitchen one day.” The relationship has developed and Terra team has really made an effort to not only search out products that the chefs ask for but also keep an eye out for new ingredients and innovations. In August, Phil brought by some samples of products that he thought the Alinea team might be interested in trying.

      Phil of Terra Spice showing the team some samples

      Coconut powder and other samples
      Grant recalls “the most surprising item to me was the dried coconut powder. When I put a spoonful in my mouth I could not believe the intense flavor and instant creamy texture, it was awesome.” That was the inspiration for what is now Instant Tropical Pudding. The guest is presented with a glass filled with dried ingredients. A member of the service team pours a measured amount of coconut water into the glass and instructs the guest to stir the pudding until a creamy consistency is formed.

      The rum-spiked coconut water being added to the powders
      At the end of the day, the Chefs assess their overall effort as having gone “fairly well.” It’s a mixed bag of results. Clearly, the fact that things have not gone perfectly on Day 1 has not dampened anyone’s spirits. The team has purposely attempted dishes of varying degrees of difficultly in order to maximize their productivity. Says Grant, “Making a bubble of caramel filled with powder…I have devoted the better part of fifteen years to this craft, I have trained with the best chefs alive. I have a good grasp of known technique. The lab's purpose is to create technique based on our vision. Sometimes we will succeed, and sometimes we will fail, but trying is what make us who we are." The team's measured evaluations of their day’s work reflect that philosophy.
      According to Chef Grant, “The purpose of the lab is to create the un-creatable. I know the level at which we can cook. I know the level of technique we already possess. What I am interested in is what we don't know...making a daydream reality.” With little more than 100 days on the calendar between now and Alinea’s opening, the Chef and his team will have their work cut out for them.
      =R=
      A special thanks to eGullet member yellow truffle, who contributed greatly to this piece
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