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mjc

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

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So I recently tried it with short ribs - got the wrong cut though - get the long bones. I did it with Ziplock bags and a Crick pot. My crock runs 120 on low and 220 on high - with the lid on. But with the lid off, an acceptable 160 - not perfect by the pros standards but workable - in the range of stated temps. So the bad news is that with the lid off I was refilling the water 3x per day - in a slow stream to not shock the internal temp. I cooked it for 3 days.

In the bags with the browned ribs I put in raw carrot, onion small sprig of thyme and tomato paste. It made its own gravy.

So it was an interesting experiment, but I am not sure I really did it completely right. It was good, but I can not say it blew the socks off my regular braising technique.

I did buy more to try the correct cut and some different techniques. Now that it is raining in Nor Cal I have time to experiment again! I am tempted to buy the small thermostat as a controller, but really want to get at least a solid win before I invest more.

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Its going to be tough to get the perfect short ribs at 160F, especially for 3 days. (too high, for too long)

Definitely get yourself a controller, which will get you a better temp. Test between 57-62C for 48/36 hours to find the texture that is preferable to you. Also try the boneless rib cuts, as the bone isnt giving you anything except sinew and also bones release air into the bag.

If you are using a Ziplock technique, you can squeeze most of the air out of the bag by :

1- zipping it closed with a straw hanging out.

2- push the bag down into the water while squeezing the air out (so air wont go back in),

3- suck the rest of the air out via the straw,

4- when its totally collapsed, while sucking, quickly pull the straw out and pinch the last potion of the seal closed.

I dont think I would add tomato paste to the bag, as when you sear the meat afterward (which Im not sure you did, but you need to) for crust, the tomato paste will burn before you get the color you want on the outside.

Hope that helps.

Randall

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Hi,

With a crockpot, the temperature won't be stable enough for long enough to be able to judge what sous vide will be like when done with appropriate equipment. For things like short ribs and brisket that require very long cooking, you really do need to keep the temperature within a few degrees for the entire duration and you can't do that without some sort of accurate temperature controller (this is coming from someone that spent 6 months doing sous vide on the super cheap) .

If you want short ribs that are different from braised short ribs, you really need to cook them in the low to middle 130's (fahrenheit) (I like 133 or 135) -- and the temp needs to stay there the whole time.

If you cooked them around 160F, the result is braised short ribs and 3 days would be overkill. At 160F, short ribs would be done in less than 12 hours. And no matter what you do, they would be totally unlike short ribs cooked at 135F. At 135 F short ribs will be similar to medium rare roast beef in appearance and texture with a richer flavor.

In my opinion, you can get a general idea about what sous vide steak and chicken breast and pork loin are like (all things that cook in a few hours) without an expensive controller IF you have a good thermometer and are willing to baby sit your set-up and can keep things within 3 or 4 degrees Fahrenheit. The results won't be the same as when you have an even more stable controller but you will get an idea. I don't think you can do anything that cooks for a long time at low temp without getting a PID controller (around $100) or lab equipment.

The results I eventually got by manually controlling the temperature of short cooks convinced my wife and I that the further investment of $100 in a PID would be worthwhile -- and we haven't regretted it.

Crock pots are a bit tricky to keep stable by hand -- I had better luck with a heavy pot on the stove on the lowest flame.

Anyway, that is my take.

So I recently tried it with short ribs - got the wrong cut though - get the long bones.  I did it with Ziplock bags and a Crick pot.  My crock runs 120 on low and 220 on high - with the lid on.  But with the lid off, an acceptable 160 - not perfect by the pros standards but workable - in the range of stated temps.  So the bad news is that with the lid off I was refilling the water 3x per day - in a slow stream to not shock the internal temp.  I cooked it for 3 days.

In the bags with the browned ribs I put in raw carrot, onion small sprig of thyme and tomato paste.  It made its own gravy. 

So it was an interesting experiment, but I am not sure I really did it completely right.  It was good, but I can not say it blew the socks off my regular braising technique.

I did buy more to try the correct cut and some different techniques.  Now that it is raining in Nor Cal I have time to experiment again!  I am tempted to buy  the small thermostat as a controller, but really want to get at least a solid win before I invest more.

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If you are using a Ziplock technique, you can squeeze most of the air out of the bag by :

Btw, I don't think this has been discussed much on this list, but I don't think it is a good idea to cook in plastic bags that were not meant to have food cooked in them. Ziplock bags and most other such bags were not made to be food safe at cooking temperatures. There are some pretty unhealthy chemicals that can leach out of soft plastics into the food when the bags get hot. Bags designed to be cooked in have (at least in theory) been formulated to minimize the nasty stuff that leaches out. Bags meant only for storage were formulated with storage in mind and are likely to have stuff that will leach out at temperature.

I would be cautious about doing much sous-vide cooking in bags not meant to be cooked in especially if you are going to be feeding kids or young adults or women that might be (or become) pregnant. The chemicals used to make plastics pliable are known to be endocrine disruptors and pose other health risks as well.

While there is some "controversy" on this topic, there is growing consensus about the health risks of these chemicals in the scientific community (except for that part of the community funded by the industries that rely on these chemicals for their profitability--hence my putting controversy in quotes since most of the disagreement is from the side with a vested interest).

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Tonight's dinner.

Sous vide salmon (47 degrees Celsius for 45 minutes; sealed in bag with salt, pepper, sprig of fennel leaf, frozen cube of olive oil). Leftover Greek salad. Triple Cooked Chips. Onion, white wine and cream foam [floppy foam :( ]. I make salmon skin crackling and position it vertically in a slit in the salmon.

Unlike others who say that people may dislike the salmon, I've never had a negative comment: once you prepare them for it being lukewarm, it's fine.

sous%20vide%20salmon.jpg


Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

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

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If you are using a Ziplock technique, you can squeeze most of the air out of the bag by :

Btw, I don't think this has been discussed much on this list, but I don't think it is a good idea to cook in plastic bags that were not meant to have food cooked in them. Ziplock bags and most other such bags were not made to be food safe at cooking temperatures. There are some pretty unhealthy chemicals that can leach out of soft plastics into the food when the bags get hot. Bags designed to be cooked in have (at least in theory) been formulated to minimize the nasty stuff that leaches out. Bags meant only for storage were formulated with storage in mind and are likely to have stuff that will leach out at temperature.

I would be cautious about doing much sous-vide cooking in bags not meant to be cooked in especially if you are going to be feeding kids or young adults or women that might be (or become) pregnant. The chemicals used to make plastics pliable are known to be endocrine disruptors and pose other health risks as well.

While there is some "controversy" on this topic, there is growing consensus about the health risks of these chemicals in the scientific community (except for that part of the community funded by the industries that rely on these chemicals for their profitability--hence my putting controversy in quotes since most of the disagreement is from the side with a vested interest).

Ziploc offers sous-vide bags now. You can get a pump and three bags for less than $10. Ziploc says they are microwave safe, but doesn't give any specifics on sous-vide water temps. I think if you buy the bags by themself, you end up spending like $0.30 a bag or something like that.

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If you are using a Ziplock technique, you can squeeze most of the air out of the bag by :

Btw, I don't think this has been discussed much on this list, but I don't think it is a good idea to cook in plastic bags that were not meant to have food cooked in them. Ziplock bags and most other such bags were not made to be food safe at cooking temperatures. There are some pretty unhealthy chemicals that can leach out of soft plastics into the food when the bags get hot. Bags designed to be cooked in have (at least in theory) been formulated to minimize the nasty stuff that leaches out. Bags meant only for storage were formulated with storage in mind and are likely to have stuff that will leach out at temperature.

I would be cautious about doing much sous-vide cooking in bags not meant to be cooked in especially if you are going to be feeding kids or young adults or women that might be (or become) pregnant. The chemicals used to make plastics pliable are known to be endocrine disruptors and pose other health risks as well.

While there is some "controversy" on this topic, there is growing consensus about the health risks of these chemicals in the scientific community (except for that part of the community funded by the industries that rely on these chemicals for their profitability--hence my putting controversy in quotes since most of the disagreement is from the side with a vested interest).

There are >specific< ziplock bags for freezing and reheating food in, but you must read carefully that they are safe at boil temps, which is way above temp. for most of the techniques talked about here.

I most certainly wouldnt take generic plastic bags and put them near heat (lo temp or otherwise) or microwaves- or wrap food in generic plastic wrap for cooking.

It certainly is an important point, and one should do their own research.

This exact question came up while I was at FCI in a sous vide class and was discussed at length with the food scientist (Dave Arnold). Please be careful and pay attention!

randall

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Ziploc offers sous-vide bags now. You can get a pump and three bags for less than $10. Ziploc says they are microwave safe, but doesn't give any specifics on sous-vide water temps. I think if you buy the bags by themself, you end up spending like $0.30 a bag or something like that.

It is good to know that they make some that are intended for cooking. If people use Ziplocs (or any other bag) they should make sure they are using ones intended for cooking and not the ones just for food storage. I've seen people make comments that they are all the same and that is not the case.

Thanks for the info.

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To clarify, those Ziploc vacuum bags are not intended to be heated. They are freezer bags, and when I contacted the company they were quite adamant that they should not be cooked in: they said reheating was OK, but anything longer-term than that was off-limits. The same goes for the Reynold's Vacu-Seal bags: for freezer use, not for cooking in.


Edited by Chris Hennes (log)

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Tonight's dinner.

Sous vide salmon (47 degrees Celsius for 45 minutes; sealed in bag with salt, pepper, sprig of fennel leaf, frozen cube of olive oil). Leftover Greek salad. Triple Cooked Chips. Onion, white wine and cream foam [floppy foam :( ]. I make salmon skin crackling and position it vertically in a slit in the salmon.

Unlike others who say that people may dislike the salmon, I've never had a negative comment: once you prepare them for it being lukewarm, it's fine.

sous%20vide%20salmon.jpg

If there is an expectation of texture with Salmon, one could always torch or broil the salmon for 1 min to get the texture more traditional (less slimey)

I've run tests for Salmon from 47-53 and found that Salmon 50C for about 25-30 minutes( for my taste ) tastes like perfectly steamed Salmon and texture isnt toothy.

Historically professional chefs that cook fish this way have about a 10 degree delta (10C over target temp) and with practice know when to pull the fish at choice temp.

However most city chefs use a CVAP cause they cant get a HACCP approved for fish in sous vide.

Also, a cool tip is to do a quick brine on the fish so it doesnt bleed milky fat that happens with salmon or other fatty fish.

Great looking food!

Randall

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Ziploc offers sous-vide bags now. You can get a pump and three bags for less than $10. Ziploc says they are microwave safe, but doesn't give any specifics on sous-vide water temps. I think if you buy the bags by themself, you end up spending like $0.30 a bag or something like that.

It is good to know that they make some that are intended for cooking. If people use Ziplocs (or any other bag) they should make sure they are using ones intended for cooking and not the ones just for food storage. I've seen people make comments that they are all the same and that is not the case.

Thanks for the info.

yes very important point make sure to get the right bags. Or- spend the money on a foodsaver with the boil in bags to eliminate the issue!

There are LOTS of restaurants that circulate in proper ziplock bags because they dont want to deal with the HACCP issues and health dept. that comes with sous vide.

If you are going to sous vide, you NEED to be very familiar with food safety with modified atmosphere packaging issues.

randall

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I had been SVing for the last month or so and I like to report the followings:

1. Tools:

a) Immersion circulators and great. They are versatile and accurate. They can fit any containers and they can be done anywhere there are a plug (even in the bedroom and take advantage of the steam as humidifier - just kidding). They are great for keeping food warm during service. When I entertain, I keep all my warm food in bag and kept them at 50 deg C. I will cut open the bag as each course come due. For seafood, I don't drop them in bath until 15 minute before they are due to be serve and of course I have dial it up to 55-60 deg C. I keep my soup and sauce in separate bag if needed. I can not have a party without my immersion circulator now.

b) I have been without a chamber vacuum sealer and uses a Foodsaver for at least 3 weeks and it is fine. You can vacuum seal just about everything with the acception of soup and sauces. However, in a pinge you can bag liquid ( not vacuum pack ) by squeezing out as much air as you can than use a non-Foodsaver bag and your food saver will seal the bag without sucking out the air. I now have a chamber vacuum sealer MVS-31 and I am loving it. I make the mistake of order Koch and was able to return it. Reasons for my dislike was posted earlier. MVS-31 works good for me. It does a good job and it is easy to use. It vacuum pack a lot better (stronger vacuum) than Food saver. It is easier to use than Foodsaver and the bags are a lot less so for the long run it may pay for itself. For anyone that is going to SV all the time should definitely get one.

Food:

a) I had SV BBQ ribs - my first and it turn out not as good - see my earlier post. b) Pork tenderloin turns out great and I had done it many time since with great result. Pork Butt also works good especially if you have a meat slicer. I cook it at 82.2 deg C for 8 hours than I slice them thin and served them with a Soy, hot sauce of your choice, some hot canola oil and garnish with diced green onion - very tasty and tender.

c) SV Duck legs at 82.2 deg C for 8 hours is better than the ones I slow braised on top of the stove for 2 hrs. (mainly for the sauce). The SV legs are juicer and had a better mouth feel. The braised legs are drier but left me with a lot of good sauce.

d) Instead of SV cod in bag, I use olive oil to poach at 60 deg for 15 minutes and the texture is far better than sear on pan or oven baked even SV with stock in bag at the same temp and time. I serve it with TK's sofritto.

e) Live abalones are first steam for 2 minute to facilitate taking them out of their shell. I than SV them in a stock of chicken and virgina ham at 82.2 deg C for 8 hours. They are serve 2 ways. Cold as sashimi with soy and wasabi as dipping sauce and hot with the addition of a little oyster sauce to the liquid in bag and garnish with dice green onion. I like both and will be serving them at this week's party as apertizers.

f) Diver scallops (U-6 - cut in half) SV at 53 deg for 15 minutes, is good to go as is with a sauce of lemon, butter, and caper. It may look uncook to some so I use my butane torch to brown the top and bottom. Ones that I brown to look like seared scallop are actually too well done to my taste and the one that's lightly brown are better. Personally I prefer as is.

g) NY steak had been covered a lot on this site. I will just say I prefer to cook them on my BBQ.

I covered a range of food here and still have a lot of area not covered yet. Will post as soon as I experience a little more.

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Has anyone come across this Anvil Pasta Rethermalizer before? It doesn't say what its capacity is, but it seems like this could be a controllable water bath in disguise. It looks like it is aimed at simply reheating food, but it doesn't seem like there is any reason why it can't be used to sous vide as well.

Edit, I found some more specifications here and they mention there is a 1 gallon capacity which sounds too small for practical sous vide.


Edited by bob.stanton (log)

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Why spend 450 bucks on something like that, which at best would be a kludge for sous vide? You could get better thermal performance with a rice cooker, aquarium pump and an Auber PID. Or, if you're willing to spend the money, I have to believe it's possible to find a reconditioned laboratory recirculating water bath heater for $400 or less.


--

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Has anyone come across this Anvil Pasta Rethermalizer before? It doesn't say what its capacity is, but it seems like this could be a controllable water bath in disguise. It looks like it is aimed at simply reheating food, but it doesn't seem like there is any reason why it can't be used to sous vide as well.

My guess is that this is not very accurate. You could probably work to calibrate the set temp. to the actual temp. but I'd still bet the temp. swing is more than you'd get with a PID and a slow or rice cooker for much less.

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I love immersion circulators, but I am interested in getting a water bath because they are silent. I think having a dedicated machine is much less of a kludge than piecing together three different random machines. It is possible to find used labrotory equipment for a reasonable price, but I'd rather pay a little more for a new piece of equpiment made for cooking food. If the capacity in that machine is large enough, and it can heat up as quickly as it says it can (200 in less than 15 minutes or so), I think it would be a great alternative or replacement to ICs or lab equipment.


Edited by bob.stanton (log)

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Bob, if you're a cook, then you know you need the right tool for the job. Buying something like this "pasta rethermalizer" and trying to use it as an accurate water bath for precision sous vide cooking would not be the right tool for the job. Sure, it's "a piece of equpiment made for cooking food," but it's not made for cooking food this way. It would be like buying a frypan for making stock.

On the other hand, what is made for accurately and precisely controlling the temperature of a water bath? A laboratory recirculating water bath heater. It's not silent, but I wouldn't exactly call them noisy either. A very quiet "whirring" noise every second ot so is about as much noise as they make. But, if you want silent and you're willing to live without recirculation, you could still get much better performance out of a rice cooker or electric braiser and a PID for less than half the price.


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Quite frankly none of the temprature control devices were 'made' for cooking food. But you asked our opinion..we gave it. I think you can get much better results from other devices or combinations of devices than the one you've shown. Ultimatly its your decision. Good luck.

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Has anyone come across this Anvil Pasta Rethermalizer before? It doesn't say what its capacity is, but it seems like this could be a controllable water bath in disguise. It looks like it is aimed at simply reheating food, but it doesn't seem like there is any reason why it can't be used to sous vide as well.

Edit, I found some more specifications here and they mention there is a 1 gallon capacity which sounds too small for practical sous vide.

c

circulation is critical in a sous vide environment as well, for consistency and health reasons.

There are full circulating baths that are 'for food'- but you'll pay quite a bit for getting a complete package.

you can research CLIFTON and POLYSCIENCE to start.

good luck

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I love immersion circulators, but I am interested in getting a water bath because they are silent. I think having a dedicated machine is much less of a kludge than piecing together three different random machines. It is possible to find used labrotory equipment for a reasonable price, but I'd rather pay a little more for a new piece of equpiment made for cooking food. If the capacity in that machine is large enough, and it can heat up as quickly as it says it can (200 in less than 15 minutes or so), I think it would be a great alternative or replacement to ICs or lab equipment.

I would seriously consider involving some some of circulator- it is critical to the process of temperature stability and safety.

randall

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I think you are overstating the importance of a circulator. It depends on a number of factors (heat source, bath size, bath size relative to what is being cooked, etc.)

It may be critical in some situations but it is not critical in all applications. A PID controlled rice cooker or multicooker or table-top roaster works fine with or without something added for circulation. The natural convection in my multicooker is such that the temperature is pretty constant. The tabletop roaster because it is side-heated doesn't have the same convections patterns and there is a tiny bit more variation -- which a $10 aquarium airpump easily solves. Even in the roaster, the temperature distributes evenly enough that I no longer bother to use the pump.

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I am thinking of cooking skirt steak sous-vide. Will this benefit from the traditional 'low and slow' (130F range for a day or so...) to break down the connective tissue, or be similar to traditional steak and need only be brought to 130-140F and removed from the bath. I own a polyscience circulator, and foodsaver.

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I do a flank steak all the time this way.... comes out tender like a NY strip, but it's much cheaper.... I jaccard first, season with S&P, then bag and cook at 55C for 24 hours.... then take the bag out of the bath, let it cool a bit (10 min?), then take the steaks out of the bag, blot with a paper towel, then I dust with Wondra flour... a quick 15s sear in a hot pan with peanut oil makes them nice and brown...

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I did skirt steak-8 hours and it was no better than traditional. 36 hours and it was very tender-I still prefer the flavour of chuck cooked this way-more like a classic tender steak.

As for circulation, in a 26 cup rice cooker I had 10+ degree differences in water temp. in different spots. I didn't believe it but the pump makes a massive difference.

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      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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