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Sous Vide Index

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Introduction

Welcome to the index for the Sous Vide: Recipes, Techniques, & Equipment topic, one of the largest and most influential topics on eG Forums. (The topic has been closed to keep the index stable and reliable; you can find another general SV discussion topic here.) This index is intended to help you navigate the thousands of posts and discussions to make this rich resource more useful and accessible.

In order to understand sous vide cooking, it's best to clear up some misconceptions and explain some basics. Sous vide cooking involves vacuum-sealing food in a plastic bag and cooking it in a water bath at precise temperatures. Though it translates literally as "under vacuum," "Sous vide" is often taken to mean "under pressure," which is a misnomer; not all SV cooking involves food cooked in conditions that exceed atmospheric pressure. (See below.) In addition, calculations for SV cooking involve not only time and temperature but also thickness. Finally, due to the anaerobic conditions inside the bag and the low temperatures used, food safety issues are paramount.

You can read the basics of SV cooking and equipment here. In the summer of 2005, Nathan Myhrvold (Society member nathanm) posted this informative, "I'm now going to answer my own initial questions" post, which addresses just about everything up to that point. For what came next, read on -- and be sure to order Nathan Myhrvold's highly anticipated Modernist Cuisine book, due in spring 2011.

As with all indexes of on-going discussions, this one has limitations. We've done our best to create a user-friendly taxonomy emphasizing the categories that have come up repeatedly. In addition, the science, technology, and recipes changed over time, and opinions varied greatly, so be sure to read updated information whenever possible.

Therefore, we strongly encourage you to keep these issues in mind when reading the topic, and particularly when considering controversial topics related to food safety, doneness, delta T cooking, and so on. Don't read a first post's definitive claim without reading down the topic, where you'll likely find discussion, if not heated debate or refutation, of that claim. Links go to the first post in a series that may be discontinuous, so be sure to scan a bit more to get the full discussion.

Recipes were chosen based solely on having a clear set of information, not on merit. Indeed, we've included several stated failures for reference. Where possible, recipes include temperature and time in the link label -- but remember that thickness is also a crucial variable in many SV preparations. (See below for more information on thickness.)

History, Philosophy & Value of SV/LTLT Cooking

Over the years, we've talked quite a bit about SV as a concept, starting with this discussion about how SV cooking got started. There have also been several people who asked, Why bother with SV in the first place? (See also this discussion.) What with all the electronics and plastic bags, we asked: Does SV food lack passion? Finally, there have been several discussions about the value of SV cooking in other eG Forums topics, such as the future of SV cooking, No More Sous Vide -- PLEASE!, is SV "real cooking," and what's the appeal of SV?

Those who embrace SV initially seek ideas about the best applications for their new equipment. Discussions have focused on what a first SV meal should be -- see also this discussion -- and on the items for which SV/LTLT cooking is best suited. There's much more along those lines here, here, and here.

Vacuums and Pressure in Sous Vide Cooking

As mentioned above, there has been great confusion about vacuums, pressure, and their role SV cooking. Here is a selection of discussion points on the subject, arranged chronologically; please note that later posts in a given discussion may refute earlier ones:

 


The Charts

We've collected the most important of many charts in the SV topic here. Standing above the rest are Nathan Myhrvold's charts for cooking time versus thickness and desired core temperature. We worked with him to create these three reformatted protein tables, for beef, fish, and chicken & pork.

Nathan provides additional information on his charts here. Information on how to read these charts can be found in this post. For an explanation of "rest time" in Nathan's tables, click here.

Other Society members helped out as well. Douglas Baldwin references his heating time table for different geometric factors (slab/cylinder/sphere) here; the pdf itself can be found here. pounce created a post with all three tables as neatly formatted images. derekslager created two monospace font charts of Nathan's meat table and his fish table.

Camano Chef created a cumulative chart with information gathered from other sources including Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc. Douglas Baldwin shared this chart devoted to pasteurizing poultry. PedroG detailed heat loss and steady state energy consumption of sous vide cookers in these charts.

Finally, there is also an eG Forums topic on cooling rates that may be of interest.

Acknowledgment & Comments

This index was built by Chris Amirault, Director, eG Forums. It was reviewed by the eGullet Society volunteer team as well as many Society members. Please send questions or comments to Chris via messenger or email.

 

 


Edited by Chris Hennes Updated links to v4.2-style (log)

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Food Safety

With long cooking times and low temperatures regularly used, sous vide cooking raises many food safety questions. Below is a selection of key discussion points; feel free to search on specific terms for more information.

Bacteria & Botulism

How does botulism work? Also see this.
Botulism is also discussed here, with follow-up posts here.
At what temperatures are bacteria killed? Please note ff, where nathanm disagrees with the initial repsonse.

General Food Safety Questions

Click here for a discussion of poultry safety, and here for a discussion about fish.
Is plastic (wrap, Food Saver bags, etc.) safe for SV?
How safe is Blumenthal's 50C "perfect steak"? (Also this (with exchange on rapid aging.)

Holding and Storing SV Food

How long can you safely keep SV/LTLT meat in the fridge? (And did NYC ban SV or what?)
What is the difference between cooking time and safe hold times?
When are SV leftovers safe?
What are safe temperatures and times for cooking and holding vegetables?
What are the risks of opening bags, as well as reportioning and repackaging SV cooked meats?

Pasteurization

What's with the 4h/6h pasteurization rules?
What are appropriate pasteurization temperatures?
How can you pasteurize eggs? See also this.
For how long do pasteurized eggs keep in the fridge?
Can you use SV to pasteurize fresh pasta?
Can you use SV to pasteurize raw milk?
What are the benefits to pasteurizing liquids in the microwave?

Sterlization

To what extent should we worry about sterile equipment with SV cooking?
What is cold-pressure sterilization?

Techniques to Reduce Risk

What are some methods for reducing surface pathogens prior to SV/LTLT cooking?
Does the anti-pathogen dunk work?
Does Jaccarding change any of the safety calculations for SV? See also this exchnage about when Jaccarding is and is not safe.
What's the lowest safe temperature for cooking red meat?
Can burgers be safely cooked SV? Also see this.

Temperature "Zones"

Are there food safety "temperature zones"? How do they work?
What is the "danger zone"?
What is the "edge" of the temperature safety zone?


Edited by Chris Hennes Updated links to v4.2-style (log)

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Equipment

There are basically two types of SV equipment set-ups: an out-of-the-box product like the Sous Vide Supreme and a DIY arrangement using some combination of any or all of the following: an immersion circulator, a big pot of water, ping pong balls, a rice cooker... you name it. Below you'l find discussions about a wide array of equipment, focusing on those set-ups, issues, and products to which our members devoted a lot of energy and time.

Here's a general equipment overview from a few years ago. More recently (circa 2008), we discussed the state of consumer-grade SV appliances and
the state of SV equipment in general. There was also a discussion in 2009 devoted to upgrading equipment. For more recent information, we suggest posting to the current SV topic and asking members for their assistance; as you can see, we're always ready to lend a hand!

Bags

Can you use ZipLoc bags for SV?
Can you use regular bags with a FoodSaver or other vacuum machine?
Can I get shrink bags? Where?
Are there better options than FoodSaver bags?
Can 3M High Temperature Flue Tape cover holes in my bag?
See also this eG Forums topic on SV bags

Bag Use

Do the bags really have to be vertical?
What are some ideas for loading bags without making a mess?
How do people label SV bags?
If the bags come into contact with the heating coil on your circulator, will they melt?
How can you prevent bags from floating?
Why not use glass beads to keep bags sunk?
Why is my bag expanding? See also this discussion on bag bloat and this discussion on steps you can take to reduce bloat.

Can You Use This for SV?

an aquarium heater?
a bain marie?
a crock pot and a temperature controller?
a food dehydrator?
a fryer?
an incubator?
a Rational combi oven?
the original cryovaced packaging?

DIY SV Set-Ups

What's the minimum practical volume for a home SV water bath?
What containers work best for an immersion circulator?
What are some techniques to reduce evaporation in an open-top SV set-up?
What workable "on the cheap" set-ups can you build?
See also this eG Forums topic on portable induction burners used for SV, this topic on setups for precise temperature control, and this topic on primitive home SV set-ups.

Immersion Circulators

Does it matter where the immersion circulator is placed?
Why is my circulator making so much noise?
How do I clean off the crud off this used immersion circulator? Also see here and here.
Is a circulator really necessary?

Miscellaneous Equipment FAQs

What's the story with these combi ovens? See also this discussion of benefits/drawbacks of combi ovens.
Can you use home, non-chamber vacuums to compress and infuse fruit?
Can you use a microwave for LTLT cooking?

PID Controllers

What are the basics of PID settings?
How do PID controllers work with an induction hob?
What should I make of this PID controller temperature overshoot?

SV Magic

What's the best way to calibrate the SV Magic? There's more on calibrating the SV Magic here.
To what equipment should you hook your SV Magic?
What's the relationship between the SV Magic and the Auber unit?
Why is my SV Magic off by 15 degrees?!?

Temperature Sensors & Stability

What can you tell me about temperature sensors?
How important is immersion circulator temperature stability?
What are some techniques and equipment for logging temperature data?
How can you achieve temperature stability with a water-pot in an oven?
Also see this eG Forums topic on precise temperature controllers.

Torches & Heat Guns

What torches/heat guns work best to finish SV/LTLT proteins? See also this discussion.
Which Iwatani torch do you like best?
Does a heat gun compare to a torch?
What are some useful techniques for using this crazy-hot torch I got?

Vacuum & Chamber Sealers

What are the basics of vacuum sealers? See also this discussion for vacuum sealer comparisons.
What FoodSaver features should you look for (pulse, e.g.)?
How do you get a good Food Saver or other vacuum seal?
What are the basic of chamber sealers? See also this discussion?
What is cryovacking?
What's this Reynolds Handi-Vac all about?
What is the VacMaster?

Water Baths

What sort of container do you use for a water bath?
What's the minimum volume for an effective water bath? See also this discussion.
What should I do if my water bath doesn't recover its temperature shortly after I add the item I'm cooking?
What are the differences between circulating and non-circulating baths?
Can I put stock in my water bath?
How do you prevent water bath evaporation?
Are there systems to maintain water level as it evaporates from your SV set-up?

Miscellaneous Equipment Discussions

What's a CVAP?
What sort of pump should I get for my SV set-up?
Can you build a SV "failure" alarm?
Any thoughts on the KitchenAid Chef Touch?
How can you use a chimney charcoal starter as a high-heat grill?
How can you use canning jars for sous vide cooking?

Hardcore DIYers will enjoy Pielle's stove modification topic. Finally, click here for PedroG's handy thickness ruler and this revision.


Edited by Chris Hennes Updated links to v4.2-style (log)

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General Cooking

SV cooking can transform food in stunning ways. By preparing the product at the desired finishing temperature instead of a higher temperature, and by controlling temperature and time precisely, you can obtain a far wider array of results, tailored to your needs and tastes. Below you'll find an array of topics related to meat and fish cookery. Later in the index, you'll find topics and recipes specific to types of meat

Caramelization/the Maillard Effect

Is it possible to caramelize -- to create proper conditions for the Maillard reaction -- in SV cooking? More here.
Should you sear meat before or after SVing?
What are the benefits of pre-searing, and is it worth it? See also this discussion.
What solutions can I use to coat the surface of meat to promote browning?
Also see this eG Forums topic on the Maillard effect on SV meats.

Fat

At what temperatures does fat render? See also this discussion, this one, and this one.
What can you do about that fat that isn't melting?
How aggressively should I trim fat for SV meat cookery?
Can you use sous vide methods for rendering lard? See also this discussion and
this eG Forums topic.
Does the density of cooking fat promote moisture retention in proteins? Please note this post as well.
Also see this eG Forums topic on larding SV meats.

Sauces, Marinades, Osmazome, Brines, Stocks, and Other SV Liquids

Should you add liquid to the SV bags? What liquid? What effect does the liquid have?
What is the effect of alcohol in SV cooking? Also see this discussion.
What effect do acids (citrus, vinegar) have on meats in SV cooking?
What happens to extra virgin olive oil during SV/LTLT cooking?

If you let the meat rest in the bag, will it reabsorb the juices it's lost during SV/LTLT cooking?
Should one brine meat for SV applications?
Can you use milk as a brining fluid?
What are the implications of using milk as the liquid in the SV bag?
Has anyone used buttermilk as a SV liquid?
What is the relationship between vacuum level and marinating?

So what is osmazone, the liquid left in the bag? And what about that scum in the bag that slightly hardens over the course of LTLT/SV cooking?
What should you do with the osmazome?
How can you prevent the sauce created with the liquid in a SV-cooked protein from coagulating?
More on osmazome here, here, and here.

Can you make stock SV?
Is SV a useful method for making stock? See also this eG Forums topic.

Temperatures, Times, & Storage

How do you take the temperature of something inside a sealed bag? and More on measuring temperature through the bag
What temperatures -- and what conditions -- determine doneness?
Do you really need to be that precise -- down to the degree -- for most foods?
At what temperatures and times can I get meat that has that low-n-slow braised quality?

When should you add the meat to the bath: at room temp or when it's at your final temp?
Can you pack and freeze SV-ready proteins then drop them from the freezer into the water to be cooked?
How do you reheat your SVed meat? See also this discussion and this discussion.
Can I reheat SV proteins in the oven, like a TV dinner?
For how long can you freeze meat that has been cooked sous vide?

What can you do for cook & hold SV?
Is multistage cooling a worthwhile technique? See also here and here.
What are the workflow logistics for high-volume SV production?

Also see this eG Forums topic on the importance of accurate temperatures in SV cooking.

What Happened?

What's the story with that off smell in my bag?
What's that weird smell coming from my SV set up?
So what about the water in this thing?
I'm getting a sour smell when I open the bag after a SV/LTLT session. What gives? also here
My SV items are cooling down too quickly!
My roulade went bad. What happened?

Miscellaneous Cooking

Why does Jaccarded meat retain more, not less, moisture?
Why does LTLT cooking dissolve some connective tissue but not all of it? Additional, detailed response here.

What is the effect of salt on meat in SV/LTLT cooking?
What role do meat enzymes play in SV cooking?
What about bones?

What's the big deal about thickness?
How do you measure thickness?
Do you need to trim meats to uniform thickness?
How can you create a log shape with a vacuum sealed bag?
Can you cook galantines SV?

How can you deal with sharp shells and bones in your SV bags?
How do you get smoke flavor into your SV bag? See also this discussion.
What amounts of spices or herbs should one use for SV cooking?
Why should one (does Thomas Keller) wrap aromatics in plastic?

Do you need to cool or rest your food if you're serving immediately? See also this discussion.
The ΔT question: is it best to cook at final core temp or cook slightly above?
What happens if you leave things in for a really, really long time?
How can you use SV for canning?
What is vacuum reduction, and can I use my SV set-up for it?

Also see this eG Forums topic on SV for spirit infusions, BryanZ's sous vide odyssey, and this topic on SV braising.


Edited by Chris Hennes Updated links to v4.2-style (log)

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Beef & Veal

What are some tips for searing beef? Pan? Torch?
How do you use SV to get beef enzymes activated productively?
What's the maximum thickness of a piece of beef to be safely cooked SV/LTLT?
What's the best way to cook a tough beef muscle?
What's the lowest possible temperature for beef cooked 24-48 hours?

Is it a good idea to cook tender cuts of steak LTLT? and also this.
How do you like your Wagyu strip steaks?
What types of steaks benefit most from SV cooking?
How would you compare a steak cooked SV/LTLT versus one cooked on the grill or sautéed?
For how long should you cook steak?
What are good tips for flat iron steaks?
What happened to these ribeyes?

Why is brisket so persnickety? Also see this discussion.
How can I make terrific short ribs?
What happened to my oxtail?
What are the best temperatures for lamb loin?

Brisket

brisket overview 57C/135F 48h
brisket brined 57C/135F 48h; also here and here
brisket 65.5-71C/150-160F 48h
brisket 64C/147F 48h and here
brisket 64C/147F 27h
brisket, Wagyu 56.5C/134F 24h and 45h
brisket, smoked
pastrami smoked then 20h 65C/149F

Offal/Variety Cuts

beef cheeks overview
beef tongue and cheeks overview
beef cheeks 70C/158F 30h; also here
Dexter cattle cheeks 56C/132.5F 72h
beef tongue 64C/147F 24-48h
marrow discussion
marrow 58.5C/137.5F 12h
beef shanks 73C/163F 48h
ox heart 82C/180F 8h

Roasts

chuck roast 57C/135F 32h
sirloin roast 55C/131F 12h
bottom round beef roast 53.5C/128F 10h
roast beef 52C/125.5F 4h
roast beef for sandwiches at different temperatures
cross-rib beef roast 56C/133F 20h
Boston "pot" roast 59C/138F 6.5h

Short Ribs

short ribs discussion
short ribs 60c/140F 30h
short ribs 60.5C/141F 72h
short ribs 60.5C/141F 36h
short ribs 56C/132.5F 48h

Steak

flank steak 55C/131F 24h; same approach here
flank steak 64C/147F 2h
flank steak smoked 4h then 56C/133F 48h

shell steaks discussion
skirt steak 29h 55.5C/132F
rib eye cap 61C/142F 15m

tri-tip discussion
tri-tip 57C/135F 12h
tri-tip 57C/135F 22h
tri-tip 56C/133F 6h

Braised Beef & Veal Dishes

boeuf bourguignon 61C/142F 18h and 60C/140F 8h
ossobuco variety of temps & times
chili 61C/142F 16h
short rib chili 57C/135F 36h
beef penaeng 57C/135F 30h brisket

Miscellaneous Beef

burgers 60.5C 1h and at 56C/133F
shwarma beef 57C/135F 36h


Edited by Chris Hennes Updated links to v4.2-style (log)

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Poultry

Any tricks to getting chicken skin just right?
How do you render the fat to get that crispy duck skin?
How can you brown turkey skin?
What are good approaches to duck breasts?
What makes confit confit-like, and how can you achieve those ends with SV? See also this eG Forums topic on duck confit.
What steps can I take to avoid rancid confit?
For how long does duck confit cooked SV keep in the fridge?
Can you fry SV chicken to good effect?
What are the issues related to eating and enjoying medium rare poultry?
Where in the 140-160F range should I cook my chicken breasts?
How do I prepare chicken breast for shredding?
What is a safe final temperature for turkey?

Chicken Breast

chicken breast 60C/140F 4h
chicken breast 67C/153F 2h
chicken breast 63.5C/146F 1h
chicken breast 60C/140F 2h
chicken with miso
chicken with shiitake and scallion 65C/149F 40m

Confit

duck confit 82C/180F 18-24h
duck confit 80C/176F 12h
duck confit 82C/180F 10-12h
turkey leg confit 82C/180F 10h
See also this eG Forums topic on SV duck confit and this eG Forums topic on SV Duck.

Duck Breast

duck breast discussion
duck breast, smoked 61C/142F 45m
duck breast 57.5C/135.5F and 59C/138F

Foie Gras

foie gras discussion
foie gras, Blumenthal 60C/140F -- and breaks down unless frozen
Also see this eG Forums topic on the lowest possible temperature for SV foie gras.

Fried Chicken

fried chicken, Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc recipe
fried chicken
fried chicken 60c/140F 1h

Turkey

turkey discussion; see also this eG Forums topic on SV turkey
turkey breast 62C/143.5F
turkey breast porchetta
turkey thighs 74C/165F 24h

turkey, Doug Baldwin Thanksgiving!
turkey breast 67C/153F 3-5h
turkey galantine 65C/149F 12h, also here and here

Miscellaneous Poultry Dishes

goose
chicken thighs, Shanghai drunken 57.5C/135.5F 6h
chicken curry 60C/140F 3-12h
chicken thighs 63.5C/146F 90m
squab

 


Edited by Chris Hennes Updated links to v4.2-style (log)

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External links

There are many other resources besides this eG Forums topic, and we've gathered the best of them here.

Sous Vide Books

Society member Nathan Myhrvold's Modernist Cuisine
Society member Douglas Baldwin's Sous Vide for the Home Cook
Thomas Keller's Under Pressure
Joan Roca and Salvador Brugues's Sous Vide Cuisine

Books That Incorporate Sous Vide Techniques

Society member Grant Achatz's Alinea Cookbook
Michel Richard's Happy in the Kitchen
Alain Ducasse's Grand Livre de Cuisine
Heston Blumenthal's Big Fat Duck Cookbook
Jill Norman's Cook's Book

Blogs & Websites

Nathan Myhrvold's book has an affiliated website, ModernistCuisine.com. There you can find videos, illustrations, and some discussion of content, which will continue to expand past the book's publication date.

Douglas Baldwin's book started as a website, A Practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking, where a great deal of useful information can be found.

Dave Arnold and Nils Noren of the French Culinary Institute maintain the fantastic CookingIssues website, and there are many useful posts there on sous vide cooking, including primers one and two on sous vide and low-temp cooking. Select "sous vide" from the dropdown "Category" menu on the right of any page.

Some other useful resources include:

The Ideas in Food blog by Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot
Sous Vide at Home by Peter Black
Fresh Meal Solutions's Guide to PID Control for SV Cooking
Daniel Humm videos of SV technique
Serious Eats Sous Vide Primer
Sous Vide Kitchen
Sous Vide wiki
SousVideCooking.org
La Cocina al Vacío (text in Spanish)
La Cocina al Vacío index translated into English
CookingConcepts.com

Articles

Mainstream media has done a generally poor job communicating just what SV cooking is about, but here's a list of articles so you can judge for yourself:

Hesser "Under Pressure" article in NYT Magazine, August 2005.
2005 Slate article on SV cooking.
Washington Post 2005 article on SV/LTLT cooking in the DC area.
SF Chronicle SV article May 2007.
Wired article on Nathan and "obscure culinary discussion forum eGullet."
WSJ on Trying SV at Home, Aug 2008.
Sydney Morning Herald SV article, August 2009.
NY Times on Nathan's book, November 2009.
NY Times on SV Supreme, December 2009.

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      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
    • By ronnie_suburban
      Sometime this week, at an undisclosed location in the city of Chicago, Chef Grant Achatz begins the next leg of his journey to open his new restaurant, Alinea. Grant will christen the 'food lab' where the menu for Alinea will be developed. eGullet will be trailing Grant and his team throughout the process -- not just in the food lab but through every facet of the launch. Over the next six months, we will follow the Alinea team as they discover, develop, design and execute their plan. We'll document behind-the-scenes communications, forwarded directly to us by the Alinea team. We will be on the scene, bringing regular updates to the eGullet community. And Grant will join us in this special Alinea forum to discuss the process of opening Alinea. eGullet members will have the opportunity to ask Grant, and several other members of the Alinea team, questions about the development of the restaurant.
       
      A Perfect Pairing?
      By the time he was 12 years old, Grant Achatz knew that he would someday run his own restaurant. The story of Alinea is the story of Grant's personal development as a chef and a leader. Grant was brought up in a restaurant family. He bypassed a college education in favor of culinary school, after which he ascended rapidly to the position of sous chef for Thomas Keller at The French Laundry in Yountville, California. In 2001, Grant took the helm of Trio in Evanston, Illinois, which had previously turned out such noted chefs as Gale Gand, Rick Tramanto (Tru) and Shawn McClain (Spring, Green Zebra). In 2003 Grant won the James Beard Foundation's "Rising Star Chef" award, and other prestigious awards followed. By 2004, Grant was recognized as one of the most influential and unique voices on the international culinary scene.
       
      In January 2004, Grant met Nick Kokonas, a successful entrepreneur who was so obsessed with haute cuisine that he had traveled the world in search of it. After globe-trekking specifically to eat at such culinary meccas as Alfonso 1890, Taillevent, Arpège, Arzak, and the French Laundry, Nick was in near disbelief when he realized that the "best food in the world was 10 minutes from my house." Nick had not previously consideredbacking a restaurant, even though he has both relatives and friends in the industry. But in Grant, he saw an opportunity to help create something great.
       
      Through Grant's cuisine, a bond formed between the two men. So inspired was Nick by Grant's culinary ideas that he returned to Trio almost monthly. Finally, he challenged two of his friends, one from New York and the other from San Francisco, to fly to Chicago and experience Trio. He wanted to prove definitively to his skeptical, coastal buddies that Trio was the best and most important restaurant in the country, assuring them that "if the meal at Trio isn't the best meal you've ever had, I'll pay for your meals and your flights." Nick won his bet: his friends were blown away.
       
      Later that night, after service, Grant joined Nick and his guests at their table. The men chatted about a variety of topics and in the '14 wines' haze of the late evening, they discussed Blue Trout and Black Truffles: The Peregrinations of an Epicure, Joseph Wechsberg's gastronomic memoir. The next day, Grant emailed Nick to ask again about the title of the book they had discussed. Not only did Nick remind him, but, within a few days, sent Grant a copy of Wechsberg's book. A friendship was born.
      Shortly thereafter, Grant sentNick his business plan for Alinea, sending an email after evening service. By the following morning Nick had read it and replied with his own enthusiastic amendments. With a burgeoning friendship already in place, trust developing between the two men and proof they could work together crystallizing before their eyes, it became clear that they would become a team. Says Grant, "I think most people, in a lot of ways, look for themselves in other people in order to match with and I think to a large degree, the reason why we get along so well is that our personalities align very well."
       
      Nick felt the same way. "It's one of those situations where everything just lined up right. I had the interest, I'd started a number of different businesses and I felt like it would be an opportunity to work with someone who I'd get along with very well. I wouldn't want to build a restaurant just to build a restaurant and I doubt I'll ever develop some other restaurant. I think this is the right situation at the right time."
       
      Grant adds, "I think we're both very driven and passionate people. So for me, it was about finding someone I could trust, someone that I knew was going to think like me, be as motivated or more motivated than me. Those things were very, very important--and something I hadn't seen--or something I didn't believe in--that I saw in Nick." Nick continues, "I think a lot people come to a chef with their pre-existing vision of the restaurant they want to build. I didn't even want to build a restaurant before I saw his vision, so it wasn't like I was saying 'I'm building this restaurant and I want you to be my chef' -- it was more like 'I think you should build a restaurant, what can I do to help you build it?'" Grant would have the additional supportive backing he'd need and Nick would have another venture -- and one he solidly believed in -- in which to direct his business acumen.
       
      It's All About The Container
      Anyone who's eaten Grant's cuisine at Trio knows that he is intensely concerned with food and the optimal ways to prepare and serve it. His dishes innovate in flavor; they challenge, tease and delight the senses. But Grant is also driven to innovate in service and technique, constantly seeking new vehicles to deliver sensations to the diner. He works closely with a trusted collaborator, Martin Kastner of Crucial Detail in San Diego, CA to create original service pieces for many of his dishes. And as Grant has searched for additional ways to expand the continuity of the dining experience, it has become clear to him that it starts before the diner even gets to the restaurant's front door.
       
      According to Grant, "You can pull it back as far as you want. The experience is going to start before someone even picks up the phone to make a reservation to this restaurant. It's going to be about their perceptions; why are they picking up the phone to make a reservation? What did they see? What did they read? What's leading them up to that point? They call to make a reservation, that's another experience. The drive to get to this neighborhood is another experience. The minute they open their door and take one step out of their car, now they're surrounded by another experience."
       
      Advancing the functional elements of how food is served is an innate part of the cooking process for Grant, who seeks to render the traditional boundaries of dining obsolete. When asked what he will be able to accomplish at Alinea that he couldn't accomplish at Trio, Grant says, "the obvious is to create the container in which we create the experience. I think that's the very exciting thing for me that I've never been able to have a part in." For Grant, a restaurant's physical space represents the ultimate container and the ultimate personal challenge. The result should break new ground in the world of fine dining.   Grant and Nick are intense and competitive. In both their minds, "crafting a complete experience" is the primary focus of Alinea. According to Nick, "the whole idea is to produce an experience where the food lines up with the décor, which lines up with the flow through the restaurant and from the moment you get, literally, to the front door of the place and you walk in, your experience should mirror in some respects--and complement in others--the whole process you're going to go through when you start eating." Grant takes it a step further. "It's about having a central beacon from which everything else emanates and therefore, it's seamless. The whole experience is crafted on one finite point and if everything emanates from that point, then there's no chance that the experience can be interrupted."
       
      The search for Alinea's space further reflects not only their shared philosophy but also their separate intensities. Says Nick, "One of the things we felt really strongly about, and we both came to it, was that we wanted it to be a 'stand alone' building because if you're in something else you can't help but take on some of that identity. And it's really difficult to find the right size building in the right kind of location, with the right kind of construction that was suitable for the identity of Alinea."
      Nick and Grant drove down every street within a chosen geographical band, armed with a giant map and a set of green, yellow and red markers. Once they had found a set of acceptable streets, they asked a realtor to show them every space available on them.
       
      "Once we did find the building," says Grant, "whichever space we would have chosen, we would have analyzed and considered each different aspect to provoke a certain emotion, a very controlled emotion depending on how we wanted it arranged. But I also think that we wanted the neighborhood to feel a certain way, the street to feel a certain way. Is it like Michigan Avenue where I have people 4-deep, walking straight down the sidewalk, non-stop, all day and all night or is it more of a tranquil environment outside? All those things were spinning around and once you identify the golden egg, then you have to go find it."
      While they would probably never admit it, each innovation, each step they take together in building their venture serves as yet another a opportunity for the Alinea team to challenge the restaurant's competitors. Their attention to all the details provides countless opportunities to distinguish Alinea from other restaurants.
       
      Here the two men can share in the creation, combining their diverse skills and experiences into a unified and shared vision. Alinea will be their baby. They want it to be the best --not just the best food -- but the best everything. They even want the experience of calling for a reservation to be a memorable one.
       
      The Path From Here
      In that spirit, the Alinea food lab opens this week. Grant refuses to promote even one of his legendary creations to 'signature dish' status. Instead of populating Alinea's menu with previous favorites from Trio or 'trial' dishes that have been only roughly tested, Grant and his team will take six months to devise, develop and perfect the dishes and delivery modes that will appear on Alinea's opening menu. When the idea of maintaining a kitchen staff for six months before the restaurant's opening was presented to its investors, in spite of the additional expense, "it seemed like a no-brainer" according to Nick. Grant is an equity partner--a true chef/owner--in the venture and there is a solid consensus among all the backers about the priority of his vision.
      * * * * *
      In addition to being one of today's foremost chefs and culinary innovators, Grant Achatz is a long-time member of eGullet, and a lively, provocative contributor to our discussion forums. Read his March, 2003 eGullet Q&A here.
      Photos courtesy Alinea
       
      eGullet member, yellow_truffle, also contributed to this report
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