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Fay Jai

Sous Vide: Recipes, Techniques & Equipment (Part 1)

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I have read over most of this thread and have not found what I am looking for. I have a Foie Gras that I would like to try and cook with the Sous Vide Method. Can anyone here give me a recipe or instructions on how to do this? I know that Foie Gras is what initially got this movement started, so there must be quite a few versions out there. Thanks!


Paris is a mood...a longing you didn't know you had, until it was answered.

-An American in Paris

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There are several different ways to go about this, beacues there are different end results that you might want to achieve. Cold fois gras terrine is different than hot seared fois gras. So, here are the basics which you can then adapt to your own recipes.

In all cases you should prep the fois gras normally (i.e. remove veins etc.)

For hot seared fois gras, cut it into serving slices, and seal each slice in its own bag. Cook the slices sous vide in a bath at 141F/61C for a time given by the tables in this thread. If you want to make double sure about food safety, add 15 minutes to the time. It is unclear if that is necessary - most seared fois gras is served rare in the center without incident - but the extra 15 minutes don't really hurt. There are even many chefs who serve fois gras raw.

If you want the fois gras less well done, and you still care about food safety, you could go as low as 137F/58C, but in that case use the same time given from the table for 141F, then add 112 minutes to the time for food safety.

Once you remove the fois gras from the bag, you can then sear it briefly in a very hot pan (oil at smoke point) or griddle/plancha, or even with a blowtorch. You don't need to sear it, but if you want the seared look and the texture of a crust then this is necessary. The only point of searing is the crust, the fois gras is fully cooked in the bag, so I usually just do the crust on the top side.

Note that there are a number of classic recipes from Alain Senderens, Joel Robuchon and others for steamed or poached fois gras and these can be adapted to sous vide very well without searing step. It is conventional (and delicious) to sear, but don't think that you have to do this.

You can also cook a whole fois gras this way. Use the time in the tables for the thickest part. After cooking you can sear the outside of the whole fois gras, then slice and serve.

One problem with cooking whole fois gras in sous vide is that when the bag sucks hard against the liver, it can crack it. Once it is cracked, it is easy for it to disintegrate. Poor quality fois gras can disintegrate even if you treat it correctly

One way to solve this is to use a chamber style vacuum machine that has a "soft air" settting, which lets the air back into the chamber gently. If you don't have a machine like that, then be sure to separate the lobes of the foie gras, and try to have a pretty regular shape.

You can also cook a fois gras terrine this way. There are three ways to do this.

1. Make the terrine (with fois gras and other ingredients) as you normally would in a mold or pan, then put the whole thing in a vacuum bag and seal it. You obviously need a bag and a vacuum machine, big enough to enclose the mold. Seal it, the cook at 141F/61C using the tables with a time based on the dimensions of the mold, then add 15 minutes.

2. Make the terrine, then roll it into a cylinder or "torchon". Usually you do this by wrapping in plastic wrap very tightly, rolling it up like a sushi roll. In fact, a bamboo sushi rolling mat (makisu) is a great although non-traditional way to shape a torchon. Take the whole torchon, plastic wrap and all, and seal it in a vacuum bag, and cook as with method 1.

3. Wrap a torchon as with method 2, then seal it in a heat shinking sous vide bag. We have not discussed this kind of bag much on the thread. It is also called a "thermo-retractable" bag. Basically this is a vacuum bag made of a plastic which shrinks when heated. Seal the torchon in the heat shink bag as you normally would, then plunge the torchon and bag BRIEFLY into a pan of boiling water. It just takes a few seconds for the bag to shrink. Remove the bag as soon as the shrinking has occured. The heat shrink bag keeps the torchon held together better than a normal vacuum bag would. However if you wrap your torchon with plastic wrap tightly it should hold together without this.

For each method, after cooking time is over, plunge it into ice water bath to chill it then store in the refrigerator until cold for slicing and service. A fois gras terrine needs to chill all the way through in order to slice cleanly.


Nathan

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Does anyone have a source for the heat-shrink bags? I've been looking for them since I got the Joan Roca book. Google searches return mostly the type intended for packaging, not cooking. The few I've found that look appropriate are only sold in huge quantities ("write for quote").

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NathanM,

Thank you! I am not sure of the quality of my foie Gras, I just purchased it in Paris. So I will try the individual seared foie gras example. I have eaten foie gras raw many times so I am not too worried about the safety. We'll see how it goes, again thank you.


Edited by raisab (log)

Paris is a mood...a longing you didn't know you had, until it was answered.

-An American in Paris

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following is a pm to a fellow egulleter that thought it may be good to get the public feedback, please do... thanks

hello, I was wondering if you could answer a couple of question I have about sous vide equipment. I wanted to see if these are the thermometers you recommend. also, which bags do you recomend? if I remember you chose some from here, is that right? I have a chamber vacum sealer and two nice water baths, now I need to get to it. I plan to use sous vide method to cook a few of the items at a restaurant I am helping to open , and I need a little more clarification about a couple things. first, I plan to use the thermometer to monitor the temperature of the protein as I cook it a la minute (to avoid cook and hold) will the above work with the closed cell weather stripping? will it leave a visible hole in the meat? is a la minute reasonable? I plan to butcher my seafood for sous vide and bag in individual portions for service. I would like to do a very small (2-3oz) foie terrine, like in a salt and sugar holder, terrine for a charcuterie platter, can I do this sous vide? will the terrine throw off melted fat? if so will it seep back into the mold as it cools? sorry if these questions seem silly, but better to ask than learn by experience with the foie ($) thanks a lot

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I wanted to see if these are the thermometers you recommend.

I use the minature needle probe, which is about half way down that page. These will not make a visible hole in most products.

The probe is best used with a digital thermometer. There are many. I use one by Extech which has a feature where you can set it to beep when the temperature reaches a set point.

also, which bags do you recomend? if I remember you chose some from here, is that right?

The key thing on bags is to make sure that they can take heat. Typically they are called "boilable" bags. Usually these are 3 mil thick.

I plan to use the thermometer to monitor the temperature of the protein as I cook it a la minute (to avoid cook and hold) will the above work with the closed cell weather stripping? will it leave a visible hole in the meat? is a la minute reasonable?

You don't need to use the thermometer in every single portion unless they vary in size and shape a lot. Once you know that a portion of protein of a given size takes a certain amount of time, you can bank on it because the water bath will keep temperature steady.

When you say "a la minute" what do you mean? Usually when people say "a la minute" they mean that cooking does not start until after the guest orders the food. So, you could either prep food into bags up front and keep in the refer until the guest orders, or you could even do the bagging after the guest orders. You can do that with sous vide, but ONLY with very thin portions, beacuse otherwise the cooking time is too long. Obviously, the 36 hour long cooking times for some items would not work this way! But with a thin portion it will work. Check out the time tables and you'll get a good idea of how thin you need the portions to be, then verify it with your thermometer set up to double check.

A variation that many people do is to prep into bags, and the put into the water bath early enough that they are cooked by service. They they just leave them in the water bath during service. If the bath temp is close to the final core temp (which is what I recommend) then they can't overcook.

So, if you are doing poultry or meat, and your bath temp is at or above 131F/55C then you can do this pretty much for as long as you want. The food is in the water bath during the entire service.

If you are doing fish, you will be a lower temp most likely and thus there is some food safety concern about doing it for too long, however a couple hours is considered safe by food safety standards. In fact the official number is up to 4 hours, but I would not push it that long myself. However, fish portions can be cooked to order if they are thin so that is the alternative.

I plan to butcher my seafood for sous vide and bag in individual portions for service.

This works well. If the seafood is thin, then it will typically cook in 15-20 min which depending on your style of service should be fine a la minute.

I would like to do a very small (2-3oz) foie terrine, like in a salt and sugar holder, terrine for a charcuterie platter, can I do this sous vide? will the terrine throw off melted fat? if so will it seep back into the mold as it cools?

You can use a mold with sous vide. To do this you would put the fois gras into the mold, and then put the whole thing into a bag and seal it. If the edge of the mold is too sharp, it can cut the bag when the vacuum pulls it tight across the food.

If the mold is made of an insulator - like thick glass or ceramic, then it will take longer to cook the food that is right against the mold. So, it is better to have metal, or silicone (which conducts heat pretty well).

Generally I would cook fois gras terrine in a bath at 141F/61C and cook to an internal temp of 60C, then after reaching 60C internal let it stay in the bath for 60 minutes extra. At that temp you may get some fat melting, and it may seep away from the fois gras in the bag. The amount is hard to predict - it depends on your fois gras - low quality fois gras tends to melt or disintegrate more than higher quality.

There are three things that you can do about this. One is to just live with it - at worst when you take the bags out of the bath you squeeze the fat back in the direction of the mold with your fingers. Then put the bag into ice water to chill it down. This works reasonably well.

A deeper mold will help avoid this, because it is harder for the fois gras fat to migrate out of the mold into other parts of the bag. Also, you can put the molds upside down in the water bath. The fat is lighter than water so water pressure in the water bath will make the fat migrate to the highest place in the bag that it can get. If you put the mold upside down it won't be able to crawl over the edge of the mold. Does that make sense? You may need to have a wire rack inside your water bath to hold the molds down. Wire racks or grids made for cooling baked goods work well for this.

If this becomes a huge problem then you can use heat shrink bags. To do that you need to seal like you normally would, but seal very close to the mold. Cut off the extra bag away from the seal. Then you plunge the whole thing in boiling water for 10 seconds or so, until the bag shrinks around the mold.

The heat shrink bag approach also works for a free form fois gras terrine, such as a torchon. Unfortunately, I don't know a good source of heat shrink bags - I don't use them myself.

sorry if these questions seem silly, but better to ask than learn by experience with the foie ($) thanks a lot

Not at all - asking questions is the point of eGullet.

Nathan


Nathan

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I have a lot of experience cooking foie gras sous-vide - literally thousands - in and out of molds/terrines - but in combi-ovens. If you do it "torchon" double roll it and prick the first layer with a pin to release air and get a tighter roll. If you use a mold/terrine know your machine - do not seal it too tightly - and you can double bag. The golden fat will surround the surface - but work with it - either serve it with - which is beautiful - or peel it off and melt it for cooking - you will not miss this fat in the final product. Nathan - with the shrink wrap bags you were right the first time around - a quick dunk is all you need - 10 seconds is way too long - and then straight into the ice bath. Why don't you use them?

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Thanks! I will be trying a couple small terrines and torchons soon, I am sure I will return with questions. When you say "double roll it", do you mean w/the cheese cloth or two bag- one and then prick it and then the other? thanks

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atlanta cook - just plastic film. Lay two livers - facing and inverse - on a squared piece of film. Roll tightly then prick. Place that roll on a second piece of film and roll again - do not prick unless necessary for a tight finish. Finally seal in a shrink wrap bag. No need to cut off the excess.

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Nathan - with the shrink wrap bags you were right the first time around - a quick dunk is all you need - 10 seconds is way too long - and then straight into the ice bath. Why don't you use them?

Mostly I don't cook things that need to be molded. There isn't any advantage to shrink wrap bags unless you want to mold or shape the product. I don't do foie gras that often, and when I do it is usually hot seared not a terrine or torchon.

Which supplier do you use for the bags? I'll try some...

Nathan


Nathan

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Nathanm - it's time for me to ask the oracle for some help again...

I want to cook some Beef over the weekend to have with some Salsa Verde. I want to get the effect of a nice cold piece of rare roasted fillet but using a cheaper, tougher cut.

I've tried Heston Blumenthal's version (in his book Family Food) and it was good but not super tender. From memory I think the suggestion was to cook it at 70C until the correct internal temperature was reached. The problem was that the meat was quite tough still. Earlier in one of your replies you intimated that it can be a good idea to cook the meat for a bit longer (at the target internal temperature to ensure it doesn't overcook) so that the meat fibres break down a little more.

Can I ask for your suggestion as to method as to try on a 2kg piece of beef (not fillet!). I have at my disposal cling film (i.e. no Vacuum sealer!), an induction hob (able to hold to 60C) and a Gaggenau oven (able to hold to 50,55,60C etc.) and a good temperature probe. The oven is probably the most reliable. Any suggestions?

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If you want it both rare and tender you will need to cook for a long time - say 36 hours at 131F / 55C. So if you want this for the weekend you'd better get it started ASAP!

The basic issue is that the collagen in the meat will break down over time at low temperature in a moist environment - that will occur no matter how the meat is cooked - whether sous vide, or pseudo-sous vide.

Is your oven a steam oven? I think that Gaggenau has a home combi-oven. If that is what you have then this is probably your best bet.

Note that an oven that uses dry air at 55C is not going to do the same thing - it can't transfer heat well enough, and the surface temperature of the meat won't be the same.

Not having a vacuum sealer means that you can't really do sous vide. However you can do the following thing. Take a zip lock bag and put your meat in there. Pour some oil (olive oil, canola oil...depends on what you like) into the bag with the meat and squeeze out most of the air by hand then seal the bag. The idea is to make sure that the meat is covered by the oil. This keeps oxygen off the meat and is some approximation to sous vide. This is not a good idea at lower temperature, but at 55C should be OK. But if you get much hotter the zip lock will melt.

You could take the zip lock and cook it this way in either the steam oven, or in a water bath. You should prop it so that the zip lock seal is pointing up so that it does not leak.

Besides sous vide there are many other techniques for slow roasting, or poaching, or poaching in oil. You could poach the meat in oil in a pan, without the zip lock bag, but you'll need more oil. Just keep the meat submerged and keep oil temp at 131F/55C. Note this is not really the same as confit - for a confit you poach in oil or melted fat, but at much higher temperature (typically 175F/80C or higher). Using water instead of oil (i.e. directly poaching the meat in water) is NOT the same - you'll cook the meat but I don't think you'll get the effect you want.

Please note that you have some major compromises - especially no vacuum sealer - so this is a bit uncertain. Good luck!


Nathan

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Thanks Nathan. Unfortunately I don't have the Combi just the straight-forward Fan/Convection oven but I will try as you suggest after all the experimentation is half the fun!

One thing I am not sure on though - why is wrapping the meat in oiled clingfilm not the same as putting it in a sous-vide bag? Surely the effect is the same - no air? Am I missing something blindingly obvious.

What do you think about cling-filming the (joint+oil+seasoning) and placing it in a pre-heated water bath in the oven at 55C for 36 hours?

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Has anyone tried using a pork-tenderloin SV? I know the color may be slightly off-putting to people, as most people cringe away from pink color of it. Not me personally.


John Deragon

foodblog 1 / 2

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I feel sorry for people that don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day -- Dean Martin

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Excellent, I am going to give it a shot tonight. Do you remember what temp you cooked them at?


John Deragon

foodblog 1 / 2

--

I feel sorry for people that don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day -- Dean Martin

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...

Not having a vacuum sealer means that you can't really do sous vide.  However you can do the following thing.  Take a zip lock bag and put your meat in there.  Pour some oil (olive oil, canola oil...depends on what you like) into the bag with the meat and squeeze out most of the air by hand then seal the bag.  The idea is to make sure that the meat is covered by the oil.  This keeps oxygen off the meat and is some approximation to sous vide.

A po-man's vacuum pack can be done by doing the bag like Nathan explains, but instead of using your hands to sqeeze out the air fill a sink with water then submerge most of the bag in the water. The water pressure will push the air out and you can zip the bag up. You can go one step further and put the zip bag in another larger bag that will allow you to completely submerge the ziplock bag to create more pressure to push the air out.


My soup looked like an above ground pool in a bad neighborhood.

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So I was feeling energetic and tried a pork sous-vide[ dish tonight. I had a small tenderloin, some scallions, a serrano chili and some small crimini mushrooms, so I created a small packet with all that and a few pats of butter. I tossed in some S&P and a few szechwan peppercorns.

I apologize in advance for the photos, I am still getting used to the camera and the flash modes.

bagged.jpg

I stuck the whole packet in the water bath. I had it set to 64C and kept it there until I got an internal temp of the pork at 64C.

lauda.jpg

After I took it out of the packet I have to say it looked not very appetizing. :unsure:

cooked.jpg

So it went into a hot pan with a dab of butter and canola oil for a sear.

seared.jpg

Much better!

Finally, the plating.

plated.jpg

I served it with some oven roasted acorn squash that was roasted with some hazelnuts, hazelnut oil and a touch of honey. The scallions and mushrooms from the bag were served on the side, and the meat drizzled with some of the cooking juice.

While it was good overall, pork (at least this preparation) isn't my favorite way of eating pork. I have done salmon and chicken so far with amazing results. I think I am just partial to a nice pork roast.

The meat was extremely tender, but even with the sear was missing that roasted taste. Maybe I should have tried searing it longer.


John Deragon

foodblog 1 / 2

--

I feel sorry for people that don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day -- Dean Martin

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John. Maybe next time blowtorch the pork before bagging it?


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Hah! I knew I missed a step!

John.  Maybe next time blowtorch the pork before bagging it?


John Deragon

foodblog 1 / 2

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I feel sorry for people that don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day -- Dean Martin

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A question for sous viders using vacuum sealer but not immersion heaters.

How difficult has it been to maintain consistant water temps of say 130, 150, 170? And how have you done it?

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Just pulled out my duck confit that ran @ 80C all night (per nathanm) using a thermal regulator from ebay to find that the regulator had seized up and the temp dial (analog model) is kinda stuck :sad: used a dig thermometer to monitor the temp, the duck looks good, I will post with a flavor reveiw and maybe a picture or two when they are cooled off.

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Johnder,

What was your opinion of the veggies? I've found that the sous-vide does nothing for them. Nathan has suggested higher temps (like 82C), but I haven't gotten around to trying that yet.

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      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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