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Fay Jai

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

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Given they were both vegetables that broke down easily under heat (mushrooms and scallions), they did offer a nice aroma and texture to the dish. I would think with heartier veggies you would want to go with a higher heat, but in this case they were fine.

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.


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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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.

Most vegetables need even higher than that - up to 90C or even 100C. At lower temperatures not that much will change in the vegetables - you'll get warm raw vegetbales rather than cooked. Unlike animal proteins, plants have stiff cell walls that need more temperature to affect them. What we think of as "cooked" vegetables is that transition, and that takes more temperature.

Personally, I do not do sous vide vegetables all that much, but I'm not quite ready to write it off completely. I haven't experimented here as much as I have with protein foods.

Sous vide is very helpful for things that discolor due to oxidation - endive, artichoke.... because they can cook without oxygen. Usually you try to add acid to stop this, but sous vide does it much better.

As another example, there are some very delicate vegetables that are easy to overcook (fresh corn, for example) that sous vide may be very good for.


Nathan

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That's an interesting thought Nathan, fresh shucked corn and a glob of butter, and out comes pre-buttered corn on the cob :)

What would you guesstamate for corn? 100C is boiling, so 95C ? Half an hour?

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I've got a question for any of you who have done long (72 hour) beef cooks. Have you noticed an "off" taste? I've done about 5 long cooks as of this point, short ribs, chuck, and several briskets. On all, I've noticed a slightly sour taste, not necessarily unpleasant, but there. A buddy of mine, who competes in brisket barbques likens it to a "blood" or metalic taste. I have a brisket sitting in brine right now to see if that draws out any blood, but I'm thinking it may be more of a bacterial thing, like in sourdough bread, due to the long cook times...

Anyone else observe this?

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I have a question for those with the Lauda immersion circulators. The one I got off ebay didn't come with any directions and I can't seem to find any online anywhere. I though it was simple enough, but was having a problem with the circulator being cut off at certain points.

While I know the big knob (I my picture above) controls the temp, the small one when pushed starts the circulator pump, but that also has a temprature scale on it as well. It seems to control the temp at which the circulator cuts off. The problem is that when it cuts off the only way I can see to start it again is by pusing the small knob in again.

I thought I had this solved by just setting the small knob at a higher temp than the actual larger temprature knob, but that seemed to negate the actual temp setting on the large knob. (ie: I had the large knob set to 64, and the small one set to 80 [so the pump didn't cut off], and I walked away and came back and the water was at 80C!)

Anyone have instructions on this thing?


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, I can't see your picture.... but below the digital readout, do you have an arrow that points down? On mine, the digital readout gives the current temperature. You have to press that arrow, while turning the knob, to establish the desired "set" temperature. When you let go of the arrow, the digital readout returns to the current temperature. I'm guessing that you have your "set" temperature too high, or at least, higher than the safety (the little knob below).

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Ah I have the non didgtal one. It is a old school one.

lauda.jpg


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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I have a question for those with the Lauda immersion circulators.  The one I got off ebay didn't come with any directions and I can't seem to find any online anywhere.

go to www.lauda.de and then Downloads, Operating Instructions.

They may not have the exact model, but the two dial system is used on many lauda machines so you should get something that explains it.

Nathan


Nathan

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here are some photos of duck confit I did last night, I definately need to increase the aromatics in the cure as the poaching sous vidse did nothing to impart flavor as traditional poaching in fat does.. good though. my immersion circulator bit the dust, it was a $10 ebay one, need to upgrade. btw- any chance anyone knows of any good service technicians in the seattle area for chamber vacuum sealers? thanks

PB100001.jpg

80 C for 12 hours

confit_01.jpg

confit_03.jpg

confit_04.jpg

confit_06.jpg

fell apart... mmmm.....


Edited by atlanta cook (log)

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There is a place in Kent that services vacuum sealers - unfortunately I don't have the name in front of me...


Nathan

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here are some photos of duck confit I did last night, I definately need to increase the aromatics in the cure as the poaching sous vidse did nothing to impart flavor as traditional poaching in fat does

Did you put some duck fat in the bag - it is not clear from the photo. There is a whole eGullet thread on duck confit, including sous vide that discusses salt ratios etc. The flavoring for confit comes in part from the salt cure, often with aromatics. Duck fat in the bag is important to keep the legs saturated during the cooking. Some fat will melt from the leg itself, but it is good practice to put a couple tablespoons of extra fat inside.


Nathan

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Does anyone know the time/temperature for cooking apples? Any experiences cooking them sous-vide?

I'm trying to reproduce the ancient dish of Biffins where a particular variety of apple was slow baked

A recipe of 1882 on how to cook Biffins advises ‘..Choose Norfolk Biffins with the clearest most blemish free rinds, then lay them on clean straw on baking wire and cover well with more straw. Set them in a very slow oven for four to five hours. Draw them out and press them very gently, otherwise their skins will burst. Return them now to the oven for another hour, then press them again. When cold, rub them over with clarified sugar.’ (http://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/documents/FruitGroupNewsletter03.pdf )

The article adds

A successful trade developed each year around Christmas between London fruiterers and Norwich bakers, who cooked the Biffins in their cooling bread-ovens, weighted down with an iron plate to expel excess air.

They were mentioned in Dickens "A Christmas Carol" "Norfolk Biffins, squab and swarthy, setting off the yellow of oranges and lemons, and in the great compactness of their juicy persons, urgently entreating and beseeching to be carried home in paper bags and eaten after dinner",

and in his story "The Holly Tree"

"“I think a Norfolk biffin would rouse her, Cobbs. She is very fond of them.”

Boots withdrew in search of the required restorative, and when he brought it in, the gentleman handed it to the lady, and fed her with a spoon"

Biffins, or beefings, have very tough skins, which allows them t be baked whole, and then preserved cold. Apparently when cooked this way they are "creamy with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg".

I have the right variety of apple, but my dilemma is how to cook. If I cook at sous-vide temperatures, I suspect, as Nathan remarked, I will just end up warm raw apple. The bread oven reference indicates quite hot, which I also doubt, since I think they would burst if they boil.

Help!


Edited by jackal10 (log)

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Sounds like you need to experiment a bit. I would start at 176F/80C and then go up or down from there. It is very hard to believe that you need to go over 194F/90C - as you say, boiling the apple inside makes the skin rupture as steam escapes. It is possible you could go as low as 158F/70C. A couple quick experiments should tell you. It sounds from the description that one of the goals of the dish is to have the final cooked apple be firm enough, and dry enough to be handled.

I don't understand if the pressing part is to push juice out of the apple or serves some other purpose?? It is not clear to me why you'd press them at all. If you want to remove juice to aid dessication, it would make sense to press the apples. Otherwise, what is the goal?

It seems possible that part of the goal of baking the apples is to dessicate the apples to some degree by evaporating water from them and concentrating the juices. Even with the skin intact, water could transpire through the skin. As an example, there are many recipes for oven dried tomatoes, or slow roasted tomatoes that involve putting them in a very low oven for a long period, often whole. Depending on time and temperature an oven dried/roasted tomato can range from a partially dessicated but very concentrated tomato, to a leathery thing similar to a sun dried tomato. The description of the Norfolk Biffin sounds a bit like the roasted tomato version - not the leathery dried version but something which has had some concentration via dessication. Of course this could be very wrong - I am just guessing.

Obviously, if dessication is a goal then sous vide would not work and you'd be better off making your biffins in an oven at low temp. I would start in a low oven at 176F/80C (ideally a convection oven, but I seem to recall that you have an Aga) and see how it works (increasing to 90C if need be.)

A hybrid techique would be cook it sous vide first, then put on a tray and dessicate them a bit.

The straw in the original recipe sounds like its purpose was to insulate the apples and prevent them from heating too quickly, which of course would not be a problem in either sous vide, or a well controlled modern oven.

Cooking time is another variable. I would guess the original cooking time of 4 to 5 hours as a start. It will take about 3 hours for the center of the apple to reach temperature (depending on the size, and depending on what temperature you start at). Again, some experimentation is in order.

I haven't seen Northern Biffins here in the Pacific Northwest, where lots of apple varieties are grown (probably a dozen varieties in the market right now). What other variety of apple best approximates the Biffin? Is it a mealy sauce apple (like Rome Beauty) or a firm fleshed apple (like granny smith, fuji..)? Is it normally tart (like granny smith) or sweet (like golden delicious, cox, fuji)?


Nathan

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gallery_7620_135_842.jpg

The apple is quite a dark red, fairly large.

The variety is Norfolk Beefing, aka Norfolk Beaufin, Catshead Beaufin

Noted in 1698

Used also to make dried apple rings.

Joan Morgan in the "New Book of Apples" describes it as

"Used early in the season for cooking, but by spring sweet enough to eat. Cooked keeps shape, quite rich taste....Apple has rather tough dry flesh and tough skin which allows the apple to be baked without bursting" She mentions that Biffins were baked for 24 hours at the lowest oven setting, so the dehydration theory might be right.

I only have one this year as its a young tree, so I can't experiment that much.

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From the "Independent News and Media (UK)

Entropy, Dover Street, Leicester

"Cockerill has cooked at some fine establishments including the Vineyard at Stockcross and Hambleton Hall, as well as doing a stint at Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck. Like Blumenthal, he does much of his cooking "sous vide" in vacuum-sealed bags and, like Blumenthal, he uses a scientific water-bath capable of maintaining pre-set temperatures, accurate to a tenth of a degree".

woodburner

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So I finally worked out the courage to try cooking sous vide for the first time. I got a piece of chicken breast and lightly seasoned it with some sea salt, white pepper, slivered scallions, olive oil, and thinly sliced lemon sections. I sealed it with Glad Press'n Seal Freezer Wraps as tightly as I can (thanks to Daddy-A for pointing out this link about Chef David Hawksworth's technique). The first time I tried to seal, I tried it with olive oil drizzled over the chicken but it was too much and I could not get rid of the air pockets as the wrap wasn't sealing in the areas where there was oil. I re-sealed it a second time but I just rubbed the chicken with olive oil this time and I was able to get a pretty tight seal with minimal trapped air.

For the heated water, I filled a stock pot with water over a gas stove set to the lowest setting. I knew from experience that I would not be able to get down to 140F even at the low setting so my brother came up with the idea of using a flame diffuser and it worked like a charm. I monitored the water temp with a digital food thermometer and by regulating how much overlap I used on the lid, I could maintain 140F within a couple of degrees.

Chicken went in for 1 hour and here are my impressions:

The first thing I noticed was the texture. It was very silky smooth, tender and moist. I felt the chicken taste also stood out in a good way. Most chicken breasts you buy these days are quite tasteless and rely on seasoning and sauces to make the dish taste good. With the SV method, you know you are eating chicken.

Next, I took half the chicken breast and seared it for 30 seconds on each side with some clarified butter in high heat to add some color. I actually found that this took away from the purity and delicacy of the un-browned chicken and I prefered it straight out of the bag.

Lessons learned:

I think I could have been more aggressive with the seasoning and the next time I add lemon, it will be without the skin which imparted some bitterness from the pith.

I will try some fish next time because I think this technique will work beautifully with fish. I will need to experiment with the technique to see if I can maintain a long term steady temperature without a lot of attention before trying things like duck confit or short ribs.

Also keep in mind I haven't knowingly eaten anything prepared this way so I don't have a frame of reference except what's been described here by others. Thanks for all the collective suggestions from the previous posts in this thread.

Alex

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I just ordered a Foodsaver Pro III vacuum sealer and am excited to try out some sous vide recipes.

However. I'm am terribly paranoid about Botulism, as the oxygen depleted and lukewarm environment is a perfect breeding ground.

Can anyone suggest some "starter" recipes that don't have very long cooking times--or higher temps? Also, I don't have a circulating water bath (yet), so is it possible to make something on the stovetop or oven that doesn't require a perfectly constant temperature? Someone mentioned something about duck confit earlier, but I couldn't find the recipe...

Thanks for your help!


Megan Woo

IHEARTBACON.COM

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Hi all - I have been lurking on this board and this thread in particular for quite some time. The wealth of information is simply sensational. I have entered the world of sous vide with a few experiments and have had some successes and some disappointments.

I have sous vide duck confit question. Has anyone else experienced excessive saltiness when cooking the confit sous vide? The last couple of batches I've made have been very salty and I have a batch in right now that I salted for 24 hours and rinsed THROUGHLY (the traditional method I used said to scrape off the salt so I thought I would try it fully rinsed). I'll know better this evening -- the legs are cooking at 180 degrees (using an immersion circulator) and I will check them after 10 hours but I was wondering if others had experienced this?

Also - question regarding artichokes. I saw a stunning picture in the Sous Vide book of artichokes cooked this way. They had none of the discoloration that you typically see. I tried a batch and although the discoloration was less then with braising it still wasn't great. I used a lemon/water path when peeling them and trimmed them down to the esssence of the heart. I am thinking that perhaps leaving more of the choke intact before cooking and trimming after they are completed might help. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

Many thanks again for such a great source of information.

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Sous vide should not concentrate the salt any more than normal cooking, so you are probably just salting the confit too much. There is a duck confit thread on eGullet that has Paula Wolfert's recipe proportions for how much salt to use - try that.

I'm not sure what the issue is with the artichokes. Obviously, if they have discolored before they go in the bag, that could be a problem. Once in the bag, you'll need some fluid around them - try adding several tablespoons of oil as you would with confit.


Nathan

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Thanks for the response. I rinsed the duck throughly this time and cooked the legs at 180 degrees for 11 hours and they were sensational! My only issue is that it appears that the temperature probe on my immersion circulator shorted out. Any thoughts on the difficultly of replacing this sort of thing? (it is an old analog model that I purchased on Ebay)

Great tip on the artichokes. I'll try that next time.

Many thanks!

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Hi everyone, this is really a great thread.

In New York Magazine Thomas Keller has a recipe for Turkey breast sous vide.

Recipe here.

Basically he says to use the breast of a 18-20lb turkey seal it with foie gras fat, and herbs and cook it at 164F for 30 minutes!! and then finish on the stove. I gave it a try last week, and the turkey certainly was not near done. After reading this thread, that doesn't seem like even close to the amount of time that would be required. I am going to try this again over the weekend, for our 2nd thanksgiving dinner, and cook the turkey longer, does anyone have any suggestions?

thanks


Mike

The Dairy Show

Special Edition 3-In The Kitchen at Momofuku Milk Bar

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There is no way that something as thick as an intact breast from an 18 - 20 lb turkey could cook sous vide in 30 minutes. This has to be an error.

Sous vide is a fine way to cook turkey - breast or thighs, but you need more time. Basically, I cook it like I would chicken, which is to cook it to 140F/60C core temp in a 142F/62C water bath or combi oven. Time using the tables, plus 20-30 minutes for food safety (this is based on the US FDA table for chicken and turkey referenced in an earlier post - claims of needing higher temperature are incorrect).

To decrease the time, flatten or slice the turkey thinner, even into individual servings. Then it will cook faster.


Nathan

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Hi,

firstly, stop panicking, botulism will only occur if you are flippant about your sous vide cooking, and if you are excited then you should be focussed about the things you are about to try.

rule number 1, do not vacuum anything to stop it from going off if it is whiffy in your fridge, it will only get worse.

rule number 2, when cooking meat or fish, buy quality, prep clean keep it cold from store to bag. cheap supermarket meat is not the thing to muck around with. I don't mean for you to speand the earth but try and find a butcher you can trust, and also make sure he is a busy one, so you can ensure his stock is turning over well. same goes for fish.

rule number 3, have fun and experiment, don't be afraid to pick up the phone to dominos pizza, no-one gets everything right every time.

first things I ever did with vac-pac was to portion up my braised dishes in them before time and then boil in the bag for service (or dinner parties), this seals in flavour fabulously and with dishes like lamb shanks or osso bucco you can also add vegetable garnish (cooked) with the meat and the sauce and allow you to fully focus on your guests during a dinner party. DOWN SIDE- food saver and other vacuum packing machines just suck air out of your bag, they will also draw out all of your liquid into the pump and ruin your machine before you begin, my tips are if your sauce is a meat glaze reduction (jus) then fridge it and allow it to set, doesn't matter if it covers the meat or the garnish as long as it is solid when you press the start button. otherwise freeze it and vac it frozen.

some vegetables vacuum really well, 1kg fennel, 250gm butter. cook in the microwave. carefull as your microwave will get really hot so do it in burst allowing your machine to cool inbetween, blend well, pass and season and a beautiful veloute is born.

pumpkin or butternut also works really well (would recommend double bagging though as the corners can pop the bag,) simmer until tender and then puree with shallots garlic etc, whatever takes you fancy, I crush some amaretti and cream into mine then blend pass and churn into ice cream.

hope that's enough to get you started.

Alex.

I just ordered a Foodsaver Pro III vacuum sealer and am excited to try out some sous vide recipes.

However. I'm am terribly paranoid about Botulism, as the oxygen depleted and lukewarm environment is a perfect breeding ground.

Can anyone suggest some "starter" recipes that don't have very long cooking times--or higher temps? Also, I don't have a circulating water bath (yet), so is it possible to make something on the stovetop or oven that doesn't require a perfectly constant temperature? Someone mentioned something about duck confit earlier, but I couldn't find the recipe...

Thanks for your help!


after all these years in a kitchen, I would have thought it would become 'just a job'

but not so, spending my time playing not working

www.e-senses.co.uk

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      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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