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Fay Jai

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

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sorry should have said that the fennel needs to be finely shaved on a chinese vegetable slicer, dont try the whole bulb cos that will take weeks and probably blow up your microwave. :shock:


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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Thanks alexw!

Yes, this helps alleviate my worries. Thanks for the tips, I can't wait to start experimenting.

P.S. Fennel veloute sounds great!


Megan Woo

IHEARTBACON.COM

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thanks nathan.

I tried the turkey again on saturday. I cooked it at about 155 for about 4.5 hours. My family usually cooks their turkey breast to 180!, so I tried to compromise on the temp. Anyway, it turned out great and was the best turkey I or anyone ever had. Unfortunately, in the rush to get it to the table in the end, i forgot to check the final temp. I'll defintely try sous vide again in the future and take better notes.


Mike

The Dairy Show

Special Edition 3-In The Kitchen at Momofuku Milk Bar

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I'm unclear on why food which has been vacuum sealed cooks at a lower temperature than non-vacuum-sealed food does. Obviously the pressure internal to the seal is still a single atmosphere, because the plastic seal isn't strong enough to maintain an actual vacuum. Could someone explain this to me?

When I first read about sous vide, I assumed that a sous vide cooker had an actual vacuum chamber. Of course, that would tend to freeze dry food, but it's an interesting question what happens if you heat up freeze-dried food under a vacuum, then moisturize it after cooking. Does anybody know if that might be a viable cooking technique?

Oddly, some quick web searching seems to indicate that there aren't currently any commercial freeze dryers on the market.

http://www.livejournal.com/users/bramcohen/24605.html

I don't think I have a good answer myself!

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Err...there are two separate things going on in sous vide cooking.

The cooking is long time low temperature, but at atmospheric pressure, or near enough, The vacuum bagging is to keep the food sealed, in contact with whatever sauce and stop it drying out. The bag also separates the food from the cooker medium, often a water bath which is a convenient way to accurately control the temperature.

Some claim the vacuum opens the pores of the food and permits greater penetration of marianade, sauce or whatever, but I have my doubts.

I doubt if cooking freeze dried foods will have much effect, until you get to temperatures where they burn and char. Most cooking reactions need to include water. The cell structures of freeze dried foods are already fairly disrupted, - rehydrate a piece of freeze dried steak, and you don't get back a raw juicy ribeye, alas - its more like beef jerky.

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I think the basic premise of that online discussion is wrong (at least they seem to be be led off track ). While it's true that the actual cooking temperature is lower than non sous-vide food, the final temperature is the same. The first post seems to imply that the author thinks that sous-vide food cooks 'more' at a lower temperature by virtue of the vacuum, which of course it doesn't.


Martin Mallet

<i>Poor but not starving student</i>

www.malletoyster.com

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Cooking in a vacuum wouldn't work the way I think most of you are pondering.

It is true that water will boil at a lower temperature in a vacuum, but that doesn't speak at all to the amount of kinetic (thermal) energy in that boiling water.

Water that boils at 50C in a partial vacuum will cook like water at sea level that is... 50C.

So, if you have a reaction that will only "go" at 60C or above, it won't "go" if you drop the pressure so water will boil at 50C and try it at 50C. The energetics just don't calculate up.

The same thing works with cooking. So, it's not the partial (I'm with jackal10 on that being nominal) vacuum. What it is, is the time that the food is kept at this lower temperature. It cooks slowly and evenly, and the water bath provides even heat around the whole item (if it's submerged).


I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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As Jackal10 has pointed out, there are several things going on with sous vide.

The food is NOT cooked in a vaccum - it is at ambient atmospheric pressure.

The vacuum packing in the bag simply ensures that there is less air trapped in the bag that might otherwise be there.

There are several reasons to remove the air:

- The bag would float if cooked in a water bath, and thus not cook evenly because the top portion would be out of the water.

- Some food oxidizes (endive, artichoke) while cooking and that is lessened.

- Reduces microbial growth during cooking. This is only relevant for very low temperatures (below 54C/130F).

- Reduces both oxidation and microbial growth during cold storage after cooking. This was the original motivation for a lot of sous vide cooking - the idea was to prepare food centrally then reheat it for service at other locations, for example for airplane catering. Note that most meat, and many other products, are vacuum packed during storage for preservation regardless of whether they are cooked in the bag.

- Sealing the bag has various advantages (keeping flavor in, keeping water and other things out) and while you could seal the bag without removing the air, the air will tend to expand upon being heated. The bag would stretch or expand like a ballon if sealed with air trapped inside. This makes floating worse if you use a water bath, and could pop the bag.

- There are other methods of cooking that use hermetically sealed containers to retain moisture and flavor, but they are not very convienent. Roasting in a salt crust is one example. Roasting in a pan sealed with dough around the pan lid is another example. However they tend to do an imperfect job of sealing, and they are not very convenient.

- Once you have the full set up of a very temperature stable cooking environment (like a water bath), and you hermetically seal the food (so it retains flavor, so it can't boil over, or dry out) then it is more convenient to cook things unattended for long periods of times. Cooking something for 36 hours on the stove, or in a conventional oven, is possible but would require a lot more hand holding. Sous vide is the easiest and most trouble free way to do really long cooking times.

The flip side of these reasons is that you can in many cases achieve a very similar effect without using a bag, or without removing the air. One example is with a combi-oven which allows low temperature steaming. Another example is low temperature poaching in water, or in oil/fat (confit). This is certainly possible in many cases.

As an example, there is a pseudo-sous vide approach where you put food in a non-vacuum sealed bag that has a one-way valve in it. The food is cooked in combi oven under steam - the trapped air in the bag expands and exits via the valve. When the product cools the result is a vacuum (not very high) in the bag. This is relevant if you don't want to use a vacuum packer, but want to store the food in the bag and reheat it later, so you want the improved preservation of having a mild vacuum.

As Mallet points out, the temperature in sous vide is not related to the fact that the food is packed in a bag. Temperature works the same way, and you can cook at low temperature without the bag. However, it is easier on the chef to cook for a long period of time if you can hermetically seal the food (so it won't dry out etc).

Sous vide as a cooking technique has evolved from being oriented mainly as a food preservation techinque for cook-and-hold, to a much broader set of things. The fact is that sous vide today mostly uses vacuum packing as a convienence. As Jack says, it is convienent to use a water bath for maintaining temperature accurately. If you don't want your food water logged, the vacuum bag helps you poach it without water contact. In other cases it is oxidation, or wanting to seal the bag that motivates it. While you can do many of these things without a vacuum bag, once you have the vacuum bagging machine and the water baths etc, then it is very convenient to use it for many purposes.

Truly cooking in a vacuum is a very different thing than sous vide. As jsolomon points out, cooking in 50C water under vacuum is for most purposes the same as cooking in 50C water at another pressure so in that case there is no difference.

However, there are some scenarios where cooking in a vacuum makes sense:

- Marination is in general improved by being done in a vacuum. There are two reasons. The first is that trapped air is removed - there is air trapped in just about everything and degassing the food under marination tends to remove that trapped air. If there is liquid present in the degassing, it will tend to get sucked into the pores to replace the air bubbles as they are removed. In addition, it can help osmosis to change the ambient pressure. Vacuum marinators, and vacuum tumblers, are commercial equipment used extensively in meat processing to do marination in a vacuum.

- A vacuum reduces the vapor pressure of water and other liquids, so you can dry or dehydrate things better in a vacuum that at ambient pressure. That either means you can dry them faster at the same temperature, or you can dry them at a lower temperature. Vacuum dessicators are common in laboratories.

- Freeze drying is mentioned in the thread. This is a special case where you dehydrate at very low temperatures, using a high vacuum. It is only important in cases where you really need the low temperature while dehydrating, otherwise normal dehydration works.

- Vacuum distillation lets you distill volitile fluids at a lower tempertaure than under ambient pressure.

There are some chefs experimenting with each of these true vacuum cooking technques, but it is much less common than sous vide. Strickly speaking, vacuum cooking is totally different than sous vide, becaues sous vide is actually cooked at normal atmospheric pressure. The only time you have a vaccum in sous vide is in the packing machine, not during cooking.


Nathan

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I haven't seen the packing machines for sous vide. Are they really able to pull a vacuum, or can they just do the same effect as sticking a straw in and collapsing the bag?


I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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There are two types of vacuum machines.

The clamp machines (like FoodSaver) leave the bag exposed to the surrounding air, so the bag collapses as the air is withdrawn.

Chamber machines enclose the entire bag. The air is sucked out of the chamber, the heat sealer clamps down on the bag opening to seal it, and then the vacuum is released. The bag doesn't collapse until the air rushes back into the chamber - kind of fun to watch.

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Apart from Sous Vide, there are several other LTLT cooking techniques. LT poaching (in either water, stock or olive oil) works very well for fish, seafood, chicken and perfect softboiled and hard boiled eggs if you have the patience. LTLT roasting produces perfectly cooked, tender roasts. Heston Blumenthal has a method of making mashed potatos which first involves a 2 hour poach in 70C water.


PS: I am a guy.

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There are two types of vacuum machines.

The clamp machines (like FoodSaver) leave the bag exposed to the surrounding air, so the bag collapses as the air is withdrawn.

I recently got the new generation Food Saver that claims to be able to handle "moist" contents. I've "sous vided" and poached a small pork shoulder as well as two pairs of trotters. In each case, to varying degrees, the bags have inflated while cooking. Is this about the seal? Expansion? Poor Food-Saver technique on my part?


You shouldn't eat grouse and woodcock, venison, a quail and dove pate, abalone and oysters, caviar, calf sweetbreads, kidneys, liver, and ducks all during the same week with several cases of wine. That's a health tip.

Jim Harrison from "Off to the Side"

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I would tend to say the latter. What were you using as extra "moisteners"? If you added liquid, you may want to microwave it for a bit (2 min or so) to de-gas it. You may also want to attempt to pull suction with a straw (if possible) before using the Food-Saver to help remove some of the trapped gas in simple pockets.


I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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The meat itself was a little wet with blood I guess, and in the case of the shoulder I added duck fat which was fridge temp. I had cleaned veg so maybe they were damp but there was no standing liquid. Could the little bit of what is maybe best described as ambient wetness be the cause?


You shouldn't eat grouse and woodcock, venison, a quail and dove pate, abalone and oysters, caviar, calf sweetbreads, kidneys, liver, and ducks all during the same week with several cases of wine. That's a health tip.

Jim Harrison from "Off to the Side"

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. . . and if so then the seal is compromised?


You shouldn't eat grouse and woodcock, venison, a quail and dove pate, abalone and oysters, caviar, calf sweetbreads, kidneys, liver, and ducks all during the same week with several cases of wine. That's a health tip.

Jim Harrison from "Off to the Side"

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However, there are some scenarios where cooking in a vacuum makes sense:

There is also a very interesting advantage to frying in a vacuum. Acrylamide is a harmful chemical (known to cause cancer) found in fried starchy foods like potato chips. The chemical is increased with high frying temeratures. By putting the cooking under a vacuum you can lower the fry temperature and reduce the amount of acrylamide you generate duing the cooking by up to 90+%.

An interesting bit of information is that there are a lot of chips out there that far exceed the proposed safe levels of acrylamide in the state of California.

  • Cape Cod Robust Russet: 910 times
  • Kettle Chips (lightly salted): 505 times
  • Kettle Chips (honey dijon): 495 times
  • Pringles Snack Stacks (pizza-flavored): 170 times
  • Lay's Baked: 150 times

For those interested there is information about prop 65 here: http://www.oehha.ca.gov/prop65/acrylamide.html


Edited by pounce (log)

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

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In each case, to varying degrees, the bags have inflated while cooking.  Is this about the seal?  Expansion?  Poor Food-Saver technique on my part?

Usually, when that happens the reason is that you don't have a very good vacuum in the bag, and the residual air has expanded when heated.

If you have alcohol in the bag, then you can expect expansion when the alcohol boils, which is at 175F.

If the bag isn't sealed properly then you typically don't get a big expansion, because the air just leaks out. If you push on the air in a leaky bag it will go out.

A way to check if the seal is compromised is to submerge the bag in warm water and look for bubbles coming from the seal - like checking a inner tube for leaks.

A way to check if it is expansion is to submerge the bag in ice water. This will cool everything and if the inflation goes down and the bag looks like it did when you sealed, then it shows that it is thermal expansion not a leak.


Nathan

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Very thorough answer. Thanks. So then more specifically. . . I was motivated to buy the food saver because I have been cooking trotters lately and wanting the skin to stay in one piece. There's the old school method with cheese cloth but that seems to me very messy. I had sort of an aha moment thinking that if the feet were in a vacuum bag, the plastic would hold the skin in place. Alas the bag inflated--now I think due to residual air--and the skin split. So I guess the key here is to get a better vacuum. Are there tricks with Food Saver to accomplish that goal? I assume drying everything rigorously is a start. . .


You shouldn't eat grouse and woodcock, venison, a quail and dove pate, abalone and oysters, caviar, calf sweetbreads, kidneys, liver, and ducks all during the same week with several cases of wine. That's a health tip.

Jim Harrison from "Off to the Side"

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However, there are some scenarios where cooking in a vacuum makes sense:

There is also a very interesting advantage to frying in a vacuum. Acrylamide is a harmful chemical (known to cause cancer) found in fried starchy foods like potato chips. The chemical is increased with high frying temeratures. By putting the cooking under a vacuum you can lower the fry temperature and reduce the amount of acrylamide you generate duing the cooking by up to 90+%.

How do you fry in a vacuum? Fried food is putting out an ungodly amount of steam. I imagine it would be a real challenge to maintain pressure in that scenario.


PS: I am a guy.

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How do you fry in a vacuum? Fried food is putting out an ungodly amount of steam. I imagine it would be a real challenge to maintain pressure in that scenario.

I've only seen commercial equipment for vacuum frying. If you do an image search on google you can find a few pics. I assume that if you have a constant draw during cooking you could compensate for the expanding gasses. I imagine that you could rig up a pressure cooker with a high power vacuum pump and try it at home :)


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

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I have never seen vacuum frying equipment for restaurant or kitchen use - it might exist, but if so it is pretty exotic. The only vacuum frying equipment I have heard of is for commercial food plants - such as potato chips

Pressurized frying equipment is common - it is used for "broasting" - i.e. frying chicken under pressure. So this equipment is found in lots of kitchens - although usually just fast food places. There is also a manufacturer that makes a home pressure cooker that can do pressure frying.


Nathan

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Alas the bag inflated--now I think due to residual air--and the skin split.  So I guess the key here is to get a better vacuum.  Are there tricks with Food Saver to accomplish that goal?  I assume drying everything rigorously is a start. . .

Drying will only help so much. You want the food either dry or wet enough that the back does not stick to the foods and can slide around to help the air evacuate.

What temperature were you cooking your trotters at?


I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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I haven't seen anyone else stagger over this concept, so I must be in need of education. Would someone please 'splain to me what vacuum frying would be? Until now I'd thought that the point of frying was to bring the food in contact with a high-temperature fat in order to cook the food. Done properly, there would be steam driven out and a nice crispy surface produced with little fat impregnating the food. (Done improperly, of course, one gets soggy greasy fries.) The Gastrovac - I'm with you on that name, jsolomon - notes that there's no contact with the fat, and that the cooking is done at lower temperatures. How does this qualify as frying? Someone please enlighten me.


Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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The gastrovac is just a vacuum chamber.

Vacuum frying means that the chamber is under reduced pressure. There is still oil in it, and the food is in contact with the oil.

Normal atmospheric pressure at sea level is 1 Bar. Water boils at 100C / 212F.

Frying in Denver is actually slightly reduced versus sea level. Frying on Mount Everest would definitely be reduced - pressure there is about 0.3 Bar (one third of normal).

At 0.3 Bar water boils at 70C / 158F.

A gastrovac could presumably do a lower vacuum - probably down to 0.1 bar or less - depends on the pump capacity.

Pressure frying is the same thing but you pressurize the pot above 1 Bar. Most pressure cookers cook at about 2 bar pressure (i.e twice normal). Water boils at a much higher temperature at higher pressure.

The only difference in frying at various pressures is that the lower the ambient pressure, the lower the temperature at which the water in the product will boil. So you could have oil at, say 158F instead of 350F and get a similar effect with respect to dehydration (a key thing for potato chips). However, the lower temperature will NOT brown the food the same way as the higher temp would due to malliard reaction or carmelization.

Note that traditional confit, like duck confit is low temperature frying. The difference between "frying" duck confit in duck fat at 180F for 12 hours at 1 Bar versus doing it at 0.3 Bar at 180F is that the at the low temperature the duck would lose a lot more moisture - it would be above the boiling point. I don't think that this does much for the duck confit, but does have applications to potato chips.


Nathan

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      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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