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


Fay Jai
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Does anyone know where I can find a Tilia Foodsaver or similar domestic sous-vide machine in the UK? The usual suppliers (Nisbets, Lakeland etc) don't seem to have them, and its rather over the top to get a full commercial machine for occaisional use...

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This thread almost completely escapes from my radar. I'm afraid that the most comprehensive work on sous-vide cooking at the moment is only available in Spanish. It comes from one of the most interesting chefs in the country, Joan Roca from El Celler de Can Roca (two Michelin stars) and his friend, Salvador Brugués, teacher and researcher in cooking.

The book La Cocina al Vacío has been described to me as a handbook of sous-vide cooking. Really, if you download the pdf which appears at the bottom of the page I linked to, you could get a sense of the depth and scope covered.

It has a detailed master recipe (receta madre, literally mother recipe) for every tipe of vacuum cooking: indirect cooking, immediate cooking and double cooking (how to complement vacuum cooking with other traditional cooking techniques).

If someone is interested in a translation of the table of contents, let me know and I'll post it here.

This is a book that I will eventually buy, so more to come. After the summer, I guess.

PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

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I know that eventually there is going to be a class on sous vide, but I have a couple of questions, maybe the group can help.

Because the food is in a vacuum, does this change the pressure that it is under, there by altering the temperature and time that it takes food to cook? We were doing short ribs, and they were taking only 2 hours to be meltingly tender at 200 degrees F in a sealed container. I thought that it would have taken more time, given the temperature.

I am making the assumption that some sort of pressure was created because of the sealed environment, got that from a Good Eats episode.

Your input would be appreciated, I am looking forward to the tutorial.

Patrick Sheerin

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Here goes the translation of La Cocina al Vacío table of contents:

  • Preface
  • Introduction
    • Low temperature cooking, mastering an ancient technique, by Hervé This
    • Joan, Salvador and El Celler

    [*]Chapter 1: The Vacuum

    • Definition and applications
    • Preservation, cooking and cuisine
    • How to apply vacuum techniques to food
    • Techniques and materials
      • Containers. Types of containers
      • Gases
      • Packaging tools
      • The process of vacuum packaging

    [*]Chapter 2: Vacuum and food preservation

    • Introduction: How many days vacuum packaged food last?
    • Altering food factors: Temperature and vacuum preservation
      • Coldness
      • Coldness tools
      • Heat

      [*]Complementary processes to vacuum

      [*]The Packaging in Protecting Atmosphere technique

      [*]Vacuum as a complement of other traditional cooking methods

    [*]Chapter 3: Vacuum cooking

    • Introduction
    • Advantages
    • Types of vacuum cooking
      • Indirect cooking
      • Immediate cooking

      [*]Double cooking

      • Complementing vacuum cooking with other cooking techniques

      [*]Indirect cooking Master Recipe

      • Milk fed shoulder lamb with sheep milk (paletilla de cordero lechal con leche de oveja)

      [*]Immediate cooking Master Recipe

      • Warm cod with spinaches, Idiazábal cheese, pine nuts and Pedro Ximénez reduction

      [*]Double cooking Master Recipe

      • Foie gras with honey, citrus and vanilla and saffron infused milk
      • Vacuum cooking and food

      • Chemical alterations
      • Physiological alterations
      • Other alterations

      [*]Technical fundamentals

      • Zero Oxygen atmosphere
      • Hermetic containers and pressure effect
      • Time/temperature relationship
      • Determining factors of the time/temperature values to apply
      • Cooking temperatures of different ingredients

      [*]Cooking tools and thermometers

    [*]Chapter 4: Vacuum cuisine

    • Introduction
    • Working system
      • Stages of the process

      [*]The step-by-step of vacuum cooking

      • Fish
      • Meat
      • Vegetables

      [*]Danger analysis plan and critic control points

      [*]Organizational advantages and complementary applications of vacuum techniques

    [*]Recipes

    • Fishes
    • Meats
    • Special cooking and vacuum without cooking
    • Desserts

    [*]Indexes

    • Analitical
    • Tables
    • Graphics
    • Flow diagrams
    • Highlighted charts

    [*]Basic bibliography

    [*]Acknowledgements

Looks like a quite comprehensive book, if you ask me.

PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

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Because the food is in a vacuum, does this change the pressure that it is under, there by altering the temperature and time that it takes food to cook?  We were doing short ribs, and they were taking only 2 hours to be meltingly tender at 200 degrees F in a sealed container.  I thought that it would have  taken more time, given the temperature. 

If the food is in a flexible container (e.g. plastic bag) the internal pressure will be the same as the ambient pressure. It would be more accurate to say that the air has been evacuated, rather than the contents being "under vacuum". When you hook the bag up to the vacuum-gadget machine it sucks the air out of the bag. But since the bag itself is flexible the pressure will equalize - you just have an absence of air inside the bag.

If you use a rigid container (like a ball jar), it's possible to maintain a lower pressure inside the container. Not sure what happens when you heat it up though - wouldn't steam expansion just raise the pressure again?

The Food Saver vacuum has an attachment for evacuating ball jars. Put a flat lid on the canning jar, then put the attachment over that and run the vacuum pump. When you achieve the vacuum you just remove the attachment and the lid stays in place (no ring required to hold it down). I'd think that if you heated it up the pressure would increase until the lid came loose.

Time to call in the scientists. :smile:

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Does anyone know where I can find a Tilia Foodsaver or similar domestic sous-vide machine in the UK? The usual suppliers (Nisbets, Lakeland etc) don't seem to have them, and its rather over the top to get a full commercial machine for occaisional use...

I know Amazon.co.uk sells the Russell Hobbs 9926. Is this the level of product you're after?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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If you use a rigid container (like a ball jar), it's possible to maintain a lower pressure inside the container. Not sure what happens when you heat it up though - wouldn't steam expansion just raise the pressure again?

The old Boyle's law still applies here: Pressure x Volume = n x R x Temperature

In a rigid container, the volume is constant. I mean, since it can't contract or expand itself, the volume can't change. Therefore, given that the volume can't change, if you increase the temperature, the pressure will increase proportionally.

As we all remember from high school, Boyle's law is only applicable for gases.

PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

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Chefdg, I wasn't arguing with FG, just quibbling over terminology. :smile:

There's clearly something about the sous vide treatment that differs from other cooking methods. I'm curious as to why the temperature is so hyper-critical (+/- 2 degrees?). Hopefully Nathan and FG will put together the eG tutorial at some point.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I've been traveling a bit, so haven't caught up with the various posts. Here are some of my perspectives.

The food in sous vide bags is actually at atmospheric pressure, as was pointed out, but air is excluded. Note that any hollow parts will be under considerable pressure from the atmosphere. I have done whole quail, or even chickens sous vide and the ribs tend to be crushed because there is 14.7 lbs per square inch pressing on the outside. Generally, they spring back afterward.

In fact, furniture makers and boat builders use similar (but MUCH larger) vacuum bags to press veneer onto a curved surface - by sucking out the air, there is a 14.7 lbs per square inch pressure exerted by the atmosphere. I have wanted to make a culinary application of this - some sort of laminated food presentation - but I have not come up with one yet.

Marinade and other items put in the bag are forced around the food, and in some cases sucked into the food when the air is sucked out prior to sealing the bag. If you really want to do vacuum marination however, there are hard chambered vacuum marinators which do a better job.

It is possible in principle to cook in a bell jar, or other container, but that is not what sous vide is about. In particular, it is hard to get the heat to the food because there is no air to conduct or convect heat. Instead you would have to either use radiant heat, or have a hot plate in the vacuum chamber.

Yes, Boyle's law applies, but with a decent vacuum pump you can still maintain a vacuum. In fact, a vacuum oven is a standard piece of lab equipment.

One problem with cooking in a true vacuum (which again, is NOT sous vide) is that fluids boil at a lower temperature. It is easy to get water to boil at room temperature - even olive oil will boil. Freeze dried food is put into in a very strong vacuum, so that the frozen water evaporates directly from ice - effectively boiling even below the freezing point - which is called sublimating.

So, vacuum ovens tend to be used to dessicate or dry things out totally, which is usually not a desirable thing for cooking. If your goal is to dry somethnig you can use a vacuum dessicator - which is just a vacuum chamber or bell jar - you don't need the heat if you have a good vacuum. Heston Blumenthal uses vacuum dessicators to keep his chips (fried potatoes) crisp, and basically any time you would use a food dryer or very low oven you can do with no extra heat if you use a vacuum.

Returning to sous vide, juices can, and do, leak out of food cooked sous vide.

One interesting effect is to slow cook salmon sous vide at low temperature. If you put it at 104 F, it does not change color - it looks like raw or smoked salmon, but it flakes like cooked fish. It is excellent - a lot of people are serving this these days - often calling it "confit" because they cook it in oil, but it does very well sous vide (with or without the oil).

Anyway, in the sous vide bag with the salmon you will get a bunch of pink fluid. This contains various proteins, which have not set at that temperaute. If you heat it up, it will suddenly set solid. I have made a very delicate flavored custard that way.

Similar things happen with other food items, but if the temperature is higher the proteins coagulate in the bag.

The Spanish book previously mentioned is excellent - it makes me wish my Spanish was better. There are several books in French as well.

I have been doing lots of experiments with sous vide and can dicuss them at some point if we get around to making the tutorial.

Nathan

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That was fascinating Nathan. I still have not found a method to cook sous-vide with a marinade without pre-freezing the marinade although I am sure some method must exist. I have been cooking salmon in duck fat for seven minutes at 140°. How long do you keep a filet of salmon sous-vide at 104°?

Please continue to keep us informed

Ruth Friedman

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One problem with cooking in a true vacuum (which again, is NOT sous vide) [...]

I'm afraid we're having a translation issue here: I'm pretty sure that the Spanish term cocina al vacío is what you're referring to as sous vide, whereas I translated cocina al vacío as vacuum cooking. Wrongly translated, it looks like.

Now this leads me to the issue of the actual difference between sous vide an vacuum cooking. Would you please clarify this?

PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

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On the other hand, the home vacuum packing systems (Foodsaver) are not that expensive ...

Hi Nathan,

I was very interested by your posts about cooking sous-vide ...

But I would like to know if you use one of the Foodsaver vacuum packing systems and if it's safe to use their bags for cooking sous-vide for a long period of time.

And if you have experience with sous-vide, I have more questions for you.

How do you "cook your bags" ? In a bain-marie in the oven or on the stove ? How do you control precisely the temperature of the water ? And how do you check the internal temperature of the meat/fish/vegetable/fruit that you cook ?

I have many books on sous-vide but the information is very restricted if you want to cook sous-vide at home.

Do you know if there is any serious training session in the US ?

Thanks and have a nice day !

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FG and I have discussed making a tutorial on eGullet but so far various things have gotten in the way. Here is a very simplified story in the mean time.

I use bags that are designed to be boiled, and I use a commerical vacuum packer machine (ARY Vacmaster). I have the SVP-15, but the SVP-10 has less maintanance. These are expensive, commercial machines that are $1200 or more, but they work great. There are many other brands at various price ranges. The cheapest are FoodSaver and Rival.

Here are the specific bags

The FoodSaver web site says that their bags can be boiled, which is the key thing.

I use pint, quart and gallon bags. Pint and quart for single servings, gallon sized for large things.

By the way, the bags are very nice for use in storage - for example when I freeze chicken stock I put it in a bag, seal it under vacuum, and freeze it. This is not sous vide, but it is very convenient.

The other thing you need for Sous Vide is a way to cook the bags. Typically people use one of two things - a computer controlled convection steam oven such as the Rational CombiTherm. These are fantastic (and not just for SV), but expensive and large and not at all for home use unless you have a completely pro kitchen at home.

The alternative is to use laboratory water baths. Personally, I have and use both Rational ovens and lab water baths depending on what I am cooking.

The easiest for home use would be the laboratory water baths - you can get them on Ebay for $100 to $500, and they are reasonably small (size of a slow cooker, or a bit bigger). Some people on the list have suggested trying to use slow cookers, or crock pots, but they generally do not go low enough in temperature, and are not accurate enough. You can't really cook this stuff on top of the stove manually - you need to control the temperature to within 1 degree, and you just can't do that normally.

The main point of Sous Vide cooking is to cook very gently without oxygen. There are several reasons different motivations for this:

- Can cook at lower temperatures than normal without the same food safety concerns, because the lack of oxygen supresses growth of bacteria.

- Can cook for long periods of time. In part this is because the cooking method (water bath or steam oven) is very accurate. In part it is because you can use low temperatures and food saftey as above.

- The food is sealed in the bag, so it does not get diluted through contact with a poaching liquid.

- Can keep the food longer - becaues the vacuum packed bag is almost like a can used for canning. This was the original reason for Sous Vide - cooking in a central kitchen, for distirbution as catering or to remote locations where it would just be reheated. This is sometimes called cook and hold.

- The food is convenient to store and reheat in a sealed bag.

- Oxygen discolors some food (artichokes, fennel bulbs).

Personally, I do not do the cook and hold approach - I cook and serve immediately. SV gives you more control, and more delicate cooking, than you could do otherwise.

Most cooking is about using a high temperature medium to cook food for a fairly short period of time. For example, you might roast a chicken in an oven where the air is 350F, and roast until the core temperature of the flesh is at 160F (at least that is the standard poultry temp). You have to time things carefully so that you stop cooking in time - otherwise you overcook.

I do chicken breasts Sous Vide in a water bath at 141F for 30 min to an hour, until the core temperature is 141F. This is typical of SV - you cook with the external temperature at the same temperature as you want the core. That way you can leave it in as long as you want (within reason) and not worry about overcooking. Some SV authorities use sligthly higher external temp than core (by say 5 -10 degrees). This is faster, but then they have to worry about overcooking.

Normally, you would worry about cooking anythnig at less than 140F because that is the general food safety limit. You would not even roast a chicken at 140F beacuse the internal parts of the chicken would take a long time to come up to temperature, and would stay in the "danger zone" below 120F for a long time. SV removes oxygen so it is much more tolerant of low temps. Also, you generally have a smaller piece of food in a single serving bag, so that helps the time issue.

Note that US food safety guidelines are generally very conservative. Note also that health inspectors in the US have little or no experience with SV and tend to mistrust it becaues it seems to be cooking within the danger zone. 20 years experience in Europe says that it is OK (with proper precautions), but you may have issues with US based health inspectors. Some people on the list have reported problems along these lines. On the other hand, most of the really top chefs in the country are using SV. At any rate do this all at your own risk.

Risks are greater if you are are doing SV to store and serve later with reheating (i.e. cook and hold) rather than immediate service.

Timing is done by experience, or the accurate way is to get a very good laboratory style digital thermometer to check the core temperature. This can even be done through a vacuum bag.

Fish is done SV to 113F for most fish, but as low as 104F for salmon. Meat served rare to medium rare is done between 120F and 130F. Chicken, duck and many other things to 140F.

Most vegetables are done at just below boiling - 190F to 200F.

Most SV cooking is like conventional cooking in that you bring the food to the desired core temperature, then serve.

however, there are some products that need to sit a long time at the proper temperature to effect a physical or chemical change in the food. For example, you can SV cook beef short ribs at 150F for 36 hours. The texture is much better than normal braising, but because the temperature is much lower than normal braising it takes longer to cook.

SV is a good candidate for most foods that you would ordinarily poach, steam or braise. Because the temp is low and the food is in a bag, it will not brown. So you either need to serve it that way (as you would a poached item), or you quickly glaze it, or brown it in hot saute pan or under a broiler.

Hope that helps - review the other posts in this thread for more ideas...

Nathan

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Replying to Ruth's question about salmon - I usually do salmon fillets for 20 min in 104F water. It probably does not take that long to reach 104F inside, but by the same token it can't overcook because I use a lab water bath for this.

Many people are cooking salmon "confit" in oil at that temp - sometimes flavored oil such as vanilla. To do this sous vide, I just put a little oil in the bag with the salmon - just a teaspoon is enough to completely coat the fish once the vacuum sucks the bag down around it.

I have not tried duck fat with salmon, but that sounds great.

Some people are freaked by the raw looking salmon, but I love it - particularly with rich salmon belly pieces. You can sear the outside if absolutely necessary

Nathan

Nathan

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Replying to Pedro's post...

A vacuum is reduced pressure - the chamber in a vacuum packing machine is in a vacuum, and so all Sous Vide starts in a vacuum. But the flexible bags, once out of the machine, are at normal atmospheric pressure.

Sous Vide bags are "vaccum packed" but they are not actually in a vacuum. More precisely they have been packed without air. The most important thing about getting the air out is there is that there is no oxygen in the bag (or very little).

In some other posts people asked about cooking in a hard sided container in a vacuum. That truly is vacuum cooking, but it is very different, and in general not as useful. I don't know anybody cooking professionally that does this, but there are some laboratory techinques that use heating in a vacuum.

Nathan

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This is really my night for posting... replying again to Ruth - I am not sure why you say you must freeze the marinade for Sous Vide. I don't, and I use marinades or liquids in the bag all the time.

When you put a liquid in a bag and vacuum pack, it will boil as the vacuum comes down. That is true for marinade. It will be at room temperature, but it will still boil if your vacuum packer is any good. Even oil will boil.

In addition to boiling, any air dissolved in the liquid will come out when the vacuum is applied. So, anything whipped will look like it is boiling. Whipped cream will deflate.

But boiling or deflating is OK as long as the bag is not overly full. If it is too full, it can boil over and make a mess.

Once the bag is sealed, it all works. I do it all the time.

Nathan

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This thread has become a pseudo tutorial on sous vide, for me. At least until I increase my Spanish vocabulary to get through the book. I have had successes with sous vide and using the rational. Things like quick confit of lemons we do sous vide, vegetable extractions, for lack of a better word, (sous vide-ing whole vegetables with aromatics and seasoning and then slowing poaching them to get all of their juices out.

The possibilities are extremely exciting once we begin to understand the principles and methods.

I have had the opportunity to use both the commercial sous vide machines and models like the food saver, which I am using now in the kitchen until I can convince ownership to get a "bada$$" model and I know what Ruth is refering to:

I am not sure why you say you must freeze the marinade for Sous Vide. I don't, and I use marinades or liquids in the bag all the time.

When you use the foodsaver, the liquids are extracted during the vacuuming process and if there is any oil in the liquid it ruins the seal. It is a major drawback, vs the commercial grade ones that (and I have know idea how) allow liquids to be sous vide so you can poach in olive oil, soy sauce, duck fat, bacon fat, etc..

Come on Nathan, you Doug and the FG need to get the tutorial up and running!!!! :biggrin:

Patrick Sheerin

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I need some input. I cooked some rabbit legs tonight - seasoned and seared them and popped them in a bag. I sauteed sliced garlic and thyme in the remaining oil, de-glazed with white wine, added chicken stock and poured everything into a sous vide bag with the rabbit. I was able to vacuum (more or less) by sealing the bag just before the liquid was sucked in. There was no visible air left in the bag. I brought a pan of water to 140°, immersed the bag and kept it there for 5 hours. I was using a Garland induction cook top and was able to keep the temperature at 140°-145° for the whole time. After five hours I removed the bag to an ice bath and kept it chilled until 30 minutes before dinner. I then placed it in a pan of simmering water for ten minutes (following instructions in a recipe from Alexander Stratta (Renoir, Las Vegas).

The flavor of the rabbit was wonderful; there was no shrinkage and it was just cooked through - a touch of pink at the bone - but the texture of the meat was mushy. Was this just the nature of the beast or something I did wrong? I would love to be able to perfect this. Any comments or suggestions would be appreciated.

Ruth

Ruth Friedman

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One key issue with sous vide is that alcohol will not evaporate. In normal braising with wine, the alcohol in the wine quickly boils away. The boiling point of alcohol is 78.5C or 173.3F. So if you braise at a simmer (between 190F and 212F), the alcohol will certainly boil off, especially over a long cooking time.

However, with SV the temperature is usually below the boiling point of alcohol, and even if was above the boiling point the sealed bag this does not let the alcohol go anywhere. Braising in alcohol like this can affect the texture of the meat - it also affects the taste of the final braising liquid / sauce. So most people who do SV will be careful to boil off the alcohol in the liquid prior to sealing the bag.

The second factor is time. Broadly speaking there are two time scales for cooking. For most tender meats the goal is only to reach a certain internal temperature, and once you reach that temperature the food very rapidly changes (proteins set and various other reactions occur). Tough meats - including most things that one would braise are cooked for a long time at at least 60C/140F so that the collagen in the meat denatures into gelatin. This process takes time the collagen does not dissolve instantly.

I suspect that your legs suffered from both effects. 5 hours is a really long time t braise something like rabbit legs. Most conventional recipes have a braising time of 1 to 2 hours for rabbit legs - 5 hours is a really long time.

So, I would try it again, boiling the wine long enough to remove the alcohol, and try it for a much shorter period of time.

Nathan

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A few notes from a home, not restaurant, cook. Using a Foodsaver machine, I've cooked a number of things sous vide with generally good results. Other posters are undoubtedly correct that very precise temperature control is necessary to get a certain result, but even with poor temp control a very good result can be achieved. For long-cooking meat (notably pork belly and beef short ribs/flanken, as well as breast of lamb once), I set my oven to a little below 150 F (its lowest setting). On top of the range, I bring water up to that temperature in a heavy 12" braising pot. In its sealed bag(s), my meat - seasoned and with judicious use of herbs, as Steven too has suggested, and sometimes with some aromatics such as carrots - goes into the water bath. The braising pan gets covered and placed into the oven. Then I go to bed. I've cooked pork belly, pork shoulder/butt and beef short ribs for as little as 12 hours and as long as 18, with success. The sealed packages hold for quite some time under refrigeration. I usually glaze or otherwise brown the meat for service, using juices from the bag. The breast of lamb wasn't a great success; much better just simmered or braised (or indeed roasted).

Steven mentioned Ducasse's Big Book; he is right that it is full of very precise instructions for everything from pig's ears to pork belly. Check the famous lard paysan recipe, which has sous vide specs for quite a few pig body parts.

No one has mentioned potatoes. Vacuum seal some potatoes (such as Carolas, Charlottes, Bintjes - that kind of thing) with just a little fat - butter, duck fat, good lard - and seasoned. Again, careful with herbs and VERY careful with garlic; in fact, probably keep away from garlic unless you are looking for a very pronounced, weirdly soft garlic flavor. These can go into a pot of simmering water for as long as they take - 25 minutes, perhaps, depending on size of cut. Very potatoey flavor, great tight texture - good flavor of the chosen fat even though little is used.

I'm not sure that the in-oven covered water bath would necessarily be out of place in some restaurant applications, where new equipment was not in the cards.

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