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francois

Sous Vide: Recipes, Techniques & Equipment (Part 2)

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There are extensive posts about this back in the thread by Nathan. To sum it up in layman's terms, it's something like the longer you keep something about 125ish or so the less harmful bacteria that survive. So far, we haven't heard any eG horror stories, so it''s seeming pretty safe.

Look back and browse through this thread for a lot of good info.

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At my Medical School Class Reunion last night I had the chance to chat with Tom Frieden (himself an avid food aficionado), the NYC Commissioner of Health and a classmate of mine in Medical School about the status of sous vide cooking in NYC. He assured me that there is no such thing as a ban on sous vide cookery in the City, however, they feel that the technique is potentially dangerous and that any restaurant that aims to use the technique needs to have a plan registered with and accepted by the Department of Health. Of note, he said that the whole issue came about because there apparently have been five cases of botulism related to the technique. he did not specify whether they were in the City or throughout the world or over what period of time they occurred. I would have loved to talk more with him about the topic, but therer was a lot of re-uning going on and I didn't have the opportunity to follow-up on it any further. :wink:


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Until this is docomunted I am very skeptical that the five botulism cases from sous vide mentioned in docsconz' post actually happened. They might have - but I searched extensively and have found nothing on the internet about it.

The Center for Disease Control publishes reports on every outbreak worldwide - for example a botulism outbreak in Thailand in March 2006 from eating home-canned bamboo shoots, or one from Alaska in 2002 where people actually ate a beached whale carcass they found.

The latter CDC report reaches this conclusion "Persons should avoid eating beached marine mammal carcasses". Gee, you think you can comply with that? I'm going to.

Alaska is, per capita, the botulism capital of the US. From 1950 to 1996 there were 72 cases in Alaska, versus 12 in New York state, despite NY having a vastly larger population. Only California had more cases than Alaska at 85, but it is the most populous state, so on a per capita basis it falls way below Alaska. The reason Alaska is so high is that many traditional Native Alaskan foods are prone to botulism.

This an other facts about botulism come from the CDC Botulism Handbook

The CDC lists NO cases of botulism due to sous vide. Since they pretty much cover the world, I would be surprised if there are 5 recent cases that they don't know about, although of course that is possible.

The CDC does not list any other illnesses caused by sous vide either, although they probably do not track mild cases of food poisining which are apt to go unreported.

So, while botulism remains a serious theoretical concern for stored sous vide, I am not aware of any actual cases in practice.

Nathan


Nathan

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I am not aware of the specific cases either. Dr. Frieden wasn't in a position to to document the specific cases at that social event. it could even be that it was a number he pulled in off the top of his head. The evidence may not even be more than anecdotal. I am not even sure that the cases are documented if in fact they really did happen. I am simply reporting what I was told. Nevertheless, the possibility certainly exists. The bottom line is that I was told that the NYC DOH in no way wishes to outlaw, ban or get rid of the technique of sous vide cooking. They just want it used by people who have an understanding of the potential complications.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I'm nowhere near as expert as Doc or NathanM but I too am skeptical of an "outbreak" of five supposed events in New York with absolutely no news coverage at all.

I also can't help to add... I'm not one to judge, but gosh: mmm mmm, beached marine mammal carcass.

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The word "outbreak" had not been used until you used it. I also didn't say that he said the cases were necessarily from NYC. As I said I can't be sure that the five cases really even existed as I was not in a position to gather documentation in a social situation. The point I was trying to make was that sous vide is very much in play in NYC and that the DOH does not have anything inherently against it. I thought the mention of "five cases of botulism" interesting and so mentioned it here. Frieden is a smart and trustworthy guy who IMO has done a very good job as COH for NYC.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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- If a sous vide bag puffs up, throw it out!  Many pathogenic bacteria generate gas.  Also, if the bag smells "off", throw it out. 

Just to clarify, I assume you mean puffing occuring in storage, rather than any ballooning that might occur during cooking? Presumably the latter is almost inevitable without the aid of a pro-level (chamber-based) vac system?


restaurant, private catering, consultancy
feast for the senses / blog

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The word "outbreak" had not been used until you used it. I also didn't say that he said the cases were necessarily from NYC. As I said I can't be sure that the five cases really even existed as I was not in a position to gather documentation in a social situation. The point I was trying to make was that sous vide is very much in play in NYC and that the DOH does not have anything inherently against it. I thought the mention of "five cases of botulism" interesting and so mentioned it here. Frieden is a smart and trustworthy guy who IMO has done a very good job as COH for NYC.

The CDC uses the term "outbreak" for a cluster of related cases, which can be as little as one. A "case" is an individual person being sick. So, if there were 5 cases it could be outbreak or 5 outbreaks if they occured separately.

We would all be interested in learning of this sort of event, and I think it was helpful of docsconz to mention it in this thread. Until we have more details we don't know much more about it. Also it is interesting that the DOH recognizes that sous vide is not a bad technique, and is merely one they want to regulate.


Nathan

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- If a sous vide bag puffs up, throw it out!  Many pathogenic bacteria generate gas.  Also, if the bag smells "off", throw it out. 

Just to clarify, I assume you mean puffing occuring in storage, rather than any ballooning that might occur during cooking? Presumably the latter is almost inevitable without the aid of a pro-level (chamber-based) vac system?

Correct - I mean puffing up during storage, not during cooking.

During cooking the residual air in the bag (there always is some) heats up and expands so you will get some puffing due to this. If you seal with an edge-sealing vacuum machine this often happens because the vacuum you get is not all that great.

If you heat the bag up near the boiling point of water you will certainly see it puff up due to steam.

If the bag contains something with a low boiling point, like alchohol (boiling point 78C/ 172F) then you'll get puffing as you approach its boiling point.

All of this is harmless. The problematic puffing occurs during storage of the bag. If the bag is reasonably tight after cooling, and later becomes puffy it means that something in the bag is generating gas, likely bacteria. In that case throw the bag out!


Nathan

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The lowdown on the NYC "Ban"...

When the New York City Department of Health came down on some of the restaurants for vacuum packing foods, as well as sous vide cooking, they did so because some of the kitchens could not properly articulate a well designed HACCP Plan. The day after the Health Department began giving out violations, kitchens like WD-50, Daniel and Per Se got in touch with food scientists and developed written HACCP plans.

The health department inspectors saw food being packed in unsanitary conditions and held outside of the temperatures that would prevent the formation of the Botulism toxin from Clostridium Botulinum spores.

If you MAP vacuum pack food for holding or sous vide, it must be kept at 37F or below. No exceptions. Even if your pH is under 4.6 (what would be considered highly acidic), without a solid grasp and understanding of pH and spore growth, the health department doesn't want to hear about it.

As far as ribs being sealed and cooked 36 hours at 131F, you could not create a botulism toxin if you tried. The USDA, after inoculating their samples with 1,000,000 times the amount of spores normally found in food, were able to develop a toxic strain in 8 days, under the perfect pH and temperature values (around 79F). In other words, in takes weeks and weeks, if not months, for a sous vide pack to create a botulism toxin.

So what's the problem? Problem is that when health inspectors asked these cooks what their safety plan was, they looked at the inspectors with no answers. In my restaurant, and the restaurants that I have taught to properly vacuum pack and store foods, they must follow a solid safety plan as follows:

1. The vacuum sealer, either MAP chamber or foodsaver style, must be located in a separate and sterile environment

2. You must have your specs & permeability ratings from your bag supplier. They must be food grade.

3. You must have a sticker on each bag, in English and Spanish, stating "WARNING - MUST BE KEPT AT 37F or FREEZING - DANGER".

4. You must date each package. USDA recommends no more than 2 weeks holding time.

5. Someone must be able to reference the 2005 Food Code and USDA recommendations on MAP preserving.

If anyone has any specific questions on foods, food borne illness and how they relate to MAP sealing and sous vide, please ask.

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After digging through this thread, I decided to give it a try. For simple work, I already had the necessary tools, a FoodSaver machine I had picked up a few years ago (for general purpose freezing), and an electronic thermometer with probe (purchased originally for high temperature roasting).

The plan:

Truffled chicken breasts cooked sous vide, served with salad and a saffron risotto (an easy microwave dish, thanks to Barbara Kafka).

Ingredients:

Two chicken breasts, pounded flat

FInely sliced fresh leek

Oyster mushrooms

One tablespoon butter

One tablespoon White Truffle Oil

One teaspoon Hawaiian Salt

Notes:

Managing the temperature was more work than expected, but I was able to keep it (roughly) at 142 F (although it kept trying to go lower, and occasionally higher). The momentum involved in shifting the temperature was tricky.

The salt had me worried, until I realized that I wasn't seeing pink meat, but rather the coloration from the salts.

Results:

The truffle oil did not leave significant flavor (certainly not enough for the amount used), and next time I'd leave it out (and save it for other dishes). The leaks imparted a lovely flavor, as did the butter and the mushrooms, and the texture of the chicken was fantastic.

Final thoughts:

I want a circulator. However, I'm not comfortable with recycled lab equipment when I don't know what was in it previously, and the costs of new circulators are too high. So I suspect I'll limit myself to chicken and fish, where I can monitor the temperature myself without going mad.

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Calling Nathan and all other Low temp guys!

I don't have access to sous vide equipment at the moment so I am cooking at Low Temp for a Long Time (LTLT) in my oven. I want to cook a joint of beef ("Silverside" in the UK) that weighs about 0.82kg. My oven is very stable and works in 5C increments.

I like Heston Blumenthal's recipe that involves cooking the meat at 75C until the core reaches 52C (takes about 2 hours to get there). However this cut of beef is never quite tender enough with this method.

My question is - can I leave the meat longer at a lower temperature to get a better result by breaking down more of the meat fibres? My oven goes as low as 50C, 55C, 60C, 65C etc. and it has an accurate internal temp probe to judge when the correct internal temperature is reached.

What time / temp combination do you think would be optimal?

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Quick question.

As i understand sous vide, leaving the meat in the bag and bath at the final temp for long times (10-15 hours) is safe. Does this mean that i can bag my chicken breast in the morning before leaving for work, put it in the bath at 140, and come home to a ready dinner?

I've read through the thread regarding sterilization times, and all that, so it seems like this method should be perfectly fine, correct?

thanks

jason

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joesan, nathanm's summary of time / temperature combinations starts at this post, with tables in subsequent posts. I'm not sure what the difference is between low-temp oven cooking vs. water bath. (Does the heat transfer difference affect the cooking time?) Lower tempertaure / longer time should benefit any tougher cuts of meat.

Jason, super-long times tend to give poultry a dry texture, but that's just my opinion. Maybe others have had success with it. If I need to do something like chicken breast ahead, I cook it for a shorter time and chill it quickly in an ice bath. I reheat at a higher bath temperature, keeping an eye on the internal temperature. I believe you're OK on the safety factor - others will probably correct me on that. :wink:

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Calling Nathan and all other Low temp guys!

I don't have access to sous vide equipment at the moment so I am cooking at Low Temp for a Long Time (LTLT) in my oven.  I want to cook a joint of beef ("Silverside" in the UK) that weighs about 0.82kg. My oven is very stable and works in 5C increments.

I like Heston Blumenthal's recipe that involves cooking the meat at 75C until the core reaches 52C (takes about 2 hours to get there). However this cut of beef is never quite tender enough with this method.

My question is - can I leave the meat longer at a lower temperature to get a better result by breaking down more of the meat fibres? My oven goes as low as 50C, 55C, 60C, 65C etc. and it has an accurate internal temp probe to judge when the correct internal temperature is reached.

What time / temp combination do you think would be optimal?

Most Combi ovens have a program that lets you hold meat for 24 hours at low temperature. What you want to do is maintain the oven so the internal temperature is 55C. The oven temp will be higher than this becaues there will be some evaporation from the roast. The exterior will dry out a bit but that should be OK because you'll sear it anyway. I can't say exactly what temperature to set it at to stabilze at 55C internal, it depends on the size of the meat and other factors.

Alternatively if you seal the roast in a plastic roasting bag you will not lose moisture to evaporation. Roasting bags are sold in the supermarket - Reynold's Oven Bags are one brand in the US - I assume there must be a UK equivalent.

Put the meat in the bag, and seal it with the nylon bag tie (included with the bag). In that case you ought to be able to cook it at or just above the desired temp - say 55C to 56C.

Once sealed in the bag it is an approximation to sous vide. There is air in the bag, but in this case it really doesn't matter. The key thing is to seal in the moisture. The inside of the bag will be very moist - the air will be at 100% humidity - but that is what will stop the evaporation.

Note that there is no food safety problem with having the meat at 55C overnight like this - at least according to US FDA standards. Also, 55C is low enough to still have decent meat color, but high enough that you should get some tenderizing effect.

A similar product for containing the moisture is Reynold's Hot Bags - which are an aluminum foil bag. One could also attempt to tightly seal the meat in conventional aluminum foil, however in that case it is highly likely that you will have some leakage because you can't seal the foil as well as you can the bag.

You can sear the meat either before or after. Put oil in a pan, heat it until it just starts to smoke, then put the meat in just long enough to get the desired sear color.


Nathan

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Quick question.

As i understand sous vide, leaving the meat in the bag and bath at the final temp for long times (10-15 hours) is safe. Does this mean that i can bag my chicken breast in the morning before leaving for work, put it in the bath at 140, and come home to a ready dinner?

I've read through the thread regarding sterilization times, and all that, so it seems like this method should be perfectly fine, correct?

thanks

jason

Your motivation for the long cooking time seems to be to leave it cooking while you are at work and have it ready when you are back. I do this all the time for beef, lamb or other meats which can tolerate the cooking time. However, chicken breasts may, or may not be as suitable.

The typical reason to leave meat in a sous vide for a long time period, like 10-14 hours is primarily to allow the collagen to denature into gelatin. Most toughness in meat is due to collagen, and it will slowly break down (denature) into gelatin. The lower the temperature, the slower it takes. If you cook red meat at 130F - 140F then you need quite a bit of time.

Tender meats don't start with very much collagen, and they need some of it to have reasonable texture and mouthfeel. With very long cooking they can become so tender that it gives a mushy texture which is undesirable. As an example, you can easily ruin a fillet mignon (to my taste anyway) by having it cook for 10 hours.

I have never tried cooking chicken breasts for more than a couple hours, and they are fine up to that point. It is not necessary to cook them longer to tenderize the chicken (unless perhaps it was a very tough old stewing hen).

From a food safety perspective there is no problem with cooking food at 140F for 10-12 hours.

In addition to collagen denaturation, there are other changes in the food over time, and ultimately the quality of the meat will degrade. I have cooked beef for 96 hours without trouble (if it starts out as a tough cut). However I have not explored this with chicken so I don't know what the ultimate limit is.


Nathan

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edsel, you've found the chicken gets dry even if it is cooked at 140? I thought it could be kept near indefinitely without runing the texture since it'll never overcook?

thanks!

jason

Sous vide does not overcook from a temperature perspective if you have it in a bath that is the desired core temperature.

However, the cooking process for food is a combination of time and temperature, and over a long enough period of time you can definitely change the quality of the food. If it is tough, you tenderize it. But there is always the possibility of too much of a good thing...the heat causes too much collagen to break down ruining the texture. In addition other changes can occur.

It is hard to accidentally overcook in sous vide because typically you have to leave it for many many hours to get a bad effect. But you can't leave it indefinitely.


Nathan

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Nathan (and Edsel) - thanks for the tips. Going out to look for some Roasting bags. I thought an internal temperature of 55C might be overdone but I will give it a try.

I'm thinking of trying about 7 hours. Will report back.

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I regard 55C / 131F as medium rare for beef. For rare I will go down to 122F / 50C. There seems to be little or no agreement as to what temperature range corresponds to terms like rare, medium rare etc.

Holding at 50C temperature overnight under the conditions I explained is not recommended - there are food safety concerns.


Nathan

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55C is not as rare as I would like but given that my oven will either do 50C or 55C - I think I will have to settle for 55C. Hopefully the tenderizing effect of the LTLT will offset any drying out of the higher internal temperature. I will be serving it cold anyway with an Italian salsa verde so that should also help.

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edsel, you've found the chicken gets dry even if it is cooked at 140? I thought it could be kept near indefinitely without runing the texture since it'll never overcook?

Maybe "dry" isn't exactly the right word, but the texture changes over time. As Nathan says, you can prevent the food from exceding the target temperature, but it's the combination of time and temperature that determines how done the food is.

Long-cooked chicken breast isn't really bad, just not ideal as far as I'm concerned. You might give it a try to see what you think.

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Has anybody tried doing like a duck galantine en sous vide? Would there be any benefits to this? I'd think that with just a bit of the poaching stock frozen and put in the bag, one could achieve better control of the cooking of the force and interior garnish.

Thoughts?


This whole love/hate thing would be a lot easier if it was just hate.

Bring me your finest food, stuffed with your second finest!

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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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