Corned beef from scratch (slow cooker instructions)

20 September 2016
slow-cooker-corned-beef-1
On my food bucket list has been a want to make corned beef from scratch.  Wandering the aisles of grocery stores in the months preceding St. Patrick’s day, the pink briskets soaking quietly in their own juice hugging a small packet of pickling spices in Cyrovac pouches mystified me. I wondered how they were made, if I could do it myself, and if I could somehow improve upon their flavor. The answers: patiently, absolutely, and yes!

Corned beef : A Jewish Meat?

I begin with a little history on corned beef and why I argue it’s not strange for me to make it in September.  The corned beef that Americans typically associate with Irish cuisine is actually Jewish.  Yes, that’s right!  While “corned beef” is a dish in the UK, it is not the pink brisket marketed with green beer of St. Paddy’s day tradition.  It’s a salted beef with a gray color out there.  American-style corned beef can be found in Ireland, but it’s marketed toward tourists looking for their familiar idea of “Irish.”

How did the Jewish corned beef get associated with the Irish?    The Irish immigrants were faced with prejudice (much like many ethnic immigrants of the 19th and early 20th centuries).  They settled into urban areas like New York City nearby other the other immigrants faced with many of the same challenges: the Jews. Being both Jewish and of Irish descent, I love this!

Traditionally, the Irish of that time had eaten a lot of pork.  However, upon arrival in New York City and settlement near the Jews, the Irish began to buy their meats almost exclusively from kosher butchers.  Clearly their preference for pork was problematic so the Irish began to eat more beef.  The Jewish answer to ham, Corned Beef, was flavorful and made for a great treat for the Irish-American’s celebratory meal on St. Paddy’s day. Back in Ireland, the Irish feast on St. Paddy’s has a religious connotation, together with a meal of lamb or bacon.  In America, the Irish celebrate the day as an honor to their heritage.  Their feast is crowned with their new splurge, Corned Beef, together with their culinary symbol–the potato.

Now to share the process of how beef becomes “corned!”

Corned beef from scratch, sliced thinly Continue Reading…

Focus! When OCD mimics ADD…& Black Rice Sushi

30 August 2016
Focus Sushi
I zoned out in a meeting today.  It’s a common experience, I’m aware.  As was my being hopelessly unsure of what topic I was asked to opine.  However, it is one that happens more often to me than I care to admit.  No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to get myself to focus on the topic I should focus on.  Focus isn’t the issue; it’s the object of that focus that is questionable.  Indeed, I can focus just fine.  In fact, I can concentrate for hours on a single and incredibly narrow topic.  I have obsessive-compulsive disorder (known as OCD), but doctors misdiagnosed me for years as having ADD.

The media doesn’t portray OCD fairly.  Thus, there are a lot of misconceptions about the disorder.  When they hear “OCD” most people envision someone being perhaps a bit cleaner than the average person, or maybe lining up pencils just so on their desk.  Maybe they think of someone who must lock the door three times before leaving for work in the morning.  While these examples are accurate for some people with OCD, these by no means represent the whole of the population experiencing this disorder.

Sushi-2

 How OCD can affect focus

While the “compulsive” part of this disorder gets the majority of the attention, it’s the “obsessive” part which drives this disorder.  The compulsions come about as a way to prevent something bad from happening, dictated by an obsessive thought.  It’s usually a result of some superstition or “magical thinking;” without this, it’s not OCD.  A clean person without these ideas isn’t OCD; they’re just particular.

Physical rituals are not my problem, but mental ones.  I don’t clean compulsively (although, I am neat) and I don’t complete observable rituals.  However, I have intrusive thoughts. Those obsessions don’t always come at desirable times.

The Desirable Problem

Well-meaning people like to tell me that OCD is a good mental illness to have.  Or that, “at least it isn’t something bad!”  Or that they’re “OCD” about something, too (sorry folks, OCD is a noun, not an adjective).  I let them.  I play along.  But it’s not true–OCD is debilitating and affects relationships with others.  It causes anxiety and paranoia.  I sometimes think in unusual ways.  It diverts my attention from things that are important to others as well as myself.

Sushi-3

Black Rice Sushi

Black rice sushi was my fixation during the meeting.  Specifically, I had become curious about the origins of black rice.  This later became a fascination about the history of sushi.  The meeting had no hope of saving me from zoning out.  It was no competition.

You might remember awhile back I shared my discovery of black rice.  Recently, I wondered how it would do in sushi.  It turns out that it’s just absolutely gorgeous.  It’s easy, too: just cook it in on the stove top or in your rice cooker the same as you would brown rice.  Here we just rolled it up with some sushi-grade salmon, cucumber, and avocado.  I mixed up a little sriracha with mayo for a few of the rolls to make a spicy option as well.

You don’t need any special equipment (i.e., a sushi-rolling mat) to make sushi at home.  We just used a hand towel with a layer of plastic wrap to make a makeshift mat.  No need for extra kitchen clutter. Continue Reading…

10 Days of Sous Vide: Reflections and Sous Vide Crème Brûlée (Final Day!)

28 August 2016
Torching and Finishing-4

This is the final post of the series!  In our last post, we shared sous vide chicken breast.  Today’s dish is an appropriate last course: Sous Vide Crème Brûlée.  Find all about cute little mason jars, using sous vide for custards, and my thoughts on my project by reading on!

I started this 10 days of Sous Vide project a little over two months ago when, passing by a meat sale in my grocery store, I thought it would be fun to try cooking meats at different temperatures and different seasonings.  There were some failures, redundancies, and a few dishes got scrapped, never making it to the series.  Later, I decided the series needed some variety to be interesting so I added some vegetables, sauces, and finally–this sous vide crème brûlée.  Crème brûlée has always been a favorite dessert of mine.  A few years back, a friend taught me how to cook it at home.  She gave me one caveat, however, before she started the lesson: I was never to reveal how easy it actually is to prepare.  However, in retrospect, I realize that I cannot ethically keep this to myself.  It’s even easier when prepared via sous vide.

Reflecting on the series

This was a challenging project.  The commitment of 10 posts on sous vide, all of which I had promised an alternative cooking instruction, meant a lot of planning and cooking.  I was certainly more ambitious than was realistic.  Thus, the written content of the posts got shorter and shorter.  In our personal lives, we suffered a loss of a family member and my work schedule blew up.  School ended up also becoming a burden.  The project kept getting delayed while we dealt with our personal responsibilities.  I finally told the fiancé that it was time to start posting and got to it.  As I mentioned before, a few of the planned posts got scrapped because I couldn’t find a good alternative cooking method, the protein was redundant, or they simply weren’t good.

Our first post, chicken char sui, proved to be the hardest to photograph next to our hollandaise post.  The chicken char sui just didn’t want to plate the way I envisioned, while the hollandaise proved too difficult for our camera to focus on the light-colored sauce.  These posts stretched my limited camera skills to the limit and so I ended up calling upon the fiancé to help.  I think our food photography grew from this challenge and I’m really pleased with the results.  The carrots and short ribs were by far my favorites, aesthetics-wise.

Learning how to accept mistakes

Making mistakes is natural and human.  One of the problems with passion is that there is a very fine line between passion and obsession.  I cross that line all the way to obsession.  In fact, I can’t see the line anymore from where I stand.  This kind of emphasis often causes me to get so obsessed over details that I completely fail to accept any mistakes at all.  Oftentimes, that means I fail to complete (or start) a project.  I’ve had to learn to change that lately so that I can realize my passions more fully.  I had hoped to post an incredible series, with step-by-step photos and detailed science.  I envisioned inspiring quotes and really pushing my writing skills to the limit.  I fell short of that expectation, but I did accomplish a good, healthy time management schedule.

Most importantly, I’ve learned not to aim my blowtorch too close to my chilled new crème brûlée jars or else they will burst.  All over.  With shards of glass all over my friends’ porch, causing anxiety as we try to clean it so that it’s safe for little, kid feet.  We learned a lesson.

This is way too close. The jar burst--LOUDLY--seconds later.

This is way too close. The jar burst–LOUDLY–seconds later.

Ideal distance for blowtorching

Ideal distance for blow-torching

 

Sous Vide Crème Brûlée

Crème brûlée is such a simple dessert involving few ingredients.  It begs for experimentation–add vanilla, bourbon, coffee, or chocolate–so it’s never dull.  Like all French dishes, however, it requires that you obey certain rules about technique.  Why would you cook it sous vide?  No, it’s not just to show off, but sous vide actually helps ensure that you don’t curdle your perfect crème brûlée.  It does require that you use a mason jar as your vacuum.  If you try to attempt this with a plastic bag, the crème brûlée just won’t set.  I added lavender and omitted vanilla extract in this recipe, which made for a unique flavor.  You can certainly add the extract to the recipe if you prefer.  I’ve seen some interesting crème brûlée recipes with other extracts, as well.  Orange extract infused crème brûlée, anyone?

Creme Brulee-10

Continue Reading…

10 Days of Sous Vide: Picking Sides & Sous Vide Chicken Breast (Day 9)

26 August 2016
Sous Vide Chicken Breast

We’re just one day away the end of the series: it’s day 9 of 10 Days of Sous Vide!  In our last post we shared a sous vide hollandaise recipe and explained why you’d want to do sauces via sous vide. As I promised in that post, today we’re sharing sous vide chicken breast.  Chicken breast sous vide is a dish that you either love or you hate.  Keep reading if you want to know where I stand.

I should start with a disclaimer: I don’t like chicken breast unless it’s fried and in either nugget or strip form.  I especially don’t care for skinless, boneless chicken breast.  However, in my household I am in the minority on this issue.  The fiancé likes chicken breast.  The black cat likes chicken breast.  They both need it be sans skin and bones.  In fact, we usually count down the seconds after I serve a hot dish with this star ingredient until we hear her running down the hallway, mewing like we haven’t fed her in weeks.  Spoiler alert: she’s already ate two full meals by dinner time.  It stands without saying that sous vide chicken breast didn’t stand a chance with me.Sous Vide Chicken Breast

Sous Vide Chicken Breast (or…poached chicken)

So, do I need to tell you that I didn’t like it?  I certainly don’t hate it, but I do wonder what its appeal is when chicken thighs are so much juicier and more flavorful.  According to a couple of friends, one appeal is that chicken breasts are lower in calories and fat than their darker counterparts.    Furthermore, the fiancé thinks I’m nuts for not liking it–he loves it!  The sous vide chicken breast recipe I will share here is similar in texture to poached chicken. In fact, the seasoning I use comes from a recipe by The Kitchn for poached chicken. Continue Reading…

10 Days of Sous Vide: Using Sous Vide for Sauces and Condiments & Sous Vide Hollandaise (Day 8)

24 August 2016
Hollandaise-7

We’re near the end of the series: it’s day 8 of 10 Days of Sous Vide!  We left off on sous vide carrots, featuring some seriously gorgeous heirloom carrots.  I still swoon over them.  Our topic today is about using sous vide for sauces (think marinades and mother sauces, not pan sauces) and condiments. We also share a recipe for sous vide hollandaise, served with a salmon-stuffed portobello mushroom.

Among some of the most surprising uses for the sous vide technique, are some recipes for sauces and condiments.  When I first stumbled across recipes for using sous vide this way, I ignored them.  What could be gained from preparing a sauce/condiment via sous vide?

Take our attempt at hollandaise as an example.  The main benefit to cooking hollandaise sous vide is that you heat the eggs to a precise temperature which avoids curdling the sauce. Also, the sauce can be held at serving temperature for 2 hours without worry of your butter congealing or separating.  For a busy hostess, that means you can begin to prepare the sauce at the start of the meal and serve everything fresh and hot together.

Most sauces can be contained in a mason jar and placed directly in the water bath

Most sauces can be contained in a small mason jar and placed directly in the water bath

Sous vide can be used for many sauces and condiments, including infused oils and vinegar.  Sous vide tzatziki for your homemade gyros?  What about a truly fresh crème fraîche?  There are recipes for chutney and compotes out there, all of which I’m sure have room for experimentation.  Personally, I’ve used sous vide for infused oils and the hollandaise sauce in this post, but not for any of the others.  Perhaps, a future post is in order!

Hollandaise-2

Sous Vide Hollandaise

Today’s recipe turned out to be a tough one to photograph nicely and nearly as difficult to execute correctly.  The key is to prepare the sauce in two steps, using the sous vide to heat the egg yolk mixture separately and emulsify later.  This avoids the disappointment of a broken sauce.  Serve it with your perfect sous vide egg for a delightful eggs benedict, over asparagus, or as a topping with salmon.   Continue Reading…

10 Days of Sous Vide: Cooking Vegetables Sous Vide & Sous Vide Carrots (Day 7)

21 August 2016
Rainbow Carrots-4

It’s now day 7 of the 10 Days of Sous Vide series!  In our last post, the topic was how to get a perfect “pan” sauce from sous vide “drippings”.  Today the topic is all about cooking vegetables sous vide, including a recipe for beautiful sous vide carrots.

There are three items that come to mind when one thinks about sous vide.  Steak, salmon, and eggs.  And, indeed, those three are the best dishes to start with to see the power of precision cooking.  However, if I told you that you should add vegetables to that list, what would you think?

The benefit of precision for vegetables

While vegetables don’t necessarily excite omnivores as much as proteins, they shouldn’t be neglected.  One of the reasons they’re not as exciting is that they’re not usually executed with as much care.  In fact, most of the time we’re trying to cover them up with sauces, dressings, or by mixing them with something we consider more appetizing.  Take for example the traditional glazed carrot recipe; mixed with sugar and fats, this dish usually tastes less like carrot and more like a dessert.  The sous vide glazed carrot, however, needs no additional sugars.

Blanched vegetables–while crisp–usually lose their flavor.  Boiled vegetables suffer both from loss of flavor and they’re disgustingly mushy.  Loss of flavor also means loss of nutrients.  With sous vide, you keep the flavor, the texture, and the nutrients, not to mention a beautiful color.

Rainbow Carrots-2

Chopped carrots, before glaze

Sous Vide Carrots

We were in the market the other day when we came across a new section for locally grown produce.  There I fell in love with a bag of heirloom carrots.  They were so colorful and seemed to beg for the sous vide treatment.

This recipe is simple, beautiful, and incredibly healthy.

Rainbow Carrots-1

Locally grown heirloom carrots

sous vide carrots

I’m crazy for the way these plate. The purple sous vide carrots are almost too pretty to eat. (Pre-Glaze)

Continue Reading…

10 Days of Sous Vide: How to Get a Sous Vide Pan Sauce & Chicken Burrito Filling (Day 6)

18 August 2016
Burrito Chicken-2

It’s now day 6 of the 10 Days of Sous Vide series!  In yesterday’s post, we shared my perfect sous vide egg.  Today we’re going to talk briefly about how to make a sauce from the sous vide liquid.

Last Sunday marked the end of a packed summer semester for me which means I’m feeling a bit burnt out on writing.  However, I’m not going to let that get in the way of my sous vide series!  Today’s post will be short, but sweet.  No, not sweet; it’ll be savory.  I’m going to tell you about how to make a sous vide sauce using those lovely juices that accumulate in the sous vide bag.

Burrito Chicken-1

The very first dish I ever made sous vide was steak.  I got the thickest, most marbled, dry-aged NY strip I could find at the store.  As I set the temperature on my (then) water oven and watched it climb to temp, my taste buds salivated thinking about the masterpiece I would soon be making.  I dropped my steak into the machine and set to preparing my sides.  When it was done, I excitedly retrieved my steak from the water and opened up the bag.  There was so much liquid! What would I do with it all?

An Ode to Pan Sauce is in Order

If you thought I was going to write poetry, then you’re wrong.  The sad thing about the liquid I found in that bag is that it had all kinds of gloopy steak protein floating around in it and was not at all suitable for a pan sauce.  It got thrown down the disposal drain.  I was left with no pan sauce and a wasted bag of what I could only imagine intense steak-y flavor.  While the steak was certainly perfect and didn’t need a pan sauce to shine, I still wanted it.  What to do?

Strain it!

The best way to utilize those delicious juices is to strain out all the solids so that you’re dealing with a fabulous mostly clear liquid.  To do that, get a sieve and line it with either cheesecloth or a paper towel.  Pour the juices into the sieve.  Quickly pan sear whatever meat you’re dealing with over very high heat and transfer out of the pan to get a little more flavor bits.  Deglaze the pan, add aromatics then your liquid, and reduce to a sauce.  It’s simple and easy.

This method isn’t just limited to steak.  You can use it for any protein you cook in the sous vide.  I used it for today’s burrito filling to keep the chicken juicy and immensely flavorful.

Burrito Chicken Filling with Sauce-3

Chicken Burrito Filling

This filling is one of those recipes where I half-improvised it (“I’ll just add a little this, and…hey I wonder how that would do?”) and half-used my trusty Flavor Bible to see what seasonings would work together.  You can use this filling in burritos, tacos, tostadas, rice bowls, or salads.

Burrito Chicken-4

I added some seasoned rice, guacamole, and lettuce wrapped up in a tortilla and BAM! we had a bomb-A burrito in our hands (literally).  If you have them available near you, grab some TortillaLand uncooked tortillas.  You cook them fresh on your stove-top minutes before eating and it’s the next best thing from homemade.  Actually, it may be better, because you didn’t have to roll tortilla flour! Continue Reading…

10 Days of Sous Vide: The Perfect Sous Vide Egg (Day 5)

17 August 2016
Sous Vide Egg-2

Welcome to day 5 of the 10 Days of Sous Vide series.  In our last post, we discussed the purpose of brine and if it’s necessary for sous vide.  Today, we’ll talk about the perfect sous vide egg.

One of the best uses of the sous vide is for the sous vide egg. Arguably, this should have been my first post on the 10 Days of Sous Vide series because of how simple and successful this application can be.

Sous Vide Egg-3

The “sous vide egg”

When cooks refer to the sous vide egg, they are usually talking about an egg that has been poached within its shell in a sous vide water bath. However, that certainly isn’t the only application of sous vide for eggs. You can get a perfect hard or soft boiled egg; you can even “scramble” your eggs in sous vide. However, neither of these alternate applications seem worth it whereas the poached egg is certainly worth it.

Poaching eggs is an art which eludes many home cooks. How to get a perfectly runny egg without having a stringy egg-white mess or–even worse–a soggy, waterlogged or tough egg requires that one observes a long list of rules. I’m not just rebellious about rules because I believe they are made to be broken, but merely because I have a hard time remembering them all! With the sous vide method, all you need to remember is temperature and time.

Vacuum sealers need not apply

The egg poaches quickly in its shell which serves as a natural vacuum-sealed barrier. The shell also means that you don’t have to babysit the egg whites swirling about in a pan.

Sous Vide Egg-1

I thought this photo was cute, even with my reflection.

Additionally, thanks to the nature of the sous vide, you don’t need to worry about whether you have the pot at the right slow simmer. The sous vide egg seems foolproof, right? Well, that’s mostly right.

You make up the rules

My fiancé is the type of person who gags at the sight of eggs over easy and likes his eggs scrambled hard.  I, like most normal people (love you, honey), love an oozy yolk but require a firm white.  I have messed with egg temperatures and timing to try to figure out my perfect egg.  If you cook these low and slow, you will have a runny yolk (check!), but you’ll also have a slightly runny white (NOT check!).  It turns out, the best way to get my perfect egg is to cook it at 167 °F / 75 °C for just 13 minutes.  For the fudgy-like yolk, as I got in my matzah egg toast, you’ll do the same temp but for 20 minutes.  You also need to consider the size of your egg.  Smaller eggs need less time than their larger counterparts.

Sous Vide Egg-4

A wonderful resource for helping you achieve the sous vide egg of your dreams is found at the Food Lab.  The guide is not all-inclusive, as you will see my perfect egg isn’t included as an option, so it’s a method that begs for your experimentation.  The nice thing about my egg is that 1. it’s faster and 2. it allows you to avoid the finishing step of simmering your egg on the stove pot.

**Update: thanks to A Jew’s Bouche (an incredibly clever name, I must say) who introduced us to The Egg Calculator by Chef’s Steps for figuring out the perfect cooking temperature and timing for whatever egg texture you prefer! 

This photo makes my fiancé gag.

This photo makes my fiancé gag. No joke.

Sous vide egg and simple pasta

Because the sous vide egg is so personal, I will leave the temperature and timing up to you to decide.  Once you find your perfect egg, use it anywhere you would use a poached or soft boiled egg.  You can even use the egg to add richness to sauces. Continue Reading…

10 Days of Sous Vide: To Brine or Not to Brine & Herbed Brined Chicken (Day 4)

15 August 2016
Brined Chicken-1-2

Welcome to day 4 of the 10 Days of Sous Vide series.  Last week we left off on pervasive myths about sous vide & a short rib recipe.  This week we pick up again to discuss the purpose of brine and if it’s necessary for sous vide.  Bon Appetit!

Whether or not to brine your protein is an easy question.  Are you cooking meat that is prone to drying out easily?  If we’re talking turkey, chicken breast, or brisket, the answer is a resounding yes!  Then you should brine.  But of course, the answer is never that simple.

Brine Science

Brining–the act of submerging a protein into a salt concentrate solution–will help your protein retain moisture, but how?  Ask any chef and you’re likely to hear it chalked up to osmosis, that is, the tendency for a solvent to move across a semi-permeable membrane to a region of higher solute concentration in an attempt to equalize both sides.  However, that explanation isn’t entirely accurate, and would likely lead to a drier protein.  Instead, the primary reason your Thanksgiving turkey is retaining moisture after a brine is because the salt is denaturing the proteins.  The salt is causing some of the proteins in the muscle to unwind and swell, and water is binding to these proteins.

Why you may not need to brine for sous vide

The biggest reason to ever want to stick your meat into a brine is if there is a risk of overcooking it.  Overcooking is the entire reason your meat gets dry in the first place.  If it were able to be cooked precisely to the correct temperature, then the moisture content wouldn’t be an issue at all.  What is the one cooking method that can consistently ensure precise cooking?  Sous vide, you say? Yeah!  You’re catching on just fine.  So, that settles it right?  No brine necessary for sous vide.

No, no.  Hold up right there.  You’re mostly right, but there are exceptions to every rule (though our rabbi would probably like to hear a good explanation for my exceptions).  You still need to brine to pickle or corn meats.  We needed a brine for our deconstructed bagel and lox.  And, while in theory, it isn’t necessary for other purposes, it does change the meat quite a bit.  So we tried it on our chicken.

The Results

Brine Chicken

We did a lot of chicken recipes in our trial of sous vide testing, so we had a lot to compare to in order to judge effectiveness.  There was a big difference in our brined chicken.  In fact, the texture and flavor were so different that we couldn’t stop talking about it.  We were blessed with leftovers, which we reported to one another as being almost inedible due to saltiness.  However, if we were to pair it with a dairy-free avocado cream dressing, it would have balanced that saltiness out very nicely.  This makes incredible chicken for salads.

The texture

Aside from the saltiness, which isn’t too surprising, the texture was markedly different.  It was closer to the texture of a Costco rotisserie chicken.  I wouldn’t call it juicy, but it’s not dry.  The fibers separate easier.  The flesh takes on an almost pink color.  We agreed we liked it but also decided we thought it better for a filler than as a stand-alone meat.  Accordingly, it ended up being repurposed into chicken salad sandwiches.

This chicken did well in my tamarind chicken salad the next day.

This chicken did well in my tamarind chicken salad the next day.

Herbed Brined Chicken

Is “herbed” a verb, I hear you asking.  It is now.  I am the lexicographer of this blog, and I say it is so.  Moreover, after soaking our chicken in a brine with herbs, the chicken was certainly herbed.  Infused through and through of delicious herby goodness.  Cool tip: you can start the chicken in a brine and seal it for freezer storage, and it won’t be any different than had you kept the chicken fresh.  That worked perfectly for me, as I had been seasoning two weeks worth of meat to freeze in advance of the last of the summer semester. Continue Reading…

10 Days of Sous Vide: Dispelling Myths & 72 Hour Short Ribs (Day 3)

12 August 2016
Hawaiin BBQ Short Ribs-3

It’s now day 3 of the 10 Days of Sous Vide series. Per our earlier post, today the topic is all about dispelling myths about sous vide.  The recipe is 72 hour short ribs with Hawaiian BBQ Sauce, both sous vide and slow cooker.

It’s day three now, and I’m posting a recipe that ended up being mine and my fiance’s favorite.  I remember talking to him once about short ribs, and he scrunched up his nose and said he didn’t like them. He proclaimed them tough and cheap.  He wasn’t wrong, either–beef short ribs are an economy cut.  They come from a part of a cow that gets a lot of muscle action and, as a result, they can be incredibly tough so they must be braised for at least 3 hours to break down the fibers contributing to that toughness.  After which, they are insanely tender.  Anything that does well in a braise, will similarly do excellent in the sous vide, however.

Fork tender short ribs

Fork tender short ribs

Sous Vide Myths

We’ll return to the recipe after we talk about some pervasive sous vide myths.  Like most inaccurate beliefs, myths that surround sous vide come from misunderstandings about the science behind it, and plain ignorance.  Here are the top 5 myths about sous vide:

Myth #1: It’s not safe to cook food in plastic

The first myth comes from an admirable place: the concern for health safety.  There is no doubt a mixture of reports about the safety of cooking with plastic.  Consumers, now cynical ever since we realized that asbestos wasn’t just keeping our insulation fireproof, but was also slowly giving us cancer, are quick to doubt the safety of any new “trend.”  The problem is that we’re often presented with research that either conflict other research or the reporting of a finding is grossly oversimplified and, frankly, those of us who don’t have a science background don’t know what to do with this data.

We, however, take the position that Chef Steps takes: the risks of cooking in plastic are so small IF you are taking care to use food-safe plastic bags made to withstand the temperature differences of sous vide.  That means using freezer-safe Ziplock brand bags (DON’T use generic!) or bags specially made for vacuum sealing or sous vide cooking.

Myth #2: Okay, fine.  The plastic risks are negligible.  But what about botulism?

Hey, smarty–that is a fantastic question and a very legitimate concern.  Indeed, botulism is a risk that arises from the mishandling of sous vide foods.  However, when done correctly (i.e., correct temperature held for the correct amount of time), sous vide leads to a full pasteurization of foods.  This means that it eliminates all vegetative forms of pathogenic bacteria and, thus, cannot give you botulism.  Here is a great article in the International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science. I realize that article is not an easy read, but it is quite informative.

Myth #3: Cooking sous vide is difficult, and is only done by chefs with specific training

Hopefully you’re picking up that sous vide is not difficult, so long you’re careful about temperature and timing.  The result the technique yields is worth the minor effort you put into it.  I like to think of it as a very precise slow cooker, one which allows for you to have the same convenience of a set-it-and-forget-it meal without being limited to stews, soups, and other braises (although, slow cookers certainly are capable of more than that, too, like roasting a chicken for example).

Myth #4: Sous vide is exclusively for meats & seafood

No way!  You can cook a whole manner of different foods.  In fact, sous vide is an excellent way to get a very crisp pickle, to cook mashed potatoes, and for even making desserts (especially custards).  Linked here is a recipe for perfect sous vide mashed potatoes, which will make an excellent accompaniment with your short ribs.  Cooking vegetables sous vide maintains their nutrients and, usually, gives them a richer, stronger flavor because they aren’t exposed to air or water during cooking.

Myth #5: It’s not affordable.  It’s a hobby.  It’s only for enthusiasts/chefs.

Hey, you got me.  This is a technique that can become pricey if you let it.  And true, no one has to cook sous vide.   Just like no one has to cook with a microwave, a toaster, a slow cooker, or any other similar gadget.  You don’t have to, but you WANT to because it’s either convenient and/or yields a better result.  And you have to feel like you’re receiving value.  The truth is sous vide devices are becoming affordable (Anova’s new model release is on sale as of this writing for $149), especially for the use it gets.  Experts are predicting that sous vide may become commonplace in residential kitchens in the next few years, too.

72-hour Sous Vide Hawaiian BBQ Short Ribs

Hawaiin BBQ Short Ribs-4

These were incredible and a fantastic example of how sous vide can transform a cheap cut.  At 72-hours cook time, these are unreal. We used the timing and temperature from Chef Step’s guide, Beef Short Ribs Your Way. You must do this.  Do this now.  However, if you don’t have a sous vide all is not lost!  You can get a conventional braised texture from your slow cooker.  No, it does not compare to the sous vide.  Sorry.  But it will still be delicious! Continue Reading…