10 Days of Sous Vide: An Introduction & Chicken Char Sui

9 August 2016

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The long-awaited (at least, by me) “10 Days of Sous Vide” series is now beginning.  To those who do not follow the Almost Kosher Facebook page or instagram, we will be sharing ten days worth of sous vide recipes.  I will also offer an alternative cooking method for those readers who don’t sous vide.  Today’s recipe is Chinese Chicken Char Sui, both sous vide and grilled.  I will also introduce you to the equipment I use, including the Anova Precision Cooker.

Char Sui-2

Chinese Chicken Char Sui

How I got into sous vide

As I confessed earlier, my courtship with sous vide was short: it was essentially love at first bite, and I committed from day one to figure it out and make it work for me.  That dedication and commitment came with a lot of trial and error, and there were months where I couldn’t look my sous vide in the…er…eye after a failed recipe.  However, when I first got into the method, there were limited resources for learning sous vide, so the likelihood of a recipe going wrong was much higher.  Now, we have tools like ChefSteps.com, The Food Lab, many food blogs dedicated to the technique, as well as cooking apps with tried-and-true recipes (some, like the Anova’s app I will discuss briefly in this post, are nearly “set it and forget it”).

Choosing a device

My current sous vide device

My current sous vide device

I’ve used a few different methods to cook sous vide.  Those include a water oven (which is the priciest and most intrusive of counter space option), my current, super affordable wand-like device, and even the most low-tech of all: the kitchen sink.  My first device was a water oven: the now-discontinued Caso SousVide Center SV1000 with a built-in vacuum sealer.  Man, was that thing a beast.  It took up a huge amount of counter real estate.  Additionally,  it was a pain in the butt to clean, and–frankly–the controls sucked.  In the end, the control area stopped working and I had to recycle the stupid machine.  I have to admit how relieved I felt, even though I had lost $500 the day that thing got laid to rest.  It was time for me to move on to one of the smaller wand-like devices.

Besides being a LOT cheaper than the water ovens, most wand-like sous vide devices boast easy controls, effortless cleaning, and compact size.  There is a lot of variety to choose from, and it seems that they’re all pretty fabulous.  After a lot of research, including articles like this one by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt (one of the best sources for sous vide), I felt that the Anova Precision Cooker was my perfect match.  It’s extremely reliable, and the controls are easy.  You could technically attach the wand to any container you wish, which is another plus to these wand-like devices.  I have never been so happy with a kitchen gadget.

The Anova Precision Cooker

The Anova has an app which, after pairing to your device, works over WiFi to help control the temperature.  It also comes with a searchable database of recipes which you can load up to transfer the temperature and timing controls to your Anova device.  I’ve found this feature helpful when I am cooking a meat cut that I’m not familiar with and need to find a tried-and-true temperature and timing combo.  It even features recipes from chefs around the world including the aforementioned J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.  While this feature isn’t essential to having a good machine, it is a bonus especially for those just getting into this kind of cooking.

Screenshots from the Anova App

Screenshots from the Anova App

Other helpful devices

Aside from the sous vide device, there are a few other tools I recommend. You can live without them if you’re a genius at improvising, but each is helpful to achieve the best results.  You could even live without the sous vide device, too; many people have rigged up their own using coolers, slow cookers, and monitored pots on their stoves. But, it would be a waste of time now that devices cost in the $170-$200 range.  Here are my nice-to-haves:

  • A vacuum sealer

    A vacuum is almost a must-have, but you can technically get away with sealing your food in a Ziploc.  Most home chefs use a device like a Food Saver, which is probably good enough for most, although it won’t safely seal bags with liquid.  For that you need either to use the Archimedes principle or a chamber vacuum.  I received a chamber vacuum as a gift, so that is what I use.  Although the chamber vacuum is awesome, talk about a user of counter real estate.  It is massive.  If you have a giant kitchen to match your giant passion for sous vide (and giant wallet), it’s the way to go, but I’m not recommending it to anyone who isn’t already married to the idea of cooking sous vide and vacuum sealing massive amounts of foods with liquids.

  • A dedicated container

    I decided to buy a large, commercial Rubbermaid food storage container to serve as a dedicated container for my sous vide water bath.  As I mentioned before, you could technically attach a wand-like device to the side of any large container you like.  However, I like the idea of a container with measurement lines that I can dedicate solely to my sous vide endeavors.

  • A high-powered propane/MAPP torch

    One of the biggest downfalls of sous vide cooking is the lack of a good sear on the product, straight out of the bath.  To get a good crust on your steak, you need to either pan sear or grill the meat.  Both methods cook the meat a bit more in the process in the time it takes to reach the temperature needed for that sear.  In my opinion, this negates the reason to cook sous vide.  A propane torch will do the same job much quicker–thanks to scary hot temperatures–without changing the internal temperature by that much.

Today’s Recipe: Chicken Char Sui

The Chicken Char Sui I’m sharing is perfect sous vide, but can also be prepared on the grill.  It will end up a bit drier from the high heat of the grill, but it’s delicious.  The bright red color of the marinade for the chicken comes from beet powder instead of the usual food coloring.  Beet powder is easily made by roasting sliced beets in an oven set to 200°F for two hours or until dry, then grinding into a power. After all, Char Sui isn’t right unless your hands look like a murder scene!  With that in mind, do make sure to wear appropriate clothing to avoid staining.

**Update: 2016 August 16** One of the accounts I follow on Instagram recently asked me if beet puree can be used in place of the beet powder.  I looked into this some via the interwebs and found that, yes, you can use beet puree but that the color it imparts to the chicken will not hold up to grilling.  I don’t know if the same holds true to sous vide, but will endeavor to try it out.  If any of you decide to try it, please share your results in the comments below!

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Chinese Chicken Char Sui
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine Chinese
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Chinese
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
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Instructions
  1. Combine sugar, honey, ketchup, soy sauce, beet powder, vinegar, hoisin, and Chinese five spice in a large ziplock bag (or using a bag for a chamber vacuum). Add chicken and seal. Refrigerate overnight and up to two days.
  2. For sous vide: In a sous vide set to 74° Celsius/165.2° F, submerge the sealed chicken and cook for 8 hours. After removed from bag, drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper.
  3. For the grill: heat the grill to medium heat. Rub chicken with oil and salt and pepper. Grill, skin-side down, until cooked through (about 30 minutes).
Recipe Notes

Adapted for Sous Vide from Saveur's Char Sui Chicken.

Char Sui-1

Today we talked about my sous vide set-up as well as a Chinese Chicken Char Sui recipe.  Tomorrow, I will share some of my favorite books about sous-vide and a recipe for Portuguese Peri Peri.  

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