Thursday, June 17, 2010

Ghetto Sou Vide

Zip-lock bag + strings + clipper + meat thermometer = ghetto sou-vide

For the last decade, there has been a trend to modernize restaurant kitchen towards molecular gastronomy.  Instead of cooking the same methods their mothers and culinary school have always taught them, today's chef is more interested in the chemistry behind cooking and manipulating different element of science and technology to create a completely new cuisine.  Sou Vide is one of these inventions.  Food is vacuum sealed in plastic bag and cooked in a temperature controlled vat below the boiling point.  It is a method of cooking intended to preserve the natural flavours and structure of the ingredients (Hello, cantonese cuisine!).

Sou-vide is perfect replacement for many slow roasting and slow cooking methods.  You can sou-vide short ribs for a whole day to get the succulent, fall-off-the-bone tenderness without losing any flavours.  This method also reduce the risk of over-cooking, drying, or burning the a bigger piece of meat.  For example, sou-vide a duck breast before grilling it would result in moist and succulent meat and a crispy (but not burned) crust.

After seeing it in action on Iron Chef, I started researching into getting sou-vide equipments.  A standard vacuums seal and sou-vide vat would cost in the thousands, yecks!  Looks like I am stuck with ghetto sou vide for now.

What to sou-vide? Scallops is possibly one of the hardest protein to cook right.  Under cooking it, it taste like a mush of nastiness, but over cooking it, it turns into a piece of rubber.  This is a perfect candidate for sou-vide.

Zip lock bag has the soften point of 195F (water boiling point is 212F). The optimal temperature for eating scallops is 130F. The premium freezer bag has an amazing vacuum seal.  Now the trick is to squeeze out the air.  Have you ever put your hand in a plastic bag and submerge it in water?  Water pressure can vacuums seal an object in plastic: all I have to do is dip scallop bag inside a pot of water.  (Make sure to not let the water in).

Tada! The scallops oozes a little when I handle it.

A temperature controlled slow cooker. Well I don't have that. Let's use a pot.  I tied a string across the two sides of the handle. Once the water temperature reaches 130F,  I hang my ziplock bag over the string and secure it with a clipper.  The goal is to avoid letting the plastic to touch the bottom of the pot. I don't trust the bag to not melt in direct heat from the gas stove.  


How long am I suppose to cook it for? I have no idea.  I read, on the internet, that short rib can take all day, fish can take 30 minutes. Scallops are little small, let's try 20 minutes for my first batch.  It turned out undercooked.  I tried 30 minutes for the second batch, which turned out perfectly.  I had trouble controlling the temperature of my water.  Even at the lowest heat setting, the temperature rises pretty rapidly.  I decided to tie my thermometer to the pot and turn the heat off.  Whenever the water temperature dipped below 130F, I turn the heat on to rise the temperature.

The scallops released a lot of juices into the plastic after it was cooked.  I experimented with putting the entire ziplock bag into a cold bath, and it worked.  The scallops reabsorbed all the moistures.  However, I am left to with cold cooked scallops.  I had to get really creative to warm these back up.

Chinese Inspired: sesame oil, green onion, cilantro drizzle.

French Inspired: Butter, chives, balsamic vinegar. 

Perfect texture. I will be writing up recipes for these two in the next few days.

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