Feb 26, 2008

He: Sous Vide cooking

Okay, what the hell is sous vide, and why in the heck would I want to do it. Sous Vide means 'in a vacuum' in French, and it's been all the rage in high end restaurants for the last several years. Chances are, unless you've dropped a couple hundred bucks for one of those multi-course extravaganzas at a mecca of great food, you've never seen the term....that's okay I will explain.
The principle behind the technique is based in the idea that there is an absolute perfect point, temperature-wise, that you want to bring any protein to where it will be the most palatable. The trick to all of this is best shown by making a custard...creme caramel, creme brulee, or for that matter creme anglaise or even just french toast. With all of the aforementioned dishes there is that idea 'sweet spot' where the egg is just set and the dish is creamy without being runny. I really like the way that Alton Brown explained it in his first book. If you don't have his first book, I'm not going to go through the explanation for you in detail. As always, if you would like the long explanation, please post a comment and I will answer to the best of my ability (just expect to learn a lot more than anyone could possibly want to know).
In terms of the 'sweet spot' for meats, there is some variability depending on the final results that you're after. For the sake of simplicity, and because I don't have any pictures to back up any other meats today, I will just stick to chicken. The ideal 'sweet spot' for chicken is 152 degrees. How did I come to this number you ask? Well, the number is something that many chemists and food scientists that have hated having dry chicken (or for that matter any other poultry) so they did experiments and research into the actual chemical and physical changes that take place. Luckily for me, I didn't have to wade through millions of pages of scientific papers to find out about this 'sweet spot' for America's favorite bird I just checked out the section on meat in Harold McGee's food bible. Okay, I also used this great website written by a chemist that explains how you can scam the true technique for minimal money at home. Again, if you want that link you will have to post a comment.
The pictures that you see are of the last chicken dish that I put together. In the bag are two chicken leg quarters, along with a pile of seasonings. For those of you that wish to attempt this technique here's the other ingredients: Annatto seeds, cumin seeds, black pepper, garlic cloves and bay leaves....oh yeah, and one gallon ziplock freezer bag.
All that you do for this techique is to flash blanch the chicken for 5 seconds in rapidly boiling water to kill external bacteria, and any other nasties that you might not want to have. Stick the chicken in the bag with the seasonings. Suck as much of the air out of the bag as you can(I found that a straw works really well for this). Then all you have to do is drop the bag of chicken into water that is maintaining 152 degrees for at least 6 hours. I want to say that this batch I think I cooked for 36 hours, but who's counting really. 36 hours you say!...is he absolutely deranged? Nope, the chicken never has a chance to overcook because it never exceeds the temperature range of the 'sweet spot' which is anywhere over 160. How did I maintain temperature for that long? Well, the only thing that I did was to add ice cubes if the temperature ever went too high...which happened once or twice....and I'd turn the heat up just a touch if it was too low.
This technique is sooooooooo stinking simple that anyone should be able to make the most succulent chicken of their entire lives this way.

Okay...in the hopes of having something posted, pics or no here it is. The pics aren't up because B won't materialize the cord for our digital camera, and I suck with photoshop. I promise that I will get the cord from her and post very, very soon.

Feb 12, 2008

He: Organics, and the price of labeling

This is a post just for me (sorry I'm sure you're hugely disappointed). It revolves around a very annoying conversation and a rather insane idea from a woman that I spoke with yesterday for what felt like an eternity. She wheeled herself up to me in one of those electric shopping carts to ask me if the salt that we were using in the kitchen was organic sea salt or not. In the process of arguing with this woman that the idea of having an organic mineral is just insane, I talked her into looking further into what she is trying to hold as ideals. Coincidentally, organic sea salt is just not possible...or is it?
Does everything in the free world have to have a label in order for it to be good? According to this woman that is hell bent on everything that enters into her body to be organic....yes. For the rest of modern society, should we be looking to organics to save our less than perfect eating habits...no. If you consume 4000 calories a day, and half of that is fast food or something fried covered in cheese...then you deserve to be the fat lazy slob that you are. If you consume that much food, and you're thin as a rail...be happy...the genetics roulette game has come out to your genetic advantage on this one.
I'm not in the best of moods about it all so I won't go into too much more of a rant. I just can't stand the idea of someone trying to hold anyone to some high and lofty standard if they don't actually hold themselves to that standard meaningfully.
Coincidentally, even though there are millions of organic products that are available to me every single day (thank god for California), I buy organic only when it makes sense. If anyone out there really wants to know what I think about it, or as a chef which products I feel warrant purchasing organically..just ask