Sous Vide Update

Quick notes;  I’m sorely behind on photography and weblogging.  Instead of letting things entirely rot, I’m going to jot down some notes for future reference (my own and, hopefully, others).

I’ve also been behind on cooking, making stuff, etc…

After letting my Sous Vide Supreme gather dust for a couple of months, I thought through why and what to do about fixing this.   The quality of food that is possible with SV cooking was clearly a motivator.  What I concluded was that the size and pain of storing the SVS was ultimately the reason why I didn’t use it;  finding a place to store was a pain and the SVS always takes the same rather large volume of water, even if you only want to cook a few eggs or a couple of steaks.

Thus, after some rather extensive research, I decided to go with a PolyScience Sous Vide Professional.   Effectively, it is a PolyScience lab circulator refactored into a form convenient for use in a kitchen.   It is easy to use, very accurate, and — most critically for me — can handle both a much much smaller and, on those occasions where I need it, a significantly larger (30L) volume of water vs. the SVS.

Once obtaining said device, a bit of a food adventure has been had over the past few weeks.

Ribs & Pork Shoulder (24 hours @ 56ºC)

Ribs were basted with an apricot / rice vinegar / EVOO / brown sugar / ginger sauce prior to bagging.   Pork shoulder was rubbed down with brown sugar, light salt, and scotch bonnet pepper flakes.

End result was quite good;  both the ribs and the shoulder had “chew” in that they didn’t entirely fall apart, but were still completely fork tender.   Flavor profile was excellent;  intensely pork flavored without being overbearing.   The belly was slightly salty and, in fact, salting in sous vide is very different than salting in regular bbq.

Lesson Learned: What is likely obvious to anyone who can actually cook;  any liquid in the sous vide bag should be drained into a pan and used to make a sauce, some sauce, any sauce.   Use it to deglaze a pan.  Add it to some sauce you are making, even if you have to cook it down a bit.   There is simply too much deliciousness in the liquid in the bag to let it go down the drain!

Fillet of Salmon (30 minutes @ 54ºC)

Just hot enough to pasteurize, no more.  Sadly, this sucked.  But it was an important lesson.  The Salmon fillet was absolutely perfect in texture and color, but the flavor was off.  Namely, it was fishy because I had abused the fillet between freezer and consumption.  Not “I’m going to die” fishy, but just unpleasant.   Frankly, if I had cooked it in a stew or grilled it, it would have been fine.

Lesson Learned: When cooking SV, there is nowhere that any off flavors can escape to, be burned off, or otherwise be covered.  While you don’t have to start with the most amazing quality ingredients, they must be absolutely fresh and/or have been stored properly every step of the way between harvest and table.


Brisket — French Laundry Style (48 hours @ 64ºC)

Picked up a big chunk of relatively cheap brisket and cut it into three pieces.  All three were oiled, salted and peppered prior to bagging.  One then had a hot indian curry added and one had a bunch of Worcestershire + Maple Syrup.

End result was very interesting.  It was a lot less tender than I expected, but was still fork tender after being sliced across the grain.

All of the juices were drained into a small cast iron pot and were cooked down with powdered mustard, ketchup, and siracha until it thickened into what turned into a delicious BBQ sauce.

Lesson Learned: Following Keller’s temperature and time recommendations seems to “just work”.  This comes as know surprise.  However, if you read many of Keller’s SV recipes, they generally require a proper vacuum sealer to be able to achieve the “under pressure” part of SV cooking.

Cheap Steaks (48 hours @ 56ºC)

Picked up some cheap sirloin steaks.  Not terribly tender, but not too tough.  Decided to do them 48 hours to see what would happen;  one plain, one curry, and one maple syrup + Worcestershire.

Browned meat over high flame on cast iron after.

Made sauce out of the juice, of course.

Was quite delicious, but the meat texture was too tender.  Beyond fork tender.

Lesson Learned: No, really, you can make a meat too tender.  At least, if you expect to serve it in a steak-like format.  However, I’m betting that taking the same cut of meat, dropping a bunch of stew like veggies and spices into the bag, and cooking that for 48 hours in a similar way would result in an amazing stew.

Peaches (3 hours @ 80ºC)

Peaches + brown sugar + bourbon, actually.   Just an experiment.

Delicious over ice cream, but the bourbon flavor was surprisingly strong.  In hindsight, this should have been obvious.   Did this a second time and used the result in a BBQ sauce described below.

Lesson learned: The Sous Vide pouches are a closed systems.  Any flavors that go in will stay there.  They may change from being exposed to said temperature, but they can’t escape!  Duh!  So, like salt, if you have something that is an intense flavor that would otherwise be somewhat lost during cooking, vastly reduce the amount you put in!

Brisket — Baldwin Style (24 hours @ 80ºC)

Didn’t have 48 hours and wanted to try something a little different.  Did the three flavors again as described above.

Browned the meat in skillet before, on grill after.

The end result was much much more tender than the French Laundry Style described above. But that may also have been because the meat, itself, was significantly fattier.

Served with a BBQ sauce made from the SV peaches described above + brisket SV juices + ketchup + maple syrup + mustard + hot peppers.

Lesson Learned: Beyond the exceptionally well understood pasteurization tables and exactly what temperature to cook a piece of meat to consider it “rare, medium-rare, etc..”, the relationship between time/temperature vs. resulting texture is not entirely understood by anyone. Certainly, a truly competent chef will find a particular time/temperature

Leg of Lamb (24 hours @ 54ºC)

Took a leg of lamb, shoved it in a bag without anything else, and SV’d it for 24 hours.

Once done, salted, peppered, EVOO, and then grilled for a minute per side on a very high heat gas grill.

Using the leftover BBQ sauce from the previous night as a base, I added the juice from the lamb SV bag and cooked it down a bit more.

The meat was perfectly tender and medium-rare from edge to edge.  Not a bit of it was left at the end of the meal.

Lesson Learned: 54ºC is a magic number.  At 54ºC, you can mostly cook something for up to 72 hours with no worries of poisoning anyone and still result in a piece of medium rare meat.  Mostly (as there is some subtlety to the whole pasteurization thing).  Just start with a fresh and competently handled piece of meat — it can be cheap, but it must be fresh.

Pork Ribs (24 hours @ 57ºC)

Dry rub with brown sugar, salt, hot pepper, ginger, and garlic.  Into the bag for 24 hours.  Cooked down a BBQ sauce (carry over from the one above), glazed and then seared over a high heat gas fired grill.

The texture of the meat was perfect.   The flavor was too damned salty.  Not inedibly so; just much more so than desired.

Lesson re-learned: No matter how little salt you use in a Sous Vide bag, it can easily be too much.  I didn’t even think I’d used that much salt, but the end result was still saltier than expected and saltier than desired.

More notes as I figure this out….


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2 Responses to “Sous Vide Update”

  1. Doug says:

    So, Sous Vide cooking has me very intrigued. We know what your using to cook your foods but what are you using to vacuum seal them?

  2. George says:

    Thanks for documenting this. I recently got one of the “Geek Food” thermostats so I can use my crock pot as a Sous Vide. I did boneless beef short ribs. I bagged up 6 pieces. And we tried them at 2hrs / 12hr / 24hr / 36 hrs and 48hrs. All at 134degrees F.

    2hrs was tough but we could not wait and wanted to see how it would turn out.
    12 hr was decent but still a little chewy
    24 hr was great. Good texture, but still tender. Great flavor. The GF thought this was the best so far…
    36 hr was ehhh. This was because I cut a short rib in half for this bag. So it was not a good control.
    The 48 was also perfect. So I would say in the future we will figure on 36hrs but not cut the meat in half, I think one of the pieces had more fat than the other which changed the 36 hr to not as good as a different portion.

    The next thing I tried was eggs at 1.5 hr at 154 degrees, which were amazing. Like no egg I ever tried before. Perfectly creamy.

    Tonight I am planning on salmon. A little scared because of the lower temp. I will try brining it first, since I have read that may help. And I will do lemon zest, butter, salt, pepper and fresh parsley.

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