The buzzword this Christmas for the foodie who has everything is a sous-vide unit. Famous chefs, such as Thomas Keller, Paul Bocuse, Grant Achatz, Ferran Adria, Charlie Trotter, Michael Mina and Joel Robuchon, have been using this method of cooking with much success. If you have watched “Iron Chef,” you might have seen a thermal immersion circulator or a sous-vide machine being used in their competition.
So what is a sous-vide method of cooking anyway? Pronounced “soo-veed,” which means “under vacuum” in French, is cooking food sealed in airtight plastic bags in a water bath at a temperature that is below boiling point of 212 degrees. It is basically poaching foods slowly but the difference is the juices are held in with the plastic bag. The cooking time may vary from 17 minutes to cook fish to 3 days to cook tough meats like beef brisket.
The disadvantages of sous-vide cooking is the meats will not brown, so if you are cooking a chicken, the meat will be white.
Prices of the sous-vide machines range from $329 for the demi to a Supreme Modernist for $600. Then you must buy the vacuum sealers, which range in price from $129 to $800. Bags range from $30 for 100 pint-sized bags to $35 for one quart bags. On the low side, it could set you back about $380 to a high of $1,435. The Anova Immersion Circulator, which controls the temperature and also circulates the water, will be available on Dec. 12 for $300.
Thomas Keller of The French Laundry and Per Se Restaurants is so convinced that sous-vide is a revolutionary method of cooking that he wrote a cookbook, “Under Pressure,” which is entirely about sous-vide cooking.
Keller calls this method of cooking “the twenty-first-century version of bain-marie, or water bath, which goes back to medieval times.”
Green vegetables, precisely broccoli, asparagus, and peas are harmed by sous-vide. Grains and cereals do not get better by this method of cooking, but tender cuts of meats are juicier and the exact internal temperature can be achieved. Tough cuts of meats stay moist, unlike braising, which often dry out the meat. Fish retains its flavors and moistness, and seafood like octopus and lobster, that can get tough from overcooking, is very tender with the sous-vide method of cooking.
Octopus is the perfect food to cook sous-vide. “It not only allows us to infuse the flesh with other flavors, it also cooks it so gently that it becomes very tender,” Thomas Keller says.
Grilled Octopus Tentacles
20 grams extra virgin olive oil, plus more for grilling
1 thyme sprig
1 small rosemary sprig
2 bay leaves
1 gram coriander seeds
1 gram cumin seeds
2 dried chilies
Put the octopus on a cutting board. You will feel a ball just above the eyes, cut off the head just below the ball. Put the tentacles in a bowl and cover liberally with salt. Using a stiff brush, scrub the tentacles to remove any slime. Rinse and drain.
Spread out the octopus, sucker side down, and cut off the 8 complete tentacles. Cut away the webbed skin that hangs from the sides of the tentacles and discard. Trim the tentacles, rinse them in cold water and drain on C-fold towels.
Whisk together the olive oil, salt and pepper to taste in a bowl. Toss in the octopus, chill.
Make a herb sachet with the thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, coriander, and chiles. Place the octopus in a bag in a single layer and add the sachet. Vacuum-pack on medium.
Cook at 170.6 degrees for five hours. Let the octopus cool just enough so you can handle it.
To trim the tentacles, put each tentacle sucker side down on a work surface and with a paring knife, scrape away the top flesh. Then work the knife in both directions, using the tip of the knife to peel and scrape away the membranes, including the suckers. You will be left with very clean, smooth pieces of octopus.
Heat a cast-iron grill pan over high heat. Toss the pieces of octopus with olive oil to coat and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add to grill pan and cook, turning once to mark both sides of the pieces, about 2 minutes total.
The State of Hawaii Department of Health does not recognize sous-vide cooking as an approved method of cooking for certain foods. Because the temperature never goes above boiling, Clostridium botulinum can survive and cause botulism poisoning. If the food is served within four hours, it is OK, but because the bacteria is so hardy, once the food gets cold, there are concerns of growth of the spores.
In 1799, Count Rumford was first to figure out the theory of sous-vide, so it is not a modern method of cooking. It is only the modern chefs of today that have made it popular.
Georges Pralus at Restaurant Troisgros in Roanne France in 1974 discovered that when foie gras was cooked sous-vide, it kept its original appearance, had a great texture and did not lose any excess fat. If you ever cooked foie gras, you know the amount of loss when pan-fried as the fats are lost into the pan.
Please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a question. Bon appetit until next week.