Thursday, January 2, 2014

My Christmas present

A few years ago, I was interested in the technique of Sous Vide cooking and purchased a small cookbook with instruction and recipes.  Mind you though, that I had purchased this book before I had a sous vide machine.  My thought process was that I would read up on it and then see about getting a machine or even just the circulator.  (If you have questions, just raise your hand and I will answer what I can.)

Sous vide cooking, is a process wherein food is prepared, in a vacuum chamber in water.  It is science to know that the best conductor of heat is water.  So, the most efficient way of cooking something is to put it into water and cook it.  The main pro of cooking with sous vide, I think, is that it is scientifically accurate.  When you want to cook a pork roast, you set the oven to 425 degrees F and then cook for an hour in hopes that the internal temperature gets to at least 150 degrees, right?  Doesn't that sound strange when you think of it now?  You need to place something, for an hour, at 425 degrees in order for it to just get to about 150 degrees.  It sounds as if there is a lot of wasted heat, right? (About 275 degrees worth.)

So, what sous vide does, is cook the item in a vacuum sealed pouch, which means that there isn't anything to interfere with the cooking, like air.  The lack of air, means that everything in the pouch is sealed in and can only interact with each other, producing more flavorful items.  The sealed pouch is placed within a water bath when cooking.  The water bath is the conductor of the heat and is what really cooks the food.  Because the pouch is sealed, it also means that the contents of the bag do not leak out.

With regards to my statement up there ^, about the loss of degrees, sous vide is more accurate because it keeps with the temperature. The cooking time may take longer, and in fact be several times longer, but it gets an item that cannot be overcooked and will always be juicy and moist.  My pork example up above, from a recipe I had found online, suggested that I cook it at 425 degrees for one hour to get the internal temperature to at least 150 degrees.  Now, while in an oven, at 425 degrees, the first thing it will do is heat the house.  Yeah, my 1,600 square feet of living space raises a few degrees when the oven is that high for an hour.  So, what the sous vide machine would have me do, is vacuum seal the pork in a bag, so there is no air and nothing to interfere with the cooking process.  Then, if I wanted it to get to 150 degrees, I set the water temperature to 150 degrees.  This way, the water gets to the temperature that I want the meat to be at.  Makes sense, right?  Also, at 150 degrees, and in a vacuum packed bag, submersed in water, there is no way that it can dry out or even overcook.  It probably would take about 4-6 hours, but what you have is a full proof cooking method that just takes longer.  Got it?

Also, in terms of bacteria growth, when food is cooked it should be eaten fairly soon afterwards.  Cooked food has a countdown timer, of when it becomes unsafe to eat.  Placing the food in a hot bath for a long time, can actually pasteurize the food and kill all possible bacteria, making the food safe enough to cook and leave out for a longer period of time.

The circulator is just a larger version of the heating element that goes in a sous vide machine.  You used to just get your own water bath in a container and then place this circulator in it and it would do the work for you.  This machine though, is all in one (and quiet), so you can cook food without the extra heating of the house or noise.

So, I thought I would spend the next few days, testing it.  Some things that can be cooked, are carrots.  Normally if you want really tender and juicy carrots, you throw them in a pot of boiling water and cook them for say 15-20 minutes.  Well, think of the heat required to bring water to a boil, then keep it a boil with the carrots in it.  The house I live in wasn't the best build.  So, with the gas stove on, say for about 45, then it starts to heat up the kitchen, which in turns heats up the house. I always cook on gas and with our pots and gas, it takes almost 20 minutes to bring the pot of water to a boil.  So, you then have to get the carrots in there for another 20 minutes and there is steam and heat and everything to warm up a house.  So, with the machine, you put everything inside and close the lid.  Now, I would have to figure out how much energy is required, exactly, but I would be safe to say that at this point, we are saving on electricity or at least heat, by cooking the food that needed to be boiled, in the sous vide.

So, the sous vide machine works basically just the same way as a pot of boiling water does.  You can take a bag of vacuum packed carrots and place it in the water bath in the sous vide for 50 minutes at 185 degrees and after those 50 minutes, you take the bag out, let it cool a bit, cut it open and take out the contents.  I also stuck some butter and brown sugar in with the carrots. Now, that gives you perfectly tender but not too mushy carrots that are sweet and tasty and juicy.  On the other hand, to get that same butter and brown sugar sauce with tender and juicy carrots by using a stove top, you have to boil the carrots for a bit, I'd guess for about 20-25 minutes.  Then, in a separate pot, you would need to melt the butter and mix it with the sugar, being careful not to spill, get yourself splattered with melting sugar and so forth.  Even, if you were very lazy and microwaved the carrots, they would have taken about 5 minutes on high.  Then, if you steamed them, they may still be a tiny bit dry, not juicy and such.  Then, if they were different sizes you would have some cooked fine and others still hard or raw.  Then, you could get the butter and sugar and place in a nice bowl and microwave them, but then you need to stop every few seconds and stir it.

Not only does the sous vide machine cook them accurately and correctly, but it is also safer and you can forget about it.  You place the food you ware cooking inside of it, set a timer and leave it.  EASY!  Also, of note, is that I cook pears at 185 degrees also.  This means that for that same 50 minutes, I could also cook some vanilla and cinnamon pears, in a separate bag, in the same water.  I'd have some savory carrots and sweet pears done in the same time, in the same cooking space and I don't have to watch, mess with or fuss about either one.

Pretty impressive, eh?

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