Monthly Archives: August 2011

Sous Vide: Hamburger

Following the good example of Slow Food Columbus leader Bear Braumoeller, I bought some locally produced grass-fed ground beefat my local farmer’s market and made burgers sous vide. The were deliciously palate-opening!

I took 1/3 of the 1 pound of meat I bought and gently shaped a burger patty. Just a little salt and freshly ground pepper, then into a Ziploc Freezer Bag. As with my other sous vide foods, I sucked the air out of the bag with a straw and sealed it.

Cooked the burger in its sous vide water bath at 127°F (between the temperatures recommended for rare and medium rare beef) for about 90 minutes. Very little of the meat juices had been exuded; they were almost all left inside the beef.

As with my other sous vide foods, the burger came out an unappetizing color …

… but that was fixed with a quick 45 second searing on each side in a hot fry pan with a little oil. I accompanied the burger with slices of pan-grilled Vidalia onion and locally grown tomato.

The burger was uniformly and beautifully medium rare inside. The taste was remarkable: It had real flavor! The combination of grass-fed beef and sous vide preparation that kept the juices in the meat made a real difference in taste.

The best grilled burgers I’ve had are at Squire’s restaurant in my Mom’s home of Briarcliff Manor. They’re flame broiled and for 40+ years have been the juiciest, tastiest burgers I’ve ever had. (Okay, the $32 burger at db Bistro Moderne in NYC is remarkable, but it’s filled with braised short rib and black truffle.) But even the Squire’s burger lacked the flavor of my sous vide burger. Maybe it’s because its meat juices drip out of the burger onto the bun.

I thought of how I always load my burgers with Heinz ketchup. I savored my sous vide burger without that condiment, enjoying every bite. This was the first time in memory that I chose to have a burger without ketchup.

I’m looking forward to making my next sous vide burger tomorrow without the salt and pepper to see how the grain-fed beef tastes really plain.

Sous Vide: Short Ribs of Beef

Given my experience with the tenderness of sous vide steak, I recalled the incredibly tender short ribs I had 14 years ago prepared by chef Daniel Orr at NYC’s La Grenouille restaurant. To this day, I’ve searched for but not found another short rib dish as tender as Orr’s, with no sign of stringiness of the meat. Could he have cooked it sous vide?

I looked for several days for short ribs of beef and finally found some frozen at Carfagna’s Italian market. After I thawed the vacuum packed meat, I was disappointed to find the pieces weren’t the nice, thick, meaty short ribs I was accustomed to, but rather thin and fatty. Nevertheless, I cooked on.

With the 8 pieces in the 2 pounds of short ribs I had bought, I tried two different recipes: classic, with salt, pepper, minced garlic, and olive oil; and Chinese, with five spice powder, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Again, simple preparation: I rubbed the spices in, packed the meat in 1 quart Ziploc Freezer Bags, and poured in the oils; sucked the air out with a straw; but this time, the recommended cooking time was 36 to 48 hours at 133°F for medium rare.

By the second day of cooking, though, I had been invited out to dinner for that night. So I took out one packet after about 40 hours of cooking to try as an afternoon snack. It was the Chinese preparation.

The meat was medium rare and nicely tender. I thought the bag had leaked, though, as there was a lot of cooking liquid; I noticed a small hole in the bag, caused by a sharp rib bone.

While the meat was tender, it wasn’t ethereally so, and the gristle between the meat and bone was chewy, though edible. When braised in the normal way, the gristle is very tender. I left the other pieces to cook.

I took out the other pieces for lunch the next day – a total of 62 hours cooking! I opened the classic style ones. They still looked medium rare. There was less cooking liquid too; these bags hadn’t leaked.

I pan seared the ribs for about 45 seconds on each side to give them their classic browned appearance. Sliced open, the were still medium rare.

They tasted like my favorite part of a roasted prime rib: the outside layer between the fat and the rib eye. Although that part is always well done – and I like my beef very rare – it is the most flavorful and tender part, given all the fat that marbles and surrounds it.

The short rib meat was succulent and very tender – and it didn’t have the stringiness that braised short ribs always have. The gristle was still chewy, but tender enough to eat and enjoy. I savored eating every piece, though there was rather little meat, given the big bones and thick layers of fat.

I’ll have to try sous vide short ribs again with some meatier pieces. I think I may have discovered chef Daniel Orr’s secret to his short rib preparation at La Grenouille in that truly memorable meal I had so many years ago.

My Memorable Meals: La Grenouille, January 24, 1997

My first trials cooking sous vide reminded me of a truly memorable dinner I had many years ago at NYC’s La Grenouille restaurant. I wrote about that experience back then, included in notes I shared with friends on my Restaurant Week experiences in 1997. Here’s that write-up:

For the sake of completeness, I need to describe how I got involved with this group of bargain seeking gourmets [my fellow 1997 Restaurant Week diners]. Richard and Peggy Hsia invited me to dinner in January. Their hobby is eating at NYC’s finest restaurants. I introduced Richard into the Cuomo administration (he had been a Wall St. lawyer and was looking for something more fulfilling; he became a Deputy Insurance Superintendent). I first dined with them years ago at the old 4-star Restaurant Lafayette at the Drake Hotel (where the aforementioned Jean-Georges Vongerichten began his rise to stardom). Richard asked if I would prefer Daniel or La Grenouille. I picked the latter, having not eaten there for many years (I used to eat there often, when I took Andersen recruits to lunch there in the 1970s). They invited Ray Chen to be the 4th at our table. Once he was invited, Ray called the maitre d’ and asked if he could ask the chef to do something special for us for dinner, since it was Peggy’s birthday. Here’s what I can recall of the menu 6 months after the event (alas, I can’t find my notes on it).

When we arrived, the maitre d’ told Ray that everything had been arranged. We were started with a small timbale of cold mung bean noodles that we enjoyed while looking over the wine list. We selected a modestly priced bottle of Bordeaux (the wine markup in these restaurants is an outrageous 300 to 500%!). Then came a demitasse of soup, described as “tomato bouillon,” a clear broth with small chunks of tomato and a lot of intensely flavorful minced green herb of some sort—really interesting, fresh flavors.

Our first entree was a slab of grilled stripped bass, topped with an extravagant amount of shaved truffles. As we were waxing poetic about the flavors of the dish, the captains presented a tray of roast pheasants. They took them back to the kitchen to be carved while we had a sorbet intermezzo.

The pheasant servings were presented topped with a slab of truffled foie gras paté, all in a rich, heavily reduced sauce. I noted how I had stopped eating pheasant because it is always dry and stringy. Yet this pheasant was moist and tender! At this point, chef Daniel Orr came out to greet us. It also became clear why we were given a normally-thought-to-be-undesirable table near the kitchen: Ours was the only table that the chef stopped by to greet. As we complimented him profusely about the dinner, I started to tell him how I normally don’t eat pheasant. He interrupted, saying: “Yes, it’s normally so dry. But I’ve found that if you don’t overcook it, pheasant can be moist and tender.” I had to agree and promise to try it again—but only if he cooked it.

I knew we were in trouble when the waiter reset the table with silverware. We were given a 3rd entree: braised short ribs of beef in a heavily reduced truffled sauce. I had seen other diners having this from the normal menu. It’s a dish that’s been made popular by Lespinasse at the St. Regis Hotel. This is a dish that is normally tender, but stringy (indeed, in dinner I had at Lespinasse a few weeks later, it was stringy). Yet the version here was fork-tender, yet held its form—something of a miracle! When the chef came out for a second visit, I tried to ask him about how he achieve this miracle, but was drowned out by the praises of my fellow diners. At this point, we cried “Enough!” and proceeded to dessert.

The 4 of us shared one round of 5 different desserts. The plates were cleared and were offered another round of 5 other different desserts, plus petit fours. Every kind of dessert was among them: from the classic French fruit tarts I recalled fondly from 20 years ago, to the more California-like presentations.

Although Richard treated, I managed to catch a glimpse of the bill and saw it was for the normal $75 per person, plus wine.

Sous Vide: First Trials

Inspired by rave reviews in cooking shows and by my foodie friends, I had to try cooking Sous Vide. It’s a cooking technique where food is sealed in vacuum pouches and cooked a long time submerged in water at relatively low temperatures – the temperature at which the cooked food should end up. Made popular by famed chef Thomas Keller (The French Laundry, Per Se, and the recipes for the movie Ratatouille), the cooking method is often seen on Iron Chef America. I’ve tried cooking a few things so far and they’ve all come out wonderfully tender.

Keeping food within the narrow cooking temperature range required by this technique requires special equipment. I ordered a SousVide Supreme Demi from Bed Bath & Beyond through my local store (using a 20% off coupon, saving over $20 in handling costs rather than ordering online), which cost < $280 net and arrived less than 1 week after I ordered it.

I immediately tried soft-boiled eggs, since my friend May Lee’s Facebook description of Onsen Tamago sounded so yummy. Easy to do: I just plunked a couple of raw eggs into the warm water after the machine brought the temperature up to the 146°F. I cooked them for about 1 hour. (While the cooking times are long, given the low cooking temperatures, the cooking times aren’t strict, since once the food is done, it can be kept at that temperature without harm.) The eggs came out as others have described: The yolks were custardy; the whites, somewhat runny (the yolks cook require a lower temperature to cook through).

I tried cooking salmon steaks next. This required sealing the salmon pieces in plastic bags and sucking out the air. (Air is an insulator that prevents the food from cooking properly.) Rather than spending $150 for the SousVide vacuum packing machine, I tried using 1 quart Ziploc Freezer Bags. Preparation was quick and simple. After seasoning the fish, I sucked the air out of the bags using a soda straw. I cooked it to between rare and medium rare – according to the cooking chart: 122°F for about 45 minutes. I usually eat salmon sashimi raw on the inside, just quickly grilled on the outside, to keep it from being cooked too dry. The medium rare sous vide salmon came out creamily moist and tender.

Next I experimented with chicken leg quarters. I tried a recipe for chicken with 40 cloves of garlic – reminded me of one of the first recipes I tried ages ago front the Galloping Gourmet, cooked in a Romertopf clay pot – here leaving the skin on, seasoning with salt, pepper, herbs, garlic, and olive oil. Cooked at 176°F for 6 hours, as recommended in the recipe. When it was done, the pouch had a lot of oil, making the preparation somewhat akin to a confit. Under the broiler to brown the skin after cooking. I was a little disappointed: The chicken was overcooked and I preferred the taste and texture of my various chicken curry and stew recipes. The 176° had made sense to me, since that’s the temperature I roast a whole chicken to. Now I see other recipes calling for cooking chicken legs at 140°. I’ll try that next time.

Then on to a rib eye steak. Like the salmon, I seasoned it simply with a little salt and pepper, sealed the bag, and let it cook at 127°F for 1 hour to a rare medium rare. As recommended, I quickly pan seared the steak after its sous vide treatment to provide a crusty brown outside. The uniformly cooked steak had a nice toothy texture, yet tender throughout. My leftover steak was even more impressive the next day served cold in thin slices.

Since the salmon, chicken, and ribeye were experiments, I had bought inexpensive supermarket fish and meats and didn’t bother taking pictures. My mistake! Despite their humble origin, the salmon and steak were fairly impressive in taste and appearance, worthy of showing.

Also, the Ziploc bags worked fine. With the chicken, partway through the cooking I saw a big air bubble in the bags causing them to float. I clearly hadn’t gotten all the air out. So I just unzipped the bag, used my straw, sucked out the air, resealed it, and let it go on cooking.

The experiments were fairly successful, so on to the next round. Since cooking sous vide results in food that is incredibly tender, I wanted to try it on short ribs of beef. More to come.