Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Sous Vide: Hajimaru

Got myself a fun new toy: a sous vide immersion circulator! Basically you can clamp the device to the side of a pot or cooler full of water, and it will automatically maintain a constant temperature in the water over time. What's so great about sous vide? I'll let Nathan Myhrvold explain. And here's a handy guide with Q&A about sous vide, specifically steak, but the questions are more generally put.

Definitely many things to try sous vide-ing in my future, but this first trial I just cooked a couple chicken legs I had already seasoned with salt. It was a good one to start with so I could compare against results from pan roasting. I'd made some of my latest favorite pistou (which I'll do a short blog post on in the future) to go with the chicken and decided to try two approaches with the sous vide: one I'd just put in the bag plain (salted), and the other I'd smear the paste under the skin before cooking. You don't actually need to add any fluid for the meat to cook properly, and actually, Kenji L-A notes in the guide linked above that extra fluids can actually serve to dilute flavor.

 Allow the water to reach temperature, immerse bags and squeeze out the air before sealing (without letting any water in), clip to the pot to anchor them in place, and away we go!

An hour and twenty minutes later, voilà! Just kidding; food comes out of sous vide with no sear, of course. As indicated in the pic above, I cooked the chicken at 165 degrees F—far below browning temperature. After you're done sous vide-ing, you have to brown your food (if you want to) by other methods (pan, broiler/oven, torch).

I used my steel skillet, and found that searing happened much quicker than it does with raw chicken. I think this is because the fat had already rendered out of the skin—which may also be why the fabulously crisp skin seemed thinner than you usually get pan-searing/roasting.

Except that it was different with the leg I put the paste under the skin for! The skin on this leg seared even faster than on the chicken leg with just salt before sous vide-ing. I left it on one side a little too long, not knowing this was going to be the case. But also very interestingly, the skin seared up with more volume, and was thus an even better crispy texture. Not sure why that was. They may just have been better contact between the skin and pan for this leg, which maybe created better bubbling. You can see the browned area is much broader.

Both legs turned out very juicy and tender, and very chicken-y. No bland chicken here. Of course, it also was dark meat.

More sous vide-ing to come!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Salad: Produce Over Dressing

I've been playing around with salads more, recently. Sacramento has such an abundance of great produce--and is so hot in the summer--that raw produce cut and tossed together becomes an ideal dish to prepare in the summer.

After a couple months of more regularly making salads and trying different things, I've come to one general realization about what makes, to me, a better salad: it's about the produce rather than the dressing.

Unless the produce you're working with isn't very flavorful, and you're trying to cover it up with the flavor of a stronger sauce (same thing with higher vs. lower quality meats). The produce around here is so good (if you pick well) you could eat it straight, without any preparation except washing. So those flavors really shine best in a raw salad when the dressing is kept simpler and not too strong.

I'm really liking a basic lemon vinaigrette currently. It's just:

  • 1 part lemon juice
  • 3-4 parts olive oil
  • a pinch of salt and pepper, and
  • optionally a touch of honey

Whisked together. It goes great on all sorts of salads, brightening up and accenting the flavors without overpowering them, while also balancing out the sharpness of bitter greens.

I've never been a very frequent maker of salads, not because I dislike them (I like them), but I guess rather for efficiency and convenience's sakes. I think cut, raw produce is best consumed while fresh, even more so than cooked vegetables (excluding stews, curries, and marinated dishes that need time for flavors to develop and be absorbed). So, what with work and life, and a strong appreciation for better tasting food, I've historically tended toward cooked vegetables. Plus, with my Taiwanese background, we never ate a lot of raw salads when I was growing up, too. You'll notice that raw salads are more of a western thing.

Plus, I find that cut tomatoes don't keep long at all in the refrigerator; it seems like every time I have cut tomatoes in a leftover salad it gives me a little stomach discomfort. So I keep them whole if I need to make extra for a later meal.