Friday, December 26, 2014

Sous Vide (for real this time)

Hmm, what has the FedEx man brought today?

Aha! It appears to be the sous-vide unit I ordered about six weeks ago! I wrote a while back about sort-of doing sous-vide in a plastic cooler and hot water, but this is the real deal - it's the new Anova unit, which I bought via a kickstarter pledge.

Here it is out of that weird box. Not much to look at; just a clip, a head unit with the heating and circulating systems integrated, and a sleeve. No user's manual.

I downloaded the manual, and it really didn't tell me anything I couldn't figure out just by looking at the front panel. It also didn't tell me anything about the Android app that's supposed to come with it (I found out later that the app is still in development, but there's a third-party one already available).

So, let's set it up:

It's nice and quiet, for one thing. And the interface is pretty easy; you just turn a wheel up and down to set the target temperature.

So let's make something! First up, some corvina with butter and fresh thyme:

On a whim, I also added a pouch of brussels sprouts, garlic, and olive oil:

Here's what it looks like in the tank:

Kind of boring, really. I just let it whir around in there at 134°F for a while (sprouts, 2 hours; fish, 1 hour). This is a fish I usually flour, sear in olive oil, and poach in wine - and for brussels sprouts I like to blanch, followed by a saute with the garlic and finish with a little soy sauce.

The results were, well, okay. The fish tried very hard to fall apart, and the vegetables were underdone. If I do this again I'll at least halve the sprouts, probably not cook the fish quite so much, and maybe finish both under a hot broiler.

Next up, let's try some salmon with a honey/dijon/curry glaze. Here it is prepped:

... and in the pouches:

.. and immediately after coming out of the tank (130°F for an hour):

.. and, finally, on the plate after having been run under the broiler for a bit. The sauce is just some leftover glaze warmed in the microwave, and the accompaniments are some leftover rice pilaf and some Trader Joe's frozen green beans. This was very good. 

How about some soft-cooked eggs? These were cooked at 149°F for 13 minutes:

Not too bad - the yolks were just a little less runny than I like, but the whites were not completely set. Turns out eggs are a little fussy, but someone pointed me to a pretty good webpage describing all sorts of time/temperature variations for eggs. I need to try the poaching method shown there.

What I've really been itching to try, though, are duck breasts. It took me a while to find these - Whole Foods, Central Market, Sprouts, Trader Joe's, and a local butcher were all strikeouts. I finally found them at an Asian supermarket.

Here's what they look like raw, with just some salt and pepper:

And in pouches:

After a turn in the tank at 135°F for an hour:

That liquid on the side is just what was left over in the pouches. I'll use that for a little pan sauce.

We need to finish the breasts by searing skin-side-first: 

After a while, we can see just how much fat will render out of that duck skin.

I flipped them and did the other side for about a minute, then let them rest a bit, sliced and plated: 

The sauce on the side is just apricot preserves warmed with a little dry mustard. The topping on the duck is fried shallots, and they're finished with the aforementioned pouch "drippings," reduced just a bit, and some toasted and crushed sichuan peppercorns. 

This was quite tasty and will definitely be repeated.

Anyway: this is a neat little toy; it doesn't take much storage space, and it wasn't all that pricey. I'm going to find a lot of use for it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Spaghetti Carbonara

This is a simple dish with few ingredients, but the preparation can be a little fussy. Timing is critical - it's the kind of thing you want to have everything prepped and ready to go for before starting.

Here are the ingredients: spaghetti, eggs, parmesan cheese, and bacon. Pancetta is of course the traditional meat component, but I like the smokiness of good American bacon. And use a high-quality pasta - this is a very nice spaghetti alla chitarra I found locally.

Yes, I weigh my pasta. I'm weird like that. 

Here's the prep work (almost) completed. I don't beat the egg till the pasta is almost done - the first time I had this, in a restaurant, it was served with just the egg yolk in half a shell, the idea being that I would mix it into the dish to finish the sauce. I certainly don't mind doing that, but it's easier to just do it in the kitchen.

Figure on one whole egg and half a cup of grated parmesan per half-pound of pasta. I've also added a little chopped parsley here.

Fry the bacon gently in a large sauté pan. If it renders a lot of grease, you can pour some of it off, but you do want some. I tend to leave about a tablespoon or two. Start the pasta when the bacon is about half done.

When it gets nice and crispy like this, just keep it warm while you finish boiling the pasta. Beat the egg(s) when the pasta is about a minute or two from completion.

When the pasta is done, dump it into the pan with just a little pasta water - I have about 1/4 cup here, I think. Stir it up really well, and...

.. stir in the egg very quickly, while the pasta is still really hot. You want to cook the egg without letting it curdle, so don't let the egg pool in the pan.

Finally, stir in the cheese. Keep moving the pasta around until all of the cheese melts. Add a little more pasta water if the sauce needs to be loosened up a bit. If you're adding parsley (as I am here), stir it in right at the end.

And here it is plated, with a nice green salad. This is a really rich and satisfying dish, and kind of a nice break from the heavier tomato- or cream-based sauces we Americans tend to take our pasta with.