16 May 2007

Sous Vide, a Primer

My mom had this idea a long time ago. She saw this machine on the Home Shopping Network (we were in a hotel and there was NOTHING else on) and she ordered it. It was this narrow machine that reminded me of a white Knight 2000 grill (I had to Wilkipedia that; apparently the onboard computer was named Kitt--NOT the car). It was not much bigger than a three-hole punch. She had this brilliant idea to put chicken in the pouch with seasonings (I recommend parsley, garlic, lemon, thyme and rosemary) and then would freeze it and boil it when she was ready to eat. To me it sounded gross. I come from the school of "color equals flavor" (so to speak), so a boiled chicken breast is about as unappealing as eating dough after its second rise.

Then she read something about plastics putting off carcinogens when heated to a certain level--that was then end of sous vide in my house. The debate is still on, but that hasn't stopped the trend from reaching our restaurants. Sous vide literally means "under vacuum". The method used by chefs is much more refined than my mother’s sous vide pot roast; cook the flesh at a low enough temperature that the texture is not compromised. In fact it is a texture that we can't get with our traditional methods of baking, poaching, or sautéing.

In culinary school we are taught to cook thin slices of meat (and high protein meats) at high temperatures. This ensures the meat will be cooked evenly and will retain its juices. In sous vide cooking there is no where for the juices to go but back into the meat--so the result is a finer texture and a juicier piece of chicken.

But the machines cost 5 grand and the New York Health Department has nixed the process by explaining that there are rules about chicken reaching the designated 165 degrees (the temperature at which salmonella can no longer live).

Don't get me started in on the salmonella debate--it's the FDA's lack of regulation that our food supply is so diseased in the first place (google the term "fecal soup" and have fun).

As with any fad or trend I roll my eyes, but the possibility of eating rhubarb that looks raw but is neither stringy nor crunchy has my curiosity peaked. Imagine what salmon that has been cooked for an hour at 100 degrees will feel like in your mouth! Imagine the flavor--a chef's job would be to baby-sit the meat (insert your own joke here).


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