Monday, November 22, 2010

SousVide Supreme Demi: Initial Thoughts On Stability

When I first started cooking sous-vide, the holy grail was temperature accuracy and stability.  I think this is very important for certain applications such as eggs, and for professionals and sous vide geeks.  However, if you are a general home user, I don't think accuracy and stability to within 1º is of the utmost importance.  

That being said, I know this is important for most of the regular readers of this blog.  Unfortunately, I have a job and I don't own a high quality data logger (*), so I am not able to give you a super accurate reading on the temperature of the water bath.  I will tell you that I recently ran a 136ºF short rib from one to three days inside of the SousVide Supreme Demi.  I checked in to see what the readings of the SVS Demi's PID controller, and would see it vary from 135F - 137F.  I confirmed some of these readings with digital thermometer that was rated with +/- 1ºF accuracy.

That being said, I want to rerun some tests to see if I can get different results.  For example, I ran the device with the water being filled up to the fill line and not to the max line.  With more water in the device, I might have seen more stability.

Now, let's talk about my favorite cut of beef to prepare sous vide: the short rib.  The reason this is my favorite is that you can prepare a short rib medium rare, and have it be the most unctuous and tender short rib you have ever eaten.  This is because you can break down collagen at 136ºF and not over cook the meat, and while fats break down, they don't render out.

Since I wanted to test long term stability, I figured I would run another test I have been wanting to do for a long time.  One short rib, same temperature, three time periods.  How does this all work?  Easy:

  1. Set SousVide Supreme Demi's temperature to 136F.  Will convert collagen to gelatin slowly, keeping meat medium rare.
  2. Drop three slices of the same short rib at 24 hour time intervals.  Each short rib had zero additions (no fat, no salt).
  3. Remove bags at same time.  Now I have  24 hour, 48 hour and 72 hour samples.

Sous Vide Short Rib Exteriors
The exteriors of all three pieces are vastly different in color.  This doesn't typically matter much, as you will usually post cook sear the meat anyways.  I was a little surprised by the fact that the 48 and 72 had such a different color.  The 24 remained basically pink while the 72 is almost lacquered.

Sous Vide Short Rib Interiors
The interiors looked a lot more similar.  The 72H looks a little darker because of inadequate lighting.  I was secretly hoping that I would see more detail in the differences between the 48 and the 72.  There is such a difference between them when you eat them that it is a little disappointing to see that there is no visible magic.  It's like cutting up the goose that laid the golden egg and instead of finding golden eggs just seeing guts.

(*) Does anyone have any recommendations on a good temperature data logger?  Ideally, I would like something like the Voltcraft K202, but it isn't available here in the US.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Free SousVide Supreme Demi, Thermapen and Book Sample

Free stuff alert!  Santa or whatever gift bearing icon you don't believe in must have low temperature cookery on the mind this year.  Here are three opportunities to get some free stuff:

Splash-Proof Super-Fast Thermapen (White) Instant Read Thermometer, Perfect for Barbecue, Home and Professional Cooking

Thermoworks is giving away one Thermapen a week.  The Thermapen is an accurate and fast digital thermometer, which is great for verifying the temperature of your water bath and your food.  This sweepstakes does require liking/following them on Facebook and then officially entering via their Facebook page.

SousVide Supreme Demi Water Oven - Cobalt Blue

EAT LLC is also giving away a SousVide Supreme Demi package including an SVS Demi, an SVS Vacuum Sealer (with vacuum bags) and Douglas Baldwin's Sous Vide For The Home Cook.  

Beginning Sous Vide: Low Temperature Recipes and Techniques for Getting Started at Home

Jason Logsdon is also offering up a bunch of chapters of his new book for the someone just starting to get into Sous Vide here.  

Good luck on the sweepstakes!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ask Pablo: Two Sous Vide Supreme Demi's Or One Classic

Reader Chris asked me on twitter:
bob_mcbob @pablo_escolar if you had a choice, do you think you would prefer one SousVide Supreme or two Demis?
This is a somewhat tricky question for two reasons:

  1. I haven't finished using the SousVide Supreme Demi.   We'll just pretend the device just plain works as advertised for now.
  2. On some level I refute the premise of the question as it is asking exclusively about SousVide Supreme products.  Therefore, I will give an answer, and then ask and answer a second question.

My answer is really simple.  I would rather have two SousVide Supreme Demi's (assuming that they work as advertised).  The reason for this is pretty straight forward.  To date, I have never cooked anything that wouldn't fit inside of a single Demi.  The only thing that might have come close was the four pound sous vide octopus.  Now, I live with my woman and don't have a family or a lot of guests over, so I don't end up cooking for much more than four people at a time.

The advantage of two SousVide Supreme Demi's are that you can cook multiple items at different temperatures.  For example, have vegetables cooking at 180 in one Demi and then a Sous Vide Short Rib in the other.

Of course, with the amount of counterspace I have, two Demi's might be a little too much.

Now, here is the meta-question:
pablo_escolar @pablo_escolar if you (and by you I mean me), had ~$600 to spend on sous vide gear, how would you spend it.
Well, Pablo, glad I asked!  I might go for a SousVide Supreme Demi and a Fresh Meals Magic/Sous Vide Magic combo.  I feel like I can keep the Demi out on the countertop and keep The Woman happy.  The FMM (regulated by the SVM) can handle larger bath sizes, so I can drop a turducken into my hot tub and cook away.  The SVM can also control a rice cooker, which lets me use much less water.

If I were in Europe, I'd have a totally different set of answers.  And probably an accent.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sous Vide Supreme Demi Review: Aesthetics

It's funny.  When I first saw the announcement for the Sous Vide Supreme Demi, I really wasn't impressed with the size reduction.  Twelve percent doesn't sound like a lot, and as an NYC apartment dweller, I can tell you that countertop and storage space are the most valuable commodity in my kitchen.

After unboxing the Sous Vide Supreme Demi and putting it on my counter, I can say it feels significantly smaller than the original unit.  Since I don't have a SousVide Supreme handy, lets go to the chalkboardathon 3000:

SousVide Supreme Demi To SousVide Supreme Original Comparison
The third box is an overlay of the SousVide Supreme Demi over the original.  Maybe I just haven't seen the original in awhile, but this one seems significantly smaller.  My woman had a similar reaction to seeing the Demi.  Except her reaction was followed by the slight sadness that comes from knowing that the kitchen is going to be in the constant state of disrepair that is inevitable when a new toy arrives.

My demo unit is white, but as mentioned in my previous post, they have a number of colors:

SousVide Supreme Demi Colors compared to...

At first, I was kind of turned off by the additional colors.  But I think the color schemes are much more consumer friendly than just the brushed metal.  The SVS Demi looks a lot like other kitchen appliance standards.  For example, the Kitchenaid Stand Mixer:

... KitchenAid Stand Mixer Colors

Overall, the size and aesthetics are a plus for me.  Next up:

Well, hello there my old friend...

Also, if any readers have questions they want answered about the Sous Vide Supreme Demi, let me know.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sous Vide Supreme Demi Review: Part 0

Front Panel of the SousVide Supreme Demi

Just got this in the mail today.  Will do a full review of the SousVide Supreme Demi. Speaking of things that I got in the mail, I also received an answer to a previously asked question about the Sous Vide Supreme Demi:
Also – per the question your posted on your blog, I wanted to get back to you about the size/volume of the Demi. Space-wise it is 80% the volume of the regular SousVide Supreme, but depending on what you’re cooking, actual cooking volume could be as low as 60% capacity. It would be accurate to say that depending upon on the size of food portions being cooked, the SousVide Supreme Demi has a cooking capacity of between 60% and 80% of the SousVide Supreme. The SousVide Supreme holds 20 four- to six-ounce portions of food. While  the SousVide Supreme Demi holds up to 12 four-ounce portions of food; 12/20 = 60%.
Check back soon for the part one of the review!

Update: Part one of the review is here.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Two Awesome Sous Vide Magic Hacks

Reading this thread on eGullet reminded me about another thread on the Fresh Meals Solutions support site.  It isn't surprising, because both threads had awesome posts from one PedroG.  His awesomeness is proven by these two datapoints:

1. SVM Powered Immersion Circulator

PedroG wrote:
My suggestion for the not so skillful: Buy a SousVide Magic 1500D (160$) plus a mantled 1000W immersion heater (36$) ... plus an aquarium air pump (10$), fix the silicon tubing of the aquarium bubbler and the sensor of the SousVideMagic to the stainless steel guard of the immersion heater, and use it with any pot you have at hand. And here you are for 206$ without any tinkering
Basically, turn your SVM into an Immersion Circulator.  The air pump circulates and the immersion heater gets hooked up to the SVM.

2. SVM/FMM In The Hottub

Pedro strikes twice in the same thread.  This time he demonstrates how to use the SVM/FMM to turn your hot tub into a giant (130L!) sous vide water bath.  He gives advice on how to vacuum seal a suckling pig whole, so you too can replicate Heston Blumenthal's Trojan Hog, as well as PID autotune and temperature results.

Seriously awesome stuff.

Vote For Pedro!

Friday, October 29, 2010

KitchenAid Chef Touch System Pricing

Looks like Jean Francois scoops everyone (again) by digging up the pricing on the apparently batshit-crazy high end Kitchenaid Chef Touch System.  His sources state:

  • Vacuum chamber : 2,950  € incl. VAT / ($4099 USD)
  • Shock Freezer : 5,000 € incl. VAT / ($6947.50 USD)
  • Oven : steam ( 1,550 € / $2153.72 USD) combi (1,850 € / $2570.57 USD) incl. VAT
  • Kitchen high cabinet : 2,700 € incl. VAT / ($3751.65 USD)

Total = 12,500 € (combi oven) incl. VAT (approx. 17,500 USD)
This sounds like madness, but the truth is, most of this pricing isn't too far off the mark... if you are buying restaurant quality equipment.  Combine that with the fact that you get a clean, home kitchen quality aesthetic, and the pricing isn't insane, assuming the quality is there.  I wonder if this will find success in new construction of luxury homes/apartments, because I have a hard time imagining the person who buys this for an existing home.   Previously, I joked before about MTV Cribs, but now I think that would be the only time I see this system.

Of course, you can put a sous vide system together that will be just as amazing and save yourself a bunch of money.  For example, sub out the oven for the a Polyscience 7306c, the gold standard of restuarant/pro immersion circulators and you'll save $1,000 over their combi oven.  Of course, it's not a combi-oven.

Also, the cabinet is pretty damned expensive.  So you'd save another $3,750 right there ;)  What could you do with $4,750 in cost savings?  How about 158 pounds of Wagyu Ribeye or 475 pounds of Hudson Valley Foie Gras.

Would you buy one?  Do you know of anyone that would buy one?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

SousVide Supreme Demi: Quick Glance

UPDATE: Received a demo unit for review purposes. The review starts here.

The folks that brought us the SousVide Supreme released a new smaller, model called the SousVide Supreme Demi.  The Demi appears to be their iPod Mini version of the Sous Vide Supreme.  It's less expensive, comes in a number of colors, and has a smaller footprint.

SousVide Supreme Demi

So, let's collect some data from the SousVide Supreme website and do some maths:

Friday, October 15, 2010

Rene Redzepi, A Culinary Terroirist

It is pretty awesome that the NYPL continues to bring in chefs like Ferran Adria, Dan Barber, and now, David Chang and Rene Redzepi.  For my readers who are not whores to the culinary world, you should know that Rene Redzepi is the executive chef of Copenhagen's Noma.  Noma recently displaced El Bulli on San Pellegrino's Best 50 restaurants, ending Ferran Adria's half-decade run as the king of the hill.  You now know exactly what I knew prior to attending this event.

Given that I now have exactly one hour and twenty minutes worth of listening to him speak, I think we can all agree that I can now speak with great authority on who he is.  After all, I am a blogger.

Rene Redzepi was the test tube baby of Ferran Adria's innovation, Thomas Keller's execution and specks of Dan Barber's vision and raconteurism.  I'll save you a google search raconteurism... not a word.

As far as raconteurism goes, a great thread that I would put here if I were a more talented writer is how Rene crossed paths with Grant Achatz at El Bulli.  Grant was already at French Laundry and introduced Rene to the food of Thomas Keller via The French Laundry Cookbook.  He later helped Rene obtain a stage at The French Laundry.  Since I like to make snap judgements based on the tiniest amounts of data, I am quite confident that I could take this and spin a tale of how both chefs were influenced in reverse order and how that is completely apparent in their cuisine.

As I am but a hack, I will simply say that Rene staged at both, so obviously they are his parents.  Also he said something about how Keller and Adria represent the continuum of cookery.  Well, I made that up, partially based on what he said.  But, I don't think fact is especially important.

Oh sure, there are other commonalities, like his sense of humor.  Consider the Noma dish, 'Hen and The Egg'.  A playful dish where you receive instructions that include a timer, a number of ingredients including an egg, hay oil, various weeds/green and flowers.  A 320ºC (approximately the temperature of the sun) cast iron skillet is put in front of you nestled in wet hay.  You are in charge of frying the egg according to the timer, and then putting the ingredients in the pan.

Where is the hen?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dining Politics In The Wild

Sorry readers, I know you haven't gotten much love lately.  If you are a 'foodie' or at the very least a thoughtful customer of restaurants, there have been some great posts to chew on lately.  First up, The fine folks at BlackenedOut discuss the finer points of cash only restaurants.

Gourmet Live gives you more than you can imagine on the subject of tipping.  It begins with the Mr. Pink diatribe on tipping from Reservoir Dogs and then does a excellent job of arguing Mr. Pink's side.

Finally, a customer (who also happened to be president of the Wild Salmon Center in Portland) was banned from a restaurant for suggesting, or possibly confronting that they not serve blue fin tuna.

I'll write about these things, but I know most of you don't come here for what I have to say on that.  So, don't you worry, I have a couple of other great sous-vide/modernist posts coming up too.  And tomorrow, I go see Rene Redzepi, David Chang and Ruth Reichl talk at the NYPL.

Very awesome.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

White Tuna Explained (Escolar vs. Albacore)

I am not the first person on the Internet to tell you that White Tuna is a confusing order at the sushi bar.  While there are a host of fish that can be mislabeled as White Tuna, the two most common ones are the Albacore Tuna and our dreaded and delicious friend, the Escolar.

What Is White Tuna?
I worked really hard to source both fish in a raw form so that I could bring you pictures.  And by 'worked really hard', I really mean: I would keep going to the same fishmonger and ask them if they had Escolar and Albacore.  Escolar isn't very difficult to find but Albacore can be problematic.  Finally, I found some at the Lobster Place in Chelsea Market. So, let's take a quick look:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sous Vide Historical Note: Count Rumford

If you read the Sous Vide article at wikipedia, you will notice an uncited reference to Count Rumford discovering sous vide. Now, there are two banes to my existence, wikipedia and uncited references. Since wikipedia content is religiously stolen, aggregated and republished, Google becomes useless when trying to hunt down the minutia that keeps me going.

Fortunately, I managed to hunt down the essay written by Count Rumford. I should I say eſſay. Or ſhould I ſay eſſay? Because, apparently, as late as 1802 we were still using the long s. Which makes reading Count Rumford's ſeminal eſſay, "Of the imperfections of the Kitchen Fire-places now in common uſe" a real delight.

You people owe me.

This essay, which could be found in 1802's timeless classic Essays, political, economical, and philosophical, Volume 3 not only gives us valuable insight into the culinary happenings of the 1800's, but also gives us one of the earliest documented efforts of low temperature cooking.

The opening salvo reads much like an essay you would have read at the beginning of the modernist cuisine movement:
The advantage that would result from an application of the late brilliant discoveries in Philosophical Chemistry, and other branches of Natural Philosophy and Mechanics, to the improvement of the Art of Cookery, are so evident, and so very important, that I cannot help flattering myself that we shall soon see some enlightened and liberalminded person of the profession take up the matter in earnest, and give it a thoroughly scientific investigation.
Doesn't that sound a lot like the beginnings of modernism?

Monday, August 16, 2010

KitchenAid's Chef Touch: Whirlpool's Foray Into Sous Vide Appliances

Jean-François, over at, posted about KitchenAid's first foray into a sous vide solution: Chef's Touch.  As a casual observer of the consumer sous vide market, I am excited to see the one of the largest home appliance manufacturers dip a toe into the space.  So excited, that I scoured their website trying to absorb as much as possible.


Image of the KitchenAid Chef Touch

Their website indicates that the Chef's Touch Solution is comprised of three parts:

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

DIY PolyScience Form-Factor Smoke Guns Part II

In Part I of my guide to replicating the PolyScience Smoking Gun, we discussed the basics of the gun as well as previous DIY attempts.  In this segment, I will walk you through my process for making your own smoke gun with some very simple parts.

Even though this guide will produce a working smoke gun, in the end, you will not have a PolyScience Smoking Gun.  You will have something that looks similar to one, but most likely will not be as durable.  Even with some of the improvements I plan to make in the future, it is unlikely that this is as good as a PSG.

PolyScience specifically mentions details that makes me believe this device is different under the hood.  I am willing to bet that theirs will survive longer and get better results.  For example, they mention a "Heavy-duty metal blower fan".  Cursory examination did not reveal anything resembling sturdy construction.  That being said, you can't beat the price, and if you find yourself burning out the DIY ones, spend the money and get the real thing.  Finally, I have to assume they know more about food safety than I do.

Before we begin, I need to give the disclaimer.  You know, the one where I make no warranty that any of this is safe.  That applies to both the construction and use of said device.  If it explodes in your hand, not my problem.  If the plastics or the smoke gives you tumors, don't call me.  If it explodes and gives you tumors, don't call me... just email me some pics.  Please read the safety section at the bottom of this post.

Ok, let's get started.  First off, you are going to need:

Sunday, August 8, 2010

DIY PolyScience Form-Factor Smoke Guns Part I

Smoke guns are culinary gadgets used to apply smoke to food.  Under the hood, these devices are basically handheld electric vacuums with a pipe attached to the input nozzle.  You turn on the vacuum, apply fire to the pipe, the vacuum pulls the fire into the pipe, setting the woodchips or herbs in the pipe on fire.  The smoke travels through the vacuum and out through the exhaust, and onto your dish.  They are far less cumbersome than stovetop smokers and are great if you just want to give smokiness to any dish.  While PolyScience sells one of these units for approximately $80, a lot of people made their own version.  Oh lookie, here comes one now:
Chadzilla's MINI-VAC Smoker.  Cite:
These DIY models were based on the Mini-Vac vacuum, which you can buy off of Amazon for about $17.   This approach is pretty functional, and all said and done probably costs $25-30 to construct, not including your labor.

Alternatively, you can buy one of these pre-constructed at any full service smoke shop.  You know, where they sell "tobacco" equipment.  The mini-vac approach is great, but there are some shortcomings:

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Jelloware: Edible Agar Agar Cups (SquishyCups)

Squishycups! Cite: TheWayWeSeeTheWorld
Such a simple and clever idea.  Agar Agar is a hydrocolloid derived from a sea algae, making it vegan.  It has all kinds of great culinary purposes, and now we can add another one.

Many great applications ahead for the use of edible, flavored cups... if they aren't too squishy or slimy.

Would this work for cocktails?  Pour some Patron into a margarita shot glass.  Tomato glass with horseradish infused vodka?  Think that's gross? No worries, it is also biodegradable/compostable.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Escolar: The World's Most Dangerous Fish

Escolar is the most controversial fish that you are likely to find in your fish market. This firm, white fleshed fish has an incredibly rich flavor, often described as 'succulent', or a fattier version of swordfish. Why so rich? It turns out that Escolar's diet contains food high in wax esters. Wax esters that are really difficult for Escolar to digest. As a result, these esters build up in the fish.

Where is the controversy in a buttery, delicious fish? I would say it is in the laxative like effect it has on a certain percentage of the population. Well, a 'laxative like effect' is how my fish monger described it. Others would describe it as closer to diahhrea. An expert would call it 'keriorrhoea'. Literally translated, it means 'flow of wax'. Oily orange droplets pouring out your pooper.  Keriorrhoea occurs because the wax esters in the flesh of the fish pool up in your intestine.

Some reports of Escolar related illness include cramping, nausea, diarrhea, the itis, and other abdominal pains.  This could be the result of severe Keriorrhea or could also be Scrombroid poisoning.  Escolar related Scromboid (or histimine poisoning) is the result of high levels of histidine being converted to histimine usually as a result of poor storage.

Hong Kong Protest Over Oilfish Sale.
Why would you eat a fish that has such terrible downsides? Two reasons:
  1. Escolar is delicious. Most likely, the same fatty ester in Escolar that makes you sick also makes it taste so damned good.
  2. Taste the danger! If you enjoy a sense of dining adventure, then consider Escolar the log flume of the culinary world.

Apart from all of the poop jokes I wanted to make, what really inspired me to write about Escolar is the lack of credible information on the subject.  The Canadian Food Inspection Agency suggests grilling, while Queensland's Health Agency states that cooking method does not matter.  It is really confusing because not only is Escolar sold under other names, but other fish are sometimes mislabeled as Escolar.  Doing some quick google searches, I created the following chart based on all of the references to escolar and oilfish being sold as other fish.  The most common form of Escolar trickery is to be found at your local sushi bar.  Any place selling white tuna or 'super white tuna' is more likely than not selling you Escolar.  White Tuna can technically be either Albacore Tuna or Escolar.  Albacore looks like pale tuna, while Escolar looks strikingly white.

This isn't confusing at all...
There are a number of reasons for this confusion.  Mostly, it is because suppliers and restaurants mislabel fish, either out of ignorance or fraud.  Another reason for the confusion is that Gempylidae, the family of fish that both Escolar and Oilfish belong to, has several other names.  According to Wikipedia, this family of fish is also called Escolars or Snake Mackerels. I have also seen at least one reference referring to Gempyldae as 'Oilfishes'. This means that the family name and the common species name can be the same.  There is also a segment of the population that thinks they were served Oilfish instead of Escolar, and that is what made them sick.  However, I haven't seen much scientific literature to back that up.  Both fish seem to have about equal chances of making you ill.

So I have a couple of quick tips to reduce the likelihood of getting sick from Escolar.  It is mostly gleaned from the Internet, but the most credible source I found was an excerpt of Nick Ruello's Report On The Oil Content, Composition, And The Consumption Of Escolar.
  1. Limit Quantity. Obviously, less is more when it comes to Escolar. Conventional wisdom suggests no more than a six (6) ounce portion. I suggest an even smaller amount the first time you try it.
  2. Tail portion. While oil distribution varies per fish, the cuts near the tail generally have lower ester count.
  3. Cooking Methods. Don't appear to make a difference. There are some sources that claim grilling will reduce the wax esters but there is at least one scientific report that found this to be untrue.  Wax esters are heat stable, so the only potential benefit of grilling is that they somehow leak out of the fish.  This can also be achieved by baking the fish on a rack causing the juices, which may or may not contain wax esters to drip into the pan below.
  4. Deep Skinning. With certain fish, this oil resides just under the skin of the fish. By removing the flesh close to the skin, you can reduce the amount of wax ester. While it is recommended to do remove the skin because of its high oil count, there isn't much evidence that deep skinning will help much.  
  5. Freezing.  also does not work.  Wax esters are not damaged by cold, even after extended stays in the freezer.
  6. Fishmonger Trust. Since there are other fish that also contain high level of wax ester, it is best to go to a reputable fishmonger.  Also, Escolar has some other toxins that can result in histimine poisoning if the fish isn't stored properly.  
  7. Pre-Existing Conditions. As always, pregnant women have no fun. Also, people with malabsorption or bowel problems should probably just stay away. Unless you find your bathroom comfortable and you dislike your pants.  
I followed most of the advice above the first (and only) time I prepared Escolar at home.  I still had ended up with my own British Petroleum style oil leak, endangering most of the local habitat, with several failed attempts to contain the spill.  If you find yourself in this situation:
  1. Well it depends. Actually, no it doesn't... wear Depends. 
  2. Replenish your bathroom reading materials. 
  3. Call in sick, or plan your day around proximity to the bathroom.
  4. Avoid Escolar in the future. The truth is, all you can really do is ride out keriorrhoea. It should only be a couple of days.  
Finally, if you developed a case of Keriorrhoea and you didn't knowingly order Escolar, then you should  think back the the last time you ate a piece of a mysteriously delicious white fish, and give them a piece of your mind... or a stool sample.

Now that you know the risks, and how to reduce the likelihood of soiling your pants/couch/good name, you can now buy escolar from Catalina Offshore, one of the best online providers of sushi grade fish:

By now it has occurred to you, that sharing a name with this fish is terrible.  And this is true.  But there is some serendipity between the fish and the author.  We are both simultaneously fatty, delicious, and will likely make you sick to your stomach when we are over-consumed.

If you have had any experiences with Escolar or Oilfish, or found anything inaccurate in this post, leave me a comment.

Due to the popularity of this post, I wrote a white tuna survival guide.  If you liked this post, please share it via one of the methods below.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fat Tuesday: Weighting For Godot

It has been several months since The Health Scare That Was Mostly In My Head.  This blessing in wolves' clothing was the final push necessary to affect change. The good news is that the time it is taking to lose weight is lightyears faster than the time it took to gain it.  The bad news is, I still have a ways to go.

I gained weight gradually.  Maybe, a pound or two a year.  

It's easy.  You just sit there.

The weight finds you.

Every couple of years, my pants would go from fitting well, to getting tight, to fitting well again, to not fitting.  It wasn't till the second time it happened that I realized the fitting well again stage was just my waistline moving south.

The secret to my success is not rocket science.  I do the following:
  1. Exercise:  Not even that much.  I try to go 2-3x a week for 30 minutes.
  2. Eat More Good Stuff:  Salads.  Chicken.  Fish.  
  3. Eat Less Bad Stuff: Red Meat.  Pork.  Fat.  Pork Fat.  
  4. Eat Out Less:  For me, restaurants means fatfuckery.  I order more to hit delivery minimums, and I order poorly.  Also, at restaurants, I get an extra course and I tend to eat bread and butter.
  5. Eat Less: A corollary to #4, eating at home means smaller amounts of food.
Three months ago,  I was surfing the line between obese and morbidly obese.  Today, I am fucking thrilled to report that I am surfing the line between overweight and obese.

The weight loss will hopefully continue and I will be surfing the line between average and overweight.  If it continues past that, I'll be between average and underweight.  If it continues past that, don't just stand there, give me a foie gras donut topped with bacon.

Fu-uck m-e.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Altered Tastes: Epoisses

I am sorry for folks who are new to the blog, expecting me to be all sous-vide this and sous-vide that.  I promise I will get back to you with your regularly scheduled broadcasting.  But in the interim, I need to continue to write about the trip to France.  Paris was amazing, and there were many delicious meals.  Summing them up quickly: Bistro Paul Bert, Comptoir Du Relais, Chateaubriand, L'Atalier du Joel Robuchon, and the wedding I was fortunate enough to be able to attend.  I am pretty sure those five meals accounted for about 30 individual plates of food, if not more.  All of them awesome, special and deserving more detail than you are going to get.

Day 1 Route

After the aforementioned wedding, we rented a car with the plan of driving around France looking for adventure and cheese and wine.  We left Paris and headed for the number one place I wanted to go to.  Epoisses.  The actual town where the cheese is made.

The first time I had this amazing cheese was at Artisanal, a cheese-centric bistro helmed by Terrance Brennan.  The stank of a thousand cheeses kick your teeth in the second you arrive. The first time I ate there, someone at the table ordered this cheese. As it made its way around the table, a pattern started to emerge.  Take a bite, eyes roll back in head, moaning.  By the time it made its way to me, it was being called 'The Orgasm Cheese'.  One bite later, and I pretty much had made a new friend-with-benefits for life.

And now I get to meet her parents...

If you want to know how serious this country is about cheese, I shall simultaneously present to you Exhibit A, and my closing arguments, in the form of a single picture:

The above picture was taken at a GAS STATION off of a highway. A GAS STATION.  Have I mentioned that you can PURCHASE GAS AND EPOISSES at the SAME FUCKING PLACE.  I wish I had taken a second picture so you could see that this place looked exactly like a GAS STATION.  There were refrigerated units with the usual array of softdrinks, pre-packaged sandwiches, maps, potato chips and, oh yeah, intricate, complex and downright funky cheeses that if you opened up in the confines of a car would surely kill you.

I digested that experience for about 45 minutes, before we finally arrived in Epoisses.
Epoisses.  Population: Om Nom Nom

Turns out, Epoisses isa sleepy little hallow.  And not so much sleepy as it was completely.  closed.  I mean it.  Only signs of life were these fine ladies:

Cows in Epoisses.  Let's Pretend Their Milk Makes Epoisses.
So, onward we marched... arriving in Dijon.  Dijon is larger than Epoisses, but still pretty dead.  Still having some fight left in us, we took the Burgundy Wine Road down to Beaune. On the way to the wine road, we drove by the Gaugry Fromagerie, one of larger Epoisses manufacturers.  Also closed.

Paradise Closed.
We finally stopped in Beaune.  After getting settled in the Hotel, we went into town to grab dinner, and, during the Dessert course, I finally found my precious Epoisses.  It was, of course, amazing.  It was hands down the best piece of Epoisses I have ever had.  The texture simultaneously gooey and firm, best described as uni-like in texture, combined with the incredible complexities of this pomice-brandy washed-rind cheese.  My memories of eating this cheese mostly converge on a moment where I believe I was wielding my knife like a broken beer bottle, menacing waitstaff and my girlfriend alike if they made any sudden movements towards the cheese.

The best piece of Epoisses I have ever eaten.

Even though Fromagerie Gaugry was closed, the next day we backtracked up here (~40 minutes) in an attempt to get to the source.  Of course, it was. still. closed.  But this time just for the standard French lunch hours. yeah, hours.  Fuck those guys.  Finally, it opened and we did a little tour of the factory.  Moneyshot:

Paradise Found.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Altered Tastes: Baguettes And Your Grandmother's Corpse

If you are serious about cooking or even if you are like me and failed out of cooking school, France is pretty much the motherland of cuisine.  Many of the foundations of professional cooking from sauces to restaurant structure have solid origins in French culture.   Try to have a serious conversation about cooking without using a French word.  I dare you.

View From A Cafe
My trip to France was revelatory on many levels.  Like a first time acid trip forever destroying your seemingly sufficient world-view, replacing it with a gigantic, important, awe-inspiring, utterly confusion nest of unanswered questions.  This amazing experience was broken up into two discrete parts: A week in Paris that culminated at a wedding, followed by a week of driving around and exploring the French countryside.

Paris smelled of piss and baguettes.  Architecturally beautiful, with parks and fountains.  The people were cosmopolitan cold... bordering on rude.  In other words, It's just like home, only sometimes it smells like baguettes.

The week in Paris had us staying in the Latin Quarter, just up the street from the open air market on rue Mouffetard.  The market was un-fucking-believable.  All of the classic French stalls were represented; Bakeries/Patisseries, cheesemongers and charcuteries:

It's like a sea urchin made out of fat coated duck legs.
Wine shops, fresh produce and of course, the crazy, space age, straight-out-of-a-Terry-Gilliam-nightmare frozen food store:

The Future Is Now. And It's Very. Very. Cold.
I would have had more pictures of this place, but photography is verboten.  Which is crazy because you'd think, in the future, everything would be photographed.  Anyhoo, the store had just about everything imaginable in frozen form.  While everything looked like it was of superior quality, I didn't fly across the Atlantic to eat TV dinners.

I came to go after the classics.  To return to the fundamentals.  And in France, I am pretty sure nothing is more fundamental than the baguette.  If you go baguette watching, you will see baguettes all over the place, walking their human pets through the narrow, winding streets of Paris.  Sometimes they travel in packs, but one thing is for sure... they are everywhere.

Which is awesome, because the baguettes I had in France were outstanding.  I could dazzle you with the incredible baguettes I had from Kayser or Le Boulanger de Monge, but even the worst baguette I had in all of France was, no joke, forty-hundred-quintillion times better than the best baguette I had ever had previously.   This has the immediate impact of essentially ruining every prior baguette memory of my entire life.  It would be like thinking you were having amazing sex only to learn that, in fact, you had been deriving pleasure from dry-humping your grandmother's corpse.  

I don't know what's going on in american bakeries, but it ain't baguette baking.  I am willing to concede that it is at least part geography, part culture, part technique and part apathy.  All I know is that since I have gotten back, every baguette I have had tasted bland. I could almost tolerate the taste deficiency if it wasn't also combined with a never-ending supply of uniquely disappointing crusts. 


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Low-Technique: Manual Sous Vide

If you had told someone you were going to cook sous-vide, they would have probably looked at you like you had two faces.  And if they did, by some chance, know what sous vide cooking was, they would have thought you had over a thousand dollars worth of equipment.  Now-a-days, with home appliances like the Sous Vide Magic and the Sous Vide Supreme, people would think that you were cooking with several hundreds of dollars of equipment.

The truth is, all you really need to cook utilizing the sous-vide method is the ability to put some plastic-wrapped product into a temperature controlled container of water.  While not the first to do it, Martin Lersch made a sous vide rib-eye just by using a big pot of water, a thermometer and a plastic bag.

This is not your only option.  If you don't like the idea of having a constant heat source going (e.g. the burner or you can also take the pot and try and put it in the oven), you can also use J. Kenji Lopez-Alt's beer cooler sous vide technique.  The nice thing about this is that you don't have to watch it during the cooking process the way you do with the oven/burner methods.  Fill up the container with hot water and put in your product.  The other nice thing about this approach is the amount of space you have in the cooler.

Let's compare using my handy dandy chart that is guaranteed only to exist and not be accurate in any way:

Finally, my best advice for manual sous vide cookery is to:
  1. Bring food up to temperature prior to dropping it in the water.  The colder your food is when it goes into the water bath the bigger the temperature hit will be (A frozen chicken breast is a giant ice cube).  
  2. Monitor food and water temperature while cooking. 
  3. Make sure that when your product comes out of the water bath, you immediate verify its temperature with an accurate thermometer.  There is a line between incredibly moist and food poisoning, know which side of it you are on.  
  4. Sear food when it comes out of the bag.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Low-Technique: The Anti-Griddle

As the name suggests, The PolyScience Anti-Griddle is a flat-top cooking apparatus that uses extreme cold instead of extreme heat to modify the texture and flavors of food.  The cooking surface is a metal sheet approximately 15" x 9" that is cooled to -30ºF by specialized refrigeration gear.   

This can be used to create some unique dishes or components.  Examples include:
  1. The Moto team used the Anti-Griddle to make crepes on a recent episode of Future Food 
  2. Grant Achatz's Mango, Bonito, Soy, Sesame course at Alinea
  3. PolyScience's own Philip Preston makes a creme anglaise lollipop by griddling both sides but leaving the center creamy
Most home cooks cannot afford the 1000$ price tag.  The good news is that you can simulate the AntiGriddle at home provided you can get your hands on some dry ice.  A number of people have talked about AntiGriddle hacks before, but the first mention I could find came from Nick Kokonas.  Nick is Grant Achatz's business partner and co-owner at Alinea. In 2007,  he wrote this over at the LTHForum:
The first time Grant tried using the "anti-griddle" concept was in my house on the back of a stainless steel spatula that was resting on dry ice. It worked just fine. Obviously, that method cannot be used to prepare 90 dishes per night at a restaurant, but it would be effectively the same at home. 
So, for this low-tech hack, you simply need to sandwich dry ice between two sheet pans.  Hey, I said low-tech.  What did you expect?

If you are going to do this, here are some basic tips and precautions:
  1. At -79ºF and lower, dry ice is considerably colder than the Anti-Griddle.  Do NOT touch Dry Ice.  You can suffer some pretty serious injuries here, and you need good ventilation in your workspace.  Make sure you read the CDC guidelines on handling dry ice.  Use similar precautions in handling the sheet pans.
  2. Use some non-stick spray to make it easy to flip and remove items.
  3. Check out PolyScience's guide for some other ideas on what you can do with this technique.  

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Foie Gras Fight

I think there is a huge misconception about the goals of animal rights groups.  My reason is that every time an animal rights group attacks the foie gras industry, you see people defend the treatment of the ducks used to make foie gras.  Statements like:
Ducks aren't like people.  They don't feel pain during gavage.

Why go after foie gras when we all know that the commercial chicken industry is a much bigger offender.

There are two key points that I want to raise about the enemy of foie gras:
  1. They want to stop the slaughter of all animals, no matter how they are treated while they are alive.  While I think they are able to perceive the areas between downright animal cruelty and the more respectful means of raising and slaughtering animals, most of these groups really want all animal slaughter to go away.  That is the end goal.  I don't say this out of paranoia, or fear that they'll take away our meatz, I say this because they think that killing animals is bad.  And, in many ways, I agree with this statement.  So, there is no lens where because commercial chicken farming is worse, that foie gras is going to be ok.  Even if the folks at Hudson Valley Foie Gras were giving the ducks reach arounds during gavage, followed by an hour long spa treatment, most animal rights groups are not going to be ok with the death part even if you convince them that gavage isn't harmful.  

  2. They are much smarter than you think.  They full well know where foie gras and commercial chicken farming fits in the scheme of animal cruelty.  The battle to stop commercial chicken farming vs. the battle to stop foie gras are very different battles.  Stopping foie gras appears to be an easier battle.  Here's why:

    • Who eats foie gras?  It is fancy-food.  Fancy food is eaten by the wealthy.  I am guessing a fairly large population of the US doesn't even know what foie gras is.  In other words, this doesn't affect most people.  You may as well be trying to ban Delorians or Personal Submarines.  So, getting federal, state and local lawmakers to make changes isn't an especially hard pitch.   Quick SAT question:

    • Who makes foie gras?  A small number of small producers that are not nearly as well funded as Big Chicken.  Animal rights groups have zero chance of shutting down Big Chicken.  For example, The Humane Society of the United States is suing Hudson Valley Foie Gras over violations of the federal Clean Water Act. The lawsuit alone has the potential to shut down the largest foie gras producer in the US.  What do you think happens when The Humane Society of the United States attempts to sue Purdue or Tyson over something like that?  
These two factors make foie gras the soft target of the Meatocracy.  The soft, buttery and delicious target.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Fat Tuesday: Swordfish Sous Vide

I think that most fish cooked sous-vide is a little over rated.  There is something about the texture that just doesn't work for me.  There are a couple of notable exceptions:  Swordfish, Monkfish and Skate.  With both Swordfish and Monkfish, you can get thick cuts of dense fish that remain incredibly moist, and you can achieve some amazing textures.

Alas, I didn't take any other pictures.  Swordfish (thicker the cut the better), lemon zest, salt and pepper.  This was tossed into a 127F bath.  Lemon zest is an amazing ingredient when used in sous vide cooking.  It results in a very powerful and clear lemony flavor.  After the bath, I seared it in a cast iron pan. 

The only warning I have with fish in sous vide, besides the texture/consistency issues, is that it will turn to mush if you let it cook too long.   

The great thing about this was I used a minimal amount of fat (just the oil in the pan for searing).  Pretty low in fat, not many calories, omega-3s, dense and protein-y... or... you know, filling.

Fat Tuesday: Intro

Welcome to Fat Tuesdays, where I talk about health and obesity.  You might find some healthy recipes, some rants against the establishment, and a lot of self deprecating humor.  There are a lot of reasons why I want to write about health, but the biggest reason I have started to take the issue of health personally is:

For most of my adult life I have seen my weight increase steadily, with my BMI starting at nineteen (19) and ratcheting up to a whopp[er]ing thirty-four (34).  For those of you who do not have the scale memorized, a 19 is in the normal range.  Thirty-four is solidly in the obese range and getting close to morbidly obese.  While there is no confusing whether or not I am fat, I wear it reasonably well enough that most people are surprised to hear I am this unhealthy.

It sucks to be obese, but to have morbidly obese on your horizon is fucking terrifying.  But it still wasn't enough to change my ways.  My ways were, by the way, that of any food loving, gainfully employed manhattanite.  I ate out at the best restaurants in the country.  Pre fixe meals.  I also combined this a complete lack of activity, partly stemming from a desk job that requires long hours.

Earlier this year, I had a new experience.  I had a physical where I did not come back healthy.  This is a partial myth as every physical had my doctor telling me to lose weight and that my cholesterol was high, but there was never a real sense of urgency.   This time I got a call from my doctor telling me that my bloodwork showed high levels of just about everything.  From a lab technician perspective, my blood looked more like something you would find in a reuben sandwich than something you'd find in a person.  I had to go back and get another blood test, this time I needed to fast prior to the test.

As a professional hypochondriac, I prefer to go to the doctor for symptoms that I sew together into a rare disease tapestry just so I can hear his stifled laughter just before tells me why I couldn't possibly have Kuru.  As it turns out, I don't handle the real possibility of medical issues well.  I immediately went into overdrive, scouring the Internet, becoming an expert in every possible combination of diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, cirrhosis, hypertension, and heart failure.

It should be noted that this type of thing will happen to me once a year regardless of a bad blood test result.  But fueled with a bad blood test, I was convinced it was too late for me and all was lost.   When I called my doctor to get clarification, he stifled laughter and told me that my worst case was that I was going to have a fatty liver (this is pretty close to the equivalent of self induced human foie gras).   He then went on to give me one of the best medical diagnoses I have ever had:

"Most likely, I am going to tell you after your blood test that you are fat.  And need to lose weight.  Actually, I am going to save us some time and tell you that now.  You are fat and need to lose weight."

Ouch.  Point made.  Actually, he made his point, sharpened it and jammed it in my eye.

Several days later, days where I was still convinced of the worst, I got the blood test back and I was out of the danger zone for things like diabetes and liver related problems.  Sure, my cholesterol is still high (especially the LDLs, also known as 'the bad kind'), and my triglycerides were also high, but I wasn't in immediate peril.

The good news is that my fear of being sickness and death has resulted in some lifestyle changes.  I exercise (the last time I had been in a gym there were no electronics apart from the occasional walkman) and I pay close attention to what I eat and how much of it I eat.

Let's hope I keep it up.

Monday, May 3, 2010

FreshMealsMagic: Octopus Sous Vide Part II

As we already know, I cannot get enough of octopus.  I feel bad, because they are very intelligent creatures.  But, if they were so intelligent, wouldn't they find a way to be less delicious?  Or evolve, industrialize and hunt us for food?  I had a whole octopus vacuum sealed in the freezer.  So I defrosted it, splashed in some olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest and salt.  Cranked up the FMM to 176F and tossed it into my water bath.

I've talked about cooking octopus sous-vide.  This is one of those sous vide applications that just. makes. sense.  Octopus can be a finicky beast.  Cook it right and it is fucking amazing.  Cook it wrong and you are chewing on cephalopod chewing gum.  

The great thing about using the Fresh Meals Magic here is just the shear amount of space available compared to other water baths that I've used.  I also took the liberty to cook some sweet potato in the same bath.  

It was going to be octo-taco night (or for the truly international, the tako-taco?), but I was exhausted when I got home.  Instead, I took the sweet potato, the octopus and combined it with some sauteed ramps.  Squeeze of lemon and boom.  Dinner.

Escolar: The World's Most Dangerous Fish

Escolar is the most controversial fish that you are likely to find in your fish market. This firm, white fleshed fish has an incredibly ric...