Sunday, February 28, 2010

Seared Tuna With Saltimbocca Beans

This picture demonstrates two things.  The first is that I continue to suck at food photography.  Second, my knife was too dull.  But I am not here to talk to you about the tuna, my knife skills or my photography skills.  The star of this show was the beans.  

Technically, I think these beans were born out of the echos of the Internet.  First, I adapted the IdeasInFood pasta hydration technique for the beans. 

I took sorted and washed beans and soaked them in prosciutto stock.  After that, they went into a 180F water bath.  The flavor of the broth really came through, and the beans had an edamame like texture. 

After I had the beans, my mind went to Saltimbocca I had recently.  I diced up some fresh mozzarella and drizzled on some sage oil.  Prosciutto.  Then I open up my rss newsreader.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The SFSR Mugaritz Stagières Knife Fund

On February 14, a fire broke out at Mugaritz, a modernist/progressive restaurant in San Sebastian, Spain.  While no one was injured or died in the fire, three stagieres lost their knives in the fire.  Stagieres are unpaid apprentices, and their knives were not covered by the restaurant's insurance.  This form of apprenticeship is also essential to both passing down the craft and also to keep many top restaurants running.  This might not seem like a big deal to you, but let's remember that these stagieres are unpaid, probably didn't have a lot of money to begin with, need knives to continue down their career path, and that quality knives are expensive.

Which is why I was really psyched to see that Doc Sconz set up a fund over at first giving to help these cooks land on their feet.

As of 7:45PM EST on February 24th, 2010, Doc, through Slow Food USA has raised $485.00.  My goal is to triple it in a single week.  Here is how you can help:
  1. Donate money via the firstgiving website.
  2. Put the word Medellitin in the comment section so that I know to match it.
  3. I will match dollar for dollar up to $485.  No bullshit.
  4. This match will end exactly a week from today.
To be honest, I have no idea if anyone really reads this blog.  But if you do, and like it, please support a really an awesome cause.  

And if you don't read this blog, then who am I talking to?  Also, please donate.

Clarification: I think this is obvious, but in case it isn't: I am donating a maximum of $485.  Not $485 per donation.

Monday, February 15, 2010

SousVide Supreme: My Review of The Gizmodo Review

I love gizmodo.  So, it is extremely frustrating to see a Gizmodo food review for a Sous Vide product that could have been a lot better.  While I am sure my review has plenty of flaws, and I am sure this will result in me having thrown stones in my own glass house, I just couldn't let this go.

Most of the review is really spent dissecting sous vide as a method of cooking and not the actual appliance.  For each protein the author reviews,  he discusses the advantages and disadvantages, which really has nothing to do with the SousVide Supreme.  He then ends each protein review with a rating of "Worth It / Draw / Not Worth It" ratings based on whether or not it produces the best results.  I fundamentally disagree with this approach because there isn't a singular best result for a given protein.  Another issue with this approach is that it is biased by the author's skill in the kitchen.

Did I mention that none of this has anything to do with the appliance itself?

I think my points couldn't be summed up better than when he speaks about short rib.
Verdict? I've never tasted slow-roasted meats like this—it was very good, and there's something to be said for transforming a rude cut of meat into a fine steak, but my in-oven slow-cooking method is as fool-proof, and has the added benefit of creating a carmelized sauce to go with it. It's a Draw
First of all, this has nothing to do with the SousVide Supreme.  Second of all, If the author didn't have a foolproof way of preparing short ribs, maybe this would have been Worth It.  Finally, If I had written about that, I would have been ranting and raving about how this is one of the most interesting proteins you can cook sous vide.  Don't get me wrong, I love (and make) a great braised short rib.  But I also love a 72 hour/136F short rib.  You get a bag full of short rib drippin's that you can turn into a pan sauce afterwards.

Another issue I have is that he also reviewed a protein that he didn't try.
Rack of lamb, rib roast, and other tender roast meats: Steak and duck are just a few of the "tender" meats that benefit from sous vide. I didn't try these others (partly cuz they're so damn expensive), but my experience with them in ovens, sometimes undercooking, sometimes overcooking, tells me how nice it would be to have the ability to reach a fixed internal temperature, even if it took many hours. Not Worth It.
I suspect this is also true of fish, which he said:
But anybody interested in buying a SousVide Supreme will have no problem broiling or poaching fish to their desired doneness, and you don't sear a cooked fish as you would a cooked steak, so the sous vide process is a liability, or at least a limitation.
Not Worth It.
There are some amazing results that can be achieved with fish.  Most people jump right to salmon mi cuit, but you should also try swordfish or monkfish, or seafood... or octopus.  It is definitely not for everyone, but I really don't agree with Not Worth It. Also, I don't understand the sear a cooked fish comment.  I sear fish before putting them in the oven and I also sear fish coming out of water bath.

I have the same basic comments for the vegetables section, although I think there were also some technical challenges in cooking artichokes.  One of the issues the author had involved the artichoke floating inside of the water bath.  A perfect chance to discuss whether or not the rack of the SousVide Supreme worked or didn't work.  Instead, we only hear about the fact that he had to use a plate.  Was the rack insufficient?

Final acknowledgements
Interestingly enough, the conclusion of the review comes back to the product and not to the technique.  And it's really hard to argue with that section.  It would have been awesome of more of the article was dedicated to that.

I know I probably sound like some crazy sous vide crusader, swashbuckling against anyone that criticizes the consumer end of the sous vide space.  But, c'mon!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Fresh Meals Magic Update Now With Preview Pics

Frank Hsu updated me via email on a couple on pricing and also gave me a couple of preview pics to use. Oh look... Here's one now with some tasty flank steak!

There are two models for the FMM.  A 110V/1500W version and a 220W/2000W version.  Both come with an adjustable air pump and your choice of either an 18L pot or a 12L pot.

With the 18L pot, the pricing is $159, with the 12L pot the pricing is $150.  The 220V/2000W costs an extra $20.  Additional pots are available at $29/$20 respectively.

Fresh Meals Magic: A PID Controlled Immersion Circulator

I've been cooking sous vide at home for awhile now. I currently use a Sous Vide Magic 1500 connected to a Black and Decker RC880 Rice cooker. This is the classic PID controller DIY setup and continues to be the cheapest way to cook sous vide. For approximately 150$, you get a device that allows you to regulate the temperature of water in a rice cooker.

One of the biggest perceived issues when cooking with a PID controller is heat distribution. Rice cookers heat from the bottom (and potentially unevenly) leaving the water closer to the heating element warmer than water further away. PolyScience recently studied this in their stir or not to stir experiment, which I have already written about.

Good news! Almost on cue, the FreshMealsMagic (FMM) is FreshMealsSolutions' answer to those challenges. It is ...  a submersible bubbler/heater.

A submersi-bub-bluh-huh-wha-wha? 

Chill out! The FMM is a green disc that can be placed inside of any heat-safe container. The disc is both a heating element and an air stone bubbler.  It not only provides heat, but it also distributes the heat better by agitating the water with tiny bubbles.   In other words, it simulates the heating element from the rice cooker and the circulating portions of an immersion circulator. As a result, if you have a PID controller and the FreshMealsMagic, you no longer need to have a rice cooker in the mix.

Want a more basic description: The FMM is an immersion circulator.

Even better description: It is the least expensive immersion circulator on the market today.

If you are starting from scratch, you will be able to buy a package that includes:
  1. Sous Vide Magic 1500D PID controller.  Which looks like a great upgrade from the 1500A that I have been using, and highly advised upgrade if you are going to be using the FMM (see Existing PID controller users).
  2. Fresh Meals Magic.  That thing that I just spend a couple hundred words explaining.  A combo heater and stirs the water via tiny bubbles.
  3. 18 Liter Pot.  18 liters is close to 5 gallons.  You can cook a lot of product in 5 gallons.  At least 2 babies.  
  4. Air Pump.  Necessary to get air to the FMM.  Much better than a straw.
For a grand total of $299.

Existing PID controller users

If you already have a PID controller, you can buy the FMM, 18L pot and air pump for $150.  The only caveat is that if your PID controller does not have a high temperature cut-off control, you need to be very careful about using the FMM.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Molecular Gastronomy, It's Not Dead Yet!

I hate the molecular gastronomy debate.  My real job world has several similar nomenclature debates and the truth is people hate labels, especially when the label is either outgrown, foisted upon them or develops a negative connotation.  The Molecular Gastronomy nomenclature debate is pure inside baseball.

The truth is, there really aren't a gazillion restaurants that really fall under the umbrella of this movement... Molecular Gastronomy, Molecular Cuisine, Progressive Cuisine, techno-emotional, Spanish avant-garde, call it what you will.  The idea that this is a tremendous movement is really something perpetuated by the culinary zeitgeist.  Don't get me wrong, this is a movement that exists, and inside of that movement are a good number of chefs and restaurants that execute to varying levels of success.  But, the reason it is talked about so frequently is because it makes for an interesting story.  Interesting stories get read.  As a result, people start to think about archetypical Modernist restaurants that look like science labs and no one does any traditional cooking.  And, lets face it, some chefs played into that image.

But if the culinary zeitgeist is going to fill you with its hot air, rest assured it is only so it can slap a Hindenburg sticker on you and set you on fire.

Bob Del Grosso writes at one of my favorite blogs, A Hunger Artist.   In a recent post, "A Failure To Thrive", he agrees with the implications of a WSJ article, that questions if  Molecular Cuisine is on the decline.  There are a number of great observations in there, including this quote on Modernism's influence on cooking relative to Nouvelle Cuisine:

However, even though it represents an even more radical change than nouvelle cuisine, it is not as revolutionary in the sense that it has not caused a fundamental change in the way that most chefs cook.

My one word response is: Yet!

My one graf response is:  It is too early to tell.  In my opinion, we are still at the beginning phases of the use of these modern techniques and ingredients in kitchens.  I know people will argue and tell me how long these techniques have existed for, but in truth, they have only recently become popular and accessible.  You still really have to seek this stuff out.

As to whether or not this movement is dead?  Well, if the writing is on the wall, we'll start to see changed in the lists of top restaurants.  Last I checked, they contained a disproportionately high number of Modernist restaurants compared to say French restaurants.

I think what the Modernist movement faces now is really more of an evolution instead of a death.  The number of new techniques and ingredients has been slowing down.  Innovation is becoming more incremental.   As such, more time will be spent digesting, refining and advancing the existing techniques.      Long term, these techniques learned will get folded back into the canons of culinary knowledge.   More and more restaurants will use them in increasingly subtle ways.  Ultimately, I think a some of them, most notably sous vide, will be used in kitchens the same way braising, boiling and frying are today.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Roasted Garlic Powder: Perfect For Sous Vide Cooking

I have always used garlic powder.  I am pretty heavy handed with it.  It used to be my salt.  After starting to cook sous vide, that love has been rekindled.  This is because most advice around sous vide discourages the use of fresh garlic.  According to baldwind:
"Finally, raw garlic produces very pronounced and unpleasant results and powdered garlic (in very small quantities) should be substituted."

After reading that, I set out to make garlic powder.  It is ridiculously simple, and like all things culinary, when you can control it, you can make it better.  In this case, you have three major wins:
  1. Before you begin making garlic powder, you can control the quality of the garlic.  Like most spices you buy, it is hard to determine original quality and how long it has been deteriorating on a grocery shelf or storeroom.
  2. Roasting.  You can bring the noise by roasting the garlic.  When you compare the aroma and flavor of your homemade roasted garlic to whatever you have been buying at the piggly wiggly, you will start using your old garlic powder to soak up paint and oil spills (see sawdust uses).
  3. Finally, you can also choose how finely ground you want to grind the garlic, letting you control the speed of absorption and flavor release.

Making roasted garlic powder is unbelievably simple:
  1. Start with four (4) heads of awesome, fresh garlic.  Again, this is one of the huge wins of doing this yourself.  Don't f*ck around.
  2. Roast them.  Use your favorite recipe.  Or google it.  Really its wrapping the heads in foil, possibly slicing the top off and drizzling olive oil.  Just add heat and time.  I use 350F.  Garlic should be soft and a caramel color on the outside.
  3. Squeeze it out.  I try to keep it all whole just because it is easier to deal with.  This part tends to take me the most amount of active time.
  4. If you used olive oil, place them on some towels.  The goal here is to try and absorb some of the oil on the surface of the garlic.  Keeping them whole makes this step way easier.
  5. Dehydrate.  You can use your oven on its lowest setting or a dehydrator.  The dehydrator takes like a day or maybe longer.  Usually at some point, I chop up the whole garlic cloves to increase the exposed garlic surface area so that dehydration happens faster.  
  6. Grind to your desired fineness.  Sometimes after I do this step it doesn't feel dry enough.  If it still feels wet, GOTO 5.
Go forth and do this now.

Friday, February 5, 2010

SousVide Supreme: Review/WrapUp

I had the opportunity over the last couple of weeks to tinker with the SousVide Supreme.  I made a lot of great meals with it, and overall have few complaints.  Before I get to those, lets talk about the good.

The Good Stuff
  • Simplicity.  It works.  Out of the box.  You fill it with water, set the temperature and it goes.  No need to do any calibration.  You don't even really need the manual to operate the thing to get great results.
  • Aesthetics.  The SVS looks like a kitchen appliance.  The meth cooker-y stylings of the PID controller do not work for everyone's kitchen.  This can get further complicated if you are trying to control a large rice cooker. 
  • Rack.  The rack is useful for keeping higher temperature, longer cooking time items submerged under water.  

The Neutrals

  • Lid.  The lid feels kind of cheap and water collects underneath creating a weird seal.  The plus side of the lid is that when I was done cooking I could use the lid as a tray for whatever goodies I had cooked.  
  • Size.  The SVS has a nice sized tank for the home kitchen.  Overall the device is on the large size, which does come with some complications.  Filling and removing the water is a little cumbersome.  If you don't plan on keeping the appliance out, you need to find some space to store it.  But, on the plus side, I can sous vide a human baby in hat tank.

The Could Be Better

  • Slight hint of burning plastic smell.  This could be the result of using a demo unit, but there was a slight burning smell.  Ever-so-slightly.  Like, is this a nasal hallucination?  Also,  this was an eval unit, so it might have gotten banged around a bit before I got it.
  • Could possibly burn your countertop.  The manual also mentioned that certain countertops (Corian brand) could be burned by the SVS.  I had no idea prior to using it whether or not I had that kind of countertop.  That's why I rent.


Should you buy an SVS?  I think that depends:
  1. If you already have a PID controller/Rice Cooker style setup, then you already have a functioning sous vide setup.  It also means you are in the smaller subset of the cooking population that is a lot more comfortable getting your hands dirty and are probably happy about the tuning abilities of a PID controller setup.  I don't really think the SousVide Supreme offers you too much.
  2. If you do not have any experience, and the idea of a PID controller doesn't appeal to you on aesthetics, usability or convenience then this is a great purchase.  Yes, it will cost you more money.  But, after you have your first sous vide ribeye or 72 Hour 136F short rib, you will forget about it.  Also, I think it would make a great gift for someone who really loves to cook.
Don't be confused by how many things are in each list.  The SVS works and works well.  I stand by my earlier statements.  The SousVide Supreme is an important step forward for sous vide in the home.

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