Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ask Pablo: Octopus Sous Vide and Doneness.

On an earlier post about Sous Vide Octopus, erich wrote:
Ok, I need some help here.

Bought a whole octopus, thawed it, cleaned it, vacuum bagged it, and cooked it for 2 hours at 180F in my sous vide bath. The thing came out very rubbery. Basically the same consistency one would achieve pan frying it. Anything, I'm missing here?

BTW, this is not first sous vide dish, but definitely the one that didn't come out at all.
I responded with:
My guess is that you needed to leave it in the water bath longer, but here are things that may be different between You and I:

1. Size of Octopus. I don't know how thick your Octopus was. Any guess on it's size? Even weight might be helpful.

2. Fresh vs. Frozen. Not saying I know for sure that mine wasn't frozen earlier, but I bought mine in non-frozen form at a fish monger.

If yours was larger and colder to start with, it might take longer to get tender. Finally, another thing I do is occasionally squeeze the octopus through the bag to get a sense of texture.
This question got me thinking a lot about sous vide cooking.  When I first started doing it, I relied a lot of the Baldwin/Myhrvold charts.   Bag item.  Put item in x temperature waterbath for y minutes based on an estimated thickness.  Remove.

In other words, completely remove aroma and taste as indicators of doneness.  I think that works well for some items (e.g. eggs or really uniform cuts that you deal with regularly).  For everything else, I ultimately rely on a gentle squeeze of the bag.  Or, if I am using the Cooking Issues technique of using ziplocks, I'll open the bag real quick for a look-see.

Don't get me wrong.  I still use the guides to help me get me close.  But, after that, I dig a little deeper and get some more insight.

Thanks erich for making me think about that.

The Taste Map, Umami and Kokumi (Complexities In Taste)

I remember learning about taste in elementary school.  We were taught that there were four tastes: Sweet, Salty, Sour, and Bitter.  Each of these tastes were sensed on a particular region of the tongue.  The teacher handed out mimeographs that had a tongue drawn on them as a pop quiz.  We were expected to write the name of each taste on the proper region of the tongue.  I am sure I had to have gotten at least one wrong.  Which means I got two wrong.  Which means I failed the test.  Which means my elementary school failed me.


Because, there is no truth to the taste map theory.  It was information that I absorbed at an early age and never questioned it.  It's like that time I read about the dreaded Hoop Snake and thought that there was a snake that would bite its tail and roll down hills in order to surprise its victim.

The Taste Map theory isn't just a little wrong.  It has been debunked several times, including studies in the seventies, before I was even in elementary school.  Not only can you taste all tastes on any region of your tongue, but you have taste receptors on places other than your tongue.


Let's take a look at some places where scientists have found taste receptors:

Figure 1: Taste Receptor Locations
  1. Tongue (a.k.a. Everyone's Receptors).
  2. Soft Palate (a.k.a. High School Girlfriend's Receptors).
  3. Epiglottis (a.k.a. College Girlfriend's Receptors).
  4. Esophagus (a.k.a. Linda Lovelace Receptors).
  5. Lungs (a.k.a. That girl from that website Receptors).
Now don't start huffing truffle oil powder.  Just because you have taste receptors somewhere, doesn't actually mean that you will actually experience the sensation of flavor.  Your lung taste receptors recognize bitter tastes, but they don't send signals to your brain allowing you to experience bitterness.  Amazingly, initial research has shown that if these taste receptors are activated, lung tissue would relax.  It fact, aerosolized bitterness appears to outperform asthma medication.

Oh, by-the-fucking-way, we have more than four tastes.

You've probably heard of umami or 'savoriness', which is present in mushrooms, tomatoes, fermented and aged products like soy sauce, fish sauce and certain cheeses.  There was a brief period where tomato seeds were being used and abused on many menus because they were said to be rich in glutamates, which are amino acids associated with savoriness. If the word glutamate sounds familiar to you, that is because it is the G in MSG.

If you are a reader of this blog, you probably were already aware of Umami.  But have you heard of Kokumi®?  Kokumi® isn't immediately recognizable as a taste, but it is considered more of an enhancer.  The Kokumi® effect takes advantage of calcium receptors on the tongue.  When your tongue senses Kokumi®, it actually increases and extends sweet, salty and umami tastes.  And yes, that's right, it has been ®'d by Ajinomoto.  They actually own a registered trademark on a taste(ish-type-thingie).  I wonder who would have owned Sweet®, if we had allowed such things eons ago.

So now we are almost up to six tastes.  Which is pretty impressive since we have grown by 50% since I was in grade school.  Which means we have almost caught up to the Ayurvedic, who already had six tastes: Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter, Pungent and Astringent.

Is the real lesson here is that Western society has a complete lack of nuance about taste?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

L2 Oh No.

Looks like Laurent Gras' old blog (the one associated with L2O) is serving up some SEO badness.  I'm no genius, but the site that was pretty much wiped clean of content after Laurent left L2o.  Today it started serving up content like:
The financial manager for the Rock Island District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requested an advance decision on the availability of appropriated funds for the purchase of cold weather gear for union employees who work outside in cold weather.
And, of course, 'cold weather gear' links to a site selling cold weather apparel.  My guess is someone hacked or somehow gained access to the blog and is using it to boost up the pagerank of other sites.

ps: If you want to keep up with Laurent Gras, you should really check out his new blog.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Modernist's Beat: 1st Edition

Here is the roundup of all the stuff I read that I wish I could write more about but can't cause my life is too busy.

Homaro Cantu (of Moto and Future Food fame) announced his latest project iNG Restaurant.  iNG (Imagining New Gastronomy) will be helmed by Thomas Bowman, who was already cooking for Cantu over at Moto.  iNG will be taking over the existing Otom space, featuring creative, confortable, delicious food and featuring a kitchen table for a Miracle Berry experience where every dish is to be tasted with your taste buds tricked out. For more information, check out Digging In.

Gelato, Jellato
Linda, over at playing with fire and water came up with an ingenious two ingredient recipe for ice cream. I call it Jellato because it is made from heavy cream and Grape Jelly.   And what do you do with Grape Jelly Ice Cream you ask?  Why you use it to make ice cream sandwiches with peanut butter-miso cookies.  Too.  Clever.  Brain.  Shutting.  Down.

Of Course It Was Going To Kick Ass
Ideas In Food released their book, Ideas in Food: Great Recipes and Why They Work, to much fanfare.  I haven't read a bad review yet, and if their writing on their blog is any indication, I am sure it will blow my mind.  Speaking of Ideas In Food, Alex and Aki will be speaking at The Dandelion Pub in Philadelphia.  You can see all of their upcoming events over at their website.

The King Is Dead, Long Live The King
The eGullet sous vide thread, possibly the most useful message board thread in the history of human kind, has closed.  Almost 7 years of active contributions by some of the best and brightest, it was a friendly place to get advice and share knowledge.  It is the best documentation of the evolution of a cooking technique I can think of, as well as great documentation of people working together to figure something out.  The last post was by PedroG.  Not to worry, a new thread has started.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Cleaning House On Good Housekeeping

I really try hard to produce thoughtful reviews of any product I obtain for such purpose. I have been lucky enough to receive a couple from companies interested in having me look at them. And in reviewing some of my reviews, I have found a lot to be desired.  I am somewhat inconsistent, and I don't have a great methodology... yet.

That being said, I need to call out (another) bad review of sous vide equipment.  This isn't the the first time that I have called out a sous vide product review.  Last time, it was Gizmodo that bungled the review.  This time, Good Housekeeping's Research Institute produced a shoddy review of the SousVide Supreme Demi.

What makes this a shoddy review you ask? First of all, there is a complete lack of detail around the review. The reader isn't given any details on how the review was conducted. We know they tried four recipes that were included in the book, and that the reviewer didn't like the results.

Here is a quick synopsis of the four recipes:
  • Salmon Sous Vide (45 minutes): moist bordering on mushy. 
  • Pork Tenderloin With Apples and Pears (2 hours): Pink and bloody.
  • Braised Short Ribs with Barbeque Sauce (24 hours): very chewy and unappetizing layer of fat.
  • Pan-Seared Chicken Breast with a Lemon Almond-Butter Cream Sauce (2 hours): looking water-logged, more tofu than poultry. 
Is his issue with the sous vide technique, the sous vide recipes or the SousVide Supreme Demi?  With the amount of information provided, I can't possibly know.

Also, the reviewer is a college intern that appears to have no experience cooking sous vide.  How do you give someone that unqualified the authority to give the Good Housekeeping seal of approval or disdain on a product.  This isn't like it's a blog of some random jackass on the internet (you know, like the one you are reading).  You are Good Housekeeping.  You are a Research Institute!


To be fair, maybe the reviewer just doesn't like the results of low temperature cooking or the recipes he used.  But again, how am I supposed to tell?

Finally, before anyone accuses me of being a SousVide Supreme apologist or fan boy, know this: I don't use one at home. They work just fine and i don't have any real issue with them, they just take up too much space for my NYC kitchen.

This issue is going to persist with other reviewers and other products.  And I will call out those reviewers just as fast.

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