September 7, 2010

What I Learned In Cooking Class

As an early birthday present, and as an opportunity to get me back for all those times I've indulged her, The Wife enrolled us in a sous vide cooking class that we went to over the weekend. It was great fun! I was already well aware of what the sous vide water oven can do with meat so this was not a huge surprise to me. But there were plenty of things I learned about anyway.

  • Better knife technique from one of the sous-chefs helping out with the class. Choke up on the handle and pinch the heel of the blade itself; don't run your index finger down the spine of the blade.
  • All that stuff in my sous vide manual about avoiding alcohol, using only powdered garlic and powdered onion, and exercising restraint with other spices is all bullshit. The Doctors Eades who market the product apparently just like their food bland.
  • They also like their food overcooked; the temperatures in the sous vide manual are too high.
  • High temperatures will soften vegetables nicely. Pre-heat the sous vide to a high temperature, maybe 185 degrees, before adding vegetables and then immediately put them in an ice bath to blanch them while still in the bag, and they will stay greener. 
  • Unlike meats, you can easily cook vegetables for too long in a sous vide.  An hour or so should do the trick.
  • A ceramic santoku knife, although much lighter than the steel I'm used to, slices through raw potatoes like nobody's business. I may need to look in to lighter knives.
  • Speaking of potatoes, I seemed to be the only one who thought potatoes were interesting subjects for cooking. I love eating potatoes and I notice they're popular whenever I serve them. Why don't other amateur cooks understand this and spend some time figuring out how to please their guests with this very affordable staple? Part of the ongoing and thoughtless campaign against carbohydrates, I suppose.
  • As I learned through experimentation a few days later, too much fat added to the vegetable during cooking will leach out the chlorophyll and deaden the color, so I'll add to that -- sous vide your vegetables without butter or other fats, add those later. Adding fat to vegetables this way is pretty much the same thing as using a crock pot, and I already have one of those. I didn't learn this lesson at the class but I learned it as a result of the class.
  • The sous vide is ideal for making delicate French dessert custards and silks, because the material will never boil and harden the egg or egg component in the ingredient. The sauvignon we had on the dessert was divine. Getting the liquid in the sealed bag, however, can be quite a trick.
  • Melons can be compressed, softened, and infused with flavor (and sugar, if they are not naturally sweet enough for your taste) in the sous vide, at temperatures similar to those used for vegetables.
  • Pearl onions taste great with a sprinkling of cinnamon, and they squirt free of their skins easily when you parboil and blanch them beforehand.
  • Olive oil will produce the much-prized Maillard reaction just fine as long as it isn't smoking too much. Heat the pan up until the oil in it smokes, then let it cool until it stops smoking, then use the pan to brown your protein.
  • We bought the right vacuum bag sealer. The one sold by the manufacturer of the Sous Vide Supreme got demo'ed at the class, was unreliable at sealing the bags, and it looked difficult to use.
  • Ice baths for "blanching" the still-bagged food just out of a sous vide should be 80% ice and 20% cold water. 
  • From a fellow student, a tip: the problem with using the butane torch that came as part of a gift crème brûlée kit was that it was too small and puny. No need for a special "foodservice" butane torch; one marketed for light soldering would be easier and safer to handle, cost less money, and hold more fuel. Obviously, do not handle while drunk, but that rule should have applied even for the puny torch.
  • Once you've got your food above 140 degrees, the longer it cooks, the safer is is -- and thus the magic of the sous vide, which lets you keep the flavor and texture of rarer meats with the safety prized by lovers of well-done meat. The struggle with more traditional means of cooking isn't exposing the food to those kinds of temperatures, it's getting the food itself to elevate to those temperatures fast enough and for long enough that you don't lose the taste, texture, and enjoyment of what you're going to eat.
Not bad for an hour and a half, plus of course we ate the food we'd made which was quite good -- 1 hour was not quite enough for the potatoes but everything else turned out nicely. Kind of a high fat meal, because the potatoes and onions had both olive oil and butter in them and the lamb is high fat to start with even before it got seared in the olive oil. It's hard to go wrong with your taste when you use lots of good fats.

We didn't much like the traffic getting there or back but this sort of thing just isn't going to be found in the Antelope Valley. The rest of my present is on its way and should provide me with many challenging recipes and techniques to try, even if I can't realistically make use of all of them at home because I just don't have the budget or space or experience needed to upgrade from a sous vide oven to an immersion circulator or a salamander broiler around.

What I need next is a fine-mesh cone strainer for my sauces and stocks, and I think that I can do better than the price demanded for one by Snooty Kitchen Stores, Inc. They offered a nice class but their equipment isn't worth the price. In fact, I found a reasonable substitute for one-ninth the price on my very first search.

1 comment:

Suzette said...

Wow, where do I sign up for this class? Sounds like you learned in a few hours what we (two friends, my husband, me) have been learning the hard way over the course of 6 or 8 months. Fun, inspiring, informative post! If you'd like to see the results of some of our sous vide experiments, wander over to svkitchen.com
Thanks,
Suzette