Our good friend Alex Talbot of Ideas in Food was recently in town doing some workshops and a collaboration dinner with Phillip Foss of El Ideas. One of the classes was focused entirely on sous vide. Alex and Phillip were kind enough to let me drop by to snap some pictures and take a few notes.
I was fortunate enough to arrive just as some delicious gluten-free cookies and chocolate cake were emerging from the oven as part of the morning’s gluten-free baking class. After some intensive “taste testing”, it was time to get the 300 series vacuum chamber set up. This was the first one to ever have left PolyScience and we wanted to make sure that all of the settings were ready for class. The guests started to trickle in and we began.
Alex said that when he and his wife Aki first started cooking sous vide, he refused to sear the exterior of the meat, not wanting to compromise doneness. As they pressed on, they explored numerous techniques including pre and post sears, blow torches, frying, pre and post seasoning and brining. As of late, I’ve become a big fan of cryo-frying myself. This is where meat that has been cooking sous vide takes a short dip in a bath of liquid nitrogen, followed by a slightly longer dip in a deep fryer. The result is a uniform sear with virtually no over cook. I shared my thoughts on this with the class and Alex had a great idea that produces a comparable result. He and Aki have had great success with frying chilled-sous vide meat until they’ve developed a nice crust, and then warming it through in a low temperature oven or C-Vap.
One of the things that they’ve taken a stance on is salting prior to sous vide cooking; they’ve found that salting meat prior to cooking tends to cure the meat as it cooks which can dry the meat out and lead to unpleasant textures. In lieu of seasoning meat directly with salt prior to cooking, Aki and Alex have turned to brining. It serves as not only as an opportunity to season, but also to add flavor and moisture. A quick brine is also beneficial for fish and seafood as it rinses the exterior and denatures albumen. Personally, if I am going to cook an serve, I don’t mind seasoning before cooking. If I’m going to cook, chill, and reheat, then I won’t season in advance unless I’m brining.
As a result of their trials, Alex and Aki have come to approach sous vide with a “low, medium, high” setup. 55°-57°C (131°-134°F) works well for meats and fish. It is also a great temperature for breaking down collagen over day-long cooks. 72°C (161.6°F) works well for eggs and 83°-84°C (181.4°-183.2°F) for most fruits and vegetables. This approach sounded incredibly strange to me at first, but after some thought it makes quite a bit of sense, especially in terms of efficiency. Also, this approach lends itself well as a benchmark to use when you aren’t exactly sure what time and temperature you want to cook at.
I’ve always cooked my vegetables and fruit at 85°C (185°F) or higher because pectin breaks down at 85°C (185°F). In the workshop, 84°C (183.2°F) was a revelation. To illustrate this, Pink Lady apples were cooked whole at 84°C for about an hour. The result was a smooth, supple, and purely flavored apple that all the while maintained the crispness of a fresh apple. I was floored.
Sous vide is an empowering tool when combined with other techniques. Once you understand the fundamentals of cooking such as temperature, seasoning, tasting, and how to sear, sous vide will take your cooking to the next level. Alex and Aki take a very unique approach to sous vide cooking – definitely one worth exploring. I’ve been cooking sous vide since 2006 and I can tell you that I walked out of El Ideas brimming with new ideas…
Make sure to follow Alex and Aki along through their website www.ideasinfood.com and pick up their books: Great Recipes and Why They Work and Maximum Flavor.
You can visit Phillip’s Michelin starred restaurant, El Ideas, here: http://elideas.com.