I’ve got a new cooking toy. No, I didn’t get a new smoker, but it is a slow cooker of sorts and a whole lot cheaper than the Pit Master Cabinet Smoker I’ve been dreaming about. Since you’ve probably already looked at the pic below, I won’t keep you in suspense. It’s a sous vide machine. Now you’re probably thinking what in tar nation is a sous vide machine?? Basically, it’s a water pump that heats and circulates water at a specified temperature. You place your meat in a ziplock or vacuum sealed bag, drop it into the pot, set the desired temperature doneness on the dial and a few hours later, you’ll have perfectly cooked food. It’s a lot like poaching, but not really.
The best thing about sous vide is that your meat will never overcook or dry out. Since the temperature of the water is constant, the meat will cook to the temperature of the water, but not past it. Theoretically you could leave the meat in the water forever and it will never overcook. It’s a whole thermal dynamics thing I don’t really understand because I failed high school chemistry.
My first attempt at sous vide cooking was not a great success, but truth be told I’ve never learned a damn thing from doing it right the first time. The first day I got this new toy, I used it to cook a couple of rib eye steaks. I hit them with a little Casa Seasoning, sealed them in a ziplock bag and dropped them into the pot. After cooking them for 1 1/2 hours to a perfect 125ºF, I finished them in a screaming hot cast iron skillet to brown them up a little. It was a perfectly cooked medium rare steak yet it tasted like boiled meat. I was taken back a bit. Normally, a little seasoning and a few minutes on the grill would yield a pretty good steak, but not this time. The valuable lesson that I learned was that sous vide cooking does not impart any additional flavor to the meat like grilling, sautéing, broiling, or baking does. That means you need to be very wary of how much seasoning you use. In this case more is better.
I had learned my lesson from the steak debacle and after a few days, I decided it was time to break out that sous vide machine and try again. I wasn’t about to let a glorified hot water pump kick my ass. This time I started with a couple of chicken breasts, some butter, chopped garlic, sliced lemon and a little salt and pepper. I placed all the ingredients in a ziplock bag and then into the sous vide pot for two hours at 160ºF.
Once the sous vide had finished its job, what was left appeared to be nothing more than a bag of plain ol’ poached chicken. Pretty unremarkable in appearance, but a taste test proved the meat was infused with all the flavors of the butter, garlic and lemon, which was pretty great. It just needed a little color to make it more appetizing. Remember, we eat first with our eyes and then with our pieholes, or something like that. I forget how it goes. In my opinion, one of the best ways to brown up a piece of meat indoors is via a piping hot cast iron skillet. Imagine pairing a new fangled cooking thingy majingy with one of the oldest and greatest cooking vessels of all time. The irony is not lost on me. It’s as if the cast iron was taunting the sous vide by saying “I will finish what you could not”. Sure enough, a few minutes in that smoldering, trustworthy, workhorse of a pan and I had beautiful breasts. Chicken breasts, get your mind out of the gutter. They were real and they were spectacular. But, I wasn’t done yet.
As I gazed upon the delicious flavor packed bits stuck to my pan, I couldn’t bear the thought of wasting those tasty morsels. I turned the heat down and added all the butter, garlic and lemon from the bag. I stirred frantically with high hopes of a tasty sauce to rain over my chicken. Feeling particularly chefy, I added additional butter and cream, but nothing was coming together. I literally had a “hot mess” on my hands. Luckily, my superhero wife came to my aid and with a few deft movements she saved my sauce by whisking in flour and milk, and adding salt and pepper to taste. Voila! A delicious creamy peppercorn gravy!
My chicken was spectacular! It was perfectly cooked, very tender and juicy with all the flavors of the butter garlic and lemon prominently featured throughout the meat. Browning the breasts brought out the sweetness by caramelizing the exterior and adding a pleasant contrasting texture. And then to top it with that creamy peppercorn sauce, oh man, was it freaking good! While it did take awhile to cook, the tenderness of the meat was excellent. You just can’t achieve that same texture with grilling, smoking or conventional cooking. The sous vide provides a more controlled environment thus rendering it impossible to overcook or dry out a piece of meat. It’s definitely worth the time and coupled with a few extra steps to create a nice crust on the meat, it’s definitely worth the effort.
Now that I’ve got an idea how this thing works, my brain is spinning, thinking up all kinds of ways to use it. It takes a little more work and time to create a great meal, but if it was easy, what fun would that be? I have also watched a few videos using it to cook a brisket, it takes 3 freaking days, but the brisket is cooked to a medium rare and still tender. I’m definitely going to give that a try. So stay tuned kids, we’ve got more sous vide cooking adventures coming your way in the near future.