A day of foodie heaven.
I was lucky enough to be invited to a special kind of training course this week, held by SousVideTools.com at MSK in Chesterfield, on the picturesque edge of the Peak District.
SousVideTools.com as their name would suggest are a specialist online retailer of water baths and other gastronomic gadgetry. They sell a large range of sous vide kits to the pro and domestic markets in Europe and they’re the sole distributor of Polyscience – a huge brand in the states that’s now making its way over here.
Following the popularity of their course for professionals they decided to put together a monthly course just for home cooks, because water bath cookery is becoming more and more popular at home but much literature on the subject can be overly complex for us non chef types.
It’s a full day designed for the sous vide wielding home cook wanting to learn about techniques (including for home smoking), recipes, how to get the best out of SV kit, and times and temperature guidelines. It’s run by this years Great British Menu contestant, Chris Holland – a 3 AA Rosette holding chef at the Alderley Edge Hotel, and Alex – the Director of SousVideTools.com, a passionate home cook and sous vide convert. Both all round top blokes.
The course is designed for a small group of up to 12 and had attracted a lovely mix of fellow foodies from all over the country and abroad to get to know, swap blog details with and natter about recipe ideas.
As a novice (I didn’t get my kit until after the training) I found the day both invaluable and enjoyable, which is in no small part down to the fact that we were learning sous vide through eating sous vide. Steadily and continuously throughout the whole day:
- Home cured smoked salmon and eggs
- Sirloin of beef with pomme puree, carrots and leeks
- Vanilla and dill salmon
- Monkfish marsala
- Salmon marsala
- Rib eye steak Beef and marrow burger
- Brined spatchcock chicken
- Smoked pork ribs
- ‘Roast’ chicken
- Belly pork with granny smith apples
- Pheasant Duck with rhubarb and orange
- Star anise and rum pineapple
All these bites were delicious, but my personal favourites were the slinkiest, richest, softest salmon I think I’ve ever eaten, the tender and incredible sirloin (see pic, look how it glistens!), the rich and tender as hell charred skinned rib eye, the crisp skinned and juicy centred beef and marrow burger, and the ‘roast’ chicken – more soft and succulent than I’ve ever tasted before, exactly the same size when cooked as it was when raw – a revelation! These tastes over the day filled us to the brim with delight and in my book are reason alone to book a seat on the course, whether you’ve a sous vide at home or not.
A great element I thought was that as we’d try the sous vide version of a meat we’d also try the conventionally cooked version. Sous vide cooked meat is distinctively different, but eating it side by side with its pan fried counterpart highlights the differences even more.
So, aside from stuffing my face and meeting new folks, what did I learn? Here are a few principals I picked up:
- What goes in the bag stays in the bag. There’s nowhere for flavours and ingredients to go once in the vac so what you put in it you’ll get out of it. Flavours intensify massively and penetrate the meat or vegetables so be careful with your ingredients – things like raw garlic are a no no, and bold fresh herbs such as thyme should be used sparingly – they’ll be twice as strong in the sous vide as they would a saucepan.
- No quality substitute. Sous vide is no substitute for poor quality food. If you cook sous vide with poor quality food you’ll still be eating poor quality food.
- Get brining. Sous vide traps in the juices for super succulent meat and the vac sealing means no shrinkage whatsoever, but bringing those meats first makes them EVEN better. Brining chicken, turkey and ribs in a salt and sugar solution with a few herbs will make it even more juicy while flavouring the meat.
- Murder by marinade. Marinades containing strong flavours should be cooked before being used. A marsala marinade for instance used raw on meat or fish will ruin the meat. Instead cook the marinade first, blitz, pass and cool before using – the flavours will be more subtle and suitable.
- Blotting, browning and burning. When taking meat out of the sous vide that you intend to brown in a pan to get a good browned outer, first you must blot the meat with kitchen paper to dry it. Second you must use a good non stick pan and get it SERIOUSLY hot before putting the meat in to sear. Thirdly, if you’ve used a marinade that has sugar in it you must be careful in searing it – as it will catch and burn very quickly.
- Temperature and time. This might be a bit controversial among the Michelin chef brigade, but as I understood it the temperature is first the most important, and time is more elastic. That is to say so long as over a certain time is reached, there is a window of safety, so it’s fine to leave a steak or piece of meat in the bath without it spoiling – no more last minute panics as you try to bring everything together at the same time.
Come the end of the session I was pleasantly full and my mind was racing with ideas, I couldn’t wait to get started with my kit.
I have the Polyscience Creative Thermal Circulator – it’s a portable device that can be submerged into any vessel up to 25l (so massive capacity) to turn it into a water bath. Really cool because it’s got the same precision digital heating controls as an all in one bath, but it’s much neater in design so easy to store away when not being used – so it’s perfect for a domestic setting (not to mention it can be easily taken places should the desire strike).
And to top it all off I also got this Polyscience smoking gun. So if it’s not bolted down in my kitchen I’m going to be smoking the hell out of it with this nifty handheld gun and its aromatic smokes.
Right about now I probably should mention that I am a bit of a technofobe. I don’t like touchscreen phones (I need keys) I like paper and pencil for making notes and I keep a paper day planner not a digital one, so was a little worried at how I’d cope with serious scientific kit like this, but it really couldn’t be easier to work – even for me.
What is this kit going to do for my life? Well, I think it’s definitely changing the way I approach cooking – taking care of the most critical cooking process and freeing up my time to focus on dish invention, dreaming up sauces, sides and flavour combinations while it consistently produces a fantastic end result.
On top of that it suits my food style well. I’m an avid meal planner and this works with that as you can easily prep food well ahead of time, creating great meals for nights when you’re short on time. And on top of superior flavour, texture and nutrition, I can’t wait to have my first dinner party using this bad boy, of course it’s going to make it much tastier, but it will also be far easier and more relaxing.
Look out for sous vide recipes of all shapes, sizes and nationalities on the blog soon as I batten down the hatches like some kind of hermit and get water bath cooking.