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When you ask a chef what his favorite kitchen tool is, you get answers ranging from knives to tongs. But for Dao Le, executive chef at the Read House, it's his sous vide machine.

"It's a great device since it cooks food evenly and to the exact degree you're aiming for without guessing the doneness of the food," Le says.

Once the choice of top chefs, sous vide (which means vacuum-packed) is becoming very popular for today's home cooks. With this method of cooking, you can produce restaurant-quality meals in your home using this French food preservation method. Sous vide uses precise temperature control to create consistent results. The food, whether it be chicken, steak or fish, is vacuum-sealed and placed in a water bath to cook on the stovetop very slowly and precisely to produce the best results.

It's almost magical, cooking meats and other foods, such as poached eggs, to the perfect temperature throughout without overcooking them, Le adds.

"And adding fresh herbs and spices to the vacuum-sealed beef — or pork — gives the meat more concentrated flavors," he says.

Take a rib-eye, for example. These steaks are spectacular using sous vide.

Place the rib-eye in the bag, add fresh thyme, garlic, salt and pepper, vacuum-seal the bag, then set your water temperature to 125 degrees for medium-rare.

"You're able to leave that rib-eye in the controlled water bath for two hours, and it will not overcook," Le says. "So you're able to do other prep and cooking while your sous vide rib-eye is cooking without worrying about the steak overcooking. Once you are ready for the steak, then all you have to do is remove it from the bag and slightly pat dry. In a hot cast-iron skillet you want to sear the meat quickly on each side for about a minute or two, just to give it that nice crust . Also keep the jus that's in the bag since it has a lot of concentrated flavors and you can slightly reduce that and there you have a great jus for your steak."

Le also says poached eggs are perfect when cooked with a sous vide.

"I cook whole eggs still in the shell in a 167-degree water temperature for 12 minutes, then take them out and put them in an ice bath for about one minute to cool down slightly," he says. "Remove them from water and let sit for another three minutes, then crack the shell and there you have it — perfect poached eggs with cooked whites and a runny yolk."

Sous vide is like a cooking tool with a brain. You put the sous vide in a pot of water with the vacuum-sealed food, and it will heat the water to a set temperature and keep it there until it's ready. No guesswork.

There was a time when sous vide machines were for upper-crust cooks only, as they were expensive and not readily available. Just like microwave ovens, they've come down in price and are seen on shelves in kitchen stores everywhere. Russell Hobbs even has one priced at $129 at russellhobbs.com, and the company adds a few more tips:

 

* Add a little oil to prevent the food from warping — yes, foods can do that.

* Cook first, then cut. It makes it easier to achieve neat, evenly shaped pieces and will prevent the meat from appearing dry or discolored.

* Avoid overcrowding. The contents should spread out in a single layer rather than overlap or pile up.

 

I've seen sous vide machines as low as $50 online, but, as the saying goes, you get what you pay for.

"I believe investing in a good one is worth the money even if you're cooking for just two people," Le says. "You will not be disappointed once you start with sous vide cooking."

According to Springdale, Arkansas-based Tyson Foods' 2019 "Trendtellers" report, sous vide is one of the hottest food trends in the nation. Little wonder since sous vide is all about convenience, which we all need, and quality, which we all want.

"For the novice home cook or a chef just starting to begin on sous vide cooking, I would recommend they study the water temperature and how long to cook certain items that they are wanting to achieve," Le says. "They can also ask local chefs who have experience on sous vide cooking. Once they get going on the sous vide machine and see how good the food comes out, they'll be hooked."

 

Sous Vide Brisket With Honey and Spices

This recipe, courtesy of Williams Sonoma, makes a tough piece of meat amazingly tender. This needs to cook in the sous vide for 72 hours, so plan accordingly.

1 flat-cut beef brisket, 4 1/2 to 5 pounds

2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus more to taste

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 tablespoons Hungarian paprika

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon beef demi-glace

1 dried bay leaf

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

1 cup red wine

2 cups beef stock

1/4 cup honey

2 cipollini onions, peeled (or other small, sweet onion)

1 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks

Fresh bay leaves for garnish (optional)

Prepare a sous vide immersion circulator for use according to the manufacturer's instructions. Heat the water to 147 degrees. Generously season the brisket with salt and pepper. In a large saucepan over medium heat, warm 1 tablespoon of the olive oil until just smoking. Add the garlic, tomato paste, paprika, cinnamon, demi-glace, dried bay leaf and thyme, and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the wine and boil for 5 minutes. Add the stock, honey, 2 teaspoons salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, and cool to room temperature.

Place the brisket in a vacuum-sealable bag, and pour in the stock mixture. Using a vacuum sealer, vacuum and seal the bag tight according to the manufacturer's instructions; be sure you have a smooth, airtight seal. If you don't have a vacuum sealer, use a good-quality resealable bag and get as much air out as possible before sealing. Carefully place the bag into the circulating water, and cook for 72 hours — yes, 72. About 1 hour before the brisket is done, heat the oven to 450 degrees.

In a large bowl, toss the onions and carrots with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a baking sheet, and roast, stirring once halfway through, until the vegetables are tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Set aside.

Carefully remove the bag from the circulating water. Remove the brisket from the bag, place on a paper-towel-lined baking sheet, and pat dry with paper towels. Strain the sauce into a bowl.

In a large, deep sauté pan over medium-high heat, warm the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the brisket, and sear, turning once, until well browned, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a carving board. Pour off the excess fat from the pan, add the sauce and set over high heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally and skimming as needed, until the sauce is thickened, about 20 minutes, adding the onions and carrots during the last 5 minutes of cooking. Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper.

Cut the brisket across the grain into slices. Transfer to a large platter, and spoon the vegetables over and around the meat. Drizzle some of the sauce over the meat, and pour the rest into a bowl. Garnish the platter with fresh bay leaves. Serve immediately, and pass the sauce at the table. Makes 10 servings.

Email Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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