Salmon Sous Vide – Nonsensical low-temperature cooking or seafood Nirvana?

Salmon Sous Vide (6 of 7)“Sous Vide. What’s that?” “Is that some Spanish stuff?” “Boil-in-the-bag. Like they do on Masterchef”. Such were the reactions to my introducing Sous Vide to the cohort of the Great Unwashed that fronts as ‘my friends’. I did have a debt of honour to repay. So I needed to cook some Sous Vide Salmon and present it as well as I possibly could.

A number (an embarrassing number) of months ago, my good friend Stefan over in Amsterdam set me a bit of a task. He sent me some sous vide pouches and challenged me to prepare some sous vide fish, using almost barbaric methods. He wanted me to cook it on the stove top, regulating the temperature using a meat probe (which he, generously, also supplied) as my only guide. I blanched at the task. I promised myself to man up and take it on. Thankfully, fate and Eldest Daughter intervened, gifting me an Anova sous vide device for Christmas. Game on, as it were.

My research into water temperatures and cooking times for salmon yielded a great range of recommendations and opinions. I settled on 50ºC for 30 minutes. Stefan, the undisputed Sous Vide King of Northern Europe, promotes a lower temperature. I’m still a Sous Vide Virgin so maybe I’ll be brave and go there next time.

Here’s what I did. I scaled and skinned two salmon darns. Then I cut off the thin bit on the end, reserving both the skin and the thin bit.

A skinning shot. We haven't had one of these in a while.

A skinning shot. We haven’t had one of these in a while.

I ended up with what you see in the next picture.

A gratuitous skin and salmon bits shot. Why not?

A gratuitous skin and salmon bits shot. Why not?

Side note on being competitive: Stefan does a fantastic job and maintains very high standards. I try to avoid direct competition where I will lose. But, I can’t help myself here. I will sous vide the salmon, fry the square and crisp the skin to make things as 5 Star as I can. I can’t help myself!

There’s not a lot to it from here. I poured a tablespoon of good quality olive oil into each pouch (one per darn).

We have to have a pouring shot. Even if it is as uninteresting as this one.

We have to have a pouring shot. Even if it is as uninteresting as this one.

Next I added the salmon and used the water displacement method to get the air out of the bags. Then into the water bath with them for a precise 30 minutes at a precise 50ºC.

Even I look more attractive after 30 minutes in the bath.

Even I look more attractive after 30 minutes in the bath.

I have to say, the salmon didn’t look too elegant coming out of the water. While the salmon was cooking we prepared some celeriac mash (50% steamed celeriac and 50% steamed potatoes, mashed with a good dollop of butter and plenty of warm milk) and some steamed green beans. I cut the skin into squares and fried it and the salmon ends on a hot pan.

Not everything was submerged in water.

Not everything was submerged in water.

In truth, the skin spat and jumped about a bit, I should have dried it first. Once the salmon was cooked, we assembled the dish, photographed it while it went cold and then ate it.

I hate the term 'Restaurant Quality'. It sets the bar so low...

I hate the term ‘Restaurant Quality’. It sets the bar so low…

The verdict: The nicest bit of salmon we ever tasted. It looks like there really is something very special to this sous vide thing. I owe Stefan a debt of gratitude for his thoughtful challenge and to Eldest Daughter for her generous gift. Bring on the odd cuts of meat and the ludicrously long cooking times. Sous Vide, here we come….

Wine paring: Stefan usually advises on paring top quality wines with the fine meals he serves. In this case, we ‘enjoyed’ a cheap Australian white. It was chosen because the red in the cap and on the label paired well with the red edging on my plate. Such is life.

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  • That looks delicious – you’ll be cooking a whole pig sous vide in a jacuzzi next 😉

  • It does look very nice, juicy and perfectly cooked. But sous vide doesn’t leave you a lot of room for culinary fireworks, photographic ingenuity and plating-up panache, which is what I’ve come to expect and enjoy. Please may I submit a request for more chopping, stirring and pouring, full-on ingredient shots and a cooking process which is a little less, well, sterile? (Furthermore, I cannot forget hearing about medical students who experimented with sous vide in an autoclave….)

  • just olive oil in the bag?

    • Hi Rina, yes, just olive oil (and the salmon). I seasoned it on the plate, after the photos and before stuffing into my face.

      • Not bad at all! I actually tried cooking my salmon your way – just olive oil – and served it on salad greens, seasoned with salt after cooking the salmon and garnished with toasted slivered almonds. Simple yet delicious!

        • Delighted. I will be cooking it again tonight. I will season in advance this time.

  • The salmon is even better if you brine it prior to cooking sous vide. Stops the albumen coming out. You’ll have to try sous vide scrambled eggs next. They are amazing. Nick in Dundrum (Anova Precision Cooker owner)

    • Thanks Nick,
      I am really finding my way with the sous vide. It’s been great fun so far. The eggs sound excellent. We had cod last night (55.6 degrees for 25 minutes). My eldest commented “It’s like eating scallops”. What would you recommend for the eggs?

      • I use 3 eggs, a tablespoon of full fat milk, shake of salt, grind of black pepper, and a tiny knob of butter (melted). Whisk it lightly(no need to be too OTT due to massage). 75 c for 15 minutes. Massage at 5, 10, 12, 14 and 15 minutes (i.e. take bag out and literally massage it!).

        • I will have to try it. Though, the sous vide sceptics might laugh at me massaging my eggs!

  • You can sous vide your sauages as well 😉

  • I’m seriously impressed – haven’t tried sous vide but that salmon does look beautifully and delicately cooked. Checking Ryanair flights as I write ….

  • PS It’d be worth the air fare just to watch you massaging your eggs.

    • The thought of it makes me shudder.

      • It sounds like a lot of effort to make something you can make in a pan on the stove in a couple of minutes, but maybe it tastes radically different. I’ll take the photos if you do the massage. 😀

        • Linda, remember that the Wife reads this!

  • This whole post is just so funny. Glad you’re enjoying your sous vide!

    • It’s great fun Mimi. I’m really looking forward to some of the long and low cooking with the tougher meats.

  • Add to the list of “cooking methods that I will never try because they didn’t put it in 1970s cookbooks.” LOL.

    • You could just boil the salmon Yinz. That would be pretty 70s!

  • After my sous vide intro (via MasterChef, of course 😉 ) I had wondered about this preparation method for pheasant and goat, both being very dry meats . What do you think?

    • Definitely worth a go. I would add butter and herbs to both. That should help.

      • Thanks for that advice Conor. I don’t have the snazzy equipment, and it falls in priority behind a new juicer, but I look forward to a post if you ever try it yourself (and posts about anything you cook with it). I think I will research it more since we do eat quite a bit of both those meats…

  • i love slow cooking like confit but never try sous vide once, this possiply my next project!!!

    • Dedy,
      You could sous vide some chilis!

  • Found your blog recently, glad to get my first notification of a new post! I’ve been using sous-vide for a while now, it’s such a fun gadget! The only thing I dislike about it is the “cosmetic” aspect. Since nothing gets browned, the food doesn’t look appetizing as it leaves the bag, even if the protein is cooked to perfection. I resort to a run under the broiler (works great for salmon especially if you add a smear of a topping with some sugar in it, but not mandatory), or a quick sear on a pan or grill.

    If you’d like to take a look at my adventures (I am a beginner at the sous-vide thing), take a look at my blog under the category sous-vide:

    (I don’t think I have salmon in there yet… that too shall come!)

    (if you find objectionable the inclusion of a link, please slap my hand and delete my comment!)

    • Hi Sally, No hand slapping needed here. Thanks so much for the detailed comment. I cooked a couple of steaks the other evening and they got the griddle treatment. They looked great and tasted delicious. I will pop over to yours now and see what’s going on.

  • You’re addicted! The fish does look beautifully cooked and I like that you crisped up the skin and off cut. Excellent work – simple, but well thought out and effective.

    • Thanks Nick. I thought I should go a bit fancy for the first attempt. It will be back to tin plates and sloppy presentation from next week.

  • Excellent, Conor. Does the new food-in-the-bag method mean that you can now send me a portion in the post? Thanks.

    • Funny enough Tara, I was thinking of the business potential of bulk sous vide cooking. One could deliver cooked meats to restaurants and they would only have to finish the cuts off to have beautiful, tender, meat every time. I could cook something and post it to you. But, if my experience of AnPost over Christmas were to be mirrored, you might get a festering pile of botulism delivered sometime around Easter.
      (I love a good rant).

  • I like your wine-choosing method — sounds a lot like mine! Question: At that low temperature, could one use an ordinary Ziplock freezer bag? Or does it have to be a special bag?

    • Hi Hope,
      I suspect that any ‘food safe’ bag would be fine. However, I am a complete novice at this sous vide thing and I would do the research.

    • Yes, Ziplock FREEZER bags. I see too many sites that do not get that specified nor in replies to questions about time on short cook items (like fish) do they convey enough about food safety, such as doubling the thickness quadruples the time-to-temp at the core. Just found your blog and so glad I am now perusing it.

      • Hi Jon,
        Thanks for visiting. I have been having a lot of fun with the sous vide. So far, I have managed to avoid poisoning the family. Thanks too for the intelligent comment. It would be very easy to get it very wrong and have a disaster on one’s hands.

  • Gorgeous!

    • Thanks Jeff,
      I was just over on your site. I love that upside down cake. I should not do this stuff while I’m hungry!

  • Great post, Conor. Can’t tell you how thrilled I am you’re now cooking sous-vide, too, even though it took Lucy to make it happen 😉 Next time you make salmon, try at least a small piece at 43. I’m not giving up just yet on that count 😉

    • Thanks indeed Stefan. High praise from the Master. Unlike you, we are a one sous vide machine household. So I guess we will just have to risk all and give the 43º a go. I do need some practise. Last night we did the cod – Awesome. On Saturday we did strip loin steak – Also awesome. As I type, I have some pork chops in there at 63º. I will give them an hour and a bit and then serve with a Marsala sauce. I photographed the steak and will post it if I ever get any time to do anything other than cook!

      • You will get a feel for different times and temps with practise. Pork chops are also great at 57, but will need longer than at 63. This also depends on from which part the chops are. Shoulder chops need longer, up to 48 hours 🙂

  • I’m glad the challenge helped you find a new style of cooking to try a bit more. Looks delicious

    • I am more than grateful too. I am having fun.

  • Lovely platter. Interesting, boiling in a bag. The pan-fried skin sure looks gorgeous. Salmon, my daughter’s favourite fish but they cost a bomb here. That’s mashed potatoes by the side?

    Hi! Hopped over from Dedy’s blog, the dentist chef.

    • Hi to you too. Ðedy is such a creative cook. His blog is great. Salmon is pretty inexpensive here. We eat it most weeks.
      Thanks for visiting.

    • Oh, yes and no on the mash. It’s half potato and half celeriac. Very tasty.

  • As always, great post and photos. I especially love your wine pairing method. I’m sure Stefan will be impressed, too. 😀 Glad to see you engaging in the sous vide technique. I have only had a few (2) bad sous vide experiences both of which were user error. We have done poached fish sous vide several times with different fish and without exception the result was fabulous. I love the way you did the crispy skin to go with the poached fish. Nice touch.
    One of my next projects to try soft boiled eggs sous vide. You should be able to cook the whites sufficiently that you can peel the egg and still have a beautifully runny yolk. Stefan commented he was doing several dozen quail eggs with his Anova Precision Cooker; so, I am interested in seeing his post.

    • Thanks Richard. I had to push the plating boat out for the first sous vide post. Stefan abd Lucy deserve a bit of effort from me.
      Likewise, I await the multi egg post.

  • Well, clearly you had a nice Christmas!

  • A wonderful way to retain the delicate character of a beautiful piece of salmon.
    You blog goes against the wave of ‘food in a flash’ which is good. But if I am warming up to cook one of your dishes, I make sure I have time:)

  • Shall go with Kate all the way: she writes way better than I do anyways 🙂 ! ‘Sous-vide’ is an ‘interesting’ but ‘no, thank you’ method for me and next time, Milord, when you buy Australian wine, choose a better one and enjoy it!! Ours can be breathtakingly wonderful!!!!!

    • Hi Eha,
      No disrespect to the numerous, wonderful Australian wines. In this case, I didn’t choose. It was a gift, so really, I should not complain.
      I will try to cook something to your liking using this method.

  • I guess I’m more of an 80s cook. I used my pressure cooker twice over the holiday break! I’m not sure I’d ever master the art of sous-vide without a proper machine, and likely won’t ever get one in my lifetime. But I do like to read yours (now) and Stefan’s sous-vide recipes! 🙂

    • I’ll help to let you live a sous vide life, if only remotely.

  • Wow. Beautiful photos as usual. I never understood the sous-vide method, but if you say it’s the best salmon ever, it must be very darn good. I make salmon every week and I just love it (ever since the days of my fish butcher job). I think i’ll have to incorporate this method.

    • If you try it Amanda, you will love it, guaranteed.

  • Gorgeous fish and photos! You are a very brave man to test the sous vide low temperature technique. I bet your fish was delicate and delicious. I have never tried this before and I wonder how I would do as I don’t have all the proper equipment… Have you ever tried poaching your salmon in olive oil? I love your wine pairing method!

    • Hi BAM No to the olive oil No, (not yet). Having great sous vide fun. More posts to follow.

  • Believe it or not, the dishwasher is just the right temp to cook a sous vide salmon (you can google it). I’m thinking your next dinner guests would be rather amazed at that feat. Glad to see you experimenting with a little modernist cuisine!

  • My goodness, this does look good! I do have to commend you on your Gourmet yet Frugal use of the tips and skin! It warms the cockles of my heart, as my Irish Grandmother used to say. 🙂

  • Salmon is the name of my other heartthrob 🙂 And I’ve been cooking many of your dishes. This one will be tried and tasted real soon too.
    Your vibrant sense of humor and those honest casual shots make me comeback to your posts. Hope 2015 is treating you nice and kind, dear Boss-man 🙂

    • Nusrat,
      Your visits to the blog bring a ray of sunshine into an otherwise cloudy existence. 2015 is already a better place now that I know you will be sharing a bit of my virtual life with me.

  • FYI, my brother surprised me with a sous vide cooker for Xmas.
    I have started experimenting with fish. I will let you know how it goes. I feel like everything takes much longer than it says it should.

    • It all takes less time with a bit of practice. It is great fun and over time you will produce some stunning food. I did some lamb shanks over the break. Posting soon. They were wonderful. Welcome aboard the Sous Vide submarine.
      Happy New Year

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