Let’s get things straight, I don’t do book reviews. I don’t do restaurant reviews either (see footnote). If I am to criticise the work of others, I would first need to be better than them. If I were, it would demean me to denigrate them. If they are better at stuff or life than I am, I have no place criticising. It’s a tough position to hold. That’s why doing a review of Mastering the Art of Sous Vide by Justice Stewart is such a difficult task for me. Let me give you a bit of background on the man.
Butchers should love sous vide. They should be actively promoting the cooking method. They could, if they had the wit, see that the saving of their dying craft is tied to innovation. Domestic sous vide is such an innovation and could help on a path to profitability. Using sous vide, one can turn out a spectacular steak in just over an hour. I can turn out a spectacular steak in a lot less time without sous vide. Granted, the SV steak may be a bit tastier and a bit more tender. But, this is not where Sous Vide really shines.
The philosophers amongst us may start to waffle on about the unattainability of perfection. They may rub their chins (in a sage-like fashion) and let us know that it is what is removed and what is tolerated that brings us close to attaining this Nirvana. Yet, when I decided to wrap a simple fish cake in smoked salmon, I came as they say, pretty damn close.
“Why would you waste three days cooking a bit of beef?” “How can a cut like that taste good?” “Wouldn’t a nice fillet be tastier?” So go the questions. So goes the debate. I can tell you now. The debate is over. There is very little to be said. For the technical amongst you, this was beef cheeks sous vide 54/72 (129/72 American and 54ºC for 72 hours for the non technical).
There is a lot written about food evoking childhood and other happy memories. I smile quietly to myself at the mention of a sugar sandwich or jelly and ice cream. Less pleasant feelings surface when confronted with over-cooked Brussels sprouts or boiled mutton and white sauce. Often we associate places with particular foods too. I can’t go into central Dublin without being hit with a particular memory from my teenage years. It was a dire, cold wet night. We had been into town to see a movie. I had just enough cash left to afford a bag of chips. The rest of the lads jumped a bus. I chose to trip around to Middle Abbey Street for bag fo chips. I scoffed it waiting, on Burg Quay, for the last bus. I was cold. I was wet and the crunchy chips were over-salted. I didn’t care. They were delicious. At the bottom of the bag, the fluffy potato was soaked in acrid vinegar that made me cough. I was in heaven on a cold, wet, Dublin night. Every time I cross O’Connell Bridge, that memory comes back to me.
You are probably reading this hoping it’s a software glitch in the Anova or a hacking of the Joule that has led to this culinary failure. It is technically true that an app was responsible for the issues. But in reality, it’s my own dumbass behaviour that was the problem. The app in question is WhatsApp and the issue had nothing to do with the sous vide end of the cooking. I started over two days out, planning a 48 hour cook of my short ribs. At this stage, everything went according to plan.
In an ideal world, all women would be a 10 so dress manufacturers would only need to make one size. Shopping would be a lot simpler too. Men would be happy with mid grey polyester-cotton trousers in 32” waist/ 34” leg. Retailing would be so much easier. In the same idiom, butchers could only sell mince meat and chicken breasts. Things would be so easy. But, for women, men and butchers, life is not that simple. Butchers need to offer a bit more than the top margin products that virtually sell themselves. Some try to do it by buying in a range of day-glow sauces and “adding value” by disguising the meat in these industrially produced “authentic” flavours. This may keep the wolf of competition from the door in the short term. Business logic tells me that the advantage will be eroded by supermarkets and this variety of independent butcher, like the guy trying to fit into size 32, will be under pressure again.
I love this stuff. Imagine if I had moved an apostrophe in “Idiots’” above. Then I would be saying, in a self-deprecating way, that I am an imbecile and that this is my guide to Oriental Lamb Shanks with Sauce. But, I’m not saying that. I am saying that this is a recipe which any fool, klutz or cretin has the wherewithal to prepare. If you don’t believe me or if you are still doubting your own prowess in the kitchen department, read on my friend, read on…
I admit it. I’m a hoarder. Not one of those guys who lives in a clapperboard house, having to crawl through tunnels of old newspapers to get to the loo. But, not far off it. It’s the plates and bowls that have got me into trouble. I can’t help buying more and more plates that will “Look good in a shot”. They need to have a bit of style about them and they also need to be a bargain (I may be obsessed, but, I’m not stupid.). I did a quick count in my ‘blog room’. I have ninety six, yes 96 different plates and bowls. That’s an obsession, before we look at the glasses, knives and forks, chopping boards, decorative saucepans and table cloths, backdrops and so forth. With all this in mind, you would think that I would be able to find a suitable bowl for my take on Thai Style Basil Chicken. As you can see from the photo, I obviously can’t.
There are questions in life that one simply doesn’t ask. Don’t ask a woman her dress size, her age or how many glasses of Pinot Grigio she drank this morning. Whatever you do, don’t ask when the baby is due. Don’t ask a man when he was last in the gym, how much he earns or how many pints he knocks back in a week. For that, don’t ask him when the baby is due either. Any of you from the creative industry will know to not ask for the original video footage or the InDesign files. Don’t ask a cyclist how much he or she spent on the bike (See footnote). All of you should know to never ask a chef for his recipe. It’s just not done. So, when one of Ireland’s top flight Chef Patrons offers you a recipe, take it and try it. But, don’t ask for another. It’s simply not done.