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Sous Vide

Let’s face it. If you want to make anything sound that bit special, say it in French. A shrimp might be worth scoffing down. But a langoustine is something that has to be eaten with the reverence its embellished title deserves. Pommes Anna evokes crisp cotton tablecloths, silverware, crystal glasses and fine wines. With due deference to my eldest sister, “Anna’s potatoes” really doesn’t do much for the imagination. So when I cogitated preparing some sweetened duck legs in a plastic bag, it really had to be Duck a l’Orange Sous Vide. It may seem like déjà vu as I have done Duck a l’Orange here before.

 

Tomatoes are messy things. Purists tell you to drop them into boiling water until the skin splits. Then remove them and cool them, peel them, remove and discard everything except the outer flesh then use this in whatever dish you have planned.

That is far too much trouble for a midweek night dinner. But, I have found a solution. While on a recent trip to the north of Italy (To cycle the awesome Stelvio Pass. It is one of the world’s most beautiful and iconic climbs).

Because of geography, interest and dumb luck, I know a good number of butchers. I also know a number of good butchers. But let me tell you about some of the things that help to make a good butcher great.

  • Understanding the customer is a great thing. But understanding on its own will not a great butcher make. 
  • Product knowledge helps when cutting steaks, yet it won’t cut the mustard in the greatness stakes.
  • Stocking the unusual is in itself unusual and is a great help.
  • Enthusiasm and passion are essential ingredients too.

When you come across all of the above, you know you are dealing with greatness.


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.

“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). 

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 my earlier days, I worked in the advertising business. Back then, it wasn’t frequent but not unusual to be involved in TV shoots that would last for days on end. The anticipation of working “on a shoot” added to the street cred that it gave one in the pub. Even I succumbed on occasion to saying things like “It may look like a lot of fun, but, it’s hard work.” “The ‘talent’ can be difficult to manage.” or “He’s one of the most gifted producers in world film today. We’re really lucky to have secured him for this paint commercial.”  In fact, working on a big budget TV commercial back in the days of 35mm film was a royal pain in the arse. Unplugging a light could stop a commercial for hours as union labour rights were reestablished. Not having a ‘chippie’ (carpenter) on set could send the project south altogether. Everything seemed to take an age. For the hapless client service executive (me) it meant hours of sitting around doing nothing but being on high alert in case the client wanted anything. God forbid that the customer requested a change at the last minute. That would surely send the day’s shoot into overtime and lead to a vast bill with everybody involved (except me and the client) getting paid a big bonus. The best thing about those days was hearing the director call “It’s a wrap.”

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