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Sous Vide

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.”

The Oxford English Dictionary describes an oxymoron as: “A figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction.”

Yet, here I am with as oxymoronic a dish as one could think possible. And to add to the culinary confusion, I froze it too. I suppose, to avoid accusations of culinary cultural appropriation, I should call this Oxymoronic Tandoori Style Chicken Sous Vide, Kindah. but, that’s to long for a headline and also “kinda” looks kinda Indian when it’s written down adjacent to Tandoori. But, I digress.

Garlic Pork Chop Sous Vide (8 of 10)

Please don’t judge me too harshly. This is hardly a recipe at all. It is a testament to great ingredients and a wonderful cooking method, little more. On the criticism front, I admit that I judge people. I know that I shouldn’t. But I do. No mater how morally fortuitous you are, I bet you are also in the ranks of judgers. Picture yourself in the line at the supermarket. The rake-thin woman in front of you has a trolly piled high with overpriced “organic” vegetables and little else apart from some quinoa and Goji berries. Her shop comes to the price of a small electric car. You think about the overspend, the waste of money and how painfully thin she looks. While she roots in her gym bag for a credit card, you look behind. The trolly aft, in the charge of a middle-aged man, with his belly hanging gracefully over his waistband, is laden down with supersize Coke family-value bottles, frozen pizzas, giant sacks of crisps, oven-frys and a few boxes of microwave popcorn. You feel OK about your shop. Yes, there are a few treats but, you are not wasting money on either “organic” veg or “family-value” sugar laden drinks. Admit it, you are judging. It’s very hard not to.

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