Sous Vide - Life in a vacuum
Apparently, I was the only one in the village. The only one that is, who hadn’t experimented with the sous vide cooking process admired by so many modern Fanny Craddocks, especially those on Professional Masterchef.
It’s not that I dislike or fear new ideas and methods, I’m constantly learning. It’s just that if it’s not broken why the fuck fix it? I have achieved extraordinary results in hot as hell ovens, roasts to make you slabber all down your front. Steaks, the thought of which are making me drool as I write, straight from a charcoal grill with their salty, sticky seared outer surface and marshmallow soft deep red interiors are one of the great joys of eating. What is to be gained from a ‘boil in the bag’ method?
I just never went down that avenue. Not that is until Hogmanay 2017.
A crowd of us had made the trip to Bamburgh to see in the New Year, if you’ve never been you really should go, rent a cottage and chill. Beautiful coastal countryside, amazing walks along spotless beaches with your dogs, wonderful pubs and restaurants with roaring log fires and fish and chips in Seahouses. The butcher, R Carter & Son, in Bamburgh make the succulent award winning Bamburgh Bangers – as good as I’ve tasted, cure and smoke their own bacon, sell prime beef, lamb and pork as well as scrumptious sausage rolls and damn fine Scotch pies too.
Among us was a young couple, Dirk and Carly, one from NZ, the other from Oz. Very creative types they were too, so I wasn’t overly surprised to learn that Dirk, why is he named after a dagger?, never travels without his Sous Vide accouterments. I had a well hung half Scotch sirloin with me and admit that when Dirk suggested preparing this majestic slab of beef by the Sous Vide method I did shiver a little. “Would it taste like boiled beef? Have the texture of a jelly? Would it spoil my dinner?”
We seasoned the sirloin in the usual fashion, rubbing sea salt flakes and ground black peppercorns over the surfaces before finally spreading a generous coating of fiery hot English mustard on top. Next, into a plastic bag from which a machine sooked out every last drop of air before sealing the bag tightly shut.
On top of his creative talents, young Dirk is also a handyman of some considerable talent. He had converted a cold box, one of these plastic chappies used to keep bottles of beer cold on picnics, into a water bath with a hole in the lid through which he pushed his Sous Vide. Not essential, but it cuts down on water loss through evaporation and you can set it on the floor whilst operating.
The only drawback I am able to highlight is the extended cooking time. The joint for our dinner required 5 hours at 60C, whereas 30/40 minutes in the conventional oven would have produced a magical result. On the positive side of that, you set the timer and leave it cooking whilst you instruct a minion to peel the potatoes, massage your back and clear up your mess. If you have a sealed water bath then you don’t even have to keep your eye on the water level.
Five hours after lift off, the beef in its bag is fished out of the warm water, released from the plastic pouch and left to stand for ten minutes or so. The somewhat flaccid appearance of the cut is immediately cured by slapping it on a red hot griddle plate, searing, crisping and caramelising all in one go.
The beef carved beautifully, the texture perfect, the colour resembling a fiery ruby and the taste was astonishing. I was a new convert. This is a seriously ingenious method of preparing a roast. On top of that, the 30%+ shrinkage expected when oven roasting was reduced to under 10% on my first attempt.
I have since, from the lovely people at Steamer Trading Cookshop, been experimenting further. Salt beef brisket is made for this method of cooking, moist, succulent and melts in your mouth. It just takes 26 hours to cook a 1.5kg joint……..Still, plenty of time to get the sides ready.
Would I recommend? You bet your socks I do. Keep your eyes peeled for further updates on what I have done with my new toy. Fish next……
If I was having a steak would I Sous Vide? Probably not, I would have it on a griddle or hot pan for five minutes then it would be ready to eat before the water was half way to being hot enough.
Dirk and Carly – We all loved your ham and eggs and we salute you.
p.s. If you are interested in accommodation in Bamburgh, send me a message.