Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Beautiful Bok Choi

On Saturday, a group of us went to the Coppell Farmers' market. A bitterly cold day - the brave folks selling their wares were all shivering - but it seemed like good turnout. I certainly hope so for all who make a living producing really wholesome ingredients and foods. One stop was at my good friend Marie Tedei's stall. She had a couple of varieties of bok choi, some mixed salad leaves and arugula. All picked the day before, so lovely and fresh. I bought some bok choi and then the question, what to do with it? I wanted to preserve its wonderful bitterness and somehow turn it into the star of an evening dinner with Madame.
I have also been watching Heston Blumental's series "how to cook like Heston" on the UK's Channel 4. One episode was dedicated to eggs. I wanted to try his method of egg poaching. Now Chef Blumental may be able to put his hand up a chicken to get the freshest possible eggs. I haven't found any chickens close enough, so am having to rely on local producers for eggs of indeterminate age.
In the fridge there is (was!) some guanciale, so I could see the makings of a dish of lightly braised bok choi with guanciale and a couple of poached eggs nestling on top.
So that's what we had.
3 oz guanciale cut into lardons
1 head bok choi - white and green parts cut into large bite sized pieces, thoroughly rinsed
4 large eggs
A few drops of hot sauce
A few drops of vinegar - I used sherry vinegar
Pepper (and maybe salt - depends on the salitiness of the guanciale) to taste
A few croutons
Gently cook the guanciale in a large skillet until all the fat has rendered and the meat has become firm and slightly crisp. It goes not crisp up like bacon does. Meanwhile rinse and drain the bok choi, and cut into bite sized pieces. No need to dry thoroughly. Put a deep pot of water onto the stove, side a plate into the bottom to protect the eggs from the heat of the pan and heat to a gentle simmer (180F or so).
With about 5 minutes to go before you want to serve the dish, drain all of the fat from the skillet and then put the bok choi in, stir, add a few drops of hot sauce and cover. Poach the eggs in the simmering liquid - about 4 minutes - until the whites are firm, but the yolks are still runny.
When the bok choi is cooked add the vinegar, toss and then spoon some in a mound inside a warmed bowl, taking care to drain it first. Add a few croutons and top with the poached eggs. Grind a little pepper and serve immediately. The accompanying wine was a Mulderbosh 2010 Chenin Blanc.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Chicken with tarragon

As part of the experimentation with sous-vide cooking, I laid out some goals and the beginning process. Here's the link to that first post.

One of the goals was to see if there was a way to make boneless, skinless chicken breasts edible. The jury is still out, but the method shows promise.

What was really strange about this dish was how much liquid there was in the bag at the end (making us worry about how dry the chicken might be), and yet how moist and juicy the meat was. I am sure a food scientist can help with this conumdrum.

The dish was not an unqualified success, the chicken was rather mealy in texture. Taste was fabulous, but it was definitely soft. I think it is worth repeating the experiment, but maybe leaving it in the circulator for less time.

In any case here is what I did.

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
Grape seed oil to coat the chicken
Salt/pepper - a small amount just to season
2 bunches of fresh tarragon

Set up the circulator for a temperature of 160F (71C). Rub the chicken breasts with oil and then salt/pepper lightly. Place in vacuum bag and pack in the tarragon. Seal the bag as usual. Wait for the circulator to come to temperature. Slide the sealed bag into the circulator and leave to cook for 4 hours.
Take out of the circulator, plunge in ice water (still in the bag) until cold. Then freeze in the bag.
To reheat, give it abut 2 minutes in the microwave (still in the bag if you dare - but the bag will puff up and possibly explode). It may be wise to vent the bag before microwaving.

Slice on the diagonal and serve over salad.

Future Changes
Cook in the circulator for 2 hours instead of 4. It seems as if the tenderizing effect of sous vide cooking can make it go further than one would like. Otherwise, just keep doing it!

Monday, January 16, 2012

The sous vide lamb chops

For those who have been following the bouncing ball, you will know that I am in the sous-vide stage of life. I was lent a very high quality circulator and am going through the learning cuve that everyone else has been going through for a while.
Yesterday I made some lamb chops - coated with a mint/garlic/salt/oil paste and cooked sous vide for about 6 hours at 50C. Tonight I cracked open on eof the bags, and Madame and I had them for dinner. Success!!!

6 lamb loin chops - weighing 4-6 oz each
1/4/ cup packed mint leaves
1 small (3 inch) rosemary sprig - leaves only
3 cloves garlic
1/2 t salt
1T vegetable oil

Pound the salt, rosemary, mint leaves in a pestle and mortar, adding oil to make a thick paste. Coat the chops with the paste. Seal the chops into 2 vacuum bags (3 chops/bag). Set the circulator to 50C (122 F) and submerge the bags. Cook for 6 hours in the bags.
Remove the bags from the circulator and refrigerate still in the bags.
When you wish to eat the chops, open the bag and sear the chops until the internal temp is 55C 130F (or more according to taste). This should take around 10 minutes on a medium hot skillet.
leave the chops to rest while assembling the salad.

Tasting notes
We served these chops with a Hahn GSM and a salad made with spring mix, olives, tomatoes, peppers, apple and avocado. Dressing was a simple tarragon vinaigrette made with sherry vinegar.

Yes this did get the highest Madame accolade, "We should serve this to people".

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sous Vide Part 1 Chicken Beef Lamb and Pork

In this posting, I am laying out those items I plan to do in the first week or so of the grand sous vide experiment. Madame and I went shopping for:
  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Pork ribs
  • Lamb chops
  • Beef sirloin
  • Leeks, peppers, celery
These are going to be turned into:

  1. mushrooms, onion, cream, rosemary, thyme, salt, pepper
  2. onion, fennel, indian spices, salt, pepper
  3. ginger, kaffir lime, coconut milk, lemon grass, salt, pepper
  4. cumin, coriander, star anise, cinnamon, clove, hot pepper sauce, salt, pepper
  5. tarragon, salt and pepper
Pork Ribs
  1. home made bbq sauce (ketchup, fish sauce, brown sugar, paprika, molasses, cumin ++)
  2. fish sauce, lime (juice and zest) shrimp paste, mirin, palm oil, szechuan peppers
  3. apple, calvados, cider vinegar
Lamb chops
  1. mint, garlic, salt pepper, trace of grapeseed oil
Sirloin (prime)
  1. salt, pink pepper corns, trace of oil
Vegetable Medley
  1. leeks, peppers, fennel, carrots, basil,
here's hoping that at least some of these will come out well. The chicken will be set to cook at 65 C. The lamb and the beef at 50C. The pork at 60C. The vegetables at 80C. Since the dishes will be finished later (sauced dishes by reheating, non sauced dishes by searing), the final temperatures should come out properly, and in line with the FDA guidelines in the USA. The vegetables should concentrate their sweetness too, by finishing in the oven.
These dishes will all be frozen, and then brought out as dinners at various times this winter/spring. If I have to travel, then I want to make sure that Madame has tasty/nutritious items.
Subsequent postings will detail the experiments.

The Sous Vide Experiment

My good friend David Gilbert has changed jobs and is gradually moving his belongings to San Antonio - to be the Executive Chef at the luxurious Eilan hotel. I managed to persuade him to loan me his water bath and circulator so I could try to do a bunch of sous vide cooking. I know he will want the equipment back as soon as he has some breathing room, so I need to work fast.

The challenges that I wish to undertake are:

  1. What will it take to make chicken breasts tasty?
  2. Can sous vide cooking do a good job with duck confit?
  3. Fish? - A huge topic all on its own. But I can think of several fun things to try - just like any other protein.
  4. If I precook a bunch of interesting stuff sous vide, can I freeze it, and then finish the cooking (sear or whatever) at a later date?
  5. What happens if I sous vide cook things with a sauce around them? Do sauces "make themselves" this way?
  6. What effects do various flavouring agents (especially herbs) have on the taste of the ingredients?
  7. What about vegetables? - We had some excellent parsnips at this event , so it made me wonder what would happen with other root vegetables.
  8. Eggs - lots of them. Eggs cooked in the circulator are fantastic. The trick is peeling the buggers afterwards. How long can a circulator cooked egg keep?
  9. More normal/conventional things - like cooking nice cuts of beef and searing them.
  10. What happens to cheese in the vacuum bag? - I suspect that nothing good will happen, but I have no idea! Temperature will be critical.
  11. Using the circulator quite cool as a rapid defrost mechanism. The trick of defrosting in cold tapwater is fine, but wasteful of water.
I am sure that many have tried these things before, and I could look up what they have done. But it is so much more fun to experiment. That's the nice thing about working from home - I can set and forget, leaving the circulator to do its thing while I am wrestling technology alligators to the ground.