Christmas came early this year at my house. It came hella early. Like before Easter early. And it came in the form of an Avona Sous Vide Precision Circulator. Yes the key to this girl’s heart are kitchen gadgets. Don’t buy me diamonds or pearls, buy my love with a shiny new immersion blender or knife set. For probably the last 3 months I’ve been eyeballing different sous vide contraptions. Some ranging as much as $3000 easy to as cheap as $179.00. All I know is with a wedding to save for and bills to be paid the dream would need to stay just that….a dream…Until my amazing husband Kyle told me over breakfast that he ordered me the Avona. Well..You can just imagine at how ecstatic I was to hear that news and crepes soon found their way into his belly that morning..No that’s not a euphemism for something else. God! I made him crepes because he wanted them and I now had a valid excuse to make them!
Well let me tell you something, last week waiting for this thing to get to me was the LONGEST week imaginable for a chef. New toy on the way, recipes upon recipes looked out and decisions as to what would first find its way into a vac bag for the first sous vide test. But what exactly is sous vide and why am I so interested in owning a gadget that costs about the same as my car payment. Sous vide is a school of cooking where you place an item inside of a bag and vacuum seal it prior to cooking. This can be done with a vacuum sealer or if you don’t happen to own one by submerging your ziplock bag into a bath of hot water and using the displacement of pressure to force the air out. What people more commonly associate with as “sous vide cooking” is the submersion of a sealed package into a temperature controlled water bath. The results are almost always identical and yield results that cannot be achieved through conventional cooking methods. Anyone who has cooked a steak knows that its almost next to impossible to get the same results steak after steak after steak. Cooking a steak via the sous vide method takes out the guess work as well as the babysitting that goes along with cooking pretty much anything. It’s like Ron Popeil use to say “You set it, and forget it”.
When I first started this blog post I had only had my Avona for 3 days and believe me you I put that puppy through the ringer. I sous vide eggs, pork belly, steak, shrimp, egg yolks in oil (yup) but I wasn’t sure exactly what to make the focus of this entry about. Until last night (queue wavey trippy flashback music). On Saturday, prior to hanging out with my friend Ruby, I made a stop at one of the local grocery stores as I’m known to do. Let’s face it, I have a rather healthy relationship with the grocery stores here and I see multiple ones. Anyways enough about my torrid love affair with the produce aisles. As I roamed amongst the cabbages and the leeks I steered my feet towards the seafood section. An odd thing about the Schnucks in St. Louis is that each one is slightly different. One might have a extensive cheese section, one might have a large kitchen supply section and this one had a lovely seafood section. After pondering between the salmon, the swordfish and the tuna I opted to purchase a lovely pink yellowfin tuna steak.
So why sous vide. What makes sous vide cooking such an optimal way of cooking? Primarily it deals with being able to control the environment in which your food is placed in. Through conventional methods of cooking the heat comes from the cook top, heating the water and the food in it. You have a harder time in maintaining a controlled temperature and the nutrients of the food are then leached out into the water and subsequently dumped down the drain. With sous vide cooking the water is heater and then circulated around your food which heats and cooks it thus reducing the leaching of nutrients into the water. This is primarily because most sous vide are done within a bag with the exception of eggs but they are kept either in an oil bath and heated indirectly or in their shell. Another perk is quality control. I find that I am able to get more consistent results cooking sous vide then I would say grilling a steak or poaching an egg on the stove. While there will be some slight discrepancies from steak to steak I can successfully cook 2 steaks of the same thickness at the same time and both of them come out rare. That is hard to do in a small home kitchen without causing an endless amount of smoke.
Some people will probably say that the downside to doing sous vide is the amount of time it takes to do something as simple as an egg. While yes 45 minutes for a poached egg seems silly I rather enjoy the long cooking process. It actually is beneficial to me as I do multiple things while I cook and it frees me up and gives me the freedom to step away from the kitchen and actually enjoy my day. So the long cooking time is not a negative its actually a positive. So back to my yellowfin tuna. Isn’t it beautiful? A lovely fat fish with beautiful marbling and a vibrant pink color. No fishy odor here which indicates that it was fresh albeit previously frozen but I didn’t have time this time to go to Bob’s Seafood in hopes they had tuna available. Plus this was an impulse trip so ya know ya make due with what ya gots.
The preparation of the tuna was rather minimal. I had decided to go with Asian as that seems to be the most traditional use of this beautiful fish. Simply tossing it into a skillet and cooking it up did not seem to do this justice. My marinade was three simple ingredients that should be in most peoples pantries. Ponzu sauce, garlic chili sauce and honey. If you don’t happen to have ponzu sauce a viable substitution is soy sauce and adding either half a lemon, lime or orange.
1/3 c. honey (i use organic local because I have it readily available to help with allergies)
1/2 c. ponzu sauce
1 tbls. garlic chili sauce
You will want to combine all your ingredients and whisk until combined and set it aside while you prepare your tuna. The bag preparation will be solely your decision. If you happen to have a food saver you are more then welcome to vac seal your fish for storage and cooking or if you happen to have freezer grade resealable bags then by all means use that but you may want to double up. If you are using a resealable bag you will want to remove as much air as possible to avoid it from floating to the service. The suggested method is called the Archimedes Principle (displacement method). Once your sous bath has come up to the desired temperature you simply place your open pouch in the water and the pressure will force the air out causing a vacuum seal around your food. You would simply either zip the bag closed or you can clip it to the side of your stock pot or Rubbermaid bin. The reason for the double up is to ensure that the bag doesn’t have a seam fail and you find your food floating around like so many a passenger on the Titanic (what? to soon? There was totally room on that door!)
Prior to cooking my pouch of love I placed it in the fridge to allow a quick marinade and then put it in the freezer for partially freeze the fish. The reason for this was to ensure that during the water bath process that it didn’t overcook. I wanted the interior to stay as pink as humanly possible. It took about 5 minutes to bring the water up to temp. I opted to not use hot water as it would have been hotter then my target temp of 110 F (43.3 C). Once I heard the three beeps I inserted my bag in and set the timer for 30 minutes and walked away to enjoy the world outside the kitchen. I’ve been told that its rather lovely out there! Now with any other cooking method with the exception of an oven I would not be able to go and sit down and watch an episode or two of The Flash or even grab a shower. I’d be chained to the kitchen to make sure that the fish didn’t overcook or burn. This also allows me the luxury of it going longer then it need be without ruining the dish because the water is held at a constant temp. Once the timer went off I removed the bag from the oven and put it back in the freezer for another 15-20 minutes while I finished preparing the rest of the meal. For this application I opted for a complete Asian dish and paired it with glazed shiitake mushrooms with bok choy over jasmine rice. I’ll post the complete recipe at the bottom. The reason for the second refreezing was if I opted to do a flash sear for color and because I was covering the steak with black and white sesame seeds I wanted a bit of a crunch. This ensures that the flash sear wont cause to much color on the fish.
I won’t lie. Whenever I do something new I always hold it in the back of my head that there is the slight possibility that I will jack it up and it will be ruined. Thems the breaks when you cook. Sometimes something will work out perfectly and other times it will be a huge plate of fail. But you never give up and you always try again and hope for different results. Needless to say I was quite satisfied with how the yellowfin tuna turned out. The center of the fish was a glorious vibrant pink with just the slight hint of color to the edge. It was fully cooked yet provided the slight hint of raw texture. It would have been fine either with or without the sesame seeds as those were more for aesthetic and the accompaniment was amazing. Yes it took around 2 hours for a dish that could have easily taken 30 minutes. Yes I could have easily dirtied 3 or 4 more pans to get the end result yet with the sous vide the pot is still clean as the bag never failed, the water is essentially sanitized and hot enough to effectively wash my dishes afterwards. I just choose not to. This way allowed me time to spend with my husband Kyle and relax and not feel stressed out over making sure everything was right. And that in and of itself is worth the price of this machine. I’ve made beautiful meals with it. I will make more beautiful meals and if it means planning a meal a week in advance then I’m cool with that. There are other ways of accomplishing a sous vide technique without spending $200.00 for an Avona. One suggested way is filling an insulated beer cooler with hot water and setting up an insta-read thermometer and making sure its not in a cold place. You may get 1-2 degrees of temperature change but hey if it works then more power to everyone!. Until then remember that you are only limited by your imagination when it comes to cooking. Always challenge yourself in the kitchen and you will create beautiful works of art.
Sous Vide Yellow Fin Tuna:
Marinade: (per steak)
- 1/3 c. honey (i use organic local because I have it readily available to help with allergies)
- 1/2 c. ponzu sauce
- 1 tbls. garlic chili sauce
- 1 pound yellowfin or ahi tuna steak
Mix all ingredients together in a small non-reactive bowl. Place fish into vac bag/resealable zip lock bag and pour in marinade. Remove excess air and place in refrigerator for 1 hour to marinate. Prior to cooking remove and place in freezer to partially freeze fish to ward off any potential for overcooking. Heat your sous vide up to 110 F (43.3 C) and once to temp place your bag in the water. If properly vac sealed the bag will sink to the bottom. If not then simply clip it to the side of the bag to avoid it floating around. Set timer for 30 minutes and let it do its thing. Once finished depending on when you are serving it you can either remove it and serve as is or you can place it in the fridge and serve it chilled. Your choice
Marinated Shiitake mushrooms with Bok Choy (serves 6-8)
- 2 pounds baby bok choy
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 small dry red Chinese hot peppers
- 1 pound shiitake mushrooms (about 4 dozen), stems removed
- Salt and pepper
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon grated ginger
- 1 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 3 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
- 6 scallions, sliced diagonally, for garnish
- 1 tablespoon roasted sesame seeds for garnish (optional)
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Cut off and discard stem ends of bok choy. Separate leaves, rinse and drain. Drop leaves into boiling water and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until barely cooked. Immediately remove, rinse with cool water, drain and pat dry. Arrange leaves in one layer on an ovenproof earthenware platter, then set aside.
Put a large wok or cast-iron skillet over high heat. Add oil and heat until nearly smoking, then add hot peppers and shiitake caps, stirring to coat. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Stir-fry for 2 minutes. Reduce heat slightly and add garlic, ginger, sugar, sesame oil and tamari (soy sauce). Stir-fry for 1 minute more.
Spoon shiitake and pan juices over reserved cooked bok choy. Serve at room temperature, or if you prefer, reheat covered with foil for 10 to 15 minutes in a hot oven. Garnish with scallions and sesame seeds, if using.