Category Archives: Sous Vide

Thai Curry Pork, Forbidden Rice and Watermelon

Thai curries are one of my favorite south Asian foods that I don’t cook as much as I should. Every time I make it at home from scratch by pounding (actually, usually I use the food processor and then finish the paste in the mortar) together chilies, lemongrass, shallots, galangal and a host of other ingredients I tell myself that I really should do this at home more often. This time with this dish it is no different. It’s a piece of crispy fatty pork, black sticky rice (I like its other name though: forbidden rice), a nice salad of marinated and seasoned watermelon and a rich red Thai curry paste in coconut milk.

The watermelon salad here was inspired by a post on the Ideas in Food blog. It’s a take on the Thai green papaya salad. That’s usually made by finally shredding unripe papaya when the fruit is still green, crunchy and a little tart. It’s then mixed with mashed garlic, some dried shrimp and fish sauce. To make it more substantial, David Thompson in his book Thai Food, tops it with caramelized pork belly! For the watermelon version here, I used the part of the fruit that has a lot of that white pith closer to the green peel. I cured it by sprinkling the slabs of the watermelon with salt and Thai palm sugar and vaccum packing it in FoodSaver bag. After sitting in the fridge for a good 12 hours, I sliced it thinly and dressed the fruit with fish sauce, lime juice, garlic and chopped peanuts.

To make the pork, a tasty shoulder from a free range pig, I seasoned it with salt and sugar and cooked it sous vide for a long time (about 48 hours). Right before plating it, I cut the meat in long thick strips and crisped it in hot lard. Good quality pork cooked like that is tender, juicy and delicious. I enjoyed a couple of pieces on their own before picking the few I was going to actually plate.

The rice got a good soaking and then it was steamed to cook it. The rice ends up perfectly cooked with a nice toothsome texture. The taste is very nutty and can stand up to the strong flavors of the curry and the watermelon salad. This rice also makes a wonderful traditional south east Asian dessert when cooked with palm sugar and coconut milk.

The curry paste is also adapted from Thompson’s Thai Food. His recipe for a traditional red paste includes a lot of dried chilies that give it its red brick color. Since my wife does not like spicy food I cut down the quantity of the chilies significantly and used a large red bell pepper instead. That kind of messes with the balance of the paste and to make up for it I upped the amount of lime juice in there as well as adding a tablespoon or two of paprika. Not very traditional additions, but the paste was very nicely balanced in the end. To prepare the curry  sauce I needed to separate the coconut cream from the milk and use that fat to cook the paste before adding the rest of the milk into the pot. To do that I chill the can of coconut milk so the cream can solidify on the surface slightly. Then it’s a matter of spooning the cream off and heating it in a pan until the oil separates. I added half the paste (the rest went in the freezer for later) and fried it for a few minutes. Then I added the rest of the coconut milk along with a little stock to thin it. That transforms the red paste into a nice deep yellow sauce.

The pork, curry, nutty rice and watermelon with a garnish of chilies and cilantro made for a delicious dish but I still had a good bit of curry sauce and rice leftover. I wanted to use it that same weekend with a fish or shrimp dish. Fresh water fish like catfish or Tilapia work really well here and I used the latter. I cooked the fillet sous vide to the perfect tenderness. I plated the fish on top the black rice in a pool of the curry sauce and several dollops of a green cilantro sauce. The sauce made with blanched cilantro and a little basil, pureed with very little water and Ultratex-3 to thicken it. I did make a little pungent garnish for this one with thinly sliced shallots, lime juice, chilies, and fish sauce. It was every bit as good as the pork dish (well, almost…Tilapia cannot compete with great porcine!). Too bad I did not have my camera when I made this one, so all I got is this phone photo.

Short Rib, Chard Ribs, Eggplant, Yogurt

It might not look like it, but this dish’s inspiration and flavor is Lebanese. I love swiss chard ribs, those central stalks in each  leaf that usually get thrown away. My mom always quickly boils them and tosses them with tahini, garlic and lemon juice. I was eating some of those recently and wanted to make them part of a more substantial plate. Lamb came  to mind first, but Diana is not crazy about lamb. So, beef was my other option and short beef ribs seemed like they would work best with the chard ribs. The eggplant and yogurt made sense as natural companions flavor and theme-wise.

The beef ribs were cooked sous vide for 72 hours. They were tender but not mushy or falling apart. Before serving them, I browned them in some heavily seasoned clarified butter. In Lebanese cooking Samneh is the name for clarified butter and it is used extensively as both a cooking medium and for flavoring. To season it I used a spice mix that I get from my grandmother every time I am in Lebanon. I usually pick up a good size bag of the mix and store it in the freezer. It’s made form a mixture of whole spices and herbs including allspice, marjoram, anise, rose buds, cinnamon and a few other varieties. Typically, I just grind as much as I need in the spice grinder. I melted the clarified butter and added a couple of large pinches of the ground spice mixture. That warmed and heated up a bit before the fully cooked boneless ribs went in for a nice spiced butter bath. That also helped them get a very attractive dark mahogany color in addition to a spectacular exotic flavor.

I used swiss chard in two forms here, the sauced whole ribs and a ragout made from the ribs and leaves. I was hoping to retain the nice red color that red swiss chard ribs have so instead of boiling them as is typical, I cooked them sous vide in a pouch with herbs, garlic and a little olive oil. Unfortunately, it seems that the red color is not just water-soluble, but also not very heat-stable. The ribs ended up losing most of that color when cooked. I selected most of the nice looking ribs and left them whole, the rest got diced up to use in the ragout. The whole ribs were dressed with a walnut-tahini sauce. The sauce is just an update of the classic tahini+garlic+lemon juice+cumin with the addition of finely chopped walnuts. It worked very well with every component on the plate.

For the ragout of chard, I diced the rest of the cooked ribs and chopped the blanched leaves. I then cooked these with plenty of shallots and chopped walnuts in clarified butter. I tossed in a few sliced dried apricot and seasoned the mixture with black pepper and pomegranate molasses. It ended up delicious, with a good peppery kick, sweet-tart flavor and a touch of bitterness. This combination went great with the rich beef ribs.

The eggplant is based on a traditional Lebanese eggplant puree called mtabal. Typically, like it’s close cousin Babba Ghanouj, is made from eggplant that is cooked over charcoal in its skin until that turns black and charred. It is then peeled and pureed with flavorings that include garlic, lemon juice, cumin and in the case of Babba Ghanouj tahini sauce. I wanted something a bit more refined for this so I opted to cook the eggplant (I used the slender Japanese type)  sous vide along with olive oil, grated ginger, salt, Aleppo pepper and a little water. When completely soft, I pureed the  eggplant and it’s cooking liquid with a bunch of blanched cilantro and a small handful of blanched parsley. Last minute adjustments included the addition of some Meyer lemon olive oil, smoked paprika and lemon juice.

The yogurt dumplings are a variation on the yogurt spheres that I posted about here a while back made using an Alginate bath. In this case, instead of loosening the Labneh (Greek-style strained yogurt) too much, I left it fairly thick and seasoned it lightly with salt. Due to the thick consistency, the yogurt does not form perfect loose spheres, instead it makes nice slightly misshapen dollops when the skin forms around it. When plated the yogurt looks a lot like a dumpling and gently oozes a thick sauce when the skin is pierced. It was a very cool use for the of the spherification process and worked great in taste, texture and look.

About two or three weeks before this dinner I dehydrated red bell peppers and tomatoes. I knew I would be using them for something and this seemed fitting. To do that, I thinly sliced the fruit on a mandolin and laid them on parchment covered baking sheets. I seasoned them with a touch of salt and ground coriander seeds. they dried in a very low oven (around 165F) for about 12 hours until they turned crispy. They looked very neat and had a delicious concentrated flavor. Stored in an air-tight container with a disicator  packet they came out perfectly crisp still and probably would’ve lasted a few more weeks.

To plate the dish, I spread some of the eggplant puree on the rectangular plates with the spiced short rib on one end along with some of the sauced chard ribs. I used the chard ragout as a base for the short ribs and placed a couple of yogurt dumplings on top of the eggplant puree. These were seasoned with a bit of the spice mix and a few strands of saffron. Some of the tahini-walnut sauce also went on the eggplant in the form of small dollops from a squeeze bottle and on the short rib to act as anchor for a little garnish of cilantro leaf and scallion rings. The last garnish was a couple of “rings” of the dehydrated red bell pepper and tomato.

Cod, Lentils and Chips

This is loosely based on an Alinea dish that has something like 30 different components. The Alinea recipe combines flaky white sea bass with lentils, a variety of mushrooms, purees, and a red wine glaze. Compared to my not very successful butternut squash dish that had the benefit of a lot of planning, this dish came together naturally, quickly and was a lovely dinner. I basically had the white cod and some time on my hands. I remembered the Alinea dish and borrowed the idea of combining the fish with lentils and enoki from it. I also remembered a dish from Modernist Cuisine, based on an Eric Ripert recipe, that combines Escolar with beurre rouge (red wine butter sauce) and little rounds of fresh potato chips. Fancy fish and chips!

To prepare the french Puy lentils I cooked them till soft and then stirred in finely diced and sautéed vegetables and aromatics. I seasoned them with fresh thyme and some of my homemade red wine vinegar. They had a perfect bright flavor and a wonderful “pop”. The potato chips were so good the kids and I almost ate them all before I got a chance to even start plating. I first thinly sliced a russet potato on a mandolin and then used a small cookie cutter to stamp out perfect little rounds. I am supposed to only use these rounds in the dish and dispose of the other pieces where the rounds where cut from, but after frying them all up they just had a very neat look. So I decided to plate them along with the perfect little rounds. The potatoes really elevated the dish. They gave it a refined look and added a ton of texture and flavor.

Now, on to the “broken” red butter sauce. It’s not supposed to be broken of course, but I used it anyways. It was too late to make anymore and really it tasted and looked fine. Many a modern recipe, like those in the NOMA book, specifically go for this non-emulsified sauce look.  I have tried to make this particular recipe for beurre rouge that uses xanthan gum from Modernist Cuisine three times now.  The recipe has you make a reduction of red wine and aromatics, just like a traditional method. Then you whisk in xanthan and then the butter. The gum is supposed to make the sauce more stable and prevent it from breaking. Well, it breaks every damn time. I am not sure what the problem is, but I know that next time I will be making it the old-fashioned way. It might be more temperamental, but it has never broken on me.

I cooked the fish sous vide after bagging the fillets with a few knobs of butter. For Diana, as usual, I quickly seared the fish right before serving. She loves a bit of color on her fish fillets. For me, I did not sear it. I much prefer the pure white and perfectly cooked fish. For the Enoki mushrooms, I made a butter bath (that just sounds nice) in a small sauce pan and gently poached them in there. I seasoned them with salt right before plating. Last component was the asparagus. I quickly blanched the spears in boiling water and then dropped them in ice water. I only wanted to use the tips, so I cut them off and warmed them in the same beurre monte that I used to poach the mushrooms.

65-Hour Beef Short Ribs, Vegetable Fried Rice and Glazed Ginger Carrots

In the Momofuku cookbook, the source for this recipe (or most of it at least), David Chang calls it 48-Hour Short Ribs referring to the time he keeps the beef in the water cooking sous vide. He serves it with the reduced marinade/braising liquid from the sous vide bags that the beef is cooked in, braised daikon and scallions. Well, due to some timing issues and because I like the 72-hour short ribs (as recommended by Modernist Cuisine) I ended up cooking the meat for around 65 hours. Sous vide, if you know what you are doing, is very forgiving and this made a fantastic weeknight dinner.

The marinade which doubles as a braising liquid is made by simmering together a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, scallions, carrots, garlic, fruit juices and sesame oil. The marinade is cooled and divided up in the bags with the trimmed beef short ribs. The beef is then cooked for 48 to 72 hours at 60 C (140F) until most of the collagen is melted and the beef has the texture of a tender aged steak. At serving time, I shallow fried the beef in grape seed oil to crisp and brown the exterior. I decided to forgo the braised daikon and opted for a more substantial carb-heavy side for the ribs. I made fresh fried rice loaded with vegetables and eggs. I also cooked carrots sous vide with ginger and then sliced them and glazed them with butter before serving. The rice worked perfectly to complement the ribs and sop up all the sauce. As a garnish, I topped the meat with a few dollops of pickled mustard seeds. They don’t just look really neat but they also add a lovely pop and their tart bitterness rounds out all the rich flavors very nicely.

Alinea: BOAR, Shallot, Cider, Burning Oak Leaves

Fall is finally here -more or less I suppose- and changing the way I cook is natural. Even if I can find tomatoes and peppers well into November and December I still prefer to cook more “orange” and “brown” stuff. It makes me and Diana happy to pick up some winter squashes or sweet potatoes and start cooking with them. This dish has neither but it just smells and tastes like fall.

The biggest pain in the neck in this dish was finding a suitable oak twig. It’s supposed to be fall leaves, nice and orange-brown. Well in Houston you can typically only find green or dead brown. So I had to settle for somewhere in between. So I got a few twigs from one of the oaks that line a street close to work, the leaves are half brown half green, but overall not too bad. The recipe is pretty simple, a cube of meat (in the book he uses pheasant), a cube of apple cider gel and a piece of roasted shallot are skewered together on the sharpened oak twig. These are then dipped in tempura batter and deep-fried.

The cider gel is made with granny smith apples, some sugar and apple cider all cooked together with agar and pureed. It’s basically apple sauce until it is poured in a pan and allowed to cool. Then the agar turns it into a firm block. I cut it up into cubes and stored them in the fridge. The shallot confit is just shallots roasted with grape seed oil, salt and pepper. Then the shallots are peeled and cut into rough cubes. Last piece is the meat. I do not currently have pheasant, but I do have some wild boar still. So, I used a small loin. I cooked it sous vide bagged with butter and thyme. This was also cut up into cubes until serving time.

For the batter I deviated from the recipe and used the procedure from Modernist Cuisine. It’s the same process I used before to make Heston Blumenthal’s extra crispy fish and chips. The Blumenthal batter is a mixture of rice flour, all-purpose flour and vodka. You put that in an iSi whipping siphon and charge it with CO2. Right before using it to coat the meat, you dispense some batter into a small bowl and dip the meat in it. The batter will have so much air bubbles that it makes for an extra crispy-crunchy product. It’s important to point out here that frying the boar-cider-shallot skewer without dropping the whole twig in the hot oil is also tricky. I basically could only fry two at a time since I had to hold the oak twigs while the stuff on its tip fried. I wrapped the leaf end with aluminum foil to make them easier to handle while frying and to catch the splatter and this batter sure does splatter!

Last challenge in this “simple” recipe was plating. At Alinea they use a piece called the “octopus” to plate items like this one that has no base and need to stand upright. You can see it here in Allen’s Alinea book blog (he’s very dedicated and it sure shows). I was not going to buy or make anything like that. So, I made a thick sauce for the food thinking it will help it stay upright. It was a mixture of pickled mustard seeds, mayonnaise, mustard and maple vinegar. The sauce with the crunchy bite of food worked very well, but I cannot say that it made the plating that much easier.

Pork Chop

I’ve been so enjoying Yonder Way Farm’s pork chops that I had to post something about it. All the pork from them is delicious, but these prime thick cuts are just heavenly and worth every penny. I’ve taken to salting/flavoring them 24 hours before cooking them. I usually use a mixture of thyme, sage and pepper to flavor them along with kosher salt. I then cook them sous vide to an internal temperature of about 140F. Right before serving I sear them in a blazing hot cast iron skillet filmed with a little grapeseed oil (making sure the fat edge gets some pan-time) until they develop a browned crust – maybe 2 minutes total. The result is one of the most delicious juicy chops anywhere. This one here is served alongside roasted sweet potatoes and drizzled with a little maple vinegar.

Noma: Pig Belly and Potato Skins, Cep Oil and Wood Chips

Cooking with woodchips and hay (yeah, hay) might seem way weird at first glance. My 8-year old was beyond shocked when I told him that I am buying hay at the pet store (all natural packaged and never used hay that is) to use in cooking  at home. He kept asking and double checking that I am not messing with him. He finally believed me when I covered a baking dish filled with small potatoes with hay and stuck it in the oven. If we really pause and think about this though, it makes sense. Usually stuff like hay or, more commonly, wood chips (oak, charred oak) are used as flavorings in many products. The wood barrels, charred or not, are exactly how products like Bourbon, Scotch and wine are aged and get their distinctive look and taste. Brewers add charred wood chips to stouts and porters all the time for their unique flavor. So why not use some wood chips to flavor a sauce that will be served with a rich piece of pork belly? Hay has been used to cook ham in it for a few centuries as well. I believe this is a classic British preparation where ham is fully covered in hay and baked/boiled. Ryan at “Nose to Tail at Home” prepared a version of that from Fergus Henderson’s book. The process gently steams the meat and flavors it with its unique aroma. All these flavors match perfectly with pork, mushrooms and potatoes to create a lovely and comforting dish.

The chef at Noma in Copenhagen uses all kinds of interesting ingredients in his flavor profiles including oak chips, spruce, hay and ash (as in burnt and powdered vegetable matter). His cooking is fiercely local and when your locale is cold northern Denmark you really do not have access to so many of the ingredients we take for granted these days like tomatoes, olive oil, chocolate…Still Chef Redzepi manages to coax flavor from products, both wild and cultivated. He obviously knows what he is doing because he produces beautiful thoughtful food and Noma is named the “Best Restaurant in The World” for the second year in a row. In this dish he combines braised de-boned pork tails with hay-steamed small potatoes and a sauce made from stock, cep mushrooms (porcinis) and flavored with applewood chips.

I did not have any pig tails for this, but I did just make some smoked bacon (two versions this time: maple and brown sugar) and I had a few pieces of thin pork belly that did not get cured. Speaking of bacon, here are a couple of nice shots of said cured bellies. You can also see some of the Canadian bacon I smoked along with the regular bacon

I bagged the pork -I pretty much buy all my pork from Yonder Way Farm these days, it really is great stuff- with some home-brewed stout, thyme, butter-sauteed vegetables and stock then cooked them sous vide for a few hours. The cooking liquid is then strained and reduced to a glaze to finish the pork.

Redzepi uses two kinds of small potatoes, a purple one and a yellow one. These are baked gently under a few handfuls of hay. When done, I cut each in half and scooped most of the flesh out. Right before serving the potatoes are heated up in a water and butter emulsion and plated. The water had some toasted wood chips soaked in it to flavor it before whisking in the butter. The sauce for the dish is a clear mushroom bouillon made by simmering sautéed mushrooms and vegetables in chicken stock. The resulting stock is then clarified using the traditional method for making consomme (i:e using egg whites). The clear liquid is then reduced to about a cup. To further flavor the already very tasty bouillon, a few applewood chips are toasted and then soaked in it for 10 minutes. Lastly, birch wine is supposed to be added in as well. I had none and could not find any at local stores. So, I decided to just go by my own taste and seasoned the bouillon with my homemade maple vinegar. It worked very nicely.

Another two items emphasize the cep flavor, an oil and powdered ceps. Redzepi uses fresh porcini trimmings to make the oil. These are very hard to find and expensive. The dried version though is available everywhere and makes a great substitute in an application like this one. The oil is just heated up and the dried mushrooms are steeped in it. The cep powder is just dried mushrooms pulverized in my spice grinder. That would be the dust-like substance all over the plate. All in all this was a delicious dish to welcome Autumn. It’s rich, full of roasted umami tastes, mushrooms and rustic flavors. The wood chips do add a nice mild flavor. The hay…not too sure honestly. I think that might be more noticeable if the dish they are cooked in includes a lot of liquid, like the ham in hay dish I linked to above. As a cooking medium for the potatoes, I do not think they contributed much.

Labor Day Bocks and Brats

We were in San Antonio this past weekend, so I did not have much time to prepare a full-fledged barbecue spread. San Antonio was a fun close getaway with the family and as usual we had a great meal at Dough Pizzeria Napolitana (might be one of the best of it’s kind in the country) and way too much ice cream at Justin’s and Amy’s. Anyways, back at home by Monday Labor Day, what I did have is some good homemade sausage. So I took out a pack of Bratwurst and the last couple of Bockwurst packs I had. Both sausages are made with a mixture of pork and veal. They also both include dairy and eggs. The Bockwurst includes more onions and more pepper, the brats have a more uniform emulsified texture not unlike that of a hot dog. The Bockwurst were cooked (poached) before freezing so they needed nothing more than grilling to heat up and crisp the casing. The brats were raw, so they were cooked sous vide at 61 C for about an hour before grilling and crisping.

I did go through the trouble of making some proper buns that will stand up to the wieners and not fall apart. I used a recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. A few of these were topped with poppy seeds and the rest baked plain. The buns turned out perfect for the substantial sausages. To serve them, I made a some sautéed onions, peppers, zucchini and tomatoes. Other accompaniments included a few different mustards and some pickled pepperoncini peppers. That was such a fantastic meal for so little work.