Friday, February 12, 2010

Sous Vide Fried Chicken- can it be done?

Sous vide- Fried Chicken

As always you may wish to see my original blog post for details on how I made a machine to cook sous vide at home. Instead of spending $500- $2,000, I did it with stuff I had at hand, and have done very well.

From everything I had read and experienced regarding cooking sous vide, fried chicken seemed to be a perfect fit. Sous vide makes meat more tender, you don't have to use as much oil to season, and the protein is cooked uniformly from top to bottom.

I thought that if I could cook chicken sous vide, dry it, bread it like a chicken finger or fried chicken wing, and finish it in a pan with just a tablespoon or two of oil you could create a pretty good replica of the original, greasy, calorie-riddled original.

I heated my cooker to 140 degrees, and brined my chicken breast. I love the taste of wings, but typically prefer the ease of eating something boneless. I brined the chicken in the fridge for half an hour, using a 5% kosher salt to water ratio. I zeroed out my scale, added 50 grams of water, then 5 of kosher salt. Once I took the chicken out of the fridge, I dried it and seasoned it with garlic powder, pepper, and kosher salt. Then I sealed it in the bag and put it in the cooker.

Next I took the chicken out of the cooker after a little over an hour- from what I read I could have gotten by with 45 minutes, but I'm always overly cautious with chicken, especially if a little longer won't dry it out (as it would in the oven or on the grill). I dried off the two chicken breasts and dredged only one of them with flour, but not the other (I wanted to see if no flour would help the bread crumb outer layer from flaking off when cut). I dipped the breasts in my egg wash- I used two eggs and beat them together with a quick squirt of mustard. While my pan was heating with vegetable oil, I breaded them with panko bread crumbs, which are always very crunchy.

I cooked them off in the pan on high heat. Because all I wanted was to brown the bread crumbs and make them crunchy it didn't take long. Also, given the brief time in a small (much smaller then deep frying) amount of oil, I reasoned the chicken should be far healthier then it's soaked-in-oil cousin.

The chicken came out great. Very juicy and tender with a crunchy outside. While the flavor of the chicken on the inside was slighly different from fried chicken, it was just about as juicy as if it had been deep fried. If I were to consider the difference in calories, I would definitely stomach the extremely small gap in taste. I also wouldn't say one is necessarily better then the other, only slightly different.

The only issue I had with this fried chicken is the same I've always had. When you put the chicken in the egg wash, then the break crumbs it does give a nice crunch to the outside but it's also a separate layer from the chicken breast. Whenever I cut into the chicken, sometimes a larger piece of the breading will come off as well. It still tastes fantastic, but I wish it would stick firmly to the chicken.

Skipping the flour on one of the breasts was not the right move. It didn't help the breading stick any better, it was actually worse. Next time I'm going to make a couple of adjustments. For one, I think rather then brining the chicken, I'm going to have it soak in buttermilk with salt. This is much the same process, but my hope is that the buttermilk will help to further replicate traditional fried chicken. I'd also like to locate a good list of seasoning for vacuuming the chicken. For example, what did KFC used to advertise- 17 herbs and spices? I'm sure I could have used paprika and countless others. I'll try to remember not to overdue it since it was very flavorful, but I hope this will also make it as closer to deep fried chicken. Oh yeah, I'll also remember to take pictures next time, although I have plenty more for my next post- steak again!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Quick Update

While I still owe several posts and pictures, I just ordered a sous vide controller. I'm not sure how long it'll take to get here, but it is coming from Georgia and going to NH so I'm hoping for under a week. I can't wait.

I'm also currently looking for a place to buy sodium aglinate and calcium chloride. If I'm unable to find it today in person, I will order it online tonight. So, there may be future posts regarding molecular gastronomy and sous vide together. If anyone has any ideas on where to find these items, please do not hesitate to leave comments.

I ordered the powders and I'm obviously looking forward to receiving them. I've seen lots of recipes online for pea ravioli, cilantro pearls, or mango ravioli, but I'm most interested the things I haven't yet seen. I most curious about the ratio of the oil or liquid (melted chocolate, etc.) to the chemicals. I'd really like to do the things I haven't seen yet- could you make a ball of cola & another of rum and have them splash together over a scoop of vanilla gelato? What about chocolate and peanut butter? A cheese imullsification with one made of roasted onions or garlic? What I really need is a Michael Ruhlman-esque breakdown of the ratios of flavored oils, etc. to the chemicals. After that, I think the sky is the limit in terms of saucing and presentation. This blog will still primarily be about sous vide, but I'm simultaneously optimistic about using molecular gastronomy as a supplement.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Third Sous Vide attempt- roast of tenderloin

You may wish to check out my original post for details on how I made a crock pot into an apparatus that can cook sous vide for NO. ADDITIONAL. MONEY

As I stated in my last blog, while I was not bowled over by my first attempt at cooking a filet, I still wanted to continue down the same path. Tenderloin has a couple of characteristics that make it stand out from a piece of ribeye, sirloin, chuck, etc.. 1. because it's so lean it does not possess as much natural flavor as the other steaks. That's why you almost never see it served without some sort of mushroom, bearnaise, or other sauce. And 2. if it's cooked as traditionally recommended (seared in a cast iron pan and finished in an oven) it is typically cooked evenly. The 'bulls eye' effect is not as prevalent.

So it stands to reason cooking tenderloin sous vide would not have quite the transformative effect that others do. The delta between filet cooked traditionally and filet cooked sous vide is not as great as it is with other cuts of steak. I was certain that if I could only get the steak to the perfect amount of doneness (for me, i think this is probably between 137 and 138 degrees) filet would remain my favorite type of steak, regardless of how it is cooked.

Unfortunately I chose to cook an entire roast for family members. Some of them are even of the misguided mindset that their steak is perfect when it was cooked medium/well. I rid myself of that initial problem by extending the invitation only on the contingency that 'under no circumstances will your meal be cooked medium/well.' Out of generosity, I settled on cooking the roast medium (140 degrees)- my goal of getting it cooked as I wanted it (between medium and medium/rare) would not happen this time around. Blessed by a wonderful family, but cursed with one with poor taste in steak, I lunged ahead. Oh well- I don't see myself tiring of this sort of cooking anytime soon.

I spent a lot of time planning this meal. While I was frustrated I need to intentionally 'overcook' the steak, I was excited at the notion of cooking for others. I decided to serve the tenderloin 'two ways' as I have often heard on the cooking shows (although not truly two different 'ways,' just two different sauces). For one, I made a rosemary and roasted onion sauce. And the other, I made a smoked cheddar and roasted garlic sauce. I served the steak on top of homemade bread (another new hobby I've picked up) for the with roasted asparagus, and a roasted corn and pablano pepper slaw (one of the LA Times best recipes of 2009).

I seasoned the tenderloin with garlic powder, kosher salt, and pepper, vacuum-sealed it with the ziploc system, and refrigerated it. I brought it out of the fridge 45 minutes or so before i was ready to put it in for an hour and a half. When I brought out the tenderloin, I also fired up the crock pot on the highest setting possible and waited for the steak and the the sous vide cooker to warm up.

The crock pot reached 140 degrees and I put in the tenderloin. I find, depending on the size, that the protein may drop the temperature by a degree or two which this one did. I watched the thermometer religiously for the next hour and a half and shut it off at a couple points when it reached a hair over 140 degrees.

When I got the ten minute warning people were ready to eat, I turned on the grill as high as it would go, brushed the roast with grape seed oil, and seared it. I cut into it and it was perfectly consistent form top to bottom, but a little overcooked for my taste, even given my lowered expectations. I think those few moments when the steak grazed about the 140 degree mark may have hurt it just slightly. However, it was still succulent, consistent, and tasty. Everybody claims to have loved it, but they were all family members so who knows what the truth is.

For the next post I may switch it up and detail my first attempt at chicken and 'fried' chicken as well (I cooked the chicken sous vide, coated it, and finished it in a couple tablespoons of oil).

If anybody has any questions re: the tenderloin or other recipe, please comment! I'd also welcome any comments on if other people have tried a similar set up as me- did I luck out with this crock pot and the fact that it hovers on warm around 140 degrees?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Second time Sous Vide- Tenderloin is the night

Please see my original blog post for details on my home sous vide set up and how to do one yourself for $0-$55!

Cooking a 'garden variety' steak sous vide at home accomplished two things-
1. a fantastic piece of sirloin, &
2. the fast desire to sous vide with tenderloin, my personal favorite

I put the filet in a plastic bag and sealed it. This time, I used slightly more seasoning then I did with the sirloin because tenderloin isn't as flavorful. I popped it in my homemade sous vide machine and waited an hour to take it out.

To be honest, I was slightly underwhelmed by the filet. For starters, I let the temp creep up to 140 degrees once too often and it was just a little too cooked for my taste, although still plenty tender.

The other issue is that cooked properly in most any manner, filet is tender as is. I said to myself, "thus the name genius, 'tender'loin." Sous vide-ing it didn't change it quite as much as I anticipated. Still incredible, but not quite as transformative as it was with the sirloin and no doubt, other steaks.

While I was waiting for the steak to be done, I was struck by the time component of sous vide. If I had a full blown immersion circulator, I could use a sous vide much the same as a crock pot. Essentially, 'set it and forget it.' That would be fantastic- just throw in your protein when you get home from work (or at the beginning of the day), crack it open at dinner time, and enjoy. The Sous Vide supreme may be even more around the corner then I originally thought.

I still can't resist tenderloin. My next blog post will detail an entire tenderloin roast I did for myself and 5 family members. And this time, I remembered to take a picture. If I can figure out how to post it, I will. I cooked it 2 ways- one with a roasted garlic & smoked cheddar sauce and another with a roasted onion and rosemary sauce over roasted asparagus and alongside roasted corn and pablano pepper slaw.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

First Sous Vide Attempt

First Sous Vide attempt- 6 month old sirloin

You may wish to start with my original blog post for an idea of how to set up sous vide at home for $0-$55
Follow this blog on twitter: @sousvidedeeds

Not wanting to waste valuable steak, I decided to embark on my home sous vide cooking with a sirloin which had been frozen for upwards of six months. I looked up online and found out that, when frozen properly, steak can be saved for up to 2 years without sending you to a doctor. I also figured if things went horribly I could very easily blame the poor piece of meat and that would give me an excuse to try this again.

I heated up the crock pot as described in my first blog post. In the interim, i soaked the frozen steak in a plastic bag in hot water to thaw it out (I use microwaves for popcorn and coffee that's turned cold only.....that's it!). I put the steak in a plastic, zip lock bag (I didn't have the vacuum sealer then) along with some garlic powder, kosher salt, pepper, and something called 'camp mix.' I then added some olive oil and pressed as much of the air out as I could.

According to Douglas Baldwin's guide, I should cook the steak for around an hour and 15 minutes. Having read that I couldn't really overcook anything, I decided to shoot for around an hour and a half or more to be safe.

Everything went smoothly- I had a plate to keep my fish tank bubbler in place and a cover to a ceramic pot to keep the bagged steak from floating (I couldn't get all the air out). I had to toggle between the 'warm,' '10 hour,' and 'off' setting several times to keep it as close to 140 degree/medium. The temperature regulation was a little tough to manage, but I watched it maniacally. For the first time, I thought I did very well and assumed that I would get better at it with experience.

When my time was up, i removed the steak from the crock pot, then from the plastic bag, and set it on a cutting board. The good news?- it felt just like a steak cooked to medium. I use the 'hand test' where you make the 'OK' sign with your right hand. Then you touch your left index finger to the meaty part of your palm, just beneath and to the left of the 'O' in your 'OK' sign. When your right index finger is making the 'OK' that's how a rare steak should feel. When you use your middle finger (or just got cut off by someone finger), that's medium-rare. Your ring finger is medium, and your pinky is medium-well. Anyway like I said, the steak seemed to feel medium.

The bad news?- it looked liked an organ transplant gone terribly wrong, not a steak. It was grey in color and looked water-logged even though it appeared as though no water got into the bag, only the olive oil I put in there.

I had my gas griddle heated up, so I brushed the steak with some vegetable oil and threw it on to get the grill marks and make it look more appetizing. Then I put it back on the cutting board and cut the steak on an angle with a sharp knife.

Wow! After spending no money whatsoever (I already owned the crock pot, fish tank bubbler, meat thermometer, steak, and plastic bag), I was shocked with how good it turned out. First of all, everything I had read was true. The steak was cooked perfectly even from top to bottom. There was no 'bulls eye' effect where the middle is cooked perfectly and then gets progressively over-cooked as it reaches the end.

Beyond the consistency, it was incredibly tender. It wasn't as tender as a piece of tenderloin, but it could still be cut with a fork if need be. What I had read about the natural juices having nowhere to go when sealed in a bag was entirely true, it was exceptionally moist.

The flavor was also different from you garden variety grilled or broiled steak. Typically I have always had to over-season the outside of a steak in the vain hope that the seasoning would either invade the inside of the steak, or that the over-seasoned outside would compensate for the under-seasoned inside. This steak was completely imbued with the seasoning I had used. It wasn't as if it existed on the surface, it was as if the spices flavorfully contaminated the entire steak. The flavor was much the same as the temperature throughout- consistent from top to bottom.

I couldn't believe that one of the better steaks I had had in recent memory came from a freezer and a Frankenstein-looking cooking device, but it did. Obviously, I couldn't wait to try this again.

My next project, and blog post, will be a piece of tenderloin. Filet is my favorite steak partly because of how tender it is. My personal taste is probably a little more consistency-based then for most, so I love filet and all it's tenderness even if it lacks some of the flavor you can get in a ribeye or other steak.

Sous Vide cooking at home on the cheap Follow this blog on Twitter: @sousvidedeeds

A Bush Leaguers step by step journey through sous vide cooking

I won't bother you, the reader with lots of details and history about sous vide cooking. My best assumption is that if the depths of a google search has driven you to this blog, odds are pretty good you already know what 'sous vide' means.

From what I've read online (and I've read just about all of it), sous vide cooking started in the 70's, was soon forgotten (as most things from the 70's should be) and has re-emerged within the last 5-10 years. Due to a convergence of cooking shows and exclusive restaurants re-discovering and deploying this method of cooking it is gaining notoriety. Rather then cooking in an over or grill at a hot temperature to get the middle just right, you vacuum- seal your protein or vegetable, put it in water at a specific temperature, and raise what you're cooking up to the water temp.. Nothing overcooks, it's cooked evenly, and the flavor does not melt into the grill or drift off in steam. That's it for history.

My dilemma? I'm a cheap bastard. Actually I'm not. But I do take issue with dropping $450 on something that I may not like. However, I also love steak, enjoy cooking as a hobby, and love to watch the cooking shows with the cutting edge techniques so i can replicate them.

I went about cooking sous vide as cheaply as possible. Here is the way I went about cooking my first dozen or so sous vide meals, very, VERY cheaply. To create my own person sous vide cooker, I assembled the following:

- a crock pot, slow cooker, or rice cooker; I already owned a crock pot, but I think you can get them as affordably as $20 or so. The one I have is made by 'Rival.' It's stainless steel (or appears to be) and reads, 'Stoneware Slow Cooker' beneath the brand name and then 'Smart Pot' beneath that. I don't know how much this cost originally, but as best I can tell and remember it was neither exceptionally cheap nor expensive.

- a fish tank bubbler. Fortunately my nephew's golfish died. That sounds cold, but because little phil began floating towards the top of the tank, my sister gave up on a full-blown aquarium. Now, instead of a fish tank, my nephew has a fish bowl and I have a homemade Macgyver-esque sous vide cooker. What once was keeping Phil the fish alive is now being using to evenly distribute the water for my steak. RIP Phil.

- a simple meat thermometer. I had a digital one, but I started distrusting it when I saw it jump about 20 degrees in temperature for no reason. I hate well done steak, so this really got me fired up- I ditched it in favor of a far less specific, but also less tempermental meat thermometer.

- a Ziploc sealer. From what I read online, Reynolds had a better sealer, but they discontinued it. If you track one down on Ebay you run the risk of running out of bags. Also, I had a food saver years ago, but the vacuum was so powerful it would suck out the liquid from the protein unless it was 100% frozen. Maybe they're better now, but I figured I'd find out before getting another.

PLEASE NOTE: if you do not own any of this stuff, you're looking at approximately $25 for the crock pot, $10 for the bubbler, $10 for the meat thermometer, and $9 for the Ziploc sealer, with bags. Like I said, I was lucky enough to not have to buy the bubbler because Phil died, but while Phil was still swimming I did look- I found the one pet store in the world that doesn't sell any fish tank stuff whatsoever and asked them if they had a bubbler. They told me 'no' and asked what kind of fish I had. I told them I don't have any fish, that I wanted the bubbler for cooking purposes, and ran out of there as they gave me weird looks. Anyway, that's a total of around $55 for the whole setup. That's one ninth the cost of a Sous Vide supreme, and one third the cost of most temperature regulators. Also NOTE, that neither of those products come with a vacuum sealer, and the temp. regulator requires a crock pot or rice cooker too.

This set-up certainly runs second to temperature regulators and a distant third behind the Sous Vide Supreme. However, as I'll describe in this and future posts I believe it's sufficient to get an approximate feel for sous vide cooking and whether you should invest the additional 2 to 4 hundo in a more slick set-up.


I put the bubbler underneath a small plate to keep it from thrashing all over. Then I filled the inner crock container with hot water from the tap and wedged the meat thermometer underneath the lid so it rests in the water, not against the side of the crock.

Here's how the crock pot works. On mine, there are four settings for temp.: 4 hours, 6 hours, 8 hours, 10 hours, and 'warm.' The thermometer doesn't register until at least 120 degrees so I start out setting it on 4 hours, or the hottest possible crock pot setting (4 hours). After around 30 minutes, the temperature starts to exceed 130 degrees. I tend to shoot for Medium/Medium-Rare so when it climbs to just under 135 I slow it down to 10 hours, then to warm.

I'm not sure if all crock pots are like this or not, but my particular brand tends to hover at around 140 degrees when the temperature is brought up close to 140 and set to 'warm.' The temp will rise slightly above 140, but not rapidly. By adding ice, shutting the crock pot off momentarily, or removing the glass cover you can allow the temp to drop slightly- I'll get into this more in a little bit.

As with most things, common sense seems to work best. If you've googled 'sous vide,' odds are good that you've seen or read about a temperature being set exactly to 138 or another temp., no more, no less. Again, if you're trying to rig this as best and cheaply as you can, don't shoot for pin-point accuracy. If you like your steak medium, shoot for 140 degrees, but allow yourself a couple of degrees on each end and deal with it. 130 is the supposed temp. for medium rare steak. There are tons of tables on what temperature to cook all manners of proteins and vegetables out there, so feel free to check them out. All I'll say is this- ten degrees, particularly when it comes to sous vide, is a pretty big swing. To me, 130 is a lot closer to rare then medium rare and 140 is just a touch too close to medium well for me. allow yourself some leeway based on how you'll take it- i.e. would you rather it be slightly (say, 2 degrees) overcooked or undercooked?

Then, use one of the tables available to you. I, and it seems like a great many others use Douglas Baldwin's A Practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking. Mr. Baldwin seems to have done better in chemistry class then I did, so there is a ton of information on the chemistry, etc.. If you want it short and sweet, just scroll down to the protein you want and look at the table for temperature and length of time.

Seal your food along with your chosen spices and/or oils, and place it in the water. After that, put something on top of it. Whether it initially sinks or not, better safe then sorry and I understand some things don't initially float, but begin to after cooking for a bit. You can also skip the sealer and just push out as much air as possible. Again, if you're like me you're just trying to get an idea of how much time and money you want to sink into this pursuit. If you're not lucky enough to have a crock pot that holds steady around 140 degrees, remember the different cooling methods. In order, I would say this is the progression (from least to greatest) ways to cool down the crock pot (to raise the temp., obviously just bump up the setting):

- shut the crock pot off (this will cool down the temp, but crock pots temp to ebb and flow with a lot of momentum. After turning it off, you may even see the temp go up a degree before falling a couple

- take of the cover- oddly I find that this cause a 1-2 degree drop in temperature more quickly, but the total drop won't be as extreme as shutting it off altogether.

- add cold water- be careful not to overdo it. And, if your thermometer is not digital, you'll need to wait several minutes to get an accurate temp. read.

- add ice cubes- same as cold water, but more extreme.

Remember that you're doing this on the cheap, so the temperature bouncing up and down is inevitable and certainly acceptable. Do your best, don't overreact to a temp. that's too high or too low, and I think it helps to 'finish strong'- if you're shooting for 139 degrees, try to make the last 15-20 mins or so your best. So long as you're talking hours and not days, you can't overcook the stuff!

Once you've cooked it for the necessary time, take it out of the bag, sear it in a pan or on a grill that's as hot as you can get it and dig in!

That oughta get you started, it certainly did for me. Like I said, I've worked with this about a dozen times or so. I'll post the experiences as frequently as possible and I tend to cook something sous vide every other day or so. I have not yet used a set-up other then the one described above, but I imagine, I'll get around to purchasing the following: A Temperature Regulator (the $150 version), a more expensive vacuum sealer (Ziploc works okay, but could be better- still good enough for these purposes though), and finally, a Sous Vide Supreme or one like it (by the time I break down and buy one, I assume it will have been knocked off by at least one other company)

For my next post, I'll detail my first attempt (a sirloin). In each subsequent post, I'll try to detail interesting things I discover about sous vide cooking that a beginner is likely to go through.