Well, Connie has been at it again. She was out under the awning Friday or Saturday and spotted our friendly RV Park Red Shouldered Hawk sitting on it’s dead tree across the way. Once again…she proved her excellent spotting ability.
Before I get to that though I gotta tell you about this cooking method Neil ran across this week. He was already aware of the method but happened across a web site in his travels across the interwebs…and the nice thing about this site is that it’s an easy/cheap method of doing this kind of cooking.
It’s called Sous-Vide which is a fancy French word meaning under vacuum. Essentially you seal your food in a vacuum bag and put it in a pot of hot water that’s much lower than normal cooking temperatures for longer than you would normally cook it…it’s primarily used for meats and fish. It’s impossible to overcook with this method.
When sous-vide is used in a restaurant they use a very expensive device shaped a lot like a fish tank. It’s got a heater in it and a circulating pump. The meat is put in a plastic bag that gets sealed with one of those vacuum sealing kitchen gadgets then the bag gets tossed into the water bath and it cooks for a long time (up to 72 hours in some places but typically something up to 5 or 6 hours maximum. These fancy restaurant quality gadgets have been reengineered for home kitchen use but they still cost upwards of $500 and since you need a lot of storage room for them they pretty much aren’t compatible with living in an RV. So…enter the poor man’s method…the web site he found this on recommended using a cooler as your container.
So…how does this basically work? It’s pretty simple really. You put the meat and spices in a bag…which in the poor mans method is just a quart (or half gallon or however big you need) Zip Lock bag. You really want one of the double seal types if you have it to make sure the water stays out but the seal will float out of the water once you’re cooking it and probably won’t leak anyway. You fill your container with hot water…a cooler will work just fine as it keeps the heat in…but in this case Neil used a 6 quart pasta pot without the pasta strainer in it since he was only cooking a half of a pork tenderloin. Dunk the sealed bag into the water, cover it…and voila…it cooks until done. In our experiment he cooked it for 45 minutes and it was perfectly done.
The only drawback is that you don’t get the nice sear on the outside of the meat that you really want…the meat is essentially poached in it’s own juices and has a sort of gray surface. Solution…again, pretty easy…just dry the fully cooked meat and toss in a very hot skillet until nicely browned. Again, in our experiment he seared it for about 2 minutes on each side and it looked just like he had cooked it in the oven…with the exception that it was perfectly pink and juicy all the way across the meat.
What kind of meat can you do this with? It works with fish, chicken, duck, beef, pork, just about anything you can imagine. The only thing is that thicker pieces like a roast will take longer but the pork tenderloin was done in 45 minutes or so and a steak or chicken breast would take just a bit longer.
How hot does the water need to be? Again, simple answer. Make the water slightly lower than the final desired internal temperature of the meat you desire since the searing process will bump the internal temperature up a bit, maybe 5 degrees for something as thick as a steak but less than that for a thicker piece like a roast. In our case, Neil knows that perfectly cooked pork tenderloin that’s done but still juicy and just slightly pink in the middle needs to be about 142-143 degrees (You do have a meat thermometer with a probe, don’t you? If not just buy one already. Neil has one that has both a probe for sticking in meat as well as one of those infrared scanner beam things to tell how hot a pan full of oil is without sticking the probe into the oil…it cost maybe 50 bucks tops.) So he made his pan of water 144 degrees since he was putting refrigerator temperature meat into it (he forgot to take it out to warm up…ideally you want to warm the meat to room temperature before starting.
He seasoned the pork with salt and pepper, added a little garlic, a splash of Sherry Vinegar, and a teaspoon or so of olive oil along with about 15 fresh rosemary leaves off or our plant that were chopped up with a knife. Put all of that into a quart size zip lock bag and seal it about 90% of the way across then squeeze out as much air as possible.
Once the water was at the right temp (he just did it on the stovetop and tested it with his probe thermometer) turn off the burner and leave the pot on the stove. Dunk the almost sealed bag into the water until it’s almost submerged; this forces the remaining air out of the bag. Finally seal the last bit of the top, drop the bag in and cover the pot. He set the timer for 15 minutes at a time and every 15 minutes he stirred the water around to equalize the temperature and then checked it. After the second 15 minutes the temp was down to 136 or so…so on came the burner for a couple of minutes until it was back to 144 and then off goes the burner and cook for another 15 minutes.
Take the pork out of the bag, dry it off, and sear for a couple of minutes to brown. Cut and serve; since it wasn’t cooked at a high temperature you don’t even need to let it rest like meat normally needs. The final product was browned but within a millimeter of the surface or so it was a uniform barely pink all the way across.
Steaks…if you like them rare then make the water 120 or 130 if you like medium rare. Chicken I would set to 148-150; don’t believe that “you must cook poultry to 160” stuff as that mostly results in chicken jerky and not juicy, flavorful chicken. 150 is generally fine for white meat, maybe 155 for a thigh but we don’t eat those much around here. Fish would probably be 125 or 130 but I would have to google to see what temperature you wanted to cook fish to.
The flavor was delicious, plenty of juicy inside and nicely browned outside.
Would we do it again…well heck yeah we would. I think he’ll do chicken next time although he frequently reads this internet place called foodwishes.com and Chef John from there says that a steak done this way is the best steak you’ll ever have. You have actually probably eaten many dishes cooked this way at a restaurant because they don’t have to worry about overcooking a dish. If you want 120 degree steaks you just leave them in the 120 degree water all evening and they’ll just stay there at a perfectly cooked temp and remain warm. They’ll never get any hotter than the temp of the water.
The cooler idea is for larger meals…Chef John did a whole prime rib in a 20 quart cooler filed with 125 degree water. He just came around every hour or so and measured the water temperature then added a cup or so of almost boiling water and stirred it around to warm the overall temperature back up. The cooler or pot method will let the water temperature vary by about 5 degrees but this won’t affect the final outcome, and the cooler will actually vary less in temp than the pot of water did as it’s insulated and the water isn’t really all that hot so heat loss is minimal.
Sous-vide…great stuff so go and check it out.
Anyway…on to the bird photos. This female (we think) Red Shouldered Hawk was perched on the dead tree across the creek from our site and then shortly after Neil walked over as close to it as he could get flew away so he got a nice couple of shots of her leaving the premises.
This is one of Neil’s favorite birds to photograph…well, any kind of Bird of Prey really…but the Red Shouldered is common and is typically around enough humans so that it doesn’t fly off as soon as it spots you…which makes getting a photo much easier.
It’s almost New Years…we’re having a pot luck tomorrow and Neil is making Connie’s famous Something Different Meat Loaf (the one with the graham cracker crumbs in it) for the feast. He also got some country ribs that we’re grilling on New Years Day itself. Tonight it’s pizza.
That’s about it for now, he’s working on a summary post for our year in the RV but that probably won’t go up until next week sometime.