My sous vide cooking experiment: Week 1

The most perfect duck egg EVERY time

The most perfect duck egg EVERY time

If you follow me on Twitter you will have seen me getting all excited about a new bit of kit that has arrived in my kitchen courtesy of Sous Vide Tools. Now if you know me in real life you will also know that it’s pretty much the only gadget apart from an electric whisk that’s now in my old cottage.

The chairman of the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association had a dodgy meat experience in Bangkok 15 years ago which was enough to turn him vegetarian, similarly 5 years ago I had a dodgy sous vide experience at a swanky hotel in Belfast that saw me declare sous vide as the death of cooking and never looked back.

So when I was asked if I fancied trialling some sous vide kit I knew they had quite a battle on their hands to change my mind. That hotel kitchen had ruined a perfectly good, carefully sourced bit of beef and turned it to textureless mush five years ago and it had put me right off. Sous vide was the Devil, right?

Well, it turns out that it’s pretty damn hard to screw up a steak using sous vide, you really have to go out of your way to do it to the point that I now believe it was some kind of deliberate, calculated meat hating vegan that prepared that steak. What that chef had done to that poor bit of cow I don’t know but I hope to their god he or she isn’t still doing it.

So last Saturday I headed off to Cambridge to meet up with Alex from Sous Vide Tools at the Steamer Trading Cookshop where he was running demos of the Thermo Circulator that I was going to be receiving. I told Alex about my “Steak from Hell” experience and he perked up: “Wait until you try this bit of bavette that’s been cooking for 29 hours” he said. Oh god, I thought, here we go again. Then, I tasted it. Oh, actually that’s beautifully tender with great texture and still pink, not tasteless mush AT ALL, and bavette, also known as flank steak is a really tough cut. Hmmm OK hit me with your next bit of wizardry Alex.

Alex showing me the amazing smoking gun whist simultaneously trying not to set off the smoke alarms

Alex showing me the amazing smoking gun whist simultaneously trying not to set off the smoke alarms

Next up was a chicken breast, perfectly moist and intensely chicken-y and cooked in under 1 hour. So not everything takes DAYS? Ok, so it looked like everything I thought I knew about sous vide was actually totally and utterly wrong.

I was then off to eat lunch at Alimentum which holds 1 Michelin star under the care of Chef Patron Mark Poynton. What happened next was by far the most incredible dining experience I’d had since Comerc24 in Barcelona five years ago. His food made total sense, it was exciting, surprising and perfect in every way possible. One week later and I still think about a dish of pork, langoustine and caviar at least three times a day.

some of the courses I had at Alimentum, extraordinarily good food.

Some of the courses I had at Alimentum, extraordinarily good food.

I had arrived in Cambridge highly dubious about sous vide cooking and what benefit it could have for me in my own kitchen, I left in complete awe of Mark’s cooking and excitedly impatient for my kit to arrive on Monday.

Like having a fish tank in the kitchen that's full of dinner rather than goldfish

Like having a fish tank in the kitchen that’s full of dinner rather than goldfish

Monday arrived as did the kit, a Thermo Circulator, vac pac machine, bags and a big plastic container. You don’t actually need the container, you can attach the Thermo Circulator to a big stock pot or even a bucket. I unpacked everything and got straight to work, I filled it with warm water and got rid of my temperamental toaster to make room for it on the counter. But what to cook first? Something simple I figured, I had some bargain no frills Tesco carrots in the fridge, perfect. I peeled them, vac packed them and whacked them in at 85C for 30 minutes.

A simple test of the sous vide's abilities

A simple test of the sous vide’s abilities

I took the carrots out and popped them in the fridge for later. Reduced the sous vide temp down to 64C and decided to try my own chicken breast experiment:

Less than 1 minute to prepare then just forget about it for an hour.

Less than 1 minute to prepare then just forget about it for an hour.

Sherry and porcini chicken breast:

  • 1 chicken breast
  • 4 dried porcini mushrooms
  • a few slivers dried garlic
  • 2 sage leaves
  • 1 fennel frond
  • salt and pepper
  • about 60ml Amontillado sherry

Vac packed and in the sous vide at 64C for 60 minutes. During the last 20 minutes I returned the vac packed bag of carrots to warm up then just put everything into a bowl. Easy, ace, nutritious, packed full of flavour and boozy, whats not to love? I’d really like this on a bed of noodles or rice if I fancy a bit more carbs.

Some more recipes from those few days…

48 hour beef ribs in quince gravy:

About 6 mins of actual "work" to make this incredible ribs

About 6 mins of actual “work” to make this incredible ribs

  • 1 beef rib sawn into 4 pieces by my butcher
  • about 60ml port
  • few slivers dried garlic
  • 2 bayleaves
  • 1 teaspoon Dorsetshire Sauce
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 teaspoons homemade quince jam (you could use membrillo)

Put everything except the quince jam into a bag and vac pac. Sous vide at 64C (so I could also cook chicken at same time) for 48 hours. Open bag, remove ribs from liquid, pan fry in very hot pan to sear then remove and set aside under foil. Pour liquid from bag into pan, add quince jam, stir and and reduce until thick and sticky (about 5 minutes). Strain liquid over the ribs.

Whipped bone marrow butter with smoked salt:

This is something I’m REALLY proud of. It’s pretty awesome even if I do say so myself and I’m having it on everything, it’s magic butter, everything tastes better when smothered in it.

bone marrow butter

  • 4 Pieces of marrow bone about 4cm diameter x 7 cm tall (mine were straight out of my freezer)
  • 2 x 250g packs unsalted butter
  • few pinches halen Môn smoked salt (I like it salty).
  • (apple smoking chips and a smoking gun if you want to smoke them after)

Put the bone pieces into a bag and vacuum seal. Sous vide at 64C for about 2 hours. Pour into a bowl and chill in fridge to set. Meanwhile whip the butter until smooth and light. Remove any stringy bits from the marrow, break up with a fork and whisk into the whipped butter until thoroughly combined and fluffy, season with some smoked Halen Môn salt.

If you want to keep some and freeze some then portion off and roll into cylinders using cling film. Chill in fridge to set. Sous Vide Tools also sent me a smoking gun to play with, IT’S AWESOME, so I unwrapped a couple of the set butter cylinders and placed them in a big bowl along with some whisky (yeah smoked whisky rocks), covered with cling and smoked with some apple wood chips before re-clinging and returning to the fridge.

The bone marrow, the smoking and the bone marrow pasta

The bone marrow, the smoking and the bone marrow pasta

That bone marrow pasta dish is such a thing of wonder that I’m going to do a separate recipe post for it, it’s a heavenly, silky, meaty, carby delight.

So theres a few recipes from the last few days, I have a pork belly that was brined for 12 hours and bathed for 36 that is currently being pressed in the fridge and 6 hefty ox cheeks currently languishing at 60C for 48 hours ready for my birthday dinner party tomorrow. Oh and yeah there is also some gin being infused with apple and cardamom floating about in there. It’s brilliant. I love it.

Sous Vide Tools are offering a really incredible deal for readers of this blog, I NEVER do things like this but I’ve been so impressed with the kit that I am really happy to do this offer. Basically they are very generously knocking a whopping £100 off their usual price of £449.99 (incl VAT)for their Polyscience Creative Promotion. This is a saving of £100 on the normal package price and a saving of £121.77 on the items if bought individually so a brilliant deal! I’m totally thrilled about this! All you need to do is either call Sous Vide Tools on 0800 678 5001or email them at enquiries@sousvidetools.com and quote the name “HAZEL” for your discount. This offer ends December 31st 2013 so it’s the perfect Christmas present to yourself or someone you really like!

A WHOPPING £100 off the RRP!

A WHOPPING £100 off the RRP!

I’ll keep posting my sous vide recipes that I’m working on, I’m still to do fish and desserts yet.They do wonderful things to eggs just look at this duck egg…

The most perfect duck egg EVERY time

The most perfect duck egg EVERY time

Vietnamese Pho (almost)

vietnamese beef tendon pho

After the massive success of my braised beef tendons I was left with the wonderful braising liquor that was flavoured with spices such as cinnamon, star anise, cloves, fennel and garlic and thickened with the deeply flavoured tendons. The Vietnamese noodle dish Pho instantly sprang to mind so I threw together this very quick supper the following night. It’s not a totally authentic version but it was absolutely delicious.

Ingredients: (made 2 big bowls)

  • 300ml Beef tendon stock (approx)
  • 100ml chicken stock (to top up the beef stock but if you have lots of tendon stock left you won’t need it)
  • glug of fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon palm sugar
  • 3cm piece thinly sliced fresh ginger cut into matchsticks
  • leftover beef tendon cut into small pieces
  • flat rice noodles
  • thinly sliced raw sirloin

To garnish:

  • thinly sliced red chilli
  • bean sprouts
  • mint
  • coriander
  • thinly sliced red onion
  • wedge of lime

Method:

  1. Combine the stocks in a saucepan and simmer, add the ginger, fish sauce, palm sugar and continue to simmer for a few minutes.
  2. Place noodles in a big bowl and top with sliced sirloin and beef tendon, add a handful of bean sprouts then pour over the stock then sprinkle over your garnishes and dive in.

 

Braised Beef Tendons with sticky Jasmine Rice & Pork Floss

Chinese braised beef tendons, pork floss

Cooking on a tight budget means you have to be a bit creative with your dishes such as using cuts of meat that most people overlook like awesome cow arse steaks, pigs head terrines, chicken wings/feet etc and now ladies and gentlemen it’s the turn of the humble and glorious beef tendon.

My wonderful butchers at Derek Jones in Melton Mowbray are used to me wanting bits of animals that usually go into the trim bins for mince/brawn etc and so last week when I asked them to  keep aside the beef tendons they couldn’t help but laugh as they normally go into the bin for the dogs. A visit to my butchers just wouldn’t be the same without them taking the piss in the way good butchers do :) . Seriously, use your local butcher, they will look after you, share their knowledge (and jokes) and your kitchen will be all the better for it.

Asian countries are much less squeamish about which parts of animals are deemed “acceptable” to eat, and as a result enjoy so many more delicious morsels than the average UK shopper. Tendons are forthcoming in their generosity, when slowly braised in stock they not only soften to meltingly sticky, deeply flavoured delights but they release the most wonderful flavour and gelatine into the stock that makes it silky and with a depth of flavour that just can’t be beat.

Some of the ingredients you might not recognise, I pick everything up from my local Asian supermarket in Leicester which I love. Whenever I’m there I also buy 1 new ingredient that I have no idea what it is or how to use it and just experiment when I get home. The remaining braising liquid will set overnight, you can cut it into pieces and freeze separately to add to your Chinese cooking to give a wonderful flavour boost or we made a pho the following day.

Beef tendons

Raw tendons on left and in the stock on right

Ingredients: (serves 4)

  • 4 beef tendons
  • 3 star anise
  • 2 tsp Chinese 5 spice
  • 1 tablespoon dried garlic slivers
  • 1 heaped tablespoon hot fermented broadbean paste
  • 4 tablespoons Datu Puti (hot spiced chilli garlic vinegar from the Philippines)
  • 5 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • water to cover

To serve:

  • white rice
  • 1 jasmine tea bag
  • french beans
  • drizzle toasted sesame oil
  • crispy fried shallots
  • black sesame seeds
  • pork floss
  • wedge of lime

Method:

  1. Bring a pot of water to the boil and blanch the tendons for 2 minutes. Remove tendons, discard the water, clean the pot then return tendons to pot with the rest of the ingredients and top up with enough water to cover everything by about 1 cm.
  2. Cover and simmer for about 3-4 hours or until the tendons have reached a consistency you are happy with (some Chinese restaurants will cook them for 7 hours). Taste and add a bit more sugar/soy if needed.
  3. Make your rice using the absorption method adding the intact teabag to the rice pot to infuse the rice with its jasmine scent.
  4. Cook the beans for just a minute or so in boiling water ( I like mine just barely cooked)
  5. To serve simply slice the tendons into bite sized pieces and place on top of your rice, spoon over some of the braising liquid. Drizzle a bit of sesame oil over the beans, sprinkle with the sesame and crispy shallots and then top with some pork floss. Squeeze a bit of lime juice over the tendon.

Kiss My Arse – A dish for Valentine’s Day

Ox tongue and pope's eye steak

Ox tongue and bum are a romantic winner

I’ve never given a crap about Valentine’s Day, it’s bullshit.  Feel free to buy me flowers, chocolates and champagne dinners ANY other day of the year except the one that the greeting card industry insists upon. In fact please do buy me all of the above because I normally buy my own and it would make a nice change (and I’d much rather cheese than chocolate).

This dish seems somewhat appropriate for this week’s day of nervous love interests, hopeful singletons, gleeful florists, stressed chefs and poor old FOH managers.  A few days ago I visited Weald Smokery and picked up some of their new thinly sliced smoked ox tongue. I love ox tongue, I’ve never had it smoked though and normally I have it in big thick slices and plenty of green sauce. I love the smokiness of a steak cooked on a BBQ so decided to use the smoke of the tongue to pair with a steak, but which one?

The pope’s eye steak is a little hidden gem of a cut most often chucked into the trim bin for mince. It sits right inside the aitch bone of the beast and in layman’s terms is the sphincter or arse muscle. It’s rippled with white lines that also gives it’s other name of the spider steak because it looks a bit like a cobweb in its marbling.

Normally when you see marbling in a steak you think, “hmmm, lots of flavour but going to need careful cooking” but not with the pope’s eye. This steak has plenty of wonderful flavour and is so delicately tender I can eat cooked black (crusted exterior) and blue (centre) which in my book is really the ONLY way I like to eat beef. This tenderness however will greatly depend on how the animal was hung and butchered as it can dry out if the beast has been split and the muscle exposed to air.

Popping into my local butcher’s, Derek Jones, on a Tuesday morning (their second busiest of the week) and asking for cow’s arse was bound to draw a few raised eyebrows but they know me very well in there.  In fact Ben, one of the butchers, greeted me with “yeah we’ve got some cat feet in especially for you” when he saw me (no they don’t really have cat feet before I get messages of complaint!). The steak cost just £1.40 which is a total bargain for a cut with the texture of fillet but with plenty of good flavour.

I just cooked everything really simply and served with a little leftover porcini and basil crepe tower, some peppery winter leaves and carrot tops from the garden and homemade porcini butter.

Ingredients:

  • pope’s eye steak
  • drizzle rapeseed oil
  • sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
  • smoked ox tongue, thinly sliced

Method:

  1. Get your pan nice and hot and rub your steak with a bit of oil and season. Pop your steak in the pan, it should spit and sizzle and turn only once. I like my steaks blue so it’s just cooked for a minute then left to rest for 4 minutes on a warm plate under some foil.
  2. While its resting just use the residual heat in the pan to heat through the tongue slices (no heat under the pan) as they will cook in a few seconds.

And that’s it, a few more salt flakes and grinds of black pepper and you steak is done. The  porcini butter will ooze across it and bring out it’s umami and the fresh peppery salad will balance the richness. Perfect.

 

Jasmine Braised Chinese Beef Ribs

Bank holiday Monday morning and I found myself rummaging through the freezer for some meat to cook. It’s always at this point that I get annoyed with myself for hardly ever writing on the brown paper packages at least some form of hint as to their contents. There’s mostly guess work involved trying to figure out if that roundish looking parcel is ox liver or cheek just by feeling the frozen bumps and texture through the paper. I really should use up some more of that beef tallow that I’ve got stored in there as it’s just annoying the hell out of me now, new rule: nothing goes in the freezer that I can’t eat or drink.

Anyway, I pulled out a bag of beef ribs that I had actually remembered to write on with a Sharpie. I have no potatoes or pasta in the house today so rice was going to be my carbs, therefore a Chinese inspired dish for this grey, windy holiday was in order.

If I took all the jars out of my fridge at the moment there would just be milk and a bit of Grana Padano cheese left staring back at me. Many of these jars are Chinese preserved and fermented vegetables that can turn what looks like a few sad vegetables lying in the salad drawer into a quick and tasty dinner in under 15 minutes.

I defrosted the ribs and set about making my marinade for them. I would need a bit of braising sauce for their long cook in the oven and as I had no sherry I decided to use jasmine tea as a base. It turned out that it really worked well with the dense beef, it was subtle but you could definitely tell it was there (although I did sex it up with a bit of lapsang souchong for a touch of smokiness).

                  Defrosting, marinading and after 4 1/2 hrs slow braise under foil

Ingredients:

  • Beef ribs
  • lime (to serve)
  • rice

For the marinade:

  • 1 heaped teaspoon Chinese 5 Spice
  • 3 balls preserved stem ginger, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried garlic slivers
  • 1 teaspoon dried ginger
  • 1 heaped teaspoon hot fermented black bean paste
  • 1 heaped teaspoon Hong You Dou Ban (hot broadbean paste)
  • 3 tablespoons syrupy blackberry vinegar

For the braising liquid:

  • 3 Jasmine teabags
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon good lapsang souchong tea strands
  • 1 teaspoon Essential Cuisine powdered beef stock

Method:

Combine the marinade ingredients then cover the ribs and leave for about an hour. Put a bit of oil in a roasting pan and heat it on the hob, add your ribs and turn every now and again until all the sides are caramelised then add your braising liquid, cover tightly with foil and put in an oven preheated to 170C. Cook for about 4 hours, basting every now and again. Serve with steamed rice and spoon over the incredible pan juices. A squeeze of lime over the top will cut through the richness perfectly (unless you have calamansi then use that).

 

 

 

Poached Ox tongue with Green Sauce and Lentils

I was getting a bit sad as I was buffeted along by the crowds of pushers and shovers that descended upon Melton Mowbray Victorian market yesterday.  Even a cup of overpriced mulled wine failed to cheer my spirits (possibly due to the 10minute wait for half a cup of gritty, dodgy drink).  Then from the corner of my eye I spotted the Robert Bowring stall, and on it a large “pickled Ox tongue” and my mood was instantly lifted!

The Butcher had already cured the tongue so after a few rinses I popped it in trusty slow cooker with a quartered onion,couple of carrots, garlic cloves, celery sticks, peppercorns , bay leaves and thyme and left it to work its magic.

Whilst the tongue was gently poaching I raided the herb garden for the green sauce. Lots of parsley, some fennel fronds, some mint and as my garden is still full of nasturtiums a good handful of leaves went in for a bit of extra punch.  4 cloves of grated garlic, a tin of anchovies in oil and a tablespoon of capers were added and everything pounded together with zest and juice of an unwaxed lemon, a good couple of glugs of olive oil and salt and pepper completed the sauce.

I am also addicted to celeriac remoulade at the moment so made a batch of that too. Just use a V-Slicer to turn a head of peeled celeriac into matchsticks and combine with mayonnaise, your favourite mustard (I go for a mixture of hot english and a mellower Djion), salt and pepper and chopped parsley.

Once poached the skin was peeled off and the tongue thinly sliced and served on a bed of Green Lentils. I ended up stirring a spoon of the green sauce through the Lentils and eating the tongue with the remoulade, that combination was just so good!

My partner's plate (flower just to annoy him)

Slow Cooker Smokey Ox Cheeks

Ox cheeks are another massively underrated cut of meat.  A good butcher will order you in some (they don’t get the beast’s head anymore). Generally muscles that do the most amount of work have the most amount of flavour but are tougher as a result of all the work they do, hence why a Beef fillet is very tender but low on flavour in comparison to say, a Rib Eye.  The cheeks need long, slow cooking so all that delicious flavour just melts in your mouth and it creates an unctuous gravy.

This is another really lazy recipe that lets the slow cooker do all the work. I get quite a few Ox cheeks in at a time and freeze them.  I find that if I put the frozen cheeks in the slow cooker then the onions and chickpeas still retain their bite despite the long cooking time, which is perfect, so I have written the recipe down exactly as I did it.  You can always use fresh ox cheeks dredged in seasoned flour and fry them (and the onions if you like) before you pop them in the slow cooker but I prefer the way that entails the least amount of washing up!

3 frozen ox cheeks

1 large onion

4 cloves garlic

1 x 400ml jar of passata (or tinned tomatoes if you prefer)

1 can cooked chickpeas

1 tablespoon sweet paprika

1 pinch good quality Lapsang Souchong strands (I had run out of Smoked Paprika)

1 pinch ground coriander

pinch cayenne pepper

salt and pepper

Squeeze of tomato puree (double concentrate)

1 tablespoon cornflour mixed to a paste with a little water

2 tablespoons Sweet Chestnut Honey (or any honey/golden caster sugar)

Cup of good beef stock to top up the slow cooker

Capful of good Balsamic vinegar

Just throw it all in your slow cooker in the morning and by dinner time the ox cheeks will be meltingly gorgeous and the sweet, smoky gravy will be divine! If just before serving you want your gravy more concentrated just ladle out some of the liquid into a pan, reduce to intensify then pop back in the slow cooker.

I served it with homemade wholemeal Dukkah bread and an almond Chermoula dip:

Chermoula

Chermoula is a Moroccan marinade but for me its an amazing dip for bread as I really love strong, punchy  flavours.  Sometimes  I mellow it out with ground almonds as today:

6 cloves garlic finely grated on a microplane

zest and juice of 3 unwaxed lemons

heaped teaspoon ground coriander

heaped teaspoon ground cumin

pinch of ground Sumac

pinch cayenne pepper (depending on hot you like things)

teaspoon sweet paprika

Pinch of Rose and Coriander salt (From Gourmet Spice but any flaked sea salt will be fine)

Ground black pepper to taste

finely chopped fresh coriander

2 tablespoons ground almonds

Enough olive oil (rapeseed if you prefer) to loosen the mix

I add a couple drops of water just to get the right consistency without using too much oil

Just, mix everything together in a bowl and you are done!  I usually sprinkle the top of the dip with some of my homemade Super Dukkah (recipe also features in the January issue of Great Food Magazine) to give a bit of crunch.  All the quantities can be varied to suit your taste and what dish its accompanying, no rules just make what tastes good to you really.