Sous Vide or Not Sous Vide...

This post is in honor of and a tribute to a long-time friend of mine that I have just recently learned passed away. Although it was almost two years ago, I feel it as if it were yesterday. He and I did some crazy things together, laughed, rocked hard, got twisted and silly, got in trouble, but most of all, enjoyed many of life's great things together. We rode bikes, in which he was a dominator on the racing circuit in the SF California area and introduced me to great street riding(me, I was always a dirt rider). We got into some great music and jammed at many-a-rock concert. We would hang out and venture into the Puget Sound and then again in the Bay Area when I moved down there. The thing I am saddest about is that I have not talked with him since I left SF in 1986 to move back to Seattle. No cell phones, no Internet really, no number. People move, and lose touch. From what I heard, he was challenged with troubles and now, no longer. I know his family think of him often and I pray for them all and wish them well. I know that Chris is in a better place now and only hope that he knows that I miss him. Sorry for not contacting you bud. This post, as humble as it is, is about the search for passion, about seeking what you find exciting and about perfecting your craft. I know that Chris was always doing so in his cycling, so this is for you as a tribute in my own search of perfecting my craft of cooking. ...Sous vide or Not Sous Vide~ that is the question, or at least it was last Thursday for this great exploration of taste, texture and flavor using this old, yet renewed technique of precision cookery. We were charged with a mission to create a tasting menu with the idea of comparing things cooked or processed "sous vide" (literally "under vacuum) and those of traditional or normal cookery methods. The experience was to be evaluated both from a cooks point of view(mine) and from a guests view as a diner. Interesting to say the very least. Here are pictures of a few of the dishes. We ended up getting quite busy, so some dishes were not photographed. My bad. Overall, the items cooked sous vide; vacuum sealed in a bag, then cooked slowly in a hot water bath by means of a digitally controlled immersion circulator were extraordinary. Remarkable. Even profound. I have cooked sous vide many times, but without the new technology of today, which was really cool. The foodstuffs we cooked sous vide tended to have a very clean, natural taste and flavor, while the items cooked traditionally or using regular cooking methods were richer, more augmented with heartiness. Sautes and roasts seemed more intense, while the sous vide ended up softer and cleaner. The textures that were displayed were phenomenal. Tender pieces of fish and meat were left to provide for a deeper flavor in and of itself. I have always enjoyed the flavors of roasts and pan sauteed items as the caramelization is flavor that is so awesome. Some of the dishes we cooked sous vide became so "in your face" with pureness that it was almost incomprehensive, in a good way mind you! Some things we found that are better on their own and by themselves, rather than being flanked by say a piece of squab or soft shell crab, and others were better as a whole collection of parts. One of the most unique and fascinating observations was the olive oil sponge cake cooked in a bag sous vide. Simply wild. The play on Thomas Keller's octopus sous vide was tasty, although lacked some depth. The melons, rhubarb and strawberries that were compressed was stellar. The squab although perfect for my taste and palette, was a bit rare in hindsight. The lamb was tender and tasty and perfectly cooked, but again, was amiss in some of the "charred grill" nuance that it's counterpart so gracefully flaunted. Here below is the 12 courses of goodness we crafted at the chef's table. I hope you enjoy the read as much as we did cooking it while coming to our own conclusions about taste and texture. As stated by T.K. in Under Pressure...sous vide cookery is not meant to replace other means of cookery and is not the catch-all for everything, merely a precise method of temperature, texture enhancement and flavor control for some things. It is the answer at times to our questions of what we aim to accomplish in the final product and let the method and/or technology help us get there, not control what we cook and how we cook it by being the preliminary focal point. This is to add to our repertoire, not become the only method in it. And finally to Chris' family...God bless.
Hawaiian Ahi Tuna "Crudo"
Compressed Watermelon, Citrus, Avocado, American Sturgeon Caviar
and Mango-Togarashi Foam
House Cured vs. Local Artisan Prosciutto
Compressed Melon, Mostarda, Mosto Cotto "Paint", Olive Oil, Orange Dust

Honey Bunches of Oats Crusted Foie Gras
Compressed Rhubarb, Hazelnuts, Cacao Nibs, Rhubarb Gastrique
Baby Octopus Sous Vide vs. Traditional French Method
Charred with Chorizo Potatoes, Lovage, Tuberous Begonia and Green Olive Vierge

Porcini & Smoked Paprika Dusted Soft Shell Crab
Anson Mills Grits, House Cured Bacon, Corn, Grilled Porcini
Sweet Corn Nage Sous Vide vs. Traditional Pot Cooked Corn Nage
Bouche Revigorant
Pickled Melon Rind, Cured Ham Sorbet, Pedro Ximenez, Spanish Olive Oil
Squab Breast Sous Vide vs. Traditional Pan Roasted Squab
Morels, Fava Beans, Pea-Morel Tortellini, Huckleberry Jus

Grilled Lamb Loin Sous Vide vs. Traditional Grill of Lamb
Fennel & Artichoke Sous Vide vs. Fennel & Artichokes a'la Blanc and Glace

Spice Basted, Slow Roasted Beef Brisket
Heated Sous Vide with Baby Carrots Sous Vide Glace
Piedmontese Tuma Trifulera
Cow's & Sheep's Milk Cheese, Warmed Compressed Local Strawberries
Elderflower Essence, Grains of Paradise, Meyer Lemon Olive Oil
Dauro de L'emporda Spanish Olive Oil Sponge Cake Sous Vide
Pistachio, Basil Infusion, Golden Raisin Coulis, Rose Geranium Milkshake
Hazelnut Macaroon-Mascarpone Sandwiches, Strawberry Jellies
Salted Caramels, Valrhona Manjari Chocolates


Tastes from the Last Chef's Table...

Copper River Salmon Agnolotti
Orange-Dill Essence, Crispy Sweetbreads, French Breakfast Radishes, Peas
Pea Jus, Lovage Chiffonade

Although the menus from the chef's table are really never the same on any given evening from all the others, there are nuances and componentry that are very similar. This is not due to becoming complacent or unimaginative or not creative in our thought process and desire to develop new dishes, it is simply a purpose to further understand and refine the dishes we are doing. If one is to really only do something once, how does one learn? How can they grow and get better in that technique? How can the cuisine evolve? It can not really in my mind. I have been asked a few times via this blog about repetition, but our cooking is not repetitive, moreso evolving. However, repetition is an important fundamental in a cooks repertoire to improve upon ones skills. As an example, if you have been reading, you can see multiple photos of a copper river salmon belly sashimi, flame torched with salmon-orange-dill agnolotti. As one reads, it seems like the "same ol-same ol". It is not. Sure, the dish may look like it, but what one does not see (pardon if you do) is the evolution of the dish, the flavor, the technique. The menu has been changed up, with different accompaniments and style and composition. We purchase fresh unique ingredients, and those ingredients are meant to be shared with others. If we as a team plan a dish, we may do that dish many times over but with a different approach each time and with the make up of different components as a whole. The experience for the diner is totally different each meal, but at face value sometimes, it seems the same. Learning is the key. If we have to do something a hundred times over, then so be it. Our gain, and ultimately, the guests'. The point is, when you see the dish, look deeper at the whole, not the fact that we have once again done a similar composure. Evolution is the focus, in which I strive to achieve on a continual and never ending basis.

Hawaiian Ahi Tuna "Crudo"
Oranges, Meyer Lemon Olive Oil, Golden Caviar
Lime Creme Fraiche, Black Olive Brittle

Compressed Watermelon
Elderflower Infusion, Prosciutto Sorbet, Orange Dust, Ham Sand, Mosto Cotto Redux

"Squab Two Ways"
Sous Vide Breast, Spicy Pancake, Caramelized Onions, Braised Carrots, Foie Gras

Grilled Marinated Leg, Rhubarb, Carrot Oil and Wild Huckleberry-Manjari Jus

Burrata, aka; "Buttery"...

Fresh Burrata

warmed Compressed Strawberries, Elderflower Jus, Meyer Lemon Olive Oil

Black Pepper

Or so the name implies! And oh are they correct. Fresh Burrata is so creamy and sweet with a very silky texture, it is seemingly sinful to indulge upon. So be it. That doesn't stop many artisan cheese enthusiasts who have come to seek out and become obsessed with this prized southern Italian delicacy of dairyness. Originally from the southern region in Puglia, but also finding it's place in other sun-inspired regions such as Basilicata, this cheese most prominently from the water buffalo, but now much more commonly from cow's milk is amongst some of the most delicious cheeses one can find. Outside of their own villages and towns(and regions in Italy), it almost becomes foreign to other areas within the country, and yet, it is actually marketed more heavily into other countries whom appreciate this mozzarella-like cheese. Made from fresh mozzarella curds, this cheese boasts an interior filling of fresh mozz scraps, that have been shredded and mixed with fresh cream (panna) and stuffed into a fresh mozz pouch that has been stretched to obtain that amazingly smooth, elastic and texturous shell and then sealed with a twist to encapsulate the soft, ricotta-like filling. Originally wrapped up with a leaf from the leek-like plant called asphodel, it is now done with plastic and a tie and contains the natural brine and milky water from the final soaking that seals the burrata. It is best consumed within 24-48 hours, but this can be a challenge within any country out of a "stone's throw" from Italy. With overnight shipping and great exporters, it can be obtained. As a test, we examined to see how long the cheese would hold, and surprisingly, it held quite well, although we could see the freshness wither as days passed. Here are several shots of plating the cheese...


Into the Fire...

Here is a close up view of the burning beast(reads marinated leg of lamb) as it hangs... slowly cooking, caramelizing, roasting and toasting before being put under the knife of the tender of the flame. He who tends to the beast whilst it cooks, gets to taste first! After a day or two of marination in numerous savory herbs, garlic, juniper, evoo, pepper, and smoked paprika, we tie her up and hang her next to a roaring fire only to sit patiently until several hours from then when it is time to serve. Juicy, intoxicatingly aromatic and oh-so flavorful. What a sight. Not much better than that. This is one of the cool perks I have by working here. Where else are you able to cook like this over a thousand-degree fire? Primitive to say the least, but awe-inspiring. Good times.


Slow Cooked Brisket, Revised...

After reviewing our thoughts and tastes of the end product from our first slow cooked(27 hour) marinated beef brisket(see previous post), we wanted to refine our outcome by means of added moisture and further tenderization while maintaining the wonderful caramelization and flavor that we did experience. We set out to achieve this by exploring two different techniques and at the same time, be able to see the results side by side while doing so. On the first subject brisket, we went about the marinade in the same fashion as before with a base layer of our tasso rub, then adding ground coffee, cumin, chipotle powder, garlic, thyme, rosemary, sage, bay, smoked paprika and some other love here and there. We let this one go 24 hours in marinade this time(as opposed to only three hours). Then, we cooked at the same temperature of 155 f. in a warming box, but this time for only 14 hours, instead of 27. We were looking to see if the last time was simply too much time, regardless of the fact that we kept it at a temperature that could avoid the cell walls from rupturing and thus losing all the moisture. We basted along the way with our wicked mop sauce and it continued to look fab just as before. The aromas were again amazing. So, out it came at 9am and at 10am, we sliced it and tasted it.
The color was beautifully pink, moist and very flavorful. This was killer! It did have a bit of a "tooth" to it as it just did not seem to have the length of time necessary to break down the connective tissues, but very edible and awesome mind you. No complaints here. Store in refrigerator until later and we will come back to this...Our second subject brisket was brined in a liquid concoction of cider, cider vinegar, honey, brown sugar, salt, water, chilies, spices and aromats for 24 hours. Removed, then dried, we again smothered it in spices as the marinated subject. Into the box it went at about 2:30pm in the afternoon. Slow as she goes, we basted as normal and let it do it's thing throughout the evening.
We started basting again first thing in the morning and throughout the day. It rendered a nice smokey fat and it too looked intoxicating as we waited anxiously to taste it. At 27 hours (the amount of time we had cooked the first time around), we removed the brisket.
With this one, we had wanted to test our theory of the long cooking time but with the addition of a brine to retain moisture by means of the salt and provide for a more tender cut with the flavor of the acidity and spice from the duration of heat. We had intended to rest and hour and then taste, but as luck in this damn business will have it, we had multiple things happening (service, a wine soiree, a wedding and several tasting menus) and thus did not get to try it until much later in the evening. It had chilled quite thoroughly, but not completely. The juices had sank back into the meat. What we discovered was two fold...the brisket was definitely tender and we could observe the work of the brine, but not really taste much of it...a good thing? Perhaps, although I was hoping to.
The flavor was not as pronounced as the marinated brisket however. The longer cooking this time did not lend itself to dryness as before, due to the brine I am certain, but was not quite as moist as the 14 hour marinated subject. Was the 24 hour+ concept just too much for this cut? Do we need to go even lower in heat? We sliced into the marinated one and then back to the brined one to continue our observations and comparisons of taste, texture and thought. What we came to as a conclusion, was that the marinated brisket was definitely more flavorful of the heartiness and boldness of spice and that the rosiness and moisture were much more awesome and yet the brined brisket was more tender and ate really well, had a great mouth feel, but lacked body. We cut into the center of the brined brisket and found it to be a bit more rosy and moist, but still needed flavor. So, what I have concluded was that if we were to take a collaboration of both results and combine the two, we would have a completely stellar cut. On our next attempt, we aim to first brine for 24 hours, then marinate for 24 hours, then cook slow at 150 degrees for only about 16 hours. This seems to be the "best of both worlds" so to speak. Can't wait to try it on a sandwich or over a bed of grits...or corn, red onions and heirloom beans...or?