Saturday 10 January 2015

Sous vide salmon and the seven Cypriots

The Anova sous vide system

Yes, I do love my alliteration but shush, I'm going to gush like a convert.

In the beginning, I really didn't understand the fuss about sous vide. It seemed an unnecessary complication: sealing food in bags in a vacuum and then plunging them in water. Why was this suddenly necessary? The term is French for 'under vacuum' but It's basically 1970s boil in the bag isn't it? Yes. It is, with one difference: there's no boiling. But in that difference is the world. Unlike a simmering pot of 100°C water, a sous vide bath can be held at any temperature which means fish, meat and fruit can be poached to perfection... and no further. Sous vide-ing is very forgiving to the sloppy cook. Because the core temperature of the foodstuff cannot rise it cannot spoil. Because it's cooked in a sealed bag, it cannot dry out. For a restaurant, or indeed, a supper club it answers several problems.

It also presents many new possibilities. Added aromatics in a vacuum bag take on new dimensions. Meat can be gently cooked in individual packets and then flash roasted when needed. Combining liquids and food in a vacuum forces the liquid into the food. This means you can marinate in minutes or pickle in a trifle. Talking of trifles... custards and other egg based sauces can be held warm for hours whereas they would before split. 

I didn't think I'd ever acquire a sous vide machine for reasons of expense and bulk; in addition to the water bath, you also need a vacuum machine. I don't have the room to store two large boxes. But then on Kickstarter I saw the Anova solution. A well priced, hand blender sized stick that you could clamp to any pot. An article in the brilliant alerted me to the Foodsaver V2860, a domestic vacuum system originally intended to prepare foods for home freezing. Under £120 and it swivels upright for storage. I bought both.

The Anova is a brilliant idea. It feels solid and over engineered; made from high grade stainless steel and plastics. One of those early machines that people will still be praising in a decade. It also features Bluetooth and will link to an iPhone app (of course!) so I'll be alerted when my food is done.

Sous Vide means I can serve fish in bulk. I love pan fried fish but get distracted for half a minute and those delicate, translucent flakes become bouncing rubber nuggets. 'Don't get distracted!' You shout at your screen. Try this scenario:

"Jason can we just... [inaudible]?
"Sure. Just a moment. [Calls] Etien!"
But Etien is in the hall where an angsty adolescent assignation has demanded his attentions; an affair of such animus and intensity it will require 2000 restorative, thumb-numbing Snapchats in the next thirty seconds.*
Back in the kitchen... "Jason [laughter] it's ok, [inaudible]." I turn  to find a helpful guest with an empty water jug struggling to make sense of our tap.
"Pull it towards you and away for cold... yes, towards you but to the left..."
And blam! There it is. You're plating up school erasers with that lemon verbena beurre blanc.

*I'm required to point out this only happened once and no fish was damaged on that occasion.

Bobbi in the middle

Bobbi's party were my first. This group were all Greek Cypriot and all related, which is about normal for Palmers Green, as we benefit from a very large Cypriot community. Bobbi's party was ebullient, animated, sometimes even combative (with each other not me); quick to challenge but just as quick to laugh, often at themselves. Someone asked me who did the washing up (my sons and I do) and I found myself embroiled in a hilarious discussion about domestic chores. Accusations of 'dishwasher OCD' and details of something called a 'sock wash' filled the hours. 

An unlovely picture of lovely fish.

I did my salmon and caponata starter. I sealed the fillets together with a pat of butter on each. 20 minutes at 50°C. I cut open the bag, dried the fillets and crisped up the skin in a hot pan - a matter of seconds - and plated up. Each piece was identical. I retrospect I should have turned the filets just to glaze the tops too. But the taste and texture were superb.

This is just the start of my sous vide affair. There are soft eggs to investigate, sauces and poaching of food in stock or cream. Sous vide is a new way of cooking - like braising, grilling or roasting, each require experience and application to learn the foibles and nuances. More so with sous vide as every degree counts apparently. There is a difference between eggs done at 74 and 75°C. Chicken cooked long and slow is a revelation and impossible cooked any other way. The next step for me will be the slow cooked meats, moving from braised to water bath. Apparently pork belly is unbelievably tender done this way. It takes 16 hours(!) but is worth the effort.


  1. Thanks for sharing this useful post Jason Sutton. Really awesome post, i loved to read this whole post very much.

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