THE GOCHISO GOURMET: Livin’ in a vacuum

Unless you consider yourself that dust particle that just got sucked into the Dyson, only astronauts who are in space live in a vacuum. And even in that case, you’re not living in a vacuum, you’re simply living in a vacuum cleaner. A true vacuum is when the atmospheric pressure is actually at zero and there are no particles present — no air, atoms or anything. At sea level, the atmospheric pressure is 760 mmHg and as you travel higher, that pressure starts to drop. But even in the vast intergalactic space, the pressure is never zero. It’s about as close to zero as you can get — even closer to zero than the work Congress is doing — and there are atoms in every cubic centimeter, but again as close to zero as possible.

What does this have to do with food, wine or nutrition? Well, when you create a pressure differential, objects tend to move from higher pressure to lower pressure. So when you create a lower pressure differential of 20 to 25 percent, objects move from your carpet and floor to the inner chamber or bag of your vacuum cleaner. Additionally, creating a vacuum also reduces the amount of particles in that space, reducing the transference of heat. What happens when you pour a cold beverage into a glass cup on a warm day? The beverage eventually cools the glass which attracts water vapor in the air causing condensation on the outer glass, eventually staining that beautiful mahogany coffee table. Oh, you could place the glass on a coaster, but some of that condensation may overwhelm the coaster and still leave a watery mess. What if you had a drinking container that didn’t transfer that chilled temperature to the outside? That’s exactly what those stainless steel double walled carafes do! When you create a container with two walls and remove the air between the walls or vacuum seal the chamber, the cold inner wall can’t transfer and lower the temperature of the outer wall. No condensation! And it works both ways! Hot foods and beverages stay hotter longer and the container doesn’t burn your fingers and cold foods or beverages stay colder longer without any condensation!

Vacuum sealing your food also allows for longer freezer storage with less freezer burn and allows for extended low temperature cooking that produces succulent meats and poultry without worrying about overcooking.

Sous Vide Supreme. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Sous Vide Supreme. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

SousVide
French for “under vacuum,” this cooking method started in the ‘70s and basically entails food being placed in a vacuum sealed bag and cooked for an extended period under lower temperatures, usually between 131 and 140 degrees. The sous vide method of cooking, cooks food to the exact degree of “doneness” without having to worry about overcooking. Since the food is vacuum sealed, you never have to worry about drying out your proteins. Imagine chicken breasts that are always moist and succulent or steaks that are medium throughout the whole steak.

In fact, the best fried chicken I’ve ever sampled was first cooked sous vide, then batter dipped and quickly fried. As you bit through the crackly outer crust, you then hit succulent meat that literally fell off of the bone!

The only downside to sous vide cooking is that it requires precise temperature control and a lot more time. If your temperature is too low for too long, Clostridium botulinum (bacterium) can start growing and producing toxin, which is very bad! You’ll literally kill off your dinner guests! To remedy this potential problem, restaurant suppliers created precise water baths like those found in chemistry labs so you never have to worry about maintaining a temperature just above the “danger” zone. The only problem was that these sous vide cooking apparatuses initially were priced at $1,000 or more. Well, no more! The SousVide Supreme Demi Water Oven System is available at Costco (www.costco.com) for $319.99, so you too can cook like Thomas Keller and Michael Mina!

Thermal Cookers
This is based on a simple design. Build a double walled vessel creating a vacuum within the double wall. Make a second cooking vessel that fits snuggly within the double walled vessel. Bring the food up to a boil in the inner cooking vessel on a stovetop. Cover said vessel, then place it in the double walled vessel, and let it sit, literally for hours. There’s no extra energy expenditure, and no need to watch the cooking. You literally can leave the house and not worry about leaving any burners running.

Because the primary cooking vessel is placed in a double walled vessel, the vacuum between the walls prevent heat from escaping as rapidly thus keeping the cooking vessel just below the boiling point for several hours. So it’s almost like a slow simmer without any attention. The vessel I own claims that any food brought to the boiling point will maintain a temperature of 190 degrees for at least four hours. It’s so handy, I’ve actually purchased two units — a 4 liter model and an 8 liter model. I use the smaller device to cook beans, barley or other grains, since all I have to do is bring it to a boil, place it in the double walled vessel and forget about it. There’s no need to worry about beans or barley boiling over when the temperature gets too high. There’s no need to stand over the range top for 20 to 45 minutes, and no need to use any additional electricity.

I use the larger device when I have to take stews, chili or soups to potlucks. It keeps the food hot and most of the larger models have locking devices on the outer cover to prevent spillage. The only downside is that the boiling temperature is the hottest temperature attained and will slowly drop thereafter, so tougher proteins like oxtail and brisket may not achieve that “falling off the bone” consistency, but it does a great job for most proteins. Just make sure to brown or fully cook raw proteins then bring the liquid to a boil before inserting in the holding vessel.
I purchased both of my devices at my local Marukai (www.marukai.com/index-e.html) at $134 for the small and $204 for the large, though the prices vary depending on the store. You can also find these products on Amazon.com, ranging between $74 and $217, depending on the size.

Double Walled Devices
The most obvious of these devices is your basic Thermos (Nissan) or vacuum flask, which keeps hot liquids hot and cold liquids cold. I used to own a couple of these, but have switched to the Klean Kanteen label. Why? They have a simple screw top cover. I dislike the pourable covers because you can never really get the whole thing clean, including the moving parts and straws, etc. It’s easier to wash a simple screw top cover. These run between $19.50 and $49.95 at REI (www.rei.com) depending on the size, but there are numerous variations.

There are also vacuum sealed food containers that store food based on the same principle, but are just shorter and wider than beverage containers. The Mrs. never packs her home lunch without her vacuum sealed Thermos. As in the case of all vacuum-sealed containers, chilling the interior with iced water for cold foods or beverages (or heating the interior with boiling water for hot foods or beverages) before actually filling it lengthens the time it remains hot or cold. And filling the container to full capacity accomplishes the same. These run from $14.99 to $39.71 on Amazon.com, depending on the size.

Vacuum sealed cups. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Vacuum sealed cups. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

There also are a bevy of vacuum sealed containers, from coffee pitchers to beverage carafes down to highball glasses and even sake cups that all keep the hot stuff hot and cold stuff cold. A good coffee pitcher from Thermos (www.thermos.com) will set you back about $25 for the quart sized up to $55 for the 2 quart size from Amazon.com. Luigi Bormioli makes a double walled glass carafe for $24.99 at Macy’s, so your iced tea or chilled wine doesn’t produce a mess of condensation on your dinner table. And both Bormioli and Bodum have an assortment of coffee cups and glasses that are vacuum sealed so coffee or tea stays hot and the cup doesn’t burn your fingers ranging from $7.95 per glass up to $11.95 per glass found throughout the Internet. I even found a vacuum sealed glass sake cup at Marukai for just $2.99.

Lastly, vacuum technology isn’t limited just to liquids. There are vacuum sealed ice buckets (ranging between $40 to $60) that keep your cubes frozen longer without the mess, as well as vacuum sealed serving dishes that keep chilled dishes cooler longer without any condensation. The Sporty’s Preferred Living catalog (and Website, www.sportys.com/PreferredLiving) offer three different serving dishes featuring vacuum sealed bottoms that can be filled with ice (or a heat pack) with a separate top that sits on the ice keeping the food chilled (or warm) without any condensation. When you live in the 50th with 50 to 80 percent ambient humidity, any chilled surface just drips with condensation. You could leave the food at room temperature but do you really want to consume raw fish that’s been sitting at 85 degrees for several hours. With these dishes, the poke or sashimi stays chilled (and you can consume them the next day risk free) and you don’t have to worry about a watery mess on your table. They do seem pricey at $69.95, but for yours truly, are worth every penny in the 50th – especially when poke or sashimi can top $20 a pound.

Livin’ With the Vacuum
So there you have it, the Gochiso Gourmet’s simple guide to using vacuum technology to the fullest. Food that’s always tender and succulent, drinks and foods that remain colder longer or hotter longer. Cooking that doesn’t use any electricity or doesn’t need any attention. And no more condensation! But if these gift suggestions weren’t enough or simply aren’t techie enough for you, then just get a real vacuum. Like the Dyson DC47 dual cyclone head canister vacuum for $449.99. That’ll suck more than the dust out of your carpet. It’ll also suck your wallet clean too…

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the Univ. of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at gochisogourmet@yahoo.com.

Comments

  1. A vacuum cleaner is a device that uses an air pump (a centrifugal fan in all but some of the very oldest models),

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