THE GOCHISO GOURMET: To sous vide or not sous vide


photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

columnist-logo_ryantatsumoto_FINALSous vide refers to that precise cooking application where food is placed in a vacuum-sealed bag, and then let to slow cook in a water bath not unlike that commercial water bath you may have used in chemistry class. Because you set the temperature at the exact point that a specific type of protein is done, you can’t really overcook your food.

Professional chefs have been using the sous vide application for years, but manufacturers have only been marketing products for home cooks in the past couple of years. I vividly remember when my local Williams Sonoma store displayed the Anova sous vide set for $799, which included the machine itself, a vacuum sealer and both a stainless steel and plastic bin to contain the water, which you set at a precise temperature. That means perfectly moist and tender chicken breasts or steaks cooked to a perfect medium-rare throughout the whole steak.

Totally out of character, I relented in being an early adopter and waited until more devices were available to the public (with a corresponding price reduction) before I purchased my Sous Vide Supreme at less than half the cost. Granted, I bought a single unit with a self-contained water chamber, which made disposing of the water somewhat cumbersome, lest it leak into the electronics. And placing steak in a vacuum-sealed bag gave me pause, as I learned in food science class many years ago that Clostridium bacteria produces botulinum toxin under anaerobic conditions, i.e., what you find in a vacuum-sealed bag. This usually isn’t an issue for most food, as the perfect cooking temperature is somewhere above 140 degrees, which would kill Clostridium bacteria before it had a chance to produce those toxins. But I enjoy steak medium-rare, which is in the 120 to 125-degree range.

So last year for Christmas, Ms. S purchased a Vermicular Musui-Kamado, which I highlighted in the March 2020 column. I still love my Musui-Kamado, but one of the downsides is its size. At just under a four liter cooking vessel, it only fits four chicken breasts if they’re wrapped back-to-back, and it definitely can’t fit a full Porterhouse steak, so I still need to bake my steaks low-and-slow in my regular oven or limit those juicy and tender chicken breasts to four per cooking session.

Back to Anova
As most retailers started advertising their Black Friday specials just after Halloween to accommodate shopping during the pandemic, the folks at Anova also started advertising reduced prices for their sous vide machines. What previously sold for $200 to $400 was reduced to just $140 to $200, with 12 liter and 16 liter cooking vessels between $60 and $80. However, what piqued my interest was the Anova Precision Oven. At $599 and about the size of a large microwave oven, it featured a sous vide setting where you could set the temperature to the exact degree, up to 212 degrees, top and bottom heating elements, along with a side heating element with a convection fan and a one liter water chamber that infused moisture into the oven from 0 all the way up to 100 percent. If you downloaded the application to your smart phone, you could also control the oven via Wi-Fi while still at work (though I don’t cook if no one is at home).

photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Therefore, I could make up to three full porterhouse steaks within the cooking chamber at the same time to the perfect 125 degrees throughout the full thickness of the steak. I could also cook a full tray of chicken breasts to the perfect 145 degrees while adding moisture via the water chamber for perfect moist and tender chicken breasts. Additionally, I could bake bread with that initial burst of moisture that’s found in professional bread ovens to get that perfect initial rise, then switch to convection to finish with the perfect browning. Sold!

Baba Ghanoush
So, after unpacking my Anova Precision Oven and clearing enough counter space to accommodate the oven, did I cook the perfect steak or bake that perfect loaf of bread? Nope. I roasted eggplant to make baba ghanoush!

It just so happened that several evenings earlier, we had ordered delivery from a new Turkish restaurant in Honolulu, Istanbul Hawaii. One of our dishes was the Meze Platter or mixed appetizers, which included baba ghanoush. However, as a mixed appetizer plate, it contained just enough of that luscious, smoky eggplant spread to taste, and left me wanting more.

We always have canned chickpeas, sesame paste, fresh lemons and garlic at home, so we can always make our own hummus. But we never have round eggplant just sitting in our refrigerator, so we usually only have baba ghanoush at restaurants or when we purchase it from gourmet markets. But I did buy three round eggplants after our Turkish feast, so those globes took the maiden voyage in the Anova Precision Oven. And in about 35 minutes, they were perfectly cooked. While “true” baba ghanoush requires the eggplant to be cooked directly over a fire to attain the smokiness, I simply added a teaspoon of liquid kiawe (mesquite) smoke to add the smoke flavor. Because our regular oven isn’t a convection, it normally would take about 60 minutes, so we’ll now also roast veggies in the Anova!

Roasted Chicken

photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

One of the recipes listed on the Website was for a chicken that is roasted at 149 degrees until the included probe hits 145.4 degrees within the breast meat. You then remove the probe and the splayed chicken (whole with the backbone removed with poultry shears then flattened or splayed by cracking the breastbone), resetting the temperature to 482 degrees and browning the skin for five to 10 minutes.

It cooked the breast and thighs perfectly. They were so tender and soft, it almost felt like the flesh was still raw. And the skin was crackly and crisp. The only downside is that only one chicken can fit in the oven, and even a small turkey is still a little too large. But for a simple meal for two, you can’t go wrong! I can’t wait to cook a whole tray of boneless, skinless chicken breasts like I normally would in the Vermicular, which should feed us for the whole work week.

Breaking Bread
Because I propagate a sourdough starter (from the King Arthur Website) and refresh the starter every other week, I’m always making pizza dough, baguettes or focaccia with the extra cup of starter. So, I decided on sourdough baguettes for the Anova trial.
Normally, when I bake free form loaves of bread, I mist the oven interior with a spray bottle of water right before placing the loaf in the oven, then every minute or so for the first five minutes. The mist creates a humid oven so the loaf can expand to its full potential until the gluten starts setting in the loaf. Professional bread ovens do this automatically without requiring the baker to open the oven door every minute. Well, the Anova is like a baby professional oven; you simply set the moisture level to 100 percent for the first five minutes, then turn it off for the remaining 10 minutes so that the crust browns, and with the convection turned on, the browning occurs uniformly over the entire loaf.

Christmas Present, Perhaps?
By the time this column goes to press, it may be a little late as a Christmas gift, but belated gifts are still great, especially if this is something your personal chef has been eyeing. Anova is shipping the ovens out only at pre-determined dates. While the Sous Vide machines are on sale, the Precision Oven is new so there are no discounts off of its $599 price tag. But remember, kitchen electronics not only benefit the recipient but also the gift giver throughout the year…

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University 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 Views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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