Cornish Game Hens via Sous Vide

cornish game hens

Cornish game hens are very tough to do right — especially without a very good thermometer — and yet, when they’re done well, they are just delicious little chickens and all the diners get, essentially, the whole bird. But that was before sous vide, and that changes everything. With a sous vide set up, each and every chicken comes out perfectly, and a quick little browning in the oven at the end makes them perfect. 

As I’ve done with most chicken, I cooked them in the sous vide at about 150 degrees for at least two hours. This time around, I added a quarter of a lemon slice and a spring of rosemary before adding them to the vacuum sealer. (You don’t need the vacuum device, but it does make things a bit easier.) I also used  two cups of chicken broth, drippings from the birds,  and a bunch of garlic on the top of the stove to make a nice cooked garlic sauce, which really added a lot of flavor at the end.

That’s all there is to it. And in the end, it really adds only a little time to make the dish (say 2 1/2 to 1 1/2 hours) the end result makes up for the difference by a lot.

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Sous Vide Chicken Salad

sous vide chicken salad

Chicken salad. What can you say about it? Get some leftover chicken, or maybe some fresh, through some mayo and a handful of spices at it, and you’ve got chicken salad, right? Um. No. There is a right way to do a chicken salad and I’ve found it. No kidding. If you’ve never had a sous vide machine (or don’t think you need one), if you like chicken salad, this is the truly only way to make it. Yup. Sous Vide Chicken Salad. So good.

First, my recipe is below, and you can follow that or make up your own. It’s pretty good, especially if, like me, you like a very nice touch of tarragon. 

The key here is how you get to that point. I used four chicken breasts (bone in and skin on), done to 150F degrees (65C), left in the sous vide container about an hour to 90 minutes. Remove them and place them immediately in an ice bath to stop the cooking (for maybe 15 minutes or so) and then refrigerate for at least an hour, so they can soak up the juices that come out of them during the cooking.  When done this way, they come out perfectly done. I think the skin and bone adds some flavor, but that part isn’t necessary.

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Sous Vide Fried Chicken

Sous Vide Fried Chicken

Sous Vide Fried Chicken is simply the best fried chicken I’ve ever made or tasted. I say that without reservation. It’s a bit complicated to make, but honestly, it is worth every bit of the work. The key is to brine the chicken and then cook it sous vide. The frying part is the last, quick part and it’s mainly to give the breaded cooked chicken it’s golden brown, crispy finish. Go away KFC and Popeye’s and Chic Fil A. I got this.

In a nutshell, the process is this: soak the chicken pieces overnight in a lightly seasoned brine made with salt, sugar, garlic powder and onion powder. Next day, rinse the chicken, dry it as much as you can, seal it in plastic (I used my Foodsaver but a ziplock bag will work if you get the air out of it), and cook with an immersion circulator for 2 hours at 65C/150F. When the chicken is done, allow it to cool then remove from the plastic bag, and soak for 30 minutes or so in buttermilk. When it’s time to fry, shake off excess buttermilk, roll the chicken in a flour-based breading mix and cook in hot oil until the breading is crisp and golden, and the chicken is heated through. Bingo.

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Sous Vide Country Terrine

Sous Vide Country Terrine

A country terrine, or terrine de campaigne is one of life’s great joys. I tasted my first one somewhere in the French countryside between Dijon and Reims, accompanied by a flute of champagne and never looked back. This sous vide country terrine is by far the best of my several tries and I suspect I’ll never make another terrine without my trusty Anova. 

The reason sous vide works so well is that the process of vacuum sealing (my Foodsaver edge sealer worked very well for this) compresses the ground meat filling — called forcemeat or farce — and keeps it compressed throughout the process. The sous vide cooking ensures the mixture is cooked evenly and thoroughly without browning or scorching, which can happen using a water bath in an oven, despite your best efforts.

The farce for this terrine was made using a base I found at good ol’ Epicurious, but using meats I could readily get my hands on — ground pork and veal, chicken breast — but I’m looking forward now to trying some rabbit or duck down the road. The sous vide method I followed was suggested by a Twitter friend who lives and breathes sous vide, backed up by some reading at Our Daily Brine. To test the recipe and technique, I used a mini terrine mold that’s about 3×5 inches and cooked it for 2.5 hours. I suspect that would be long enough for a full-size loaf, but the beauty of sous vide is that you can cook something longer for safety sake without overcooking it (within reason, of course).

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Exploring Sous Vide, Part 2: Garlic-Herb Pork Loin

sous vide pork loin

Making a great pork dish has always been a challenge for me, especially when dealing with lean pork like pork chops or pork loin. The sous vide approach has changed that for me, forever. The combination of a simple marinade, vacuum sealing, and cooking to a precise temperature makes it a breeze. The pork loin pictured above was cooked sous vide to 57C/135F for 2 hours. The result was uniformly tender and moist and full of flavor. Add a little applesauce and grilled pears and some roasted brussels sprouts and it makes a very nice meal indeed.

The flavor came in large part from the marinade and vacuum sealing. Even if you aren’t into sous vide just yet (and I suspect you will be before long, thanks to increased availability and reasonable prices for the gear), a vacuum sealer like Food Saver or the equivalent is a very good thing to have. Vacuum sealing certainly guarantees good contact between marinade and meat, but I suspect without evidence that it also drives the marinade at least partially into the meat. I also used the tip of a sharp knife to insert slices of garlic into the meat. That’s also something I’ll be doing again and again. And of course, the meat was seared just before serving on a very hot gas grill (a hot cast iron pan would also serve).

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Exploring Sous Vide, Part 1: Sous Vide Strip Steak

Sous vide strip steak

This week, I’d like to offer up some of the results of some of my sous vide experiments. They’ve been a lot of fun, and tasty, too. We’ll start with this strip steak, which turned out beautifully.

Strip steaks are probably the best value you can find among the best cuts of beef for grilling. They’re also more difficult to get right, when compared to tenderloin or even t-bones and Porterhouse (both of which are part tenderloin, part strip). Strip steaks, however, are where sous vide preparation shines. Strip steaks done sous vide are uniformly tender from edge to edge, and with less than a minute per side in a hot pan or on a grill, I still got that nice char that adds so much flavor.

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Sous Vide Eye of Round Roast

sous vide eye of round roast

A few weeks ago, I came across an ad online for a sous vide immersion circulator by a company called Anova, and withe the discount offered in that add, I finally had my chance to get my hands on one of these machines for under $200. Given the prices I’d seen up to then, it took about two heartbeats to put in my order. It only took a few days to arrive so I’ve now had a week or more to experiment and this eye of round roast is one of my first. The recipe is simple, but the results were outstanding.

anovaIf sous vide is new to you, think of it as a slow cooker but with extraordinarily precise temperature control, down to a half a degree (C or F). Food is sealed in plastic and cooked in a water bath while the sous vide device circulates the water and maintains a preset temperature. Cooking times depend on the food, of course, but like a slow cooker, they’re much longer than standard cooking methods. Compare that to oven roasting, where the temperature is 400F and to raise the center to 130F  in an hour or so, you pretty much have to burn the outside. And that, in fact, was my experience prior to sous vide.

For this first attempt at a roast, I chose to follow the advice I got on one of the cooking laboratory web sites, which was different from what I’ve seen at Anova and other places. It called for a full 30 hours of cooking time. Yeah. 30 hours. My thought was that if I could overcook some meat using sous vide, this would do it. 

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