Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Redneck home-cook tries fancy french cooking

So if there’s one thing that cancer patients going through chemo need it’s PROTEIN, chicken is a great protein with many other added vitamins that help with the immune system and also help nausea.  In addition it can be cooked using a variety of cooking methods, quick and easy or slow and long…whatever suits you. Today we’re going to talk a little about a great (but expensive) cooking method and how I did it cheap and redneck style. 

Every year from January to March I cook ‘healthy’ because Amber has her company weight-loss challenge.  I have always been meat and potatoes kind of fellow with a little bit of deep-fried anything thrown in for good measure.  This year I got to thinking about my food lifestyle and thought why cook 3 months out of the year like I always should?  Ber and I talked about it and decided that cooking healthy year round wasn’t really a sacrifice.  She likes the dinners I make just as much as any other time of the year and wasn’t missing anything. I’ve found ways to make baked foods with the same texture and feel as deep fried; I’ve found ways to make lean meats taste more like fatty ones.  I’ve started making my own pasta with whole wheat flour.  In general I’ve discovered how to cut down on fat and calories without sacrificing taste and flavor.  So I’m changing things around and trying to shed some of these 40lbs I’ve gained.  One way to do that is chicken, it’s lean, it’s healthy and done right it’s yummy.  The problem is how to make it taste good without it being dry or flavorless.

So in my recent research on chicken breast and the culinary arts I came across a cooking method called ‘sous vide’ which is French for ‘under vacuum’.   This method, now used in all high-end restaurants, involves vacuum packing  then poaching food at VERY precise temperatures that is now the standard for restaurant chicken breasts.   The benefits of this method are consistent, juicy, tender, and uniform cooking that yields very repeatable results with no guesswork. The only problem is that professional sous-vide machines go for $1,500-$2,600 and lower-end “home” versions are about $700.  I love my kitchen gadgets but spending $700 on ANY appliance bothers me a bit unless it’s a robotic sous chef.  So how do I get similar results without selling a lung?

This is the ‘Sous Vide Supreme’, it holds a water bath at a precise temperature within .1 degree..very precise.

This is what I used to replicate that method.

WHAAA???  That’s right kiddo’s no fancy $700 machine here, just a cooler, a digital thermometer, and water…WINNING!  So I brought the water up to the temp I wanted which for chicken breast was 140 degrees and then dumped it into the cooler (which also works as a warmer).  I used a Ziploc bag and a straw to make a vacuum seal then let it cook for an hour and voila ‘Sous Vide Chicken’.  Doing chicken sous vide makes the tenderest, juiciest chicken ever.  The downside is lack of flavor and color.  The color problem I solved by searing it after cooking in a smoking hot pan for about aminute per side.  The flavor problem I solved by putting aromatics in the bag while cooking, I used rosemary and cilantro and it helped a lot. 

I think this method of cooking has a lot of possibilities and is definitely something I want to explore more.  The day after the chicken I did a rib eye steak the same way and it was good, nice full beefy flavor, perfect medium rare and every bite was as good as the last.  That’s the good thing about sous-vide is it’s impossible to overcook, you want a medium-rare steak you put it in at 130 degrees for anytime between 1-5 hours, great for restaurants.  But the good news is it also works for entertaining home cooks because of the wide time variance, guests are an hour late, no problem.

I think eventually I may come up with a way to keep the water temperature more consistent for a longer period of time but for now the cooler works fine for chicken and steak…trying pork chops next.


  1. Hahaha! Everything you post on fb looks delicious. I almost wish you and Ber would adopt me and let me live with you. I'd be happy with just those three months out of the year.

    I'm sitting here, holding my microwave cheese quesadilla, and watering at the mouth as I read your blog. If you didn't already know, Right Doggy is a huge pasta and chicken lover.

    I really enjoy reading your blogs...well, because I like to eat. Your blogs are very inspiring for people (like me) who can only cook Mac&Cheese, Quesadillas, and spaghetti. I feel like every blog you post there should be a dinner and a movie night at the Wombat Cave. Then again, that could get expensive.

    I absolutely loved your home made Sous Vide machine. You definitely have a passion for food.
    I look forward to reading more.

    Keep writing sir.


  2. How on earth did you come up with your brilliant concoction (spelling?) If you haven't seen it yet, you should watch with Ber, Julie and Julia about French cooking. Very funny. Love your blog, keep it up!