62°C Sous Vide Pork Loin with Crunchy Apple, Fennel and Red Onion

I wanted to sous vide some pork loin to see how it would come out at different temperatures. This is attempt one at 62°C which means the pork is medium-well, or pretty much cooked all the way through. I already had some corn tortillas from Cool Chile Co and I made a crunchy salad with a julienne of apple, fennel and red onion, dressed with fresh lime juice and cider vinegar to give it a tang.

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I rubbed the pork in an earthy spice mix of black pepper, cumin, coriander and fennel with some blended garlic and smoked jalapeños. I already had the smoked chillies from an earlier recipe but you can use normal chilis or try some Gran Luchito smoked chilli paste instead.

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The juicy, spiced pork married beautifully with the crunchy, sweet and tangy salad. The corn tortillas have a great natural flavour and added a bit of bitter char when toasted in a dry skillet.

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Clay Pot Cooking – Four-hour Roast Chicken

Clay pots have been used in cooking since at least as early as 6000 years ago. They were used traditionally by every ancient culture and are still used all over the world today. More recently clay has been replaced with metal but there are still several advantages to using clay that make it relevant today.

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Clay does not conduct heat well which gives it an advantage over metal because it means a clay pot will not lose heat as quickly, so it will keep an even temperature heat for longer. This makes it more efficient for cooking and gives an even temperature over long cooking periods, especially when using an open fire, where residual heat is all that is cooking the food. My previous post used this technique.

The second advantage of a clay pot is that it locks in moisture so you can cook over long periods without drying foods out. This is a particular advantage when cooking lean meats like chicken because you can keep the meat juicy without adding any fat at all.

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The clay pot I like to use is a chicken brick. It is a hollow clay brick that snugly fits a chicken inside. I placed some stock vegetables underneath the chicken and then added some red wine and water to cover them. The chicken went on top seasoned with salt and pepper, and a lemon in its neck, but no oil or butter. Then the all important clay lid on top that keeps all the goodness inside.

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The chicken brick went into a cold oven which was then set to 160℃. Its important not to put the clay straight into a hot oven as it may crack. The relatively low temperature will cook the chicken in four hours leaving even the lean breast meat juicy and pulling away from the bones.

Cooked chicken coming out of the oven
Cooked chicken coming out of the oven

One thing this method won’t achieve is a desirable crispy skin on the chicken. Because the meat has been steaming inside the clay pot, the skin comes out soggy and pale. There is a simple solution though. A kitchen blowtorch will dry out and crisp up the skin and leave it a lovely golden brown. If you don’t have a blowtorch you can finish the chicken off under a very hot grill for a few minutes. Blowtorch is more fun though…

You can serve the chicken with the vegetables that were cooked underneath, and make a gravy from the liquid. Worth the four hour wait in my opinion for tender but still juicy chicken with crispy golden skin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Microwave Kid Goat Jerky

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I found a recipe for microwave jerky while reading Modernist Cuisine, the six volume bible for anyone interested in science-informed cookery. Their recipe is for beef jerky marinated in soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar and salt and then dried in a microwave in just five minutes. I’m always looking for interesting things to try with kid goat and so I thought I’d try and make kid jerky based on this recipe.

Traditionally jerky would have been dried in the open air, over smoke and fire for days. Or more recently in a dehydrator for several hours. But why not use the microwave if it could be done in minutes? The modernist philosophy is to break down misconceptions and myths so use of the microwave is not looked down on, or frowned upon. The idea is that radio waves at a certain frequency agitate the water molecules in the cured meat and force the water out very quickly, drying the jerky.

Of course drying meat over a fire would have produced a smoky flavour so a lot of recent jerky recipes call for the addition of liquid smoke flavouring to the marinade to emulate this. I wanted to achieve this smokiness balanced with sweet and peppery flavours so the perfect solution was Gran Luchito smoked chili paste, currently gaining popularity and winning accolades and awards all over the place. It is made from rare Pasilla Oaxaca chilies, harvested and smoked over oak by the farmers who grow them in Oaxaca, Mexico. The chilies are then mixed with caramelised onions, balsamic vinegar and dark agave syrup to produce a deeply smoky, sweet and peppery paste.

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The smoked chilies are dark and treacly, adding depth of flavour to the paste

For my jerky, I have used kid goat neck fillet. It is important to use a lean meat for jerky, which makes kid goat perfect as it is one of the leanest meats available. The neck is tender and yields perfect long strips. The loin would have also worked well. Below is my recipe which I think worked really well. The chili paste did most of the work with the flavour but I added soy sauce for seasoning and dark colour, and maple syrup and black pepper to enhance the sweet and peppery flavours of the paste.

If you want to try this recipe, you can find Gran Luchito paste on Amazon or buy it from retailers listed on their website and find kid goat meat from Gourmet Goat at Borough Market, Wednesday – Saturday, and loads of info and recipes at gourmetgoat.co.uk.

Rack of kid goat, with Gran Luchito honey and herb crust

This is a lovely recipe that utilises the beautifully tender kid-goat rack and smoky Gran Luchito honey. The herb crust gives a nice crispy texture, and I used a water-bath to cook the rack sous-vide, but you could cook it in the oven as an alternative.

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If using the oven, seal the rack in a hot pan on all sides then leave to cool. Brush on the honey and roll in the breadcrumbs and finish in the oven for 10-15 minutes until the desired doneness is achieved. I suggest a core temperature of 55℃ for a nice pink centre. I strongly recommend investing in a digital probe thermometer to measure core temperatures, it takes the guess work out of your cooking and will give you confidence of perfect results. You can find one online for around £15 and it will become an invaluable tool in the kitchen.

Trying Heston’s Triple-Cooked Chips

This week at the lab day I tried out a recipe that I had read about and never thought I’d be able to try for myself – Heston Blumenthal’s famous triple-cooked chips. You’ll find versions of these in pubs all over the country but Heston claims to have invented them at The Fat Duck. His idea was to take the idea of a fluffy centre and crispy outside to their extremes to create the perfect chip.

A standard chip recipe is roughly as follows: Cut potatoes into equal batons of the size of your choice. Deep-fry them once at 130-140℃ until soft (around 10 minutes depending on the size). Take them out, drain off excess oil and cool. Then fry them again at 190-200℃ until golden and crispy which takes just a minute or so making them perfect for restaurant service.

In The Fat Duck Cookbook Heston tells the story of how he tried various methods to create the perfect chip. For the fluffy middle he found the best way was to boil them in water to get the potato very soft, in fact he advises cooking them until they are almost falling apart. This also produces cracks in the surface which help to crisp the chip. He also tries different methods to dry the potatoes out in order to make the cracks even more pronounced and therefore create a crispier. After trying them in a dehydrator and in the oven he settled on putting them into the vacuum sealer to remove the water that way as it was the easiest way to achieve the result. Our plan was to freeze-dry the chips and see what effect this had. This process removes all the water from the chip, it is the same process used for making stock cubes and dried soup which can be reconstituted with hot water so it would be interesting to if this made the chip even more crispy.

Stack of chips
Stack of chips

The first job was to cut the chips into equal batons. Its important that they are exactly the same otherwise they will not cook at the same rate. Next the chips are boiled in salted water until they are almost falling apart. This is quite tricky to get right as if you leave them in for a minute too long they will fall apart and they won’t be chips anymore. When they are ready they are removed to a cooling rack.

Chips cooling after boiling stage
Chips cooling after boiling stage

The next stage is to place the chips in a vacuum chamber on a wire rack and activate the vacuum cycle four times. The suction applied by the machine removing all the air from inside the chamber is suppose to also suck out a lot of the water and dry the chips out. When they came out they were cool and strangely clammy to the touch. Some online recipes call for placing the chips in the freezer for an hour, but we tried this and it did not produce anywhere near as pronounced an effect. I had to use a cheese grater as I couldn’t find a wire rack that would fit in the machine. The important thing is to make sure there is air all the way round the chips so it was an adequate substitute.

Chips in the vacuum chamber
Chips in the vacuum chamber

Next the chips are fried as normal chips would be at a low temperature of 130℃ for 8 minutes. They are then removed onto a wire rack and vacuum cooled again three times. Then they are ready for service and can be stored in an air-tight container until ready to use or fried at 190℃ for a minute to serve.

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The finished triple-cooked chip

The result was very different from a normal chip. They felt very light when picked up due to the lower water content and had an interesting flaky texture in the centre. The chips were very crispy and tasted a little more like a crisp than a normal chip. I think this is because there was more surface area in all the cracks to go criipy and less soft potato centre. Although they are definitely very pleasant to eat I wouldn’t call them perfect. They are so different from normal chips that they are not really comparable. Some people like thin-cut fries, some people like thick cut ‘chip-shop’ chips, and I’m sure lots of people like triple-cooked chips so ultimately it’s down to preference and maybe you could take into consideration the effort required. These chips are not quick to make and they have to be handled with great care or they break. Plus you have to have some very expensive equipment to start with.

Chips in the freeze-dryer
Chips in the freeze-dryer

The chips that we freeze-dryed were very strange. They browned in the fryer after just a few seconds and made no noise or oil splutter when they were dropped in. This is because there was no water in them at all. They were very light and reconstituted in the mouth to give a texture almost like a ‘chipstick’, a type of crisp I remember from when I was a kid. The taste was quite like a normal ready salted crisp. It was an interesting experiment but not an improvement on Heston’s recipe in my opinion.

Why Sous Vide?

Sous vide is a french term that means “under vacuum”. It is a cooking technique championed by modernist chefs and used in the top michelin starred restaurants around the world. It is also starting to become realistic as a home-cooking technique with the emergence of low priced water baths onto the market. It is seen as one of the most controlled ways of cooking meat and vegetables. Allowing you to control the exact temperature you want your food to reach with mathematical precision.

Sous-vide cooking has two main features that set it apart. First the food is vacuum-packed – sealed in a bag that has had all the air sucked out of it. This means that the food is in a very controlled environment. Nothing can enter or escape so it is not affected by the air and does not lose any of its nutrients or flavour during cooking.

Secondly, the food is cooked in a water bath at a specific temperature. The temperature that the bath is set to will be the desired final temperature of the food inside. And because it is sealed in a vacuum, as long as it is left in long enough for the temperature to reach the centre, it will be perfectly evenly cooked all the way through to exactly the temperature that you have set.

Think about conventional oven cooking: You set the temperature far higher than what you want the centre of the food to get to. For example, to cook a joint of lamb to medium rare, around 55℃ you would perhaps set the oven at 200℃ and then take the meat out when the middle reaches 55℃. This means that the rest of the meat actually reaches a temperature higher than 55℃ and nearer the edge it will be overcooked. With sous-vide, the whole piece of meat is cooked to 55℃ with no difficult judging of the cooking time.

What you do get with conventional cooking is caramelisation on the outside of the food. High temperatures create crisp texture and beautiful charred flavour on the outside of meat, fish or vegetables which is not achieved with sous-vide. However, this can be achieved by browning the meat, crisping up the skin on fish, or charring vegetables in a hot pan before or after they go in the water bath. This must be done quickly though so just the outside cooks otherwise the sous-vide process is pointless as the food will go over the desired temperature.

The key is that the technique allows cooking at low temperatures below 100℃ which means it is possible to tenderise meat without overcooking it. Cooking beef brisket, for example, at 60℃ will break down the collagen which makes it tough into delicious, soft gelatin without heating up the proteins in the meat enough to dry the meat out. In other words, you get the benefits of long, slow cooking without having to overcook and dry the meat out.

The reason why the technique is not more widely used, I think, is because of the equipment required. You need a vacuum packing machine and a temperature controlled water bath to achieve good results and these are not cheap. There are ways of getting round this problem, however. You can get a reasonable vac-pack machine for about £40 which will seal solid items like meat and fish adequately. It won’t work for liquids, like a chamber machine will but this won’t be a problem for most recipes. I’ve had mine for a year and its still going strong. The water bath is a little more tricky. You can buy a home version for around £100 but it will be small and add up to a big spend when you include the vac-pack machine.

When I first started reading about sous-vide cooking I wanted to try it straight away so I tried a very low-tech method. Luckily I had a temperature probe from working in kitchens so I just used that and a pan of water. By turning the electric hob off when the water went over my desired temperature and back on when it went under, I had my very own (labour intensive) temperature controlled water bath. The next problem was the lack of a vac-pack machine. It is possible to use zip-lock bags and try and squeeze all the air out of them but this is impractical as the food then has to be weighed down to stop it floating because there us always some air left and the bags probably won’t stand up to long cooking times. To get around I read that you can use a food that comes pre-sealed – eggs.

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I put an egg in a pan of water and stood there with a thermometer in the water for 45 minutes, controlling the temperature manually. It was pretty tedious and took up my entire break between shifts but I was so excited to see the results of my first sous-vide experiment that I stuck with it. I cooked my egg at 62℃ and when I cracked the shell it spilled out onto the plate like it was raw but it was clearly cooked. It was bizarre and so exciting seeing an egg cooked in a way I had never seen before. The white was cooked but runny enough to spill out of the shell and the yolk was soft but had a fudgey consistency. It was somewhere between a soft-boiled egg and a poached egg, but better than both I thought.

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You can cook both the white and the yolk exactly how you like them using a water bath. Take a look at the Chefsteps egg calculator here to find the temperature and time needed to cook your perfect egg, taking into account the diameter and starting temperature.

The weird newness of the sous-vide egg got me hooked on the cooking technique. I couldn’t believe something so amazing was so little used by most people. My next step was to try cooking some meat. I still didn’t have a vac-pack machine but I managed to find some sirloin steak already vac-packed and used the same stove-top method to cook it to 55℃. It was very strange when I took it out of the bag. Totally pink and floppy, all the way through. I finished it off by sealing the outside in a smoking hot griddle pan for a few seconds.

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The result was incredible. I had genuinely never tasted steak like it. It was tender in a way I had never experienced before and beautifully pink all the way from edge to edge. I decided at that moment that I had to have a proper water-bath and try out every possible thing I could because I was so blown away by the first attempts.

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I’ll be writing about how to build your own sous-vide machine at home for under £20 shortly so watch this space…

 

Can you deep-fry a parfait?

The aim of the lab day today was to see if it is possible to achieve a crispy fried coating on a delicate parfait without ruining the consistency. If successful, the applications are exciting. Deep-fried ice-cream, jellies or custard are all possibilities. For the parfait, I wanted to keep the smooth texture and firm consistency so the challenge was to get the temperature of the parfait at around 50℃ while cooking the outside as high as 200℃ to leave the batter golden and crispy.

The first job was to make the parfait. I used a simple recipe. Put some butter in a saucepan and leave on low until the butter is completely melted. Then leave it to settle and skim off the solids that float to the top. You are left with clarified butter. Meanwhile soften some shallots and garlic in a frying pan on a low heat so they soften but don’t colour. Set aside. Turn up the heat and add chicken livers and some sprigs of thyme. Cook the livers until firm and then deglaze the pan with some port. Add everything to a food processor and blend gently. Keep the processor on and slowly add the clarified butter. Season with salt and pepper and a pinch of mace. Then pass the mixture through a fine sieve.

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The idea is to freeze the parfit down to -18℃ and then batter and deep-fry it and see how it turns out. If it is still frozen when the batter is golden or if it melts before this point there are variables that can be changed. It could be chilled to a different temperature. The oil temperature could be lowered or raised. The battered parfait could be finished off in the oven. By playing around with these elements, it should be possible to achieve the perfect results.

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We froze the parfait into small cups. It took about an hour to freeze completely. Then carefully popped the parfaits out. I made a simple batter using sparkling water, flour, bicarbonate of soda and seasoning. I rolled the parfaits in flour and then dipped them in the batter and fried them at 190℃ until the batter was golden.

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Crispy batter, frozen parfait

 

The batter was lovely and golden after a couple of minutes but when I sliced one open the parfait was still frozen. This was a good result because it is a simple problem to solve. I turned to oil temperature down to 160℃. The aim being to cook the battered parfait for longer so that it would come up to temperature just as the outside was perfect. I cooked the next ball for a little longer and brought it out to find the parfait a little too warm this time and starting to melt. The final test was at 170℃ and produced the perfect result of set parfait surrounded by crispy, golden batter and it was delicious! Good news and next week we are going to be trying out some deep-fried ice cream to take the idea further…

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Golden outside, set in the middle…parfait!