At last week's meetings of the American Diabetes Association, we stayed at The Intercontinental and dined at Luce, their restaurant featuring sous vide cooking. Literally meaning "under vacuum" in French*, this cooking technique involves sealing ingredients in a bag and then cooking in a constant temperature water bath for prolonged periods of time.
Think about how we usually cook a piece of meat. We expose it to temperatures far above those at which we will consume it, either on a grill or in an oven. We then wait until the interior reaches a temperature at which proteins coagulate and bacteria are killed. Often this means overcooking the exterior of the meat. With sous vide, the meat can be cooked to the temperature desired. Most pathogenic bacteria can be killed at these lower temperatures; it just requires a longer period of time. In addition to avoiding the dried, overcooked exterior, the sealed cooking chamber keeps the flesh moist and allows seasonings to fully permeate the meat.
Sous vide won't give you a crusty carmelized exterior or crispy poultry skin, but these can easily be added just before serving with a quick trip on the grill or a blast from a kitchen torch.
After a couple of delicious meals at Luce, I began reading more about the technique. Soon my own water oven was en route. Last night I cooked my first real meal with it, using a recipe from Sous Vide Supreme Blog, a valuable resource for ideas with this technique. Three halibut fillets were sandwiched between slices of grapefruit and lemon in a 1-qt vacuum bag with cubed cold butter. These were cooked in the water bath at 132 degrees F for 20 minutes, producing moist flaky fish with a light citrus flavor. While the fish cooked, I made a citrus buerre blanc starting with the juice from the grapefruit and lemon not used for slicing:
Citrus Beurre Blanc (From Sous Vide Supreme Blog)
Yields: 1 cup (8 fl oz/237 ml)
- 2 tablespoons (1 fl oz/30 ml) dry white wine
- 1 tablespoon (0.5 fl oz/15 ml) fresh grapefruit juice
- 1 tablespoon (0.5 fl oz/15 ml) fresh lime juice
- 1 tablespoon (0.5 fl oz/15 ml) fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon (0.5 fl oz/15 ml) fresh orange juice
- 1 small shallot, finely minced
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 8 ounces (226 g) cold butter, cut into 16 cubes
In a medium saucepan bring wine, citrus juices and shallots to a boil. Reduce to about 1 ½ tablespoons (0.8 fl oz/23 ml) of liquid.
Reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Pull the saucepan from the heat and whisk in 2 cubes of butter; as it melts whisk in one more piece.
Set the pan over the lowest heat setting and continuously whisk one piece of butter into the mixture at a time, making sure that each piece is melted prior to adding the next.
Pull the saucepan off of the heat when the last piece is melted.
Spoon immediately onto serving plates and top with fish. Alternatively drizzle over the top of fish.
A sauce this rich and delicious deserves to adorn more than perfect fish, so I put brown rice on the side to soak up some of its loveliness. Served with a green salad and a melange of red raspberries, blackberries, and white nectarines for dessert, it made a refreshing late meal when my husband's plane got in an hour late.
I will be experimenting with my new water bath and posting recipes this summer. So far, sous vide is a winner; I have never been able to produce fish this delicious any other way!
*Yes, a vacuum really isn't pressure, but you get the air out of the bag with a negative pressure. Work with me here...