Sous Vide – The Good and the Not So Good

© 2012 REMCooks.com

A few weeks ago I posted I had just purchased a sous vide machine and was very excited to try it out. Well, I did and do I have a story for you!

Sous vide cooking simply means cooking under vacuum. It was first developed in France in the 1970s by Georges Pralus for the Restaurant Troisgros. He discovered that when cooking foie gras in this manner it kept its original appearance, did not lose excess amounts of fat and had better texture. Bruno Goussault further researched the effects of temperature on various foods and became well-known for training top chefs in sous vide cooking. As Chief Scientist of Cuisine Solutions, Goussault extensively developed the parameters of cooking times and temperatures for different foods.

As time passed, more and more chefs became curious about sous vide cooking and began to use it in their restaurants, most notably  Heston Blumenthal, Thomas Keller, Jesse Mallgren, Paul Bocuse, Joël Robuchon, Charlie Trotter, Daniel Boulud, Jean Georges and other chefs. Also, with the advent of the Food Network and “Iron Chef” households began to see sous vide cooking on TV. One thing led to another and all of the sudden sous vide is a household word and more home cooks are playing with sous vide, me, for instance.

Having run kitchens and restaurants, attended culinary school for short time and done everything you can do in a kitchen, I always feel somewhat competent in taking on a new task. So, sous vide seemed like a reasonable thing to try. It couldn’t be that hard, could it? I mean, all you do is vacuum seal some food and seasonings in a plastic bag, place it in a preheated, temperature controlled, water batch and ignore it for a specified time. How hard can that be?  Seems like an absolute no brainer. If you read the reviews on some of the household units they make it seem as if a child could do this if the parents allow it. So with great confidence in hand, I set out on a course to change my method of cooking, learn a new fun technique and entertain family and friends. Deciding to take things slowly, I decided the first thing to do was a simple custard, so lemon curd it was (recipe follows).  The sous vide method produced the most beautiful, creamy, smooth lemon cream you can possibly imagine. It was simple and there was no fear of over cooking the egg yolks. There was no need to blow off using yolks but instead use whole eggs because they are less susceptible to curdle and produces a eggier textured custard. Ah, this is as simple as they said. This was the good.

So triumphantly I moved on the a much more considerable challenge, Octopus. You see, I love octopus. Done right, octopus is very flavorful, juicy and tender.  Done wrong, it can be very dry and/or tougher than a tire inner tube. Given DFW is not really near the coast and octopus is not the easiest thing to find, I ordered octopus from Florida and eagerly awaited its arrival with great anticipation. I read countless sous vide recipes for octopus and found a similar thread with all of them and formulated how I wanted to cook the octopus. When it arrived, I spent a large portion of the morning cleaning the octopus, removing the loose skin, etc., and cutting it into equal sizes to put into the water batch. The result, set forth below (The Not So Good), was less than perfect and convinced me I needed to read a lot more before I attempted octopus again.

The Good – Lemon Curd

Ingredients

Makes about 1¼ cups

4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 stick (4 Tbsp) unsalted butter, melted

Instructions

Start by preheating the water bath to 82°C (180°F ). This is going to take a little while. While that is happening, sterilize a 1-pint glass canning jar, lid, and ring; set aside.

Now, place the egg yolks in a small food processor.

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Add sugar.

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Pulse until the sugar dissolves and the mixture thickens slightly, about 90 seconds.

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Add the lemon juice and melted butter and pulse to incorporate. If you over process the mixture, it will be frothy.

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Pour the mixture into the prepared jar.

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Seal the jar and immerse in the water bath.

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Cook for 45 minutes, then remove the jar from the water. Open the jar lid and stir the curd with a spoon for 1 minute. The curd loses some volume as it thickens, so the cooked quantity is about 1-1/4 cups. Place the open jar in a bowl of ice and water and let cool. To store, reseal the jar and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

© 2012 REMCooks.com

The result was and is mind boggling. This is one of those you can eat this on a rock moments. It is fabulous. It is simple. It is very little mess or effort. You just can’t go wrong with this.

The Not So Good – How did I mess up this Octopus?

Normally, when I do Octopus, I slow roast the Octopus in the oven for 1-1/2 to 2 hours at 250° F. Then, I refrigerate it in a red wine vinegar, oregano, garlic, diced red onion, preserved lemon, salt, olive oil mixture and finally grill it. You lose a lot of water and size but this is a killer method for making good octopus but you lose the little suction cups on the tentacles. With the sous vide, I had hoped to get  beautifully tender, juicy octopus with the little suction cups that crisp up so nicely on the grill. I also had a beautiful 5 lb octopus to work with. I was excited. So was the Baby Lady.

Carefully studying and reading all over I decide to remove the slimy outer skin. Then, after it is cleaned, I sectioned the octopus so it is in equal portions to cook evenly.

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Then I read if you quickly blanche it (45 seconds) in seasoned water, it helps flavor the octopus and curl it for the pretty effect.

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I then put the sections in the vacuum bag with olive oil, smoked paprika, oregano, lemon slices and salt. Seal the bags.

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Place the bags in the preheated water bath at 77°C (171°F).

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Cook 4-1/2 hours and remove. I anxiously waited 4-1/2 hours expecting such tender, juicy, and tasty octopus ready for me to grill.  After 4-1/2 hours I was absolutely stunned at the result. The final product had very little taste, was not tender and had an unbelievable shrinkage rate. What started as 12 inch tentacles reduced to 4 inches!!!! Oh well, we grilled the little tentacles, crisping them up and put them in a salad with a very flavorful dressing.

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While the salad was incredibly tasty, grilling the octopus did very little to help it flavorwise or otherwise. It was an absolute flop and was tantamount to eating an eraser.  It was an incredible disappointment. hmmmm….back to the drawing board, and a few new books. I’ll let you know when I figure this out. In the meantime, I know how to do a fabulous lemon curd and a basic custard for the ice cream machine so it’s not a complete loss and I will figure out Octopus! I have 10 more pounds!!!!!

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11 thoughts on “Sous Vide – The Good and the Not So Good

  1. I give you credit for committing to sous vide cooking. It’a always intrigued me. Sorry to hear, though, that the octopus came out so badly. It’s but a temporary setback, I’m sure, and I look forward to seeing what you’ve planned for us next.

    • Thanks. Life is full of minor setbacks but perseverance always rules the day. I will keep trying but I really am puzzled by the octopus. I couldn’t believe the shrinkage. Roasting it at 250 for 1 to 1-1/2 hours did not result in nearly so much shrinkage.

  2. I thinks that’s why we love cooking, we got try new things, tweak it a little a bit and if it doesn’t come out right, we got a chance to do it again. Look at the bright side would you rather eat an eraser octopus made by you or pay somebody but still a complete flop or worse eat fast food :-) Good luck on your next sous vide adventure!

  3. The lemon curd recipe looks yummy; I don’t have a sous vide machine; can I do this in a water bath, stove top- as I would canning? Thanks!

    • You can do this in a water bath but you have to maintain a constant 180°F or you will curdle the eggs. From my own personal experience, holding a steady temperature in a water bath over direct heat is extremely difficult but it can be done.

    • It bummed me out so bad I haven’t attempted it again. We have done other sous vide dishes with great success so I probably need to get another large octopus and try again. When I do, I will post another, new post detailing what we did.

  4. Try cooking the octopus for a shorter time, like 25-30 mins depending on size, squeeze them softly and if its tender, remove into ice or grill straight away.

    • Because eggs are a beacteria breeding ground, I am always rather cautious when them, especially when they cook at 180 F for 45 minutes. Also, I was using the sous vide for the first time.

  5. I’ve never removed any skin from the octopus, or blanched it first. I just remove the beak and eyes, rinse it and then vacuum seal it with salt and aromatics. Cooking 4.5 hours at 77C/171F is what I do too, although a bit higher (85C/185F) and shorter (3 hours) gives very similar results. When you visit Amsterdam, I’ll have to remember to prepare octopus for you. Sous-vide octopus is great as a salad (with olive oil, lemon and parsley) or grilled.

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