Ever since picking up a copy of Modernist Cuisine at Home, I’ve been dying to try some sous vide cooking. So in December, I picked up a Hamilton Beach Manual Slow Cooker – I think it was on sale at the time for about $16. To go with it, I also picked up a Dorkfood.com DSV Temperature Controller to complete the Sous Vide set up.
Let me back up a second – Sous Vide is a cooking technique where you cook food slowly, sealed in plastic, at a controlled, and usually fairly low temperature. The benefit is that you get very juicy, very tender meat that has a degree of flavour and a quality of texture not achievable through any other cooking method. When Sous Vide was first popularized (at least when it first came to my attention), with the release of Thomas Keller’s book Under Pressure, the recommendation was that you buy a $1500 immersion circulator to do this kind of cooking.
And as I don’t have an immersion circulator, maybe that’s still the best way to do it. But in Modernist Cuisine at Home, Myrhvold and the team suggest that if this is beyond your budget, you can easily build your own with a crock pot and a temperature controller. So, a quick search on Amazon and I found this, which for $100 plus a $16 crock pot seemed like it was at least worth a try. If it worked, I’d have great food for the price of a meal out, and if it didn’t work out, well I could probably sell both items pretty easily.
So – tonight was the first attempt.
How did it work out? One word: Spectacular.
No, really. It was great. The juiciest chicken I’ve ever had, and it was almost no work to cook.
Disclaimer: Cooking sous vide isn’t for those who aren’t familiar with the risks it entails, and eating sous vide food isn’t for the young, the elderly, or those persons who are immunocompromised. Any sous vide project can go wrong and expose the diner to pathogenic bacteria, which may lead to serious illness. This blog isn’t intended to be a ‘how to’ guide, but rather just to relate my experiences with this cooking technique.
Ok, back to it. Here’s how it’s pretty easy: I filled the crock pot with water, plugged in the temperature controller, and set it for 150 degrees. I put the chicken thighs (2 each) in Ziploc bags, with 2 tsp of oil, and then using the water immersion technique (p. 58 in Modernist Cuisine at Home), got the air out of the bags. Once the water bath had reached temperature, I cooked the (now room temperature) chicken for 90 minutes. Pulled the chicken out, seasoned it with salt & pepper; the thighs with skin got seared in a dutch oven with a bit of oil in it for 2 minutes/side to crisp up the skin, and it was ready to go. Here’s some pics:
And that’s pretty much it. The chicken was perfectly moist, not at all overly chewy or rubbery, had tons of chicken flavour. As sous vide food can be kind of grey and unappetizing looking when it comes out of the cooker, I’d recommend getting thighs with skin/bone and giving them a quick fry in a pot with a few tbsp of oil just to crisp up the skin before serving. Or, use skinless and choose your favourite batter and go for a quick deep fry. As well – this wasn’t $10/lb chicken – this was discount club, frozen chicken thighs.
And this worked out way(yyyyyyy) better than the last time I tried to pressure cook a chicken. The pressure cooked chicken was wet and slightly tough, and had very little flavour. Granted, you can’t cook a whole chicken sous vide, but given the easy availability of chicken breasts & thighs, I can’t see a good reason to cook a whole chicken when you can cook it this well, this easily.
Your mileage may vary significantly. This cooking method is not foolproof, and your results can vary depending on the initial temperature of the meat, the quality of the meat, if you get the air out of the bags, and a lot of other factors. But for the food I had, today, likely with a pinch of luck, it worked out really, really well. Happy cooking!