Monday, January 24, 2011

Xan: Sous-vide chicken breasts and carrot flowers!

I've experimented a few times with cooking sous-vide in my rice cooker.  So far it has worked out pretty well!

For those of you who don't know, the sous vide idea is to cook food in a water bath at the temperature you'd like it to end up.  This confers several advantages.  First, uniformity: normally, to kill all the bacteria, you need to cook the chicken breast to what, 165 in the very center?  By the time the center gets there, the rest of the chicken is much hotter and therefore dried out.  ick.  Secondly, at 165 even the center is dried out.  I think I used to assume this was just an inevitable property of chicken breasts, but there's another way, really!  Because, if you hold it at 140 for a long enough period of time, the same amount of bacteria will die as if you raise it to 165 for an instant.  And since the water bath will hold the chicken at 140 indefinitely, it can deliver a chicken breast that is both juicy and safe.

It takes a couple hours though.  So you need something that's going to be able to hold a temperature for a while.  This stuff is juuuuuust starting to get popular in home cooking, by which I mean there are currently sous vide machines you can buy for like $500, yee$h.  I predict you'll be able to get one for under $75 within 10 years, and that's being generous.  Pretty much all the machine has to do is monitor the temperature of the water and turn the heat on and off to hold it there...this is not rocket science.

In the meantime though, I found that on the Warm setting with the lid cracked, my rice cooker will hold a temperature of about 150 F.  And by propping the lid open the right amount with a wooden spoon, I can adjust it so that it sits almost indefinitely at, say, 140 degrees (good for chicken breasts).  It takes some fine tuning, of course, but I was actually surprised at how steady I could get it.  I don't know how common this is, sous vide in a rice cooker, but it seemed pretty obvious to me so I'm sure other people are doing it too.  For more dramatic temperature adjustments, turn it up to Cook and it will heat up pretty fast, and dropping in an ice cube will drop it 2 it really is quite flexible and functional.

And now, the results:

Well in retrospect I really should have taken a picture of the inside of the chicken...that's really the whole point.  I guess we were too busy eating it, so maybe you can just infer that it was juicy.  The sauce was pretty good, a random blend of stuff-I-happened-to-have-in-my-fridge with stuff-I-happened-to-have-in-my-cabinets.  And lest you think I'm missing something important, the chicken was seared in a skillet after the water bath, you just can't tell because the tomato is covering all the parts that actually touched the pan.  (That said, it could have used more searing).  Oh and also, you may actually be interested in these carrots I just invented.  Technically they're pretty much cooked the same way we cook other orange things on this blog.  But there's a twist, sort of.  I hope you remember your geometry.

Xan's Carrot Flowers (not to be confused with the actual flowers that grow on carrot trees)

  • Preheat oven to 400 F.
  • Peel a bunch of medium carrots (2 per person?)
  • Cut through the fat half of each carrot along two perpendicular planes intersecting the central axis of the carrot. (If the carrots are larger, you may want to make additional cuts, perhaps going farther down the carrot)
  • Line a sheet pan with foil and spread some olive oil down.  Put the carrots on top, "tossing" them to coat with oil.  Salt and pepper the carrots to your liking.
  • Bake for 25 minutes or until the carrots are soft and browned (the tips may get a little blackened...this is okay/delicious!).  You may want to take them out after 15 minutes and turn them; the insides will now open more readily so try to rub some oil in there if you like.
I have to say, this is obviously a very pragmatic recipe designed to deal with the nonuniform shape of the carrot.  Yet my mother responds by offering me her fruit carving kit.  what?

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