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Sous vide moins cher

15 January 2010

Everyone wants to have a go at this. Water baths, immersion circulators, vacuum sealers, Heston Blumenthal spectacle cleaning cloth. But the bits and pieces are terribly expensive.  My object. To create a functional water bath for less than £100. I already have a vacuum sealer.

The first ingredient was something to regulate the temperature. My solution, which cost £50 including postage, was a thermostat, which I ordered from a German Company Conrad, which has a UK outlet

Conrad UT200 Thermostat

As you can see from the picture, the electrical connections are European, so two adaptors were necessary, a UK to Europe one and a Europe to UK one – total cost £4.98.

The thermostat allows you to regulate the power coming to something based on the temperature experienced by the thermocouple at the end of the wire.

So what could I regulate? The suggestions most often made are rice cookers and slow-cookers.  I decided on the latter. It uses less power and besides, I could do with a new one.  After some research I came across one made by Crock-Pot. It has a removable pot, as they all do, but unlike most of them this has a round top and it fits into the slow cooker in a space the same size as a medium sized saucepan, allowing one to use a variety of cooking media.

I managed to purchase one for £35 from Messrs Robert Dyas.

The last remaining problem was creating a reasonable thermal seal for the thermocouple.

Using a silicone saucepan lid was the answer. These used to be expensive, but they are no longer. They are sufficiently flexible for this purpose.

The first test was yesterday.  An small vacuum packed offcut of beef rib was cooked for 24 hours at 52°c.  I set a 1° gap between the on and off temperatures, and the actual temperature ranged around 0.5° each side.

I then quickly seared it on all sides.

The result was that it was extremely tender and full of flavour.

Points to note:

  1. The fat did not render, with the result that either it needs removing before cooking, or alternatively, one must accept it as part of the finished meal.
  2. The sinewy parts of the meat are not softened and should be removed before cooking if possible.
  3. Any juice produced should be retained and used in sauces/stocks.
  4. Although leaving things on for hours sounds like a prodigal waste of electricity, in reality, the actual power consumption is around 200W whilst the device is on – so an average of around 120W – which for 24 hours is around 3KWH.  This is the same as using my oven for just over an hour.

Overall, I am very pleased with this set up.  It gives me the opportunity of having a go at this interesting method of cooking without spending a great deal of money.


      Bisky Bats

      16 November 2009

      Sunday is breakfast day.  It’s the only day of the week where there is time. Time not just to cook something, but to sit around eating it. And what a choice there is.  The fry up, with its manifold variations; smoked haddock, kippers, and Bisky Bats. This is what we call our own species of breakfast calzone or empanada. Edward Lear would understand, you don’t need to.
      Bisky BatsThe previous evening, put some bread dough on to rise. Pizza flour is the best sort to use.

      When you get up,  put the oven on at 210C. Time to prepare some bowls of delight.

      300g of grated Gruyère. Can it be anything else? Perhaps Emmentaler or some other Alpine Bergkäse, but it must have that matured but not oppressive character.
      Four or five rashers of bacon, diced.
      100g diced mushrooms.

      Decant and leave the dough to rest for a minute or two. Knead it.

      Cut off small pieces the size of half a ping pong ball. Roll out into ovals.  Into one half gently place some of the content of your three bowls.  Don’t overfill. Fold over and crimp the edges, connecting the “tail” with where you started crimping so that you have what looks like a hat. Place on an oiled baking sheet.  The mixture should fill around 24 of these little things with some cheese left over.

      Beat an egg and glaze them all with a pastry brush.  Sprinkle with more cheese. Bake for about 12-15 minutes, until browned but not burnt.  Eat with tomato ketchup.

      Raclette Halloween Horror

      1 November 2009

      Years ago, whilst in Switzerland, we purchased un appareil à raclette; a device doomed to be used roughly once a decade. Then chldren came along, and one day I dug it out of the shed, and said: this is fun, why don’t we play with it? The concept attracted them, but unfortunately the appareil à raclette ne marchait pas. Quel dommage, etc. So when I saw another one in a local Lidl store, I just had to buy it.

      And it has proven to be a success. We wheeled it out this Halloween evening when one of the sleep-over guestsFromage de raclette of our 12 year old proved to be a vegetarian.

      Pink fir apple potatoes, various items of charcuterie (the vegetarian was outnumbered) peppers, mushrooms, onions, bread, and of course fromage de raclette, gruyère and, as an experiment which worked rather well, mild gorgonzola were mixed up by the assembled company.

      Should everyone have one of these things? Probably not.  They are only very slightly post-fondue fork.  Talking of which, that’s something that needs revisiting. Cheese gets to you after a while.


      17 October 2009

      moules videsMussels. Who can resist them? I was lucky enough to find that the fish stall at the farmer’s market, manned by a fisherman from Felixtowe, had some chunky and plump looking mussels, from Norfolk, he said. Anyway they came home with me, or a kilo and a half did. And a couple of dover sole, which I will be playing with later.

      But to the mussels.  Everyone knows the safety drill. If they’re open and don’t close when tapped, then fling them. Beard and remove any dirt, barnacles, limpets, etc. with a sharp knife. Rinse.

      In a shallow wide saucepan soften some shallots or onions, diced finely, carrots, and garlic. I used some chicken fat, but olive oil or butter is good. When softened, add a glass of white wine and simmer.  Chop some parsley and keep it to one side.

      Now what to have with the mussels? a good loaf of french bread, some chips, pasta. It’s decision time.

      When you are ready turn up the heat, throw in the mussels and half the parsley and put on the lid. Shake that pan from time to time. In three to five minutes they will have steamed open.  Reject any that appear not to be opening. Sprinkle on the rest of the parsley and serve. For a light lunch, a kilo and a half is enough for two.

      Any unused juice should be saved.

      The mussel can live up to 20 years or so, assuming it is not in my saucepan.  It is not an endangered species and so why not have another helping?

      Beef in Beer

      16 October 2009

      Carbonnade is one of my favourite beef dishes. It is of course typically Flemish; but the notion of cooking beef in beer is native to much of northern Europe. The essence is to use the beer to create a slight sour-bitterness; which is tempered with the sweetness of caramelised sugars from the meat, onions and flour.

      For this recipe I am using 2 kilos of beef. Scale it down if you are on a diet.

      I used skirt steak; cut into large lumps – 3cm square perhaps. This enables the meat’s texture to be enjoyed.

      I do not brown the meat before using. This achieves nothing.  It does not seal the meat and keep in the juices – that’s an old wives’ tale. Instead, I put the lumps of meat in a casserole and cover with beer.  A dark beer is best of course. I then cook it, covered in an oven for 8 hours at 75°C in a heavy casserole.  This leaves one with tender meat and a sauce which has not reduced.

      This can be done overnight and the meat in its sauce can be refrigerated, or not, if it is a cold day.

      Next. remove the meat and strain off the liquid into a saucepan.  A lot of fat will be caught in the strainer and you should melt some of this in a frying pan.

      Add three large onions and let them brown.  Add some sliced carrots if you like.  Whilst this is going on, heat up the liquid with some thyme and maybe a clove or two of garlic, diced.

      Add some brown sugar to the onions to deepen their flavour and help them caramelise slightly.

      Make a brown roux in a casserole and when ready, strain the liquid into it. You don’t want it too thick.  When the sauce is ready, turn the heat down and add the browned onions and carrots.  Put the frying pan back on the heat and add the meat in batches, browning them and then tipping them into the casserole. When they are all browned, add some diced celery, soften it and deglazed the pan with the remaining strained meat juices which will be left from wherever the meat had been put after it was removed from the casserole originally.

      Add this to the casserole.

      Simmer for another hour or so, or until you just can’t bear to wait any longer.  You can adjust the seasoning how you like, a large dollop of good Dijon mustard, some pepper and parsley will certainly assist.

      Serve with buttered noodles, mashed potatoes, chips or good crusty bread. Yum.

      The traditional recipe coats the meat in flour and has you brown it before simmering. I am not convinced this is any more sensible.  The flour dissolves into the sauce just as the roux does. Slow cooking the meat in large chunks leaves it wonderfully tender and with an excellent texture.

      Tender Peelings

      15 October 2009

      This is partly a blog, and partly an internet notebook, about food; and in particular the food I like to eat and to cook. There’s not much more to it than that really.