Cooking with Carolina

Trying sous vide, immersion cooking, this month at the Oak Bluffs library.

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Here’s a riddle: How do you cook your food submerged in water but never have any water touch the ingredients? A hungry group last Saturday at the Oak Bluffs library learned the secret during its monthly series, Cooking with Carolina. Program coordinator Carolina Cooney introduced us to sous vide (pronounced sue veed), an immersion technique in which you place food in heavy-duty, BPA-free freezer bags and immerse it underwater, cooking it at an even temperature throughout for utterly tender results. Once cooked to its precise level of doneness, you finish your food off by searing (as Cooney did with our filet mignon), grilling, frying, or broiling it to add that crispy, mouthwatering outer crust.

What’s the advantage of sous-vide cooking? Well, because your food cooks at an exact temperature throughout the immersion, it comes out perfectly consistent from edge to edge. When Cooney sliced the steak, each morsel from the beginning to end of the cut was the exact same level of doneness. Cooked in its own juices at an even temperature throughout its cooking time made for perfectly tender bites. Likewise, because the food cooks consistently throughout, it loses none of its volume or moisture, which also means that lesser cuts turn out better than when using traditional methods.

Besides the steak, Cooney also prepared sugar-glazed carrots by cutting the them into 1-inch slices and adding about a teaspoon of sugar, salt, and pepper, and a generous slice of butter into a bag. She did the same with the potatoes, but without the sugar.

Although sous vide cooking is easy, Cooney gave some helpful tips along the way:

  • Hook the sous-vide machine over the rim of a pot of water, and set the time and temperature according to desired level of doneness.
    Cooney used her big lobster pot, which easily accommodated the sous vide machine and three separate ingredient bags. Online recipes or sous-vide cookbooks will give you the appropriate times and temperatures.
  • Put the ingredients in a sealable bag and clip it to the side of the pot.
    When you place the ingredient(s) in a bag you can add seasonings, such as the rosemary Cooney included in with the meat. She suggested that you undersalt just a bit because the food will absorb a lot more of it in the sous-vide method than with other forms of cooking. You can always add more seasoning after it has finished cooking.
    Perhaps the only challenging aspect of cooking sous vide is getting all the air out of the bags that hold the food. (Air in the bag will make it float rather than stay completely submerged.) Cooney immersed each bag one by one, pressing it along the side of the pot and then starting from the bottom upward, squeezed the air out of the bag. It’s easier if you zip the bag up almost completely, leaving just a little slit to let the air escape. Another method, though you don’t want to use it with meat, is to slip a straw into the bag to suck the air out. The easiest method is to use a vacuum sealer if you happen to have one on hand, although it isn’t necessary. Once you have the air out of the bag, you can use a clothespin or binder clip to keep the bag in place. There was still just a bit of air in the bags with the vegetables, so they floated up. Cooney hooked mugs over the clips so that their bulk and weight kept the food in each bag submerged.
  • Finish by searing, grilling, or broiling the food to add a crispy exterior layer.
    Cooney told us when searing to never use all butter, but cut it with some type of oil, so the butter doesn’t burn. The smells filled the room as the meat cooked, which was great, but Cooney made sure to open the window so the smoke could escape rather than trip off the alarm.

In addition to sealable freezer bags, you can use canning jars, which are particularly good for making beans, grains, and even cakes and custards. There are great tips on the Anova’s Guide to Sous Vide Cooking with Canning Jars site, bit.ly/SVinJars.

Island libraries have assorted sous-vide cookbooks with lots of easy recipes, and there are plenty on the web. You can also watch online videos to see how simple and alluring sous vide is to determine if you want to try a new adventure in cooking and baking.

Next month’s Cooking with Carolina is how to make Moroccan tagine, a North African spiced meat and vegetable stew named after the shallow earthenware pot in which it is cooked. March offers cooking with Crock-Pots, so there’s plenty of opportunity to keep expanding your cooking repertoire during these cold winter months.

The sous-vide machine Cooney used was an Anova, which has a very informative website at anovaculinary.com/what-is-sous-vide. For assistance or questions, contact Carolina Cooney at ccooney@clamsnet.org.