This is a story about low-temp water bath cooking. Long a favorite way for chemists to precisely control their reactions, it has now been widely adopted in the culinary world as Sous Vide cooking. Recently the technology has been adapted for the home. And even more recently, the temperature control electronics have been boxed. Now those of us in tiny kitchens can attach a brain to a cheap crockpot. With very little effort or attention, we can all cook meat as perfectly as the most experienced chef.
I discovered that this cooking process can also be used to mold proteins into fun shapes. So let's do it.
Step 1: Meat the Dork
You will need some meat, cling wrap, a crockpot, a temperature controller, a culinary torch, a functional kitchen, and a healthy appetite.
This is my water bath cooker. I call it the Dork because the temperature controller is made by an outfit called DorkFood. (You can wire together your own with generic components from Amazon, but the savings are slim.) The heater is a $14 gallon-sized crockpot.
Together they use about 10¢ worth of electricity per day. Yes, I mean it will cook 24 hours for a dime. This is important in Florida because not enough heat is generated to ever make the kitchen uncomfortable. Together with the peerless results, it has become my favorite way to cook meat. If you like medium-rare roast beef, the Dork will give you beef at 132 degrees from stem to stern no matter how long it cooks. Maybe you prefer your beef at 133 degrees — you got it. Or whatever else you like. It's virtually foolproof.
Step 2: Cylindres De Poulet
There is no possible way to get more tender, juicy, and delectable chicken. I cut the minor part of the breast off so that when reversed, it evens up the shape.
Then the pieces are rolled together tightly in cling wrap. Four or five wraps makes a waterproof bag. Rolling with a little water on the counter or a silicone mat helps to pull the wrap tight. When the ends are twisted, it gets even tighter and a smooth cylinder develops. Overhand knots in both ends keep the wrap in place. Work them right down to the meat. You want tight.
Step 3: Set and Forget
I put the chicken in the Dork and go for a swim. It should cook for at least 2 hours to ensure pasteurization. (Check online sources for safe processing temperatures and times.) If I'm gone for 4 hours, it doesn't matter because the Dork keeps watch. It will never over cook and dry out.
Out of the water bath with tongs, I rapidly cool the bags in tap water. A lot of meat juice is released during cooking, but it's still in the bag. So I keep them overnight in the fridge to let that juice go back into the meat. Then I'll freeze or serve it.
Most cooks will season the meat before bagging it, but I don't bother. Since nothing is lost, I have found that water bath cooking intensifies meat flavor.
Step 4: Beef Like Never Before
A warning: After experiencing beef cooked this way, you may completely lose interest in grilling. Say goodbye to expensive cuts, toughness, dryness, and tedium. I can drop a bag of frozen beef in the Dork and go away for the afternoon. Or a day. Or a weekend. When I fish it out, every bit of the meat will be perfectly medium-rare and fork tender.
I usually buy a great lump of the cheapest whole beef from a high-quality supplier. This meat tends to be very flavorful, but tough. The Dork fixes that. I cut away the worst of the sinew and fat. I don't put much care into this trimming, because it all gets simmered down to broth. After cooking at 132F for 36 to 48 hours, the remaining connective tissues are gelatinized. It's like butter.
To get even more flavor, I induce the Maillard Reaction by browning the surface with a very hot culinary torch. Often the results don't escape the cutting board.
Step 5: Lilliputian Sandwiches
For a more indulgent luncheon, I'll mix meats and sauces. I bake 6 oz baguettes for these tiny sandwiches. Some yogurt dressing or creamy relish helps to glue down the meat. A squeeze of sauce and garnish like a maniac.
Cheers from Sarasota.