The Literature of Sous Vide

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Sous vide is a method of cooking that employs very low temperatures for very long periods of time. An at home sous vide cooker is between $399 and $1000 which is high for me if I don’t know if I will like it. My interest in this new in-vogue cooking method was initiated when my son, Andrew sent me an article that he had read at lifehacker..com

Now life hacker is not one to steal anybody’s thunder or claim the work of others so they included a referral. Unfortunately, this sort of left me as at a dead end because I was not about to stick a prime piece of meat in a zip lock bag and watch it carefully to make sure the water in the beer cooler was neither too hot or too cold.

Too hot a cooking temperature leads to overcooking and too cold could cause spoilage. The author was also using short times and very low temperatures of 115 Fahrenheit for fish which I found disturbing. This means on a hot day in Nevada you could put your salmon steak in a zip lock bag and lay it outside on a sunny picnic bench and eat it in about an hour

At this point, I was at a dead end but since we had discussed the method in Philadelphia a week earlier, my daughter-in-law, Lauren sent me an article from the huffingtonpost.com

Now Cara Parks liked many of her results but knew her guests would be appalled by the concept so she developed “Important Lesson Number One of the sous vide: do not let anyone see what you are doing. Bring out the finished results and let them wonder.” I could pretty much say the same things that she said about coffeepot cooking: Some meals are fantastic, some are OK,  I have the same advantage of flexible cooking times as sous vide and I probably should not let anybody in my kitchen to see what I am doing.

The best part for me was a reference to another hack based on a temperature controller and a fish tank air pump. I thought the end result was unnecessarily expensive and over-designed by even including a forced circulation bath.

In the second article, there was also a reference to a free online reference by a Ph.D. in math, I skimmed it and quit because many ingredients were listed in grams and there’s a recipe for a brine bath calling for 7-10% salt and 3% sugar. But what made me really give up was the chapter on the mathematics of sous vide. I am not kidding, a screen shot of the page is shown below.

The Math of Sous Vide

Two points were important about this reference. First, I did not have a working sous vide machine so it was not meaningful at the time. The other point was discovered after I got a working sous vide machine and when you translate the recipes from Geek to standard form English, this is a very valuable source of knowledge.

Finally, a friend from high school solved the control problem when he posted a comment directing me to an article on sous vide control

The article included many pre-built crock-pot controllers but I searched on my own and got an un-wired setup and built it myself. I noticed today that the company has a pre-built unit for about $10 more. Oh well, it was a fun project using this old brain

When looking for HACCP plan (safe cooking plan) on sous vide, I stumbled on a fantastic but incomplete sous vide primer from http://www.cookingissues.com. From their expertise, “It is difficult to get a HAACP plan approved for sous-vide fish, and it is impossible to get one approved for fish below pasteurization”.

Looks like my knee-jerk reaction over fish was mostly correct. Seems like laying it out in the sun in a vacuum packed bag is safer than cooking fish in a sous vide machine at 115. Their solution is a Cvap machine, but that is another different way of cooking aside from sous vide or picnic benches in Las Vegas.

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One Response to “The Literature of Sous Vide”

  1. Building a Sous Vide Controller « Too Young To Be Old! Says:

    […] search for a do-it-yourself sous vide controller took me to Etc Supply where a I purchased a Johnson A419ABC-1C 120/240V Single Stage Temperature […]

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