A few days into my week of failed experiments with sous vide cooking, I found myself wanting to put my immersion circulator in a real oven, powered by actual flames (and not in a silicone bag!), and cook it until it reached an internal temperature of 500°F, watching its temperature rise on the convenient wifi/Bluetooth enabled app, knowing that its precious electronics were frying, never to poach another gray-exteriored but perfectly cooked steak ever, ever again.
I’d been trying, as this publication had asked me to do, to find all the ways that sous vide cooking can make sense for normal home cooks. I’d looked at recipes online, but they were all for cooking salmon and then pulling it out of the soggy bag and searing the skin, and that doesn’t sound like a good use of time to me. There were also 1,000,000 recipes for cooking carrots in a bag. They apparently make your carrots taste more like carrots! But carrots are already great! And The Karate Kid was on TV! And so there I was, cooking with what is essentially a heating pad with a tiny fan attached to it, trying to come up with recipes that thousands of nerds haven’t thought of yet, and it wasn’t working, and I was miserable.
There I was, cooking with what is essentially a heating pad with a tiny fan attached to it.
I knew that an immersion circulator could cook meat perfectly at low temperatures, but could it also cook rice and beans at the same time? It can cook cabbage at a high temperature, but can I turn it down halfway through and put in a bag with a salmon filet, hoping that the cold salmon would drop the temperature of the water enough and allow me to end up with perfectly cooked cabbage and perfectly cooked salmon on the same plate? I knew that I wasn’t interested in taking anything out of a bag and putting it in a pan to finish it, but could I braise chicken thighs and put them directly in a bowl and be happy with the results? The answer to all of those questions is no, absolutely not.
In truth, an immersion circulator is more than just a heating pad with a tiny fan attached to it. But not much more. In fact, they were designed to actually be heating pads, used by scientists to hold samples in fluids at very specific temperatures, and somebody looked at that and thought, “Hmm, I bet I could make an awesome steak in that.” And you can, because it can be set to exactly 135°F and you can put a steak in a bag and put the bag in the water and let it sit there, and you will always be able to pull a medium rare steak out of that bag. And in that way the machine, so steady and focused, was like Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid, all goddamn week. I kept saying, “Let’s cook pork shoulder and lentils, I’m new to California and I want to impress Elisabeth Shue and Billy Zabka!” and Pat Morita Circulator just kept saying, “Paint the fence. Up, and down. Up, and down.”
“But circulator, I can see from your app, available from the iTunes store or on Google Play, that you know a ton of recipes and could teach me all of your amazing secrets!” I cried.
“Wax my car,” was all he said. And I was cocky and tried to fight a bag of lentils that was dressed like a skeleton and I got beat up and just stick with me, this metaphor will totally pay off.
I even reached out to my relatively new but incredibly close friend Rocco DiSpirito who was like Lucille Larusso, Daniel’s mom (played by Randee Heller!) and he told me to just hang in there. “I cook short ribs for 72 hours at 61°C and then smoke them over applewood. Octopus at 83°C for 2 to 5 hours depending on the size, and bass at 59° for 8 minutes. I’m a single mother from New Jersey who just wants to make a new start in California!” is almost exactly what he said to me. He’s cooking protein at specific temperatures because that’s what this machine does.
And after all of the mistakes and undercooked legumes and overcooked salmon, I just had to accept that. This machine can cook protein in spectacular fashion at low temperatures. That is the point of it and that is what it excels at. So that’s what I did—I rubbed a pork loin with salt and sugar and onion powder and oregano and fennel seed and a bunch of other stuff, and eight and a half hours later I sliced it and turned it into one of the greatest sandwiches the world has ever seen (or at least a pretty good sandwich to eat at a desk).
But! A sous vide machine can also cook vegetables, grains, and legumes at higher temperatures, making it an interesting, easy, low-maintenance tool for making a hearty rice bowl for one with very little clean up, but only if you choose the right ingredients. (Look here—I choose them for you.) And because one of the best sous vide tricks is that you can poach a bunch of eggs in their shells, and chill them in their shells and then just warm one or two up when you want a quick breakfast, or an egg for that rice bowl, I wrote a recipe for that, too. (There are a million different combinations of time and temperature to make eggs come out in varying degrees of white and yolk doneness. I like my whites pretty set and yolks nice and thick, so that’s what this recipe gets you.)
And so I realized that by painting the fence up and down and keeping things simple and separate, I was actually learning karate all along, and when the immersion circulator hit me, I had the tools to block it. It was about the friends I made along the way, and the discipline I had learned, much more than it was about winning or impressing people. And so now I present to you my version of the crane kick at the tournament at the end of The Karate Kid, a few sous vide recipes for the home cook that have heart and commitment in the face of anger and ambition.Tyler KordTyler KordTyler Kord
Originally Appeared on Epicurious