63 Degrees of Separation
Like Helen over at Food Stories, I too have become a little obsessed with the Sous Vide Supreme. It is, probably, an extravagance for most home cooks and, as some argued good-naturedly with me on Twitter, the Saltmarsh lamb shoulder I cooked last week would have tasted good whatever I'd done to it.
They have a point but lamb shoulder is one of my fallback dishes, one of those Sunday lunch / dinner party favourites that will always work, so being able to play around with it was a good indicator of what this bit of kit can do. And what it can do is turn something that's already good into something that's borderline spectacular.
I'd typically stab the shoulder a little and stuff the holes with bits of garlic, sprigs of rosemary and, if I can face it / I'm not prepping it at 7am because of the long cooking time, bits of anchovy. It then goes in the oven, in a big dish, under foil, for about five, six hours at around 80 degrees or as close to it as you can get with our oven. This typically ends up with meat that slides off the bone - or possibly a bone that slides out of the meat - and that flops onto the plate in deliciously wanton style.
The two main downsides - if they can be called downsides - are how hot the kitchen gets with the oven on for hours, even at a low temperature, and the vagaries of the temperature. You also have to wonder just how much power is used churning out that heat in that manner. The sous vide, on the other hand, just sits on the counter bubbling away at a very specific temperature (and, one assumes, using less power in the process).
The sous vide also means that I get to play with the vacuum sealer which is brilliant fun. The temptation to vacuum seal everything you own in plastic is pretty great but I've (mostly) resisted so far, only reaching for the plastic bags when there's food to prepare.
For the saltmarsh lamb, the prep involved a little stabbing, a lot of black garlic (slightly obsessed with the stuff), some rosemary from the allotment and a handful of tempranillo salt I picked up at Le Domaine the other week. This was sealed and placed in the water bath at 63 degrees, a slightly random temperature I picked from a couple of online recipes but mostly because I could. It was left in the water bath while I slipped off to Amsterdam for dinner (more on that in due course) and finally came out about 30 hours later, hitting the plate alongside some homegrown potatoes and cabbage, and a little steamed broccoli. Tender doesn't quite cover it, but beyond the texture, it was the flavour that really impressed. Saltmarsh lamb is good anyway, as the Twitterati argued, but this was sweet, rich and - really patting myself on the back with this one - as lamby as the lamb my grandmother used to serve. The remains also made a cracking shepherd's pie which has seen us through the week.
There's a final run of travelling coming up so not much cooking for the next week or so but, come December, my focus is going to shift to one major project (more on that in due course as well) and a whole lot of cooking. One suspects the sous vide is going to get a bit of a hammering...