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08/09/2006

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Podchef

Great post.

The main problem with sous vide is that certain chefs have pushed it beyond reason and created a monster. Slowly poached eggs--wha??? Fish cooked at low, low temperatures, for long times--wha??

Once again, the appliance of science has found the blind leading the blind down Stupid alley. It seems that the flash and excitement of a "new" cooking technique has chefs forgetting Hygine 101. And yet some of the same chefs who will eat sushi from a roadside cart, undercook venison, make raw-egg foam and drink instant coffee will obliterate fish, make pork loin jerky and can't seem to get custards right for fear of germs and bacteria.

The US is fraught with such chefs who either have no understanding of the way food works or the like to pick and choose which rules they apply when they feel like it.

I really like Sous Vide cooking--when it makes sense. It works well as a way to slowly cook tough meats while adding interest and depths of flavor. It works well to being cooking something, driving the flavors in with the vacuum process, later to finish cooking the foods off in the oven. But the All Sous Vide restaurant concept is one I knew would fail. There are a few true masters of any new gastronomy, the rest are pale imitators who bring the concept down into the mud.

As far as creepy gut crunching worms in pork--freezing the meat for 30 days kills the trichy buggers, so eat the stuff raw if you like. A vast amount of pork in American Restaurants has been frozen for a lot longer. That's why I raise my own pigs, or eat those I know.

Alastair Vaan

Nicely put.

My experience in catering has seen multiple incidences of chefs simply not understanding exactly which point of their process is is the critical control point (as new regulation terminology puts it), pushing them down the alley of "better cook it through". Despite new HACCP regulation they're still being missed. Interesting point - in following regulations prior to opeing my restaurant was only "persuaded" rather than required to take even basic food hygeine certification. As it is, we're having all our key staff brought to intermediate level. One reason being so they can intelligently talk to customers about why, for instance, they can have medium-rare pork.

The pedant in me has to add this though (apologies) - slowly cooked eggs predate sous-vide some centuries. Slow cooking eggs renders a different finish to the protein, becoming creamy and unctuous. And fish denatures perfectly at low temperatures (40C is quite enough...). Any lower and nothing happens, any higher and the proteins toughen. It's one of the best ways of cooking some fish in my book, with a melting finish simply not accessible by grill or in the pan. Indeed, in my brief cameo at Le Manoir, both water bath cooked eggs and sous vide salmon were both featured on the pass. And they certainly fit the gastronomic bill there. There is something to be said for Maillard flavours in the other techniques though, so I often mix the techniques to bring contrasts of texture and flavour.

a.

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