Hunger is an excuse for a project

Archive for February, 2012

Interview turkey

Job interviews can be stressful, what with having to dress up and mind your manners and shit. But honestly, if the whole thing is stiff and uncomfortable, do you really want to work there? So I was pretty happy that, at my last interview, I got to spend a lot of time talking about mankitchen-style coolness. At the casual mealtimes, I found out that my potential future coworkers do some tasty cooking. I talked smoking, they talked sous vide.

Now, I’d heard about this technique before, but always passed it up… I have enough projects going in my kitchen. But suddenly there were three people raving about it, and it involved cool gear. Even better, it involved cool gear that I knew how to throw together. Hello mankitchen.

Sous vide has rabid supporters…. it’s all the rage on the Maker end of the web. In fact, do a google search on it right now. And then see how ads start to follow you around the interwebs. Creepy. But still, it sounds really cool, and after doing a bunch of reading, I decided to fire it up.

Fortunately, I didn’t need to splash out a couple of bills on a special appliance to make this happen, though that’s a totally legit option. Instead, I combined the temperature controller from my smoker with my crock-pot (some people, apparently, call these slow cookers. Whatever). This took all of 5 minutes and I was good to go sous viding. Well, almost. I also needed a vacuum sealer. Adam had one of those, and he even lent me a roll of sealing material.

Then I needed a recipe, preferably one where I could try SV against some other cooking technique. The wife thinks all of this is a bullshit excuse to put more wires all over the counters, so this better make food seriously better.

I was heading to the store to pick up some chicken breasts for a low key dinner when I see the turkey. Apparently the store, when they have some birds that they’ve thawed but not sold, will chop them up and part them out. So there were 2 ginormous turkey breast (the whole thing, both halves) just waiting for me to cut loose on them. I grab them both and some cranberry sauce. Turkey is one of my favorite meals any time of year.

My plan is to cut these into 4 chunks of meat. I’ll cook one very bland for the kids… one or two using this awesome recipe I found in the NY Times a few years back, and then one sous vide.

As it turns out, the Torrisi Turkey recipe may have been a poor choice for comparison. I didn’t really read it through, and it had been more than a year since I actually made it… but basically, it isn’t far from sous vide itself. The recipe calls for de-boning the breast, brining it, wrapping it tightly in plastic wrap and foil, then cooking in the oven at 250F with a water bath… So, a little bit hotter than the sous vide machine, but not radically so. And all wrapped up for that juicy effect. So a crappy comparison, but good eating.

I vacuum sealed one turkey breast without too much trouble. The first time, the meat actually blocked the bag and kept some of the air from getting around it… the next time, I vacuum sealed both ends of the bag (instead of sealing one end and vacuuming from the other)… it worked great. Dropped it into the water bath at 140F and away it went.

My home rolled sous vide machine worked pretty well… but not perfect. I decided to check the calibration of the temperature probe before I started and that made me grumble. I did an ice bath and a boiling water bath and compared them against a Fluke 1523 reference thermometer. It hit the right number, but wasn’t very stable. I can’t tell if it’s the probe I bought new from China via eBay, or the Omega temperature controller that I bought used off eBay. The probe is crap… it was sold as a thermocouple, but it wasn’t that. When it got here, I just plugged the wire into the controller and tried the different menu options until it read a temperature something like the room I was in… probably a PT100. Jiggling the cable changes the temperature a bit, not a good sign. Did I mention it was cheap? This controller has worked well in the past, but always driven me crazy… sometimes I need to just unplug it and then it will do what it’s supposed to. It’s in a metal box with a SSR, and I think the heat in the box makes the temperature drift, too.

So, not trusting these beasts, I left a separate thermocouple in the bath and watched it, changing the setpoint as needed. This kept me within about 4 degrees of the setpoint. Not bad… and I have some things to work on later.

But anyway, the turkey in the sous vide cooked. And the turkey in the oven cooked. After the one in the oven hit the target, I busted them both out per the recipe and added the honey-garlic glaze. Now I like garlic a lot, but the first time I made this I found it overpowering. This time I was short on time so I only used 6 heads and it was much better.

I pulled them all out, put them next to the stuffing and the mashed potatoes and we got down to business. As I suspected, there was no clear winner. Both the plastic-wrapped, low-temperature-oven cooked turkey and the sous vide turkey tasted holy-shit good. The meat was tender, juicy, all those good things. In fact, if I had to criticize, I’d say it tasted too perfect, sort of like lunchmeat turkey. This is a weird thought, but I’m used to the standard, sort of overcooked whole roasted bird. This one was too juicy, and not at all tough. It sort of reminded me of abalone more than turkey. This is not a bad thing.

Next up, I’ll sous vide a steak. I feel like this has some real potential to rock my world. Only problem is that I still have a crapload of turkey in the fridge. But someone’s promised to make a pot pie out of it.

Who knows whether I’ll get the job. But I got a new cooking idea, and that alone was probably worth the trip.