Categories
beef chicken sous vide techniques

Adventures in Sous Vide

It was an incredible meal at Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc in Yountville, CA, that introduced me to the concept of sous vide cooking. Sous vide is French for “under vacuum,” and in a cooking context, it means that food is vacuum packed and “processed” in a water or steam bath at a fixed temperature for a long period of time…sometimes 24 hours or more. The temperature of the food never rises above the temperature of the water, so it’s impossible to overcook the food.

For example, a 36 or 48-hour “braise” for short ribs (below) would be excessive using a traditional braise, but when it’s done sous vide, the vacuum packing allows the meat to maintain its original size and shape, the long cooking time lets the collagens in the meat break down, and it produces a final product that’s tender with a buttery texture and an intense, concentrated beef flavor you just can’t get from a old-school cooking methods.


short ribs

Sous vide cooking is simple in concept but harder to execute in real life because it either requires potentially expensive equipment or a lot of free time to babysit the food. The most important aspect is maintaining constant temperature; a variance of a degree or two can dramatically change the texture of the food. The most common way sous vide cooking is performed in high-end restaurants is by using a water bath that’s heated using an immersion circulator, a piece of laboratory equipment that both heats and circulates water so that the temperature remains constant.

Heated immersion circulators are not cheap; they can go for around $1,000 new, so we turned to everyone’s favorite garage sale (ebay) to get ours. We picked up a Julabo HC8 that’s so old it says “MADE IN WEST GERMANY” on the back. It’s digital which makes it easier to monitor, and there’s a whole bunch of other controls on it that I really don’t understand. But it turns on and it works, and that’s all that matters. We got it for $110 ($95 + $10 shipping).


Julabo heating circulator and water bath

Our vacuum sealer is a Tilia Advance Foodsaver v2490 BC from Costco, which I highly recommend because it has a “pulse” feature that lets you customize how much air you want to remove from the bag before sealing. Our water bath is a simple Lexan hotel pan (1/2 size x 6 inches) made by Cambro that I picked up at Smart & Final. They also had flip-top lids with an opening that was perfect (after popping off the lid) for suspending the Julabo above the water bath since ours didn’t come with any clamps or other mounting equipment.

The most information you’re going to find on sous vide on the Web is at the eGullet.org forums. The main sous vide thread has been around since 2004 and is filled with lots of great information on how to get started, recipes, and loads of tips, as well as the safety concerns that accompany this form of cooking.

Here’s some of the things we’ve made so far.

Rib Eye Steaks
Barbecue Chicken
Baby Back Ribs (Filipino-style Adobo and a traditional dry rub)
Beef Short Ribs
Seasoned Wild Turbot Fillets

I hope to chronicle some of our experiments here on the blog, so this list will grow, and links to these dishes are forthcoming.

Categories
Ad Hoc chicken fried chicken reviews Thomas Keller Yelp

Ad Hoc (07.31.07)

Our second visit to Ad Hoc was for a 9pm reservation on a Monday night with some fellow Yelpers. Monday’s are happening at Ad Hoc because every other Monday is Fried Chicken night. It’s also family night for the staff at Keller’s other restaurants, so you’ll likely be eating with many of them…even Thomas Keller himself! Could Ad Hoc take fried chicken to the next, unbelievably delicious level or was it all just hype?


Baby Iceberg Wedge Salad
hobb’s applewood smoked bacon, cherry tomatoes and herb cream dressing

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Buttermilk Fried Chicken
brentwood haricots verts with garden mint
and smashed marble potatoes

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Cypress Grove Chevre Humboldt Fog
candied pecans and honey

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Assorted Cupcakes
angel’s food with dark chocolate frosting, lemon curd with lemon buttercream,
devil’s food with white chocolate ganache.




I’m not a fan of iceberg lettuce, but the bacon lardons and cherry tomatoes were incredible and made the baby iceberg wedge salad more interesting than it should have been. I ended up making little bite-sized BLTs on my fork.

The highly anticipated fried chicken was a sight to behold when the platter was placed in front of us, and I can honestly say that this is the best fried chicken I’ve ever had. The chicken is fried perfectly and every piece, even the white meat, was juicy and delicious, and the skin had a great crunch. The secret is two-fold. First, the chicken is brined to ensure that every piece stays moist. Then it’s dipped in buttermilk and dredged in breading. This produces fried chicken that retains moisture without being greasy while creating a perfect crispy crust that’s got a bit of tang from the buttermilk.

The fried chicken was so good, we actually sang to it, accompanied by songs from Ad Hoc’s dinner music playlist.

(to the tune of “My Girl” by The Temptations)

I guess you say
What can make me feel this way?
Chicken…Chicken…Chicken
Talkin’ ’bout chicken
Chicken!

When the meal was over, we sang…

(to the tune of “When Will I See You Again” by Three Degrees)

Oooooh, Aaaaah
Aaaaah, Oooooh
Precious moments

When will I eat you again?
When will our hearts beat together?
Are we in love or just friends?
Is this the beginning, or is this the end?
When will I eat you again?


Some of The French Laundry staff that were sitting at the table next to us were amused by our enthusiasm for the fried chicken and told us later that they will always remember us whenever they hear those songs again.

Our sides were minty haricot verts and garlic smashed potatoes. This combination is so simple and delicious, it’s quickly becoming our go-to side dishes at home.

I was kind of dreading the cheese course of Cypress Grove Chevres Humboldt Fog with Marshall Farm Honey and Toasted Pecans. We were really full when this arrived because we had asked for a second helping of fried chicken. But amazingly, the cheese course was actually refreshing and it helped me prepare for dessert.

Dessert course was a collection of cupcakes—angel’s food with dark chocolate frosting, lemon curd with lemon buttercream, devil’s food with white chocolate ganache. The lemon curd was easily the best of the bunch, with the devil’s food with white chocolate ganache coming in third.

The second-best cupcake of the night came from our friend Grace, who coincidentally brought some carrot cupcakes with her to share with our party.


Grace's Carrot Cupcakes

Grace’s creations featured a light, carrot cupcake with hints of ginger and orange zest topped with a cream cheese frosting and almond slivers. The accomodating staff at Ad Hoc even plated them for us and served her cupcakes next to the house cupcakes. We were trying to get them to serve one to Thomas Keller, but that didn’t happen. At least we tried!

INFORMATION
Ad Hoc
6476 Washington St
Yountville, CA 94599 map
707.944.2487

Categories
chicken fried chicken Korean Northern California reviews

Oriental BBQ Chicken Town

Oriental BBQ Chicken Town serves up some amazing Korean fried chicken (KFC). KFC sets itself apart from other kinds of fried chicken by serving the chicken covered in a variety of sauces. The sweet/spicy sauce and the soy/garlic were in abundance within our party and were huge crowd pleasers. I think they also serve it up plain, and they also make a killer roasted chicken. But for the true experience, the sauces are really where it’s at. My favorite was the soy garlic because it had the best flavor and wasn’t completely drenched in sauce like the sweet/spicy chicken.


Sweet/Spicy (left) and Soy Garlic (right)
(picture courtesy of mia k.)

While the chicken is the star here, there’s actually a whole mess of other Korean dishes available. We ordered some duk bok kee (rice cake and fish cake in spicy sauce) that was really good. Towards the end of the meal, there was some bu dae chigae, a great noodle soup with SPAM and hot dogs in it that was also a winner.

A Korean meal wouldn’t be complete without soju and beer, and there was plenty to go around. The favorite of the night was the yogurt soju, which is basically soju mixed with Yakult, a sour yogurt-like beverage. Seriously, I think yogurt soju is now my favorite drink. We also tried a strawberry soju, but it tasted just like Robitussin. If you’re into Korean beers, there’s plenty of Hite and OB to go around.

INFORMATION
Oriental BBQ Chicken Town
6101 Telegraph Ave.
Oakland, CA 94609 map
510.595.5338
Oriental B.B.Q. Chicken Town on Urbanspoon

Categories
chicken fried chicken Korean New York reviews

Bon Chon

“Our Chicken uses none sticky sauce which helps you eat stylish.”

That’s a quote from the take out menu I picked up at Bon Chon as we were leaving…and it’s the truth. Actually, on the flip side of the menu, the pictures of its trendy, industrial interior makes Bon Chon look like it’s really a night club. Turn the lights off, put on some crappy K-Pop/gay techno/80s music, and you start understand the vibe at Bon Chon. It’s loud inside, which is normal when your walls and floor are concrete, but Korean hipster vibe aside, the fried chicken here is great.


“At Bon Chon, it’s all about eating healthy —
minimized fat, high in protein, and low in cholesterol.”

“Soy Garlic Sauce – Prevents cancer, cold, asthma and heart disease
Hot Sauce – Contains Vitamin A and C, which are good for you skin and body”

I find it amazing that Korean Fried Chicken is being marketed as health food, not just at Bon Chon. Hell, maybe they’re right. I’d love to be a true believer, but maybe I’ve been brainwashed by Western media to believe that fried foods are supposed to be bad for you.

We split a combination platter of drumsticks and wings between the five of us, half soy garlic/half hot sauce, so we’re super healthy now! The soy garlic sauce was great, subtle garlic flavor and there was a hint of sweetness to it. The hot sauce was even better and left my mouth sizzling for about 20 minutes after. The skin was crispy and true to form, not sticky, so I was not only healthy, beating cancer and getting a daily dose of vitamins, I was a stylin’ too.

If all the health food claims end up being true, then all hail Korean Fried Chicken and pass me a drumstick!

INFORMATION
Bon Chon
314 5th Ave
New York, NY 10001 map
212.221.2222
Web site

Categories
chicken fried chicken Korean Northern California reviews

99 Chicken

I’ve been wanting to eat some Korean Fried Chicken (KFC) for months after reading all about it on Yelp, so we went to 99 Chicken to pick up some food on our way to a party.

We ordered the plain and the Spicy Sauce fried chicken, and both were excellent. I was partial to the spicy chicken because it actually tastes sweet at first and then the spice kicks in makes your mouth happy…and I love it when the heat lingers in your mouth. The plain fried chicken was also great and it wasn’t greasy at all. The batter is much lighter than Southern fried chicken so it doesn’t weigh you down and make you feel totally gluttonous.

To “round out” our order we also got a beef fried rice dish and an omelette that was filled with what we ended up calling ketchup rice. The beef fried rice looked great when we opened the container, but it was inexplicably bland for something that had bulgogi in it. The only thing we could taste was the green peppers. The ketchup rice omelette was pretty good and reminded my friend of what her dad used to make her when she was a kid (she thought it was the only thing he knew how to make). And who doesn’t like ketchup on their eggs and rice?

Keep in mind that the KFC at 99 Chicken is cooked to order and takes about 20 minutes, so this is definitely not fast food. Also, KFC is supposed to be bar food, so they only offer the legs and wings, so an appreciation of the dark meat is a must!

INFORMATION
99 Chicken
2781 El Camino Real
Santa Clara, CA 95051
408.244.5599