Cooking Sous Vide – immersion water bath cooking

Sous vide, French for under vacuum, is cooking in a water bath or steam environment.

Until recently water bath cooking appliances were only available for commercial use. But new appliances have made sous vide affordable for the serious home chef.

My first introduction to sous vide cooking was while watching the Food Network’s Chopped.  The chef infused watermelon with lavender and pomegranate flavors.  The color of the watermelon became vibrant and served with cucumber and feta salad it seemed to light up the plate.  The judges raved about the concentrated flavors.

One of my favorite weekend snacks in summer now is a watermelon with tarragon and vodka from the sous vide.

Adding sous vide to your kitchen arsenal will definitely impress your friends.  But don’t expect every meal to become boil-in-a-bag fantastic.  I find I am adding the sous vide to a dinner dish to add more flavors or to free my time to make a complicated dessert or side dish.  It doesn’t replace other cooking tools or skills.

My preferred sous vide appliance is the Slaiya Sous Vide Accurate Digital Pro Edition.  This unit has a higher wattage and built-in timer.  It is top customer-rated and offers a 2-year warranty.  It comes with vacuum bags and the pump for sealing foods.  The higher wattage helps keep higher temperatures consistent and it heats up the water bath in about 5 minutes.

Sous vide cooking is now all the buzz in 2018, but don’t think this appliance will give you endless hours out of the kitchen because not everything is done in the sous vide and nothing happens in 15-minutes — fast cooking this isn’t.

  • Cooking in the vacuum-sealed plastic pouch sous vide assures even cooking without overcooking.
  • Sous vide immersion circulators hold the temperature at a constant level and foods cook slowly, sometimes up to 2 days, to perfection.
  • Sous vide also creates a positive environment for infusing more flavor into foods.

You can sous vide eggs, fish, meat, vegetables and even fruits.

Sous Vide can be a budget blessing for many cooks.

Tenderize the toughest cuts of meat.

You will gain time-flexibility with cheaper and often tougher cuts of meat which automatically require longer cooking times and are more forgiving to long, slow processing. The sous vide appliance keeps the water bath circulating at a precise temperature all day slowly tenderizing that tough cut and gently allowing spices to penetrate the fibers. A steak can be held almost indefinitely at medium-rare until you are ready to finish and serve.

A sous vide immersion heater used to cost thousands of dollars.  The Sous Vide Supreme “kit” can be picked up for under $400.   A good sous vide heater can be purchased online now for under $100 making it an affordable purchase for home cooks in line with the cost of a good pan.

Perfect edge-to-edge results

Food doesn’t dry out at the edges and cuts are perfectly cooked all the way through.

The water bath sous vide exposes the entire piece of meat to the same exact temperature.  Unlike oven and stovetops, that cook with direct heat to the bottom or direct heat from top and bottom, sous vide envelopes the food at a lower temperature and brings the outside and inside temperature to the same point.  Juices aren’t seared away at the edge of the meat and flavor doesn’t escape.

 

Essential Tools:

  • An Immersion Circulator with the vacuum sealing bags.  If you already have a vacuum sealing system, it will work fine with sous vide.  Even just zip-top bags can be used here although the results are better if more air is removed.
  • A plastic water bath container. (This is also a great brine container later.)
  • A Cast Iron Skillet.  It’s all about the sauce the finishing.

Other items:

  • Vacuum Sealing System.  I use the FoodSaver, but honestly any vacuum bag system will work here.
  • Binder Clips.  The same large clips you use in your office will secure that bag to the water bath container.
  • Pot top organizer (a nice feature for separating several pouches — prepping steaks for six).  Separating each pouch in a pot organizer keeps each package separate for even cooking.

Four Steps of sous vide

  • Preparation – Cleaning, portioning and drying food before vacuum sealing.  (I would also say season and spice in this step as the vacuum sealing pulls the flavor through your food.)
  • Packaging – Vacuum sealing or bagging foods for immersion.  You can use a vacuum sealer (I use the Food Saver V-4440 2-in-1 sealer) but you can get spectacular results with a hand pump sealer or even zip lock bags when you carefully remove all the air.
  • Cooking – Choosing the right temperature and the proper time for processing.
  • Finishing – Searing, saucing and presentation.  It still needs to be finished.

 

 

Tarragon and Vodka infused Watermelon

This recipe requires gently cooking watermelon sous vide for best flavor.

Tarragon and Vodka infused Watermelon
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Ingredients
  • 1 watermelon (individual slices about 4 x 1 inches (or 12 1-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 2 tsp fresh tarragon
  • dusting of powdered sugar
Instructions
  1. Pre-heat the water bath to 140 degrees F
  2. Remove the rind and skin from watermelon and dice into 1-inch cubes or slices 4×1 inches
  3. Dust the watermelon with powdered sugar (lightly)
  4. Place the watermelon in a vacuum bag and seal out the air (You can use a standard resealable bag. Be sure to press out as much air as possible.)
  5. Submerge the pouch into the water bath for 2 hours.
  6. Remove the bag and place in ice water until cool.
  7. Serve immediately in a salad or alone, or you can store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

New to sous vide cooking?  Check out our in-depth review of the best sous vide appliance for hope chefs in 2018.

Salsa: Canning or Fresh

Mama's SalsaThe farmers market deal on tomatoes this week was my excuse to make salsa and get back to preserving.

This recipe is good fresh (uncooked) or canned. If you preserve your salsa — or any vegetables — they can sit in the pantry for up to a year! That is good taste and good financial sense. Cost per jar of salsa — about 90 cents.

Spring and summer crops are already starting to arrive at the market so it’s time to get your Mason Jars and canning equipment out!  I buy canning jars in packs of 12 for value.

Mama’s Not Too Spicy Salsa
Cuisine: Latin
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4-5 pints
Good fresh (just prepped and tossed) or canned (cooked)
Ingredients
  • 6 pounds of tomatoes (about 15 regular sized tomatoes)
  • 4 green bell peppers (chopped)
  • 1 large sweet onion (Vidalia, Persian, Strawberry Field)
  • 2 jalapeno peppers (remove the seeds based on your heat tolerance)
  • 4 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar per pint jar
Instructions
  1. Blanche the tomatoes for 30-40 seconds in hot water. Remove them from the boiling pot and plunge into a sink filled with ice water to stop the cooking. Remove their skins and chop into smaller pieces. (about 1 inch).
  2. Chop onion and peppers into 1/2 inch pieces
  3. Addl all ingredients except the sugar in a large pan and stir gently to combine. (If you want to serve your salsa “fresh” stop processing here and put this version into a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of chopped cilantro and store in a Mason jar for up to a week.)
  4. Bring the mixture to a simmer and reduce until thickened and about 1/2 the quantity in the pan.
  5. Before filling your canning jars make sure the lids and jars are sterilized. Run them through your dishwasher or sterilize them in hot water and allow them to cool to the touch.
  6. Put a teaspoon of sugar into the bottom of every pint-sized jar.
  7. Pour the hot salsa into the jars leaving 1/2″ space at the top (you’ll need this for the canning seal)
  8. Put the lids on the jars and seal to finger tight then turn back 3/4″
  9. Place the jars in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Remove and let them cool on the counter. You will hear the seals set as the salsa cools. Test every seal to make sure it has completely sealed by pressing gently on the top lid.
  10. Store in the pantry for up to a year.
  11. When you go to serve these beauties add a tablespoon or fresh cilantro and/or a squeeze of lime or lemon to add a freshly made taste.

 

 

2018 Top 5 Best Panini Sandwich Makers

Read our review of the top 5 panini sandwich maker appliances. My Grandmother, who was a professional cook, knew in the 1940s that you didn’t need expensive kitchen tools to make great food.  The secret to a grilled sandwich is good ingredients and a heavy grill press that can evenly toast the bread and melt the cheese.

The Best Panini Sandwich Maker of 2018

See the best Panini Sandwich Maker of 2018.

The 2018 list Top 5 Panini Sandwich Makers and Grills.

  • Cuisinart GR-1 Griddler Panini and Sandwich Press
  • Cuisinart GR-4N 5-in-1 Griddler
  • Breville BSG520XL Panini Duo 1500-Watt Nonstick Panini Press
  • Oster CKSTPM21WC-ECO DuraCeramic 2-in-1 Panini Maker
  • Hamilton Beach 25460A Panini Press Gourmet Sandwich Maker

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#5 – Hamilton Beach 25460A Panini Press and Gourmet Sandwich Maker

Hamilton Beach Panini Press

Hamilton Beach Gourmet Sandwich Maker

The least expensive Panini Maker in our list, the Hamilton Beach Gourmet Sandwich maker still gets high marks among reviewers.  The Hamilton Beach 25460A features a cafe-style floating lid that presses sandwiches of all sizes evenly.  This sandwich maker is easy to use!  Power and preheat lights let you know when it is ready and the large 10×8 cooking surface is plenty of space for cooking two or three sandwiches simultaneously.  The Hamilton Beach 25460A stows away in the upright position making it a friendly choice for small kitchens.

#4 – Oster CKSTPM21WC Panini Sandwich Maker and Grill

Oster CKSTPM21 Panini Sandwich Maker

Oster-CKSTPM21 DuraCeramic Grill

The Oster CKSTPM21WC Panini Makes features a new DuraCeramic non-stick cooking surface that is 4x stronger than traditional non-stick and will not flake or peel after years of use.  The safe and natural coating is PFOA and PTFE free, so you can grill at high temperatures without worry.  The DuraCeramic finish is uniquely white and cooks up to 20% faster than traditional grill plates.  Like some of our other favorites, the Oster Grill opens flat on the counter to function as a standard grill for meats and vegetables but also has an adjustable hinged top to accommodate thicker sandwiches.  The Oster CKSTPM21WC has adjustable feet at the front so the grill can be angled down like a competitor to drain off excess fat.  The grill plates are not removable, but they can be easily wiped clean.

#3 – Breville BSG520XL Panini Duo

Breville Panini Maker

Breville BSG520XL 1500 watt sandwich makerThe Breville BSG520XL has a unique design with a flat bottom plate that helps with clean-up, and a ridged top plate to create perfect grill marks on sandwiches.  Breville is an Australian manufacturer founded in 1932 that is now making in-roads in the US market.   This model doesn’t have fancy temperature settings and it is a basic sandwich maker, but it does this service well.  A floating hinge on the lid will easily accommodate different sandwich thicknesses and the on/ready indicator lights on the lid make operation virtually mistake-proof.  The Breville BSG520XL can easily be used for grilling chicken, hamburgers, pork chops and other meats.  The grill top also makes it a good choice for grilling vegetables.

#2 – Cuisinart GR-4N Griddle

Cuisinart GR4N opens to a flat grill or griddle

 

 

 

 

Cuisinart GR-4N might be the most versatile of all the panini sandwich makers featured on our list.  Designed for the cook who wants an indoor grill and sandwich maker, the Cuisinart GR-4N opens flat so that the top and bottom can be used as a griddle or countertop grill.   The Cuisinart GR-4N has reversible grill plates — a flat side that is best for eggs and pancakes and a ridged side for grilling meats and/or sandwiches.  Unlike some less expensive models, the Cuisinart GR-4N has a temperature dial so cooks can select grill and griddle functions and desired temperatures.  There is an indicator light to alert cooks when the unit has reached the correct temperature.  The GR-4N grill plates are removable for easy cleaning and they are dishwasher safe.

#1 – Cuisinart GR-1 Griddler Panini and Sandwich Press

Cuisinart Expert Grilled Panini Sandwich PressThe best panini press and sandwich grill today.  Although this is an older model, it is the best from a quality, operations and cost perspective.  The Cuisinart GR-1 does a great job making a pressed sandwich and produces restaurant-quality grilled panini sandwiches that will surprise users.  The Cuisinart GR-1 is versatile to be used to grill vegetables, burgers, pork chops.  Available in a shiny stainless steel finish, the Cuisinart GR-1 resembles professional panini makers in appearance.  This counter-top grill accommodates sandwiches and meats of different thicknesses and features a floating hinge that automatically adjusts to sandwich bread or crusty sandwich buns. The Cuisinart GR-1 Panini and Sandwich Press is easy to use.  The grill has an indicator light to alert the cook when the appliance is hot enough for food to be placed on it and an indicator light to show when foods are fully cooked.

 

An Air Fryer is the must have appliance of 2018

The air fryer is the hottest appliance today.  In theory, they let you enjoy all those fried foods without adding all the fat calories from oils.  

But an Air Fryer actually doesn’t “fry” your food like a deep fryer.  It is a countertop convection oven that produces crispy foods that mimic the original fried versions with a faster baking/roasting time than your conventional oven.  If you think about the air fryer as a counter-top convection oven you’ll find dozens of uses that will make your new air fryer indispensable in the kitchen!

Consumer reports just produced its countertop appliance review.  While they, and we, admit that the air fryer doesn’t exactly replicate deep frying methods, the air fryer does create nicely cooked food fast.  My favorite fryer — the Power AirFryer XL — makes the Consumer Report List of the Top Air Fryers.

From French Fries to Chicken Wings.

Air Fryer CapacityAny brand air fryer will cook frozen french fries or chicken strips.  When you start searching for the perfect air fryer determine what size you need.  This item is counter top friendly, but if kitchen space is at a premium, and whose isn’t these days, you want to buy enough capacity to accommodate your family.  Consider how many people you need to feed or if you’ll want to cook an entire roasting chicken in this unit.

Air Fryers range in size from a small 2-quart capacity all the way up to a large 6-quart size.   The average size for 2-4 people is 3.5-quarts, but if you’re feeding a larger family definitely go up in size so that your brood can all eat dinner together.

You won’t just use this unit for french fries, onion rings and chicken.  The countertop air fryer is a great mini oven for everything from meatloaf to cakes and pies.

Check out my Breakfast Burrito recipe for the air fryer.   Don’t stop there — this is good for roasting chicken, making crispy and healthy chicken strips, roasting steaks and burgers, baking pizza with a crispy crust and even making cakes and pies.

Baskets and Baking. 

Best Air Fryers of 2018The fryers we looked at all include the basic base — a closed-in container with a fry basket that either sits in the bottom or snaps into the unit with a handle.   The slotted fry basket is the key to crispy foods because it allows the air to circulate freely around the potatoes, onions, bread or chicken.  Fats from foods like chicken or hamburgers drip away through the openings in the basket.

Some units now come with a baking pan that will sit inside the basket.  You can buy accessories specifically for the air fryer — cake pans, muffin tins or roasting racks.  These specially-designed pans increase the flexibility of the appliance, so if you can find a unit that includes one or two of these you are already prepared to experience the air fryer as a baking companion.

 

Feature Rich.

Air Fryer Preset Temperatures and TimesOnce you’ve decided on the capacity of an air fryer, start thinking about the features you want.  The range is limitless.  Some appliances come with presets for everything from fish to eggs (yes you can hard-cook eggs in your fryer).   The presets automatically set to the right temperature and time for many foods, but you pay a little more for that feature.  If you’re fine setting up your own time and temperature you will save $10-$20.

The convenience of an Air Fryer with built-in presets make life easier.  On most units, you’ll find a preset for fries and chips, meat, shrimp, cake, chicken, steak, and fish.

If you want to convert your family recipes from conventional ovens to work in the air fryer start by reducing the temperature by 25 degrees and set your times for 75% of the original time.  For example, if Grandma’s pound cake baked at 350 degrees for an hour, set the air fryer for 325 degrees and check it at 45 minutes.

Colors. 

Normally I don’t even consider color when buying an appliance.  But many people use their air fryer every single day.  If you are going to leave this out on the counter all the time it is nice if you also like its appearance. Most fryers come in basic black. But you can get your air fryer in black, silver, red or white.

Which air fryer do I recommend?

My favorite appliance is the GoWISE 5.8-Quart Programmable 8-in1 air fryer.

  • For its size, it is priced well at about $100.00.
  • It is big enough to handle a 6-pound chicken or a whole bag of frozen french fries or onion rings.
  • You can cook two steaks or a meatloaf that feeds a family.
  • Any of the accessories fit into this unit easily.
  • It comes in 4 basic colors — black, red, white and plum.  (This is the one for you purple lovers!)