Sunday, September 22, 2013
Got my new Sous Vide Supreme Chef and VacMaster VP-112 the other day and have been playing with it at work ever since! I’m hoping to be able to do Sockeye Salmon to order, cooked to 115° within 13 minutes and served within 15 minutes of getting the order. In the Pacific Northwest we love our Salmon cooked medium-rare, and doing it sous vide makes the flesh so delicate it melts like butter in your mouth! I’ll give details of my experiments below.
I’m also toying with the idea of doing our fabulous 14 oz Double “R” Ranch New York steak using the sous vide process. It would guarantee that the steaks were perfectly cooked to whatever temperature we determine for rare, medium-rare, etc. Of course, this would not eliminate steaks being returned to the kitchen…what the guest thinks is a medium-rare and what we know to be a medium-rare are not always the same thing (makes me want to play Gorden Ramsey with the customers sometimes!). But it would greatly reduce errors by cooks either over-cooking or under-cooking the steaks. I’ll share my lessons so far below.11
Salmon Sous Vide
OK, changing gears back to Salmon! We are a seafood restaurant so I tried Salmon first. The goal was to cook the Salmon to an internal temp of 115° within 14 minutes in order to meet our self-imposed 15 minute ticket time for entrees. I took our 7 oz portions of Sockeye and cut it on a severe bias into 3 medallions no more than 1/4″ thick. Then I seasoned them as normal, placed them in the bags with some extra-virgin olive oil, fresh sprig of tarragon, and squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and vac-sealed them using the VacMaster VP-112. The vac-seal process takes about 35-45 seconds, but is very simple.
Next, I placed the fish into the sous vide machine set to my desired temp of 115° and hoped that after 14 minutes it would reach an internal temp of 115°. What happened?…Failure!! It was at 101° which meant I’d have to increase ticket times (not good), or go back to the drawing board. So, back to the drawing board I went! Next, I tried setting the machine to 125° and did the same process. This time…almost success!! The Salmon was actually at 120° after 14 minutes. So I learned that achieving a 15 minute ticket time with 1/4″ medallions is possible…just need to fine-tune the timing to hit the 115° cooked mark.
The next challenge to overcome with the Salmon during dinner service is this: I’ll have multiple orders rung in over the span of 15 minutes, meaning that all night long we will have multiple Salmon cooking in the machine, all with different time frames. As each new order comes into the kitchen, I could theoretically have 15 different orders all space one minute apart! How the hell do I keep track of this mess, especially when dinner service is for 6-7 hours long?! Solution (thanks Chef John Jadamec): add a second digital clock set 14 minutes fast. Explanation: we currently use a digital clock to keep tickets on a 15 minute ticket time. Each ticket is automatically time stamped when we receive it, and we pace tickets so they “hit the window” after 15 minutes. By adding a second clock which is set 14 fast (the time it takes to cook our sous vide Salmon to 114°), it makes it possible for the Wheelman (Expeditor…the guy/gal calling the Wheel/tickets) to simply look at the pull time for the Salmon, write it on the vacuum packed bag, fire it into the sous vide machine, and know which Salmon to pull at exactly what time. This way multiple orders can be working with no confusion about what gets pulled when.
New York Steak Sous Vide
Preparing the New York sous vide is definitely more challenging, especially from a restaurant perspective. It takes approximately one hour to cook a 1″ thick steak to rare, medium-rare, and medium. Are you willing to wait an hour for your steak? That has epic failure written all over it. And since we can sell up to 45 NY’s in a night, to make this process work using the sous vide method means we’ll have to prep today for what we’ll need tomorrow. And I’ll have to get the re-therm process to work with-in about a 15 minute ticket time for dinner service.
So with this challenge to overcome, I tried two variations of NY. I wanted to know if a pre-seared steak or a raw steak worked better. The first steak I seasoned as normal, charred on the grill blue-rare, and chilled to 34°. The second, I seasoned as normal and left raw. Both were then vacuum-sealed and cooked sous vide to 125° (our medium). I then put them into an ice bath (still in their bags) to chill to 34°. The next day I re-thermed them as follows: the charred steak I placed in a 325° convection oven (low fan setting) until it reached 115° (about 10 minutes) and let the carry-over heat finish it out to 125°. The raw steak we seared in the Montegue broiler (top and bottom heat) for about 9 minutes. We let them rest then carved them up. We liked the raw-then-char preparation better because it had a more smoky, charred, grill flavor than the one we pre-seared then finished in the oven.
Knowing that the raw, un-seared version worked better, today we did our second test. I had two steaks, both raw, seasoned, vacuum sealed, and cooked sous vide then charred to finish. One was sous vide to rare 105°, the other to medium-rare 115°. Both were immediately chilled in their bags to 34° (a safety step for HAACP). I then used the Montegue broiler (top and bottom intense heat) and cooked the rare steak to 90° (about 5 minutes) and the medium-rare to 100° (about 7 minutes), let both rest for 3 minutes, and found that both rested out to their ideal temps of 105° and 115°…success!!
Rare is on the left, medium-rare on the right
Additional restaurant service challenges to overcome: since it takes about an hour to cook these puppies, ideally I would have at least 3 machines, one for cooking each temperature of steak (R, MR, M). I still have to see how many I can cook at once in the Sous Vide Supreme Chef machine… I think 10-14, but the cooking time will probably increase. Another HUGE, MONSTROUS, obstacle…if I am going to cook steaks for about an hour in a vacuum sealed bag, then chill them, and then re-thermalize them to order, I will probably have to get an approved HAACP plan by the local health department to verify that I am using/applying appropriate health and safety procedures. ?@#&%*! A necessary trip through purgatory…but holy crap what a pain in the a__ to accomplish! I heard that it took Chef Jason Wilson of Seattle’s Crush 90 hours to complete his! Not something I’m looking forward to, although I have already started the process.
As a note, here are our steak temps: rare 105° (60 minutes), medium-rare 115° (70 minutes), medium 125° (80 minutes), medium-well (not going to do MW sous vide), well-done (WTF?! Sorry if you like your steak this way, but I STRONGLY disagree. However, as a paying customer, if you want to put an automatic transmission in your Lamborghini I’ll do it for you.)