Espuma Sauces Pair Well with Sous Vide!
In my continuing quest to improve my culinary skills, I have come across an interesting method for creating a unique texture for sauces... Espuma. Espuma is Spanish for "foam". Using a pressurized gas canister, you can infuse a sauce with a gas (in this case Nitrous Oxide - N2O) and turn it from a solid liquid into an airy foam. I fund this texture goes well with sous vide since part of sous vide is all about unique and alternative textures to food.
Investigating the pressurized canisters, reveals that they have been used for years in the dessert side of the business. You and I both know it well.... whipped cream topping! Yes that is a form of espuma, cream espuma. Thus, the canisters are pretty much known as "cream whippers", even though they whip much more than cream these days.
Which one is right for you? Well, let's start with size. There are small ones starting at 1/2 pint all the way up to 1 L or 2 pint sizes. I think the 1 pint size whippers are perfect for home chef use. Of course, the actual volume of the canister is larger (almost double) the stated size since there must be enough volume for the charged gas. Next, you need to make sure the whipper you select can do BOTH cold and hot liquids. Some of the whipped cream only models can only handle cold liquids. Finally the ruggedness of the whipper should be considered. The highest end models are all stainless steel and can be put in the dishwasher. Of course, they are also the most expensive. The lower end models have some plastic pieces and may or may not be dishwasher safe. A lot depends on how often you plan on making espuma sauces. The high end models are made for more commercial usage.
Finally, in addition to the whipper, you will need disposable N2O charge cartridges. Do NOT get the CO2 cartridges. The cartridges are all pretty standard so get whichever one you like.
As for which one did I end up with, well, I wanted a pint sized canister to start with that could do both hot and cold liquids. I didn't think I was going to use it as much as commercial use so I opted for a more low end model with some plastic pieces. The body was spun aluminum instead of stainless steel too. Again, aluminum will stand up to home use, no problem. It came with a little cleaning brush so I could clean it easily. The higher end iSi models cost upwards of $80-130, but I got my WhipRite model for only $30
! I've used it several times so far with great success. You need to make sure you strain your liquid carefully since any food particles will clog the nozzle.
Sous Vide Chef in Training Gets First Award!
While I still consider myself a neophyte in the art of Sous Vide, I'm a passionate neophyte! I started submitting my pictures and recipes to other websites including entering in SousVide Supreme's newsletter recipe contest. Not thinking anything of it, I was pleasantly surprised to get an email from them indicating I won! My recipe went out in the current September Newsletter! The winning recipe was my Halibut with Edamame, Endives and Shimeji Mushrooms
. Hopefully this is the first of many!
What Goes With Cooking Food? Photographing It!
OK, I jumped into sous vide cooking with both feet, assembling my arsenal of pricy equipment and scouring the web for all the sous vide information I could. Which is partly why I assembled this website, to add to the modicum amount of information that's on the web!
Now for confession time... I admit I thought I could create this website with my daughter's handy $150 digital pocket "turquoise" Costco camera! I figured "The food can do the talking"! Well, I was "WRONG!". So again, off to the web and a lot of studying and low and behold I discover the world of "Food plating, styling,presentation and.... photography!" Yes, there is a whole world devoted to this complimentary topic. In fact, I would call it a symbiotic relationship since that way to communicate a great recipe is through the web now a days and that requires a great food photo.
The saying goes "You have the shot when you want to 'Eat the screen'!". I've found there are basically three components to a great food shot:
- Camera: This one seems obvious! But I originally thought "All digital cameras are roughly the same for taking food pics" ..... wrong again. First of all, most professional food photographers have digital SLR (DSLR) cameras. They cost upwards of $2000, but have all the manual bells and whistles to take incredible shots, including better lens, tethering (ability to see and store images directly to a computer), RAW output and all the manual settings for aperture, ISO, etc... Since I spent my $2000 on sous vide, I needed to lower my photographic budget, which meant looking at "digital pocket cameras (DPC)". Luckily, this market has matured enough that a new class of " high end digital pocket cameras" has emerged which attempts to bridge the gap between the "point and shoot" pocket camera and the DSLR. These high end DPC have much better lenses, good macro modes, more manual settings and even tethering and RAW output capabilities, all features necessary to take a great food photograph. These cameras can also handle various lighting conditions much better. The Canon PowerShot S95, Panasonic Lumix series and the Pentax XZ-1 all fit the bill. I chose the Canon Powershot S95 for its reasonable price, smaller size, and good lens and macro mode.
- Lighting: OK, I thought "just use the camera flash and it will all come out fine"! Again... WRONG! The first thing you learn for food photography is NO CAMERA FLASH. When working at close range (macro) with food, it's very important that the food is well lit from all sides to show the food's texture and convey the very essence of the food itself. Shadows don't do that. In fact, shadows detract from that. In addition, "yellowish" incandescent lighting also detracts from the visual. So I purchased an inexpensive lighting umbrella and white piece of cardboard so that I can evenly light the food.
- Food Plating Styling and Presentation: Can you image doing a model runway show without makeup, hair styling, and proper designer clothes? Well, the same goes for food photography. Doesn't matter how good your camera and lighting is if the subject is just slammed onto the plate. There's a whole art (and science) to food plating and I won't go through it all, but some basics are:
- Keep it simple and clean
- Don't over crowd the plate, leave lots of room. Use large white plates so that the food is the focus, not the plate.
- Try sauces under and around the food. Get squeeze bottles and large spoon to deploy the sauces.
- Get height as an added dimension to your presentation
- Use colors for highlighting. Use fresh herbs to accent.
- Use ring molds to dress up messy items.
I'm writing this blog entry BEFORE all my photography equipment comes so you get the benefit of seeing how NOT to do food photography (yes my site is currently a poor food photography example!). But I'm excited to get my feet wet when my "stuff comes in" and hopefully you'll come back to my site and see my progress! In the meantime, if you want to see some incredible food photography sites with some great recipes too, I found a couple that I'm certainly trying to emulate:LATEST UPDATE: I got my camera and lighting equipment!!!!!!
So I've been taking shots and playing with the settings and lighting and I think I've made pretty significant improvement on the photos. Still not Ansel Adams (or the equivalent in the food photography world), but a significant leap forward. Check out the difference below.
The photos on the left are the old P&S and the photos on the right at with the new Canon S95
I also got a book on food photography called "Food Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots" by Nicole Young. It really looks great. I'll keep you posted!
Big Advantage of Sous Vide: Spending Time on the Sauce!
One of the major advantages of sous vide is that once you prep the food and pop them in a bag and into the water bath, you have all this time to..... focus on the sauces for your dish. Before, the sauces were sort of an after thought for me. I was so focused (and forced) on the food prep because you have to worry so much about the timing (else your food comes out over or under cooked!) that you don't have time for the sauces! At least I didn't.
But with sous vide (partially because it takes a little longer to cook the food), I have the time to explore and work on the sauces. From a nice pesto to a rich red wine mushroom sauce, sauces can really enhance the dining experience.
You can sous vide a large quantity of say chicken or fish or beef at once, freeze them in their bags and pull them out when you want to put a meal together and create a unique new sauce for each meal. It really makes chicken unique!
So if you start sous viding, start exploring your saucy side! Here's a couple websites with some nice sauce recipes:
My Equipment Arsenal...
After extensive research on the web, I settled on the Sous Vide Supreme (SVS)
water bath as my first sous vide piece of equipment. I chose the SVS for a couple of reasons:
- Cost effective. I got it for $499 on amazon, which was 60% of the immersion circulators. Since I didn't really know if I was going to be passionate about sous vide cooking, I felt more comfortable in that price range.
- Good size. I looked at the $399 demi sous vide supreme and decided against it for the size. I figured I would be cooking for a family and the regular seemed to be more the size I would want.
- Self contained and good looking. Yes, looks do matter in my kitchen (my wife would concur!)
Once the SVS arrived I tried out some sous vide. I already had a foodsaver vacuum sealer and it worked well for dry prep, but for prep that had liquids (sauces or EVO), as all the literature states, it didn't really work.
So this led me to my next piece of equipment, the chamber vacuum sealer. Again after much research on the web, I settled on the ARY Vacmaster VP112
. Again, I chose the VP112 for a couple reasons:
- Again, reasonably priced. Many of the chamber sealers were in the $2000 to $3000 range and mainly made for continuous "restaurant" usage. As such they had oil lubricated pumps that require maintenance and are expensive. The VP112 uses a dry pump mechanism that is slightly less sturdy as the oil ones, but for home use, I don't feel I'll ever get to that point! And at a price of $600, it was a great alternative.
- Liquid capable sealing. This is true for all chamber sealers and was a requirement for me. Many of the sous vide dishes require some kind of liquid to be poured into the bags to marinate and infuse the food being cooked. The literature says that you can "freeze" the liquid before sealing, but that takes even more time and wasn't an option for me.
- Counter height compliant and good looking. Since it was going on my counter and I have wall cabinets (as do most home owners!), the counter height compliance was a big plus. Most of the other chamber sealers do not meet this requirement. The good looks goes without saying (although my wife didn't like the looks of the VP112 as much as the SVS).
Of course everything couldn't go super smoothly, could it! When I got the VP112 and installed it and tried it for the first time, the bag "blew up like a balloon" inside the chamber. I thought to myself "that doesn't seem right!" and sure enough it wasn't sucking all the air out of the bag. So I call the place where I bought it from (over the web) and no answer. Then I call the manufacturer (ARY, Inc.) and get a sales person who refers me to a technician. Once I get the technician, within 30 seconds he identifies the problem and it's internally broken! So then he refers me back to the sale person. Long story short, they agree to take the unit back (on there nickel) and I get a new unit a week later. Yeah!!! It works!
So now I'm rocking and rolling with my SVS and VP112. I start doing lots of sous vide cooking for the family. It's working great, but then I start having more gatherings of friends! It's amazing how that happens with sous vide! Well, before you know it, I'm faced with two problems: 1) Increasingly I'm trying to sous vide two items at different temperatures at the same time. With only one SVS, I have to cook sous vide serially. 2) While the SVS is great for a family size meal, it can't really do "party size" meals. For example, I tried to cook 6 racks of BB ribs and it kept "beeping", indicating it couldn't hold the temperature because the thermal "flow" (which it depends on) was getting blocked by all the bags.
So back to research and I decided to get an immersion circulator (IC) as a second device. I settled on the Polyscience Sous Vide Professional Chef
. I chose the Polyscience for the following reasons:
- Price and Availability. The Polyscience was being sold on eBay at much lower price than retail($750). I was able to get one for $500 brand new (minus instructions, but who needs instructions!).
- Features. The Polyscience was designed specifically for sous vide. Many of the immersion circulators are "scientific" lab equipment. So they aren't directly suited for sous vide cooking. Some don't have a dual display (set and actual), that is critical. some don't have a heating element guard, again critical for sous vide cooking.
- Portability and Looks. It is a very compact unit that can be stored in a draw out of sight. Since it is my "second" go to unit, this keeps the clutter to a minimum. Also, it really looks nice!
So the total outlay for my sous vide kitchen was:
- $500 (SVS)
- $600 (VP112)
- $525 (Polyscience IC) on ebay
- $ 50 in flat bags (lifetime supply!)
- $ 25 polycarbonate food container
- $ 30 kitchen torch
That's not inexpensive by any measure, but for me, it is well worth it. I've thoroughly enjoyed cooking and presenting sous vide dishes to my family and friends and I think if you ask them, they will feel equally satisfied!
Additionally, there are a few other items that sous vide cooking requires:
- Bags. Since I have a chamber sealer, the required bags are the "flat" kind, not the "mesh" kind that normal bar sealers use. That's an added benefit as the flat bags are much cheaper. Although, I found that since they are used mainly by restaurants, you can't by small quantities! They come in larger quantities like 1,000! I found one place on the web that sells smaller quantities: http://shop.vacuumsealersunlimited.com/Combo-Packs_c7.htm
- Container for the Polyscience IC. Since the Polyscience IC requires a separate water bath container, I needs to get one. For thermal reasons, the best bet would have been to get a "beer" cooler, but even the best ones didn't pass the "looks test". So I got a 5 Gallon (12" x 9" x 18") Carlisle polycarbonate food container (and lid) on the web from here: http://www.katom.com/028-1061207.html?CID=GoogleBase2. Looks great and inexpensive. Doesn't have great thermal properties, but that's a tradeoff for looks!
- Kitchen torch. So how do you get that "seared/brown" look for your sous vide food? Well, you can use your old fashion grill or oven broiler, or you can move into the 21st century with a kitchen torch! Yes, a kitchen torch is a "man's" kitchen tool! Imagine, man in kitchen with portable flame thrower! What a sight. But a kitchen torch is a more precise tool for getting a maillard reaction (browning effect). Make sure you use a BUTANE torch and not a propane torch. Propane has an ordor and will ruin your beautifully flavored sous vide food. I got a BonJour Chef's torch on amazon for about $30.
While the above are the basic tools required to do sous vide on a regular basis, there are some ancillary tools that compliment sous vide and can help make your sous vide experience both visually and epicureanly fantastic.
These complimentary tools include:
- Food Processor which is essential for making delightful sauces
- Squeeze Bottles which can be used to deploy your sauces with designer like accuracy
- Ring Molds which are essential for "stacked" plating techniques
- Silicon Brush used for different sauce presentations
- Zester which is a nice tool for creating ringlet toppings
So there you have it. Everything you need to sous vide till your heart's content! It's not inexpensive, but it will truly change your cooking experience for you and whomever you cook for! REALLY!!!