Monday, February 16, 2009

Viva Sous Vide!

I have been longing to try out cooking “sous-vide” for a while, having tasted some of the dishes in restaurants and heard so much about other people’s experiences in trying it at home. And here’s the story of my first sous-vide experiment:

In case you have no idea what I am talking about, sous-vide is essentially a cooking technique which made use of a airtight plastic bag placed in hot water for an extended period of time (sous-vide means “under vacuum” in French). This way, food is cooked under vacuum under constant low temperature (below boiling point) and the result is dishes with intense flavor, delicate texture and never overcooked (that means tender and juicy)

It does sound fascinating, even though it’s nothing new really – the French’s been doing this since the 70’s (it’s said to be invented in the kitchen of Michel Troisgros), and soon many other chefs followed, particularly the Americans. Now, the likes of Ferran Adria, Thomas Keller and Charlie Trotter are claimed to be some of its biggest fans (Thomas Keller even wrote a book dedicated to this very subject recently, or you can watch him demonstrate in his kitchen followed by lunch at The French Laundry for a hefty $10,000)

I won’t be too surprised if many of you have tasted the dishes cooked sous-vide style without knowing it – I suppose it doesn’t sound very appealing if the waiter told you that your $300 pork tenderloin actually came out of a pouch boiling in water (like those instant japanese curry) There are numerous news articles about this key technique in the “nouvelle cuisine” as well, and online forums and chat-rooms where people discuss (or even debate) whether 48C or 52C is the optimal temperature for cooking salmon sous–vide, for example. Well, I could go on and on but I guess if you wanna know more, you are probably better off researching on the web yourself - and wikipedia sounds like a good place to start.

Anyway, it came no surprise that many people started experimenting this at home, having tried the result themselves; but it does sound easier said than done. First, you do need some “special” equipment. To start, something that vacuum-process the food. That’s actually the easy part – remember those FoodSaver infomercial on Sunday mornings or weekend nights on home shopping network (for those folks living in the States)? That apparently would do the job nicely. And second, a device that is capable to maintain a hot water bath in a constant temperature, or immersion heat circulator as it’s called technically. A professional one can cause $10,000 plus and even an amateur model – one that attaches to your slow cooker at home - would cost $1000.

For my first experiment, I decided to invest in a FoodSaver and skip the immersion heat circulator; instead I use a cast-iron pot filled with water in the convection oven as a compromise. It’s not the most ideal but at least I have everything readily available. I was able to locate a local distributor of FoodSaver that sells the device online and at department stores’ consignment counters, so within a few days, I have one sitting in my kitchen (despite cyy’s strong protest. Ha ha!) And after some more research on the right recipe to try, I have my eyes set on this duck confit recipe found on Food and Wine Magazine.

Turned out sourcing the ingredients is the trickiest part in the whole process. The supermarket downstairs used to have plenty of duck legs available (along side with foie gras), but when I try to get some, they are all gone. The have-it-all City'Super didn't stock them either – the butcher lady instead tried to offer me lamb legs as alternative (?!!). Finally, I was able to locate a few frozen ones in the fridge of Oliver’s - good enough for me. So now I am ready to rock and roll.

The recipe’s straight-forward – defrost, then cure the duck legs with thyme, salt and pepper overnight, wash it, dry it, seal it in the vacuum bag, then they are popped into the oven (in a water bath) overnight (thermostat set at 110C, in hope that the water can be kept at between 80-90C throughout - in case you want the details) Next morning, the duck legs (still in the bag) are pulled out from the oven and cooled immediately in an ice bath. At that point, what I got is a bag (still vacuum-sealed) with the cooked duck legs wrapped completely in duck fat – and it can be stored in the refrigerator (for up to a week, I was told)

Just before it’s served, I opened the bag, scrapped the fat around and browned the duck legs in a pan (so the skin became crispy). Finally, along with some potatoes (sliced with skin removed), duck fat and jus, I roasted everything in the oven and voila, my duck confit with potato hash’s done. To complete this bistro-style dinner, I also made a cream of mushroom soup and steamed mussels, and open a much-enjoyable bottle of 1998 Ch. Haut-Bages-Liberal. What a meal! (esp considered this is just a random Wednesday evening) The confit dish's good (aromatic, moist, flavorful and all that) and I am happy. The totally cooking time did take long (spanned over 3 days) but at least most of the time I didn’t have to attend to it.

So now I am content to have found the perfect dish for the open-that-bottle-night at kitchen@17A, and next, I am going to take on salmon in my quest to improve my sous-vide technique. i will certainly share more after i did so.

More reading for your interest:
The Joy of Cooking with Plastic Bags – Slate Magazine
Under Pressure – The New York Times
Trying Sous Vide at Home – Wall Street Journal

Monday, February 9, 2009

just right

本來想到樓下的"飯堂"吃個便飯, 殊不知剛好有公司在那裡擺春茗; 與其要等位, 把心一橫, 把車駛到石澳去instead; 為的, 是一間近期在報章看到介紹的串燒店. 石澳的路不難找, 倒是有點兒難走; 在我們家出發也不遠 - 只是二十多分鐘的車程, 不過去到也已差不多九點. 這間串燒店就在石澳大街上, 巴士總站的附近 - 很容易就找得着, 見人車都不多, 管不了這是禁區, 就索性把車直接停在店子門口旁邊的ramp上面 (反正沒有警察這麼晚會長途跋涉走到石澳去抄牌吧!)

店子的裝飾很別緻, 木製的桌椅還有牆壁上仿木的掛飾, 佈置得像間海邊的戶外小屋, 令我想起布吉的Baan Rim Pa (可惜這裡沒有無敵的沙灘海景). 只是寥寥的幾張桌子, 再加上面向大街的吧枱和數張lounge chairs and tables: 不是很大的店子, 不過這樣反而樂得自在舒服 (到過又逼又窄又吵耳的南蠻亭吃串燒就會明白我的意思 - 雖然它的確是城裡最好的其中一間kushiyaki店, 只是有時有點兒覺得侷促).

餐牌十分簡單, 只純賣"日式"串燒, 不過食物的選擇就平民化 – 每間串燒店的staple items如雞軟骨, 雞腎雞肝牛舌之類固然少不了, 還有海產 - 據說是在附近撈獲的數款; 而本地特式的魚片牛丸和芝士腸也有. local adaptation無可厚非, 不過從這該看得出店子的定位, 幸好價錢亦然. 連飲品的選擇也十分straight forward: 只是啤酒汽水烏龍茶, 還有sake… 不過當我們問到sake的choices時, 就只得到有冷有熱還有不同size的"官式"答案 – 天呀! 就算你不告訴我酒名也該告訴我是辛口還是甘口, 是普通純米還是大吟讓吧? 得到這樣的答案, 有點摸不著頭腦, 想來sake也不會是甚麼好貨式, 乾脆要asahi算了. 還有, 串燒配熱sake? 這裡可不是冬天下著雪的北海道呢! 其實, 這樣的環境, 加一個小酒吧, 弄幾樣簡單的cocktail, 也是很好的配搭. margarita配yakitori可能不是an usual combination, 不過我敢肯定一定好過熱sake!

先來第一round的食物, 都是平常在串燒店點開的幾樣, 除了較特別的翡翠螺. 不過不失, 雞軟骨和白鱔還可以, 不過比起我們平常光顧開, 在跑馬地橫巷的那間小店, 水準就差了一截, 用料的差別尤甚. 試完這裡的燒牛舌後就特別覺得吃開的那間才像樣. 至於翡翠螺嘛… 個人還是喜歡生吃. 不過, 每串才十元八塊, 點的時候, 吃的時候也覺得特別暢快, expectation自然也應相應降低一點. 故此第二round, 也不bother試他們的燒蠔, 反正也應該會是此消彼長, 故此只試了烏冬和粟米這些較普通的, 反而覺得做得還好. 可能今天人客也不多, 老板拿了燒菠蘿和燒鱔骨出來請我們試, 都算味美. 雖然只是幾枱的食客, 不過上菜的速度和節奏倒有不少改善的空間... 看來從現在到夏季人流多的季節之間, 在運作磨合方面真的要再做功夫... 最少他們的服務態度也很好, 補救了不足.

就食物的質素而言, 這裡雖然並不是最好, 不過倒還算"抵食". 我想, 當我們把在家附近的餐廳吃厭了的時候, 又想找處地方靜一靜, 我們都會回這裡來. 雖然只是些non-descript的食物, 不過, 如這樣平日的晚上, 遠離一下市區, 隨便將車停在門口, 拿著啤酒, 吃著數串, 有興致的話再到沙灘走走, 也是個 evening well spent. 再者, 在甚麼地方賣甚麼樣的菜, 也算是餐廳的生存之道: 試想想, 如果這裡賣的, 樣樣都是如一百元一串日本A5和牛般的高價款式, 我想它也捱不到夏天旺季就壽終正寢了. 或者做人處世有時也要這樣, be at the right place at the right time doing the right thing, 可能才是上計, 每一樣都不理一切去追求完美, 可能到頭來只是自討苦吃... 只是有感而發吧!

when? February 6 2009
where? Katayaki, 209 Shek O Road
menu highlights? 沒有甚麼特別, 倒是坐得挺舒服

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

open that bottle night

okay, i admit it, we too have our good share of so-called wine collection in our cabinet, that we are perpetually "saving" for those special occasions that never seem to come.

and the other day i saw this article and clip on wall street journal about "open that bottle night", or otbn for short - in case you didn't watch the clip, here's the story -

"We invented OTBN for a simple reason: All of us, no matter how big or small our wine collections, have that single bottle of wine we simply can never bear to open. Maybe it's from Grandpa's cellar or a trip to Italy or a wedding. We're always going to open it on a special occasion, but no occasion is ever special enough. So it sits. And sits. Then, at some point, we decide we should have opened it years ago and now it's bad anyway, so there's no reason to open it, which gives us an excuse to hang onto it for a few more decades. So OTBN -- which is now always the last Saturday in February -- offers a great opportunity to prepare a special meal, open the bottle and savor the memories. "
(Tastings: Savoring a Storied Evening --- The Many Ways to Celebrate Open That Bottle Night; Sediment and Sentiment; Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher; 27 January 2006; The Wall Street Journal)

what a great idea that is, i think. instead of waiting for that special occasion to come, why not make opening that bottle an occasion by itself and enjoy a good sip with the good company of friends? at least this way, we will always remember the occasion in which that special bottle was open, and that's more important.

so mark your calendar - this year's otbn's going to be february 28!