Sunday, June 20, 2010
Further Adventures Sous Vide
After the brisket I cooked sous vide for corned beef and pastrami, I cooked a whole batch of pickled pork tongue the same way – 48 hours at 135º F. Again the flavor was great, but the meat was not as tender as you get from traditional methods of cooking. I diced the tongue and simmered it gently in an adobo sauce, at which point it was really tender as well as flavorful. For both these meats, I think I'm going to bump the temperature up in the hopes of getting a more tender result.
I tried salmon sous vide, holding it briefly at 105º, the temperature at which the fish proteins just begin to coagulate. Imagine eggs just barely set. Not a winner for my family in the texture department, and I didn't taste any improvement in the flavor, so I'm not planning to repeat this one.
Then yesterday I was facing the task of cooking a whole pork loin for a party last night. This was a loin from the first of the super-sows I got from Stan, so I knew it would have a great flavor, but might be a little chewy. With sous vide cooking promising to make it tender, leave it juicy, allow me to serve it medium-rare – as well as leaving my afternoon free for a swim in my friend's pool – I had to try it. So after a couple hours in my smoker to add some flavor and bring the meat up to body temperature, I rubbed on a little mustard and sugar, salt and pepper, and some fresh, minced rosemary and sage. Then it was vacuum-sealed and went into a 140º water bath for the next 8 hours. To accompany it, I picked these red currants from my yard and cooked up this year's stash of jelly.
I really didn't know what to expect when I started carving, but the result of this trial was mind-blowing. Incredibly juicy, tender, flavorful pork, safely served medium rare. Not one person trimmed off the fat around the outside. One guest, who came back for 4 or 5 helpings, said, "I have to tell you, this is the BEST meat I have EVER eaten in my ENTIRE life!" By the time I left, the platter had been licked – and I do mean licked! – clean.
Now remember: this life-changingly delicious hunk of meat came from a mature hog, which is conventionally considered undesirable or barely edible. The animals we send to slaughter are typically juveniles (around 10 months old for hogs), because that yields the most tender meat, and consumers prize tenderness above all else. Until I told Stan I'd take his cull sows, the best he could do is grind the meat up and donate it to a local school. At the slaughterhouse, they all laugh into their Amish beards about such "old" animals and the idea that anyone would be crazy enough to try and do something with them. By making such meat fork-tender, while preserving its deep, mature flavor, sous vide would seem to be the magic technique for making a silk purse out of a sow's ear.
This was so successful, I now plan to make all my bacon this way: cure it in a vacuum-sealed bag (which should reduce the curing time in half), then "cook" it in the water bath at 140º for about 6 hours, then cut the bags open and finish the bacon in a hot-smoker while liberally basting it. If it turns out anything like the loin (and why wouldn't it, since the belly comes from just below the loin?), this should be the best bacon ever: full of flavor, meltingly tender, and still juicy.
I can't wait to see!