A Gastrodad Learns His Limits

Last night I learned that life isn’t what it used to be, that is before kids. I just can’t go off and dive into risky culinary experiments whenever I feel like it. Particularly when the kids need a bath and a bedtime story. Admittedly, that was a lousy time to experiment with the tricky cooking technique called Sous Vide (French for “under vacuum”). In traditional Sous Vide cooking, food is vacuum packed in plastic bags then cooked for hours and hours at a very low heat, rendering the food incredibly tender and flavorful, particularly when bagged with a marinade. Thomas Keller of French Laundry fame does it, as do other pro chefs. It usually requires expensive thermal baths and batallions of prep cooks and sophisticated vacuum baggers and watchful health inspectors.

I had none of these on hand when I thought it might be fun to infuse some scarily lean pork loin chops with a hoisin-based, Chinese-ish bbq sauce (my household is smack dab in the middle of Project Pan-Asia after all). I thought the lean cut of meat might do well in a low-temperature water bath. On top of it, my kids were overtired, and needed a bath of their own (though of considerably lower temperature. Don’t worry, I didn’t attempt to cook dinner and bathe the children in the same water). So their bath was running, and two Christmas-themed books needed to be read. While my wife made sure they weren’t drowning, I chopped ginger and garlic, whisked together hoisin, soy sauce, sugar, honey, sake. I marinated and bagged the porkchops (no vacuum sealer in the house, I made do with some freezer ziploc bags). I put some water on to simmer. I immersed the bags in the water. Things were looking good. I felt pretty cheffy. Then I realized i needed a proper cooking temperature for my water. A few sites told me 160 was the temp. I walked from my computer to my water bath. It was boiling. I plunged my thermometer in. The roiling water was a punishing 220! Not good. The meat was turning grey, despite the bronze bbq sauce. It already looked dry, not tender. I took the pot off the heat.

My wife had the kids in PJs and ready for their books. I read to them, occassionally asking my wife for a temperature read on the water. We got the kids down. All the while, I alternated between fear of trichinosis and fear of overcooked meat (as if there’s any contest). 45 minutes after the start of this ordeal, it was time to plate. To get a little caramelization going, I seared off the chops in a hot pan. We served them with steamed green beans dressed with ginger, garlic, sesame oil, and soy sauce. The chops had a ton of flavor, but were as chewy as that gum that comes with baseball cards. But the sauce was excellent (2 tablepsoons hoisin, 2 chopped cloves garlic, 1 tablespoon chopped ginger, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon sake, 1/4 cup soy sauce). The three large glasses of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc helped too.

Moral of the story: low temperature cooking bath experiments do not mix well with the kid’s bed time. But I’m not about to give up on either one.
—Hugh

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