Sous-Vide in a Thermocook:
The week I finally had time to experiment with cooking salmon using my Thermocook Optimum as a sous-vide was the same week that one of the Masterchef competitors decided to try cooking Brill that way.
He failed to cook his fish; perhaps trying a technique for the first time on TV in a timed, competitive environment, wasn’t the wisest decision.
My inspiration was a couple of meals I’ve enjoyed recently – the first at Ascot and the second at the Boathouse in Henley – where I got the impression that the chefs had probably used a waterbath to prepare their dishes. Of course, since I hadn’t actually asked either kitchen for details of their food preparation methodology, that is just a guess. But, the fish was cooked and yet incredibly moist, with a slightly deeper colour than I’d expect from pan-fried, grilled or poached fish.
My research into how best to approach Sous-Vide salmon pointed to using some kind of brining to prepare the fish. I actually just sprinkled the fish with fleur de sel and let it sit for half an hour, before rinsing it and drying it. Next time I’ll try brining it properly for half an hour as recommended here. And, I picked up on the idea of adding a little olive oil to the ziplock bag, along with some pepper and a sprig of dill. That helps stop the fish from sticking to the bag and also makes it a lot easier to vacuum seal using water displacement. To vacuum seal without a special piece of equipment, you will need food quality zip-lock bags. Fill the sink with cold water and put each item into it’s own bag. Then, gently lower the bag into the sink and allow the pressure of the water to displace the air in the bag. Don’t let the water spill over into the bag, just carefully get as much air out as possible and ziplock the bag. It really doesn’t have to be 100%, the aim is to get as much air out as possible so that the bag doesn’t float in the water bath and to make sure the surface of the item being sous-vide cooked isn’t exposed to hot air. That would bake it, rather than sous-vide it. Oil, of course, does help.
To vacuum seal without a special piece of equipment, you will need food quality zip-lock bags. Fill the sink with cold water and put each item into it’s own bag. Then, gently lower the bag into the sink and allow the pressure of the water to displace the air in the bag. Don’t let the water spill over into the bag, just carefully get as much air out as possible before ziplocking the bag. It really doesn’t have to be 100%, the aim is to get as much air out as possible so that the bag doesn’t float in the water bath and to make sure the surface of the item being sous-vide cooked isn’t exposed to hot air. That would bake rather than sous-vide the item, potentially drying it out. Oil, of course, does help.
The temperature you chose for your sous-vide cooking can be varied depending on personal taste. I’ll continue experimenting, but my first attempt was cooked for an hour at 48C and my second attempt for an hour at 50C. Both were delicious but I think I preferred the slightly higher temperature version better. Online advice seems to vary from 40C through to 57C. I’d be hesitant at anything under 54.5C unless I had access to the sort of fish I would use for a carpaccio or tartar. I used very fresh salmon fillets (yes I am one of those dreadful people who searches for the packs with the longest use-by dates. I cooked them on the day they were bought and probably wouldn’t have been playing with the thermocook if I hadn’t been able to do that. Or I’d have tried a higher temperature. Now, I am curious about how well the technique will work on other fish.
I suspect this technique will come into its own in the summer – it creates a fish fillet which would be ideally suited to serving warm on a salad.
Meanwhile here are the step by step instructions for doing this in a Thermocook Optimum. If you have an alternative way to sous-vide, I hope it isn’t too hard to adapt.
There’s one part of me that thinks this is a lot of effort for something you can pan fry really easily. But, there are at least three benefits to cooking your fish sous-vide:
- It doesn’t dry out – the texture of the fish is consistent right the way through, flaky and moist, while cooked to perfection.
- It is a forgiving technique. You can leave the fish in the sous-vide for an extra half hour and it won’t spoil. So if you are trying to serve up a posh meal this makes it much easier and means you can spend time with your guests rather than slaving over the stove
- The flavour is subtly enhanced. If you add herbs or spices you need to be careful not to add too much because the process itself seems to add depth of flavour.
Of course for a lot of the time I use my Thermocook for everyday cookery. It makes wonderful mashed potatoes for example, without ANY effort at all. But, because it will heat for up to 12 hours and has a very precise temperature control, it is the perfect way to Sous-Vide for a small household like mine that doesn’t have space for a full Sous-Vide machine. The Thermocook is available for just under £500. At less than half the price of the Thermomix but with all the functionality, I think that’s something of a bargain.
Disclosure: Froothie UK sent me the Optimum ThermoCook to use and review at home. I have not been paid for this post and was not required to give the ThermoCook a positive write up. All opinions are my own. There are affiliate links in this post so that if you buy the Optimum Thermocook I will get a small commission.