Being busy with real life tends to not only kill the time that one has for maintaining an online presence, but also for doing imaginative things that are worth writing about, so the past year has mainly been occupied with rehashing the same old things rather than experimenting with new things that are interesting to share. I hope that is enough foreshadowing, so without further ado, I present to you my newest gadget…
Underwhelmed? Puzzled? Nonplussed? Save a couple of people who are really culinarily interested that I know, these have been the main reactions I have received when I’ve (over)enthusiastically been telling people about it. This device is basically a thermostat that controls the temperature of water that you put inside to ±0.5°C. The effect of this is that you have very precise control over how the food you cook in it is cooked. Now, why would I ever plunge a steak into water and cook it to a lovely medium rare at 55°C? Well, you wouldn’t. If we just plunged in the meat, vegetables, etc. in the water, then it would also act like a brine and enter the meat or vegetables and make them taste, well, watery. Instead, you put whatever you want to cook into food grade vacuum bags for cooking and you vacuum seal what you want to cook in them. This is done to maximize the water contact with what you are preparing, so as to carry over the maximum amount of heat from the water possible (very simplified, the air acts as an insulator, if you will).
Of course not all things need to be vacuum sealed but can merely be immersed in water, e.g. eggs and potatoes. For good measure I usually seal them in a bag with water to avoid messy cleanup of the machine itself if the eggs were to crack, or the starch leak out of the potatoes.
The panel on the machine lets you, more or less, easily set the target temperature to hold the water at, and depending on what you are cooking, you will need different target temperatures. The only downside about the machine is that the panel feels very plasticy and cheap, and the input is a bit sluggish, but apart from that it is rather decent.
Over the past few decades there has been a great rise in salmonella in eggs, and even though some countries do a lot to keep it at a manageable level, there have been some risks involved in eating soft-boiled eggs as the levels of bacteria might not have been reduced adequately. To counter this, various governmental health agencies have indicated that you must cook your food to 74°C for the bacteria to be killed (this is one of the most common knowledge items for safe cooking that I’ve come across). However, the truth is a bit more nuanced as the time also influences how many bacteria are killed. Different bacteria require different holding times at different temperatures to kill, so be sure to consult food safety guidelines for different bacteria before embarking on low temperature cooking if you do not want to poison yourself (and your guests). So what if we could put the egg at a certain temperature for long enough to kill the bacteria and keep a runny yolk? That sounds awesome!
While I do enjoy experimenting quite a bit, some kindly fellows have experimented on eggs before me and written an article, Culinary biophysics: on the nature of the 6x°C egg, about it in which they detail that the consistency of the yolk is not just a question of the temperature, but also a question of the time that the egg is held at that temperature. Fascinating! Since the article is sadly caught behind the great paywall of academia, there is an interesting blog post that illustrates parts of the article: here.
After having studied the article, I ended up at 63°C for approximately 60 minutes to get a consistency of mayonnaise with my yolk. As also indicated in the blog post above the consistency of the egg white is rather dissimilar to what we usually expect in a soft boiled egg, rather resembling onsen eggs (japanese eggs made in hot water baths). So to get the egg white to set adequately, I boiled them for 3 minutes and put them into ice water to cool rapidly to room temperature, then I placed them in a vacuum bag with 63°C hot water for an hour.
But wait, there is more, where did the eggs come from?
They were kindly supplied by our very own light sussex hens, scraping away in their hay in the garden. Let me tell you, there is something very special about a completely fresh egg.
Now, back to the food. Deshelling the eggs while keeping the egg white entirely intact is rather difficult. As you can see, I failed miserably with one of the eggs.
The eggs are placed on a dark loaf of quintessential Danish rye bread and garnished with Maldon sea salt and cracked black pepper.
And the consistency is, indeed, like that of a good mayonnaise. While the egg preparation time is about an hour and a half it is not the first thing you think at making when you are hungry on a weekday morning, but for a late weekend breakfast, it is just lovely.