Heston Blumenthal’s triple-cooked chips

I have added another item to my list of kitchen utensils, the quintessential deep fryer, the pinnacle of fast, fatty food, that leaves you stuffed too early and regretting you ever went for fast food. So, why would you ever want one of these? Because deep fried food can be so much more than fast, fatty food that leaves your innards feeling a sense of regretable greasiness. It can give you soft chewy centres with light crisp exteriors like nothing else. And that is exactly what Heston Blumenthal’s well-known triple-cooked chips are: soft cores with the lightest, crispiest exterior that you could want. Beating out most other chips by a long shot, even from some of the better brassieries and restaurants we have here in Denmark.

deep-fryer

The first part of the cooking process is peeling, cutting, and simmering the potatoes until they’re just starting to fall apart. The starch granules are beautifully apparent on the surface where they have ruptured during cooking.

cooked-potatoes

And an extra gratuitous shot with potatoes falling even more apart (perhaps a bit too much, but the pot was a bit overcrowded so some cooked more than others). Because, here’s the thing, make more than you think people can eat. A lot more. Because they will eat a lot more. They are that good.

cooked-potatoes2

After cooling them and evaporating as much steam as possible, it’s time to actually use the deep fryer where the potatoes go in at 130 degrees in small batches for about 5 minutes so they create a hard coating for the chips, protecting the soft core from the more violent cooking later on.

frying-low

They are then left to cool and evaporate moisture again.

first-fried-potatoes

And finally, after hours of cooking, they are fried at 180 degrees and they turn out like this:

triple-cooked-chips

A centre that’s moist, fluffy potato, and an exterior that’s a light crunchy bite. Seasoned with some sea salt, they’re hard to beat, even in quite a few restaurants.

Sous vide duck leg with home made linguine and spring vegetables

One of the joys with having a sous vide setup at home is that you get to cook great tasting dishes with a minimum of fuss. Just vacuum seal the food, leave it at the set temperature for some time, remove it from the water bath and sear it with a blowtorch. Easy, and you get to play with fire. What’s not to like? So with some lovely duck legs on sale, I vacuum sealed four pre-seared duck legs and cooked them at 65°C for 48 hours (remember to pre-sear meat before leaving it in this long or you’ll wind up with a yucky unplatable mushy mass). But, before we get to that, there is also the companion food to go with it (would not do to just eat duck and nothing else, now, would it).

Asparagus and herbs

It is the asparagus season, so I thinly julienned some asparagus, and my wife grabbed some herbs and edible flowers to go with it as well.

Pasta dough

A nice, simple pasta dough was put together quickly with eggs from the garden and turned into nice fettuccine by my wife.

Duck leg sous vide

After searing with the blowtorch, the duck takes on a lovely crisp and caramelised exterior. The meat is extremely tender and succulent after having been developed for so long in the waterbath. Probably some of the most tender duck I have ever tasted.

Finished dish, duck leg with linguine and spring vegetables

And all there’s left to do is pair it with the fettuccine, asparagus, peas and edible flowers and presto, you have a very wonderful meal.

As an added benefit, the duck’s juices that are released as part of its time in the waterbath can be used to create a very powerful sauce full of duck flavour just by adding a bit of starch thickening, e.g. a roux or some pre-gelatinised flour (or corn starch, but I think the pre-gelatinised flour gives it a nicer texture and taste). Or, equally nicely, just use the juices to fry potatoes in. Buon appetito.

Sous vide chili oil

Flavoured oils come in many shapes and tastes: basil, mint, chili, garlic, chili-garlic, ginger… The imagination seems to be the limit, but the store bought ones seem a bit, well, flat, oftentimes, and they usually only come in quantities that they either go bad before they are used up, or get stale and boring toward the end as they have been left open for so long. So, why not make your own? Good thing that you asked that, because that is exactly what I planned on doing.

Spice mixes before roasting

The spices are roasted in the oven until crisp and flavourful. And just because spices are really beautiful, here are a couple of gratuitous closeups of the interesting spice landscape.

Gratuitous spice closeup

Another gratuitous spice closeup

After roasting, the spices are ground to help extract flavour from them in the oil. Grounding the chili spices has to be the most sneeze-inducing thing I have ever done in my life.

Ground chili spices in mortar

The spice mix is put into a vacuum bag, the oil is added and it is cooked sous vide for 8 hours at 70°C to pasteurise the oil and the spice mix. Sealing it in using a simple home vacuum sealer is impossible as it would just suck up the oil (unless you use some clever multi-bag tricks to avoid leakage), so instead I used water to displace the air out of the bag, but none of our pots were big enough to fit the entire spice-oil mix, so finally we had to use my daughter’s bathtub to get enough water depth (long live practical solutions). Cooking it sous vide at this temperature makes the oil keep a lot longer than it normally does when not cooking it. It is then stored in the fridge for another 12 hours to allow the flavours to really develop in the oil.

Chilled chili oil

The vacuum bags are highly glossy so it proved impossible to take a photo without a lot of highlights. It is then strained through a cheese cloth and nicely bottled up.

Finished chili oil

I tried to show that the oil is, in reality, entirely transparent and light in colour, but despite my best efforts it looks a bit murky in the shot here. After being bottled, I tried a bit of it on its own on a tea spoon (perhaps a quarter of a tea spoon). The taste started as “oh, this is quite pleasant”, “why, this has a bit of a hot aftertaste, but not too bad”, “air, I need air”. It is, indeed, incredibly hot, and a few drops of it suffices to make your entire dish pleasantly spicy. This size batch of chili oil is much too much for a single family to consume all by itself, unless you really love spicy food, but as a benefit, you can bottle it up in small bottles (remember to soak them in boiling water to kill any bacteria first) and give them as gifts to friends and family.

Sous vide eggs

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…

Sous vide supreme

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.

Sous vide supreme panel

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?

Light sussex hens

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.

Sous vide eggs, deshelled

The eggs are placed on a dark loaf of quintessential Danish rye bread and garnished with Maldon sea salt and cracked black pepper.

Sous vide eggs

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.