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Better cooking through science

Chicken cooked sous vide, then crisped in its skin

Chicken at Little Alley Steak

When I reviewed Little Alley Steak last week, I didn’t fully express my geek admiration for the exemplary Springer Mountain chicken the kitchen prepares. The white and dark meat arrive fused together, perfectly juicy without being pink, and wrapped in perfectly crisped skin.

Think about it: have you ever made chicken that looks like this? It’s no simple recipe.

For starters, the kitchen uses a daub of transglutaminase — a binding agent for protein that chefs have dubbed “meat glue” to make the boneless dark and white meats adhere together and to a wrapping of chicken skin.

Next, the chef seals the chicken in an airtight, vacuum sealed plastic bag – a technique known by its French name, sous vide. The sealed bag then cooks gently in hot water, which is agitated and heated with an immersion circulator until it cooks thoroughly.

Before service, a cook removes the chicken from a bag and pops it into a fryer to crisp the skin and heat the interior. Sliced, then plated with a flavorful jus, this chicken tastes like the model of simplicity.

Many chefs today use advanced cooking techniques in this fashion — to enhance rather than to show off. In other words, they’ve started to move away from foam for its own sake.

But it also means that professional kitchens increasingly use equipment and techniques that most home cooks wouldn’t recognize.

Still, I wouldn’t mind learning how to incorporate a little transglutaminase into my own kitchen.

- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog

23 comments Add your comment

Mark

May 15th, 2012
7:43 am

Trendy stuff, but does this concern you at all: from an ABC news story

The U.S. Department of Agriculture insists transglutaminase is safe, but expert endocrinologist Dr. Bart Duell cautions that fused meats need to be cooked to at least 165 degrees to kill any bacteria. That’s the temperature of a well-done steak.

Read more: http://www.abcactionnews.com/dpp/news/health/meat-glue-move-over-pink-slime-some-beef-stuck-together-with-transglutaminase#ixzz1uwCTbtWk

Sous vide sure doesn’t reach 165.

Reds

May 15th, 2012
7:56 am

I love geeky food. I am a big time Alton Brown fan because I love the way that he explains the science aspect of cooking. His recipes are generally nothing out of this world special, but they are good solid recipes, and his techniques are great for teaching.

jimmy

May 15th, 2012
9:55 am

that recipe is straight out of the momofuku cook book. I made it once and am not sure it was worth the effort. Now I have a 99% full packet of transglutaminase in the freezer if anyone wants it.

Edward

May 15th, 2012
10:02 am

To me, the “molecular gastronomy” fad is one that needs to die. However, some techniques like you’ve pointed out here are welcome. Sous vide isn’t really a new method, it has simply been improved with technology. Likewise, the judicious use of “pearls” made from various ingredients can be a pleasing pop to the palate. I hope to never see another foam, however.

observer 1

May 15th, 2012
10:18 am

Mark, you are incorrect. An emersion circulator can be set up to 180 degrees. If fact, it is necessary to set it that high to cook vegetables.

jimmy

May 15th, 2012
10:37 am

This recipe is straight out of the Momofuku cookbook. I tried it and am not sure it’s worth the effort. So now I have some transglutaminase in the freezer if you want it.

1164mgc

May 15th, 2012
10:41 am

My Mom was cooking “sous vide” back in the 70’s when she warmed up my Banquet frozen salisbury steak for lunch every day before school. Come to think of it, my strawberry pie came with “foam” on top too. I guess she was one of those pioneers of science.

Mark

May 15th, 2012
11:41 am

@observer1: you’re technically correct, but sous vide chicken would be cooked at a much lower temp–140 – 145 typically. Though I must admit that the fear of bacterial contamination of transglutaminase would not be enough to preclude me from eating it. But I agree that it’s a gimmick, one that can be fun but which likely will always remain a novelty. A perfectly roasted chicken will in the end trump a bacterial enzyme.

PMC

May 15th, 2012
12:40 pm

Wouldn’t the act of putting the meat in the fryer bring the temperature up to the aforementioned 165?

Sous Vide isn’t that hot of course, but the fryer is.

James

May 15th, 2012
12:45 pm

@PMC – it wouldn’t be in the fryer long enough (if it were, it’d no longer be succulent).

Drew

May 15th, 2012
1:10 pm

Holding foods for certain prolonged times is enough to kill the harmful bacteria in question. If I’m not mistaken there are USDA guidelines that show how long a particular meat must be held and at what temperature. For instance (and this is merely a random guess not a real guideline) you may have to hold chicken at 140 for 18 minutes to render it safe to eat. In the above article I think the good doctor is simply referring to cheap pieced together beef that may or mat not be cooked medium rare like a steak. In other words the article has NOTHING to do with this method or dish.

M. Johnson

May 15th, 2012
1:11 pm

it looks pretty, but no thanks. I can make perfectly fine fried chicken in a cast iron skillet without glue, French techniques or Momofuking it up.

MonsantNO

May 15th, 2012
1:48 pm

Monsanto’s company motto used to be “Better living through chemistry.” Look what they have done to the food supply and the planet. God/mother nature put everything here just the way we need it to be to be healthy. Screwing with it is what got us where we are today.

jack trent

May 15th, 2012
2:09 pm

this can be found in the momofuku book

Peter the So So

May 15th, 2012
2:30 pm

I love their frankenfurter..

Bento

May 15th, 2012
4:27 pm

MonsantNO: “God/mother nature put everything here just the way we need it to be to be healthy.” WTF does that mean? Why did they give us brains to figure this crap out then? I’d prefer not to think of myself as a mindless cow left to graze in a pasture and chew my cud.

Theresa

May 15th, 2012
6:26 pm

“God/mother nature put everything here just the way we need it to be to be healthy.” Like poison ivy and uranium? Nature isn’t always rainbows and sunshine.

Theresa

May 15th, 2012
7:16 pm

And too much sunshine can give you melanoma!

Undydog

May 15th, 2012
10:56 pm

Check out the lectures in Harvard’s science in cooking series on itunesU on transglutaminase given by Wylie Dufresne.

Baltisraul

May 16th, 2012
10:29 am

If it tastes as good as it looks, count me in. Don’t think I can duplicate this method in my kitchen and have it turn out that way. I hate dissapointments at home, it makes me moody.

Edward

May 16th, 2012
10:31 am

I ate at Dufresne’s WD-50 once. Thank God we found a San Marzano pizza place just down the block afterwards, otherwise we’d have starved to death. The food at WD was so pretty… and expensive.

Jethrine

May 16th, 2012
11:48 am

John Kessler

May 16th, 2012
12:33 pm

Thanks for the tip, Undydog!