Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Guest post by Mr. Skinny Geek - Cooking can be awesome!

This is a guest post by my hubby, Chris (aka Mr. Skinny Geek).  All opinions are our own nor were we paid for this review.  

Hehe.  She called me 'skinny'.  I love the anonymity of the internet.

As those of you who have followed my adventures know, I’m not shy about reporting in when things go hilariously and expensively wrong (see exhibits a, b and c).  The way I figure it, things have already gone to hell so someone might as well get a laugh out of it.

Exhibit A - Car Maintenance

Exhibit B - Fixing a toilet

Exhibit C - Cat prints in concrete flooring

So it’s with no shame or embarrassment that I tell you about my experience learning to cook sous vide with the Anova Immersion Circulator that I recently purchased for no other reason than that I had been threatened by my wife with baked chicken for lunch and I needed to throw her off the scent.

I hate baked chicken.  I loathe baked chicken.  Baked chicken is to cuisine what The Temple of Doom is to Indiana Jones movies – it’s unappetizing, simultaneously better and worse than you remember, but we make a lot of excuses for it because it’s healthy and at least it doesn’t star Shia Lebouef.  But when trying to support the Skinny Geek, the love of my life who is trying to eat right and stay healthy, Rule #1 is that sometimes you just have to eat it because it’s healthy, not because it’s delicious.  

Rule #2: always have a distraction ready.

And before torches are lit and pitchforks equipped, my distaste for baked chicken has nothing to do with Skinny Geek’s cooking – I’m the one that can’t bake a chicken breast.  Hers come out pretty damn good probably around 2 out of 3 times.  Mine comes out like Silly Putty coated in talcum powder.  Despite perfect thawing, an even coating of cheese or bread crumbs or whatever (anything to make it edible), and constant, careful monitoring it like it’s the only kid at the school bus stop with a tuba, I still can’t properly prepare the most basic meat on the planet.

It was time for a new approach.

Gadgetry.  A new toy.  Fire-and-forget cooking.  All of this for a $200 price tag so we could discuss proper allocation of money instead of baking chicken, and I wouldn’t have to revisit that revolting, dry, sizzling bird for at least two days thanks to Amazon Prime’s free 2-day shipping.  I really couldn’t pass that up – it was everything I ever wanted.

Sous vide cooking is way less French than it sounds.  In fact, I can’t actually think of a more American concept for preparing a meal: take a sensor capable of measuring the temperature of water to within fractions of a degree – the kind of technology that detect can the early stages of an infection in an underprivileged child in Africa, or measure temperature fluctuations of a spacecraft O-ring, allowing us to poke God in the eye with the power of mathematics and fire – and couple it with a tiny propeller and a heating element, clamp it to a pot and allow us to cook perfect meat, unattended and worry-free.


Ok, I’ll bring it down a notch, so you’ll really understand the gravity of the situation.  I can’t stress enough the simplicity in what I’m about to tell you: I bought a thing, I took it out of its box, I put it in some water with a bag of food and said food came out perfect with zero effort.  I feel like I need to look over my shoulder because I’ve just beaten the universe at a game of Texas Hold ‘Em.  I stuck out my foot and tripped Hermes as he sprinted amongst the clouds, I unraveled the threads of fate right under the noses of the all-seeing sisters and knitted a thong with the string.  I caught the Road Runner.

With science.

When you put meat in the oven at 400 degrees, the goal isn’t to bring the temperature of the meat up to 400 degrees.  The idea is to get the interior of the meat to the proper temperature so that fat, oils, enzymes, proteins and sugars interact in ways that sterilize it and make it pleasing to the eye and to the palate.  This actually happens around 60°C/140°F, so even after an enormous waste of energy, years of practice resulting in countless pounds of ruined meat, split-second timing born of years of experience, and a whole lot of luck, the center of your steak may be a perfect medium rare, but surrounding matter is still cooked slightly beyond the desired temperature and the outside is anywhere from deep brown to charred.  Yes, I realize that there are a lot of backyard savants who cook the perfect steak or burger every time with nothing more than a spatula and the liquid level in a beer can as the only timer.  I’m not one of those people.  I’m an average cook when it comes to meals-in-minutes and hilariously decadent snacks (remind me to tell you about crispy Mexican pizza sometime), but the mysteries of the grill elude me.

So instead of heating up an entire oven or begging the BBQ gods for their favor and mercy, all one needs to do when cooking sous vide is simply heat the water up to the desired, extremely specific temperature, vacuum pack the meat of your choice, and let Sir Isaac Newton do the cooking through convective heat transfer though water.

Because of the specificity of the temperature required, the complicated sensors required have driven the price of sous vide machines well out of the range of the general public (but I guarantee your favorite restaurant has been using it for years) and this is the device I settled on after a little research and a lot of waiting for the technology to come down in price.  You simply clip it onto the inside of a large pot (at least 7.5 inches tall), fill it to the indicated fill-line with water, and set it for the desired temperature and time.  While you wait, you trim and vacuum-seal your meat (or do it Archimedes-style like we do in the ‘hood: just bag the meat in a Ziploc and dip it in water – being careful not to let any liquid in the bag by keeping the opening above the water level – and let the water pressure force the air out) and when the temperature hits the desired mark, place it in the pot of water and prepare your sides.

When the timer on the device beeps, simply remove the meat from the water, open the bag and recoil in disgust for a few minutes because OH MY GOD IT LOOKS LIKE WHAT DEAD HUMAN FLESH PROBABLY LOOKS LIKE AFTER FLOATING AT SEA FOR A WEEK.  I really can’t say enough to prepare you for the fact that meat cooked to the proper temperature on the outside looks terrible.  So when the timer on the device beeps, simply remove the meat from the water, open the bag and place the meat in a very hot sauté pan and sear it for about 30-45 seconds per side with the seasonings of your choice.  And try not to look at it too much while you’re doing it.

Full disclosure: I’ve actually had sous vide cooking before; one of my old bosses once treated the department to steak and brought in a sous vide machine to cook it with.  I was extremely skeptical, and, as a steak-lover, was worried I was going to a special hell for eating meat cooked with water.  But it was probably the best steak I have ever eaten and it was made in the humble break room at work and seasoned with nothing more than olive oil, salt and pepper.  Knowing already that perfect steak is possible (which I will replicate soon to the amazement of my friends and family), I decided to venture into the unknown and take the unit for a test spin on chicken and pork instead.

I started with the pork.  We usually buy the huge pork from Sam’s Club – normally, I’d link to or place a picture of it somewhere around here, but I hesitate because it may not be viewable by law in your state or country.  It looks like… um… well… it wouldn’t look out of place on an oceanic mammal that’s happy to see another oceanic mammal of the female variety.  It’s a joy to carry it around Sam’s Club, lemme tell you.  That’s not sarcasm – we go on Sunday afternoon to the Sam’s in Denham Springs.  Watching the ladies in their hats blush while I cart around a whale penis without a hint of shame is the most fun you can have with the after-church shopping crowd. 

But anyway, with just one of those you can probably make around 30 or so pork chops.  We did so the other night then ghetto-vacuum-packed them and froze them in pairs.

I thawed them tonight in the microwave (though I later confirmed my suspicion that it wasn’t necessary – they can go in frozen, but at the expense of increased cooking time), followed the instructions in the aforelinked cooking guide, seared it briefly with some salt and pepper and after a lot of smoke, was presented with the juiciest, most delicious pork chop I have ever had.  It was cooked perfectly, with great texture, and juicy as... hell, you guys use your own imagination to complete that metaphor.  It was amazing.

My lousy kitchen knife and phone camera aren’t adequate to convey the deliciousness of these pork chops.  I had Izzo’s for lunch – the big, hate-yourself-afterwards nachos – and I still ate both of those pork chops.  I couldn’t even be bothered to use a fork after the meat-haze came over me.
Chicken, on the other hand, wasn’t an unqualified success – it suffers by comparison to the pork and the fact that this was just a proof-of-concept test to see how the machine would manage with one of the giant, mutant Sam’s chicken breasts.

That’s not a small knife.  Those things are huge. I always imagine the farmers being be too terrified to slaughter them by traditional means on account of their freakish size, so they make the chickens do gladiator-style battle with the other farm animals and only the chickens who can pin a full-size bull at the end of an 80’s fight-training montage are given a place of honor in the barnyard where they are drugged unceremoniously to sleep, then slaughtered.  It’s the only scenario that makes sense.
I put it in for the prescribed cooking time with a little butter, as advised by the website that I got the recipe from, sautéed afterwards for about 30 seconds per side and produced the juiciest chicken breast that has ever graced my kitchen.

No, it didn’t shrink.  In the time it took me to grab my phone, my wife and mother-in-law devoured at least half of it, thoughtfully giving me a chance to test refrigeration and reheating with the remaining portion, which I’m assured is as easy as the original cook.  I personally wasn’t as crazy about the chicken, but as I may have mentioned, chicken isn’t my favorite and this one was seasoned only with a little salt and pepper prior to searing and it just doesn’t have the natural flavor that pork does.  A little cheese or a sauce or something and I see good things in this bird’s future.  Well… not this bird obviously.  Some future bird that is perhaps now being lulled to sleep by roofies and the ambient sounds of the barn yard.

So all-in-all, the entire experience was an extremely pleasant surprise with only one unpleasant detail.  I don’t know how to end this post.  None of my usual fallbacks are applicable… I don’t have a single rant about a broken tool or device, no hilariously photogenic injuries or humiliations and nobody is unconscious or in transit to the hospital for any reason.

So, I guess I’ll let you guys know how steak goes.  I’m sure it’ll be fine and everything will go amazingly.  No issues anticipated.  What can possibly go wrong?

Did anyone else feel a chill just then?


  1. Ok, Mr. Skinny Geek is damn hilarious. Seriously.

  2. That was hysterical! Such a gripping post. LOL

  3. "I feel like I need to look over my shoulder because I’ve just beaten the universe at a game of Texas Hold ‘Em"

    Oh my, that was awesome! Well played, Mr. Skinny Geek!

  4. Ha! This sounds perfect for my fella. The only way I think I could get him to cook is through science.

    Also, how do you even get that much oil on your face when working on a car!?!

    1. Only him, Tiiina. Only him... If there is dirt, he will find it.

  5. I just saw one of these in the Sur la Table flier! I am definitely adding it to my birthday wish list. :)

  6. I enjoyed this post immensely!!! What a neat device. Thanks for your input, Mr. Skinny Geek! (Loved all the BSG references, btw)