Home Cooked

Home Cooked: Umami Butter: Shiitake & Kombu

I’ve been thinking long and hard for some time now on how to incorporate more umami into the food I sous vide. Being the incredibly lazy person that I am, my first instinct told me to google a product that captured the essence of umami flavour, I found 2 hits- Ajinomoto and Umami paste.

Ajinomoto has long had a “bad guy” reputation for their super seasoning that is MSG, while I’m not disputing the fact that there is a tremendous amount of umami present in MSG, I find that it leaves a drying and unpleasant sensation on the tongue, there had to be a better solution. So I delved deeper into this dubious sounding umami paste, a taste test done by this website seemed to indicate a strong preference for the umami paste over traditional MSG, very intriguing, but one problem- The paste isn’t sold in Asia. I guess if I were resourceful enough, I could get someone to send me a couple of tubes, but given my short attention span(ADD?), I was already digging through my kitchen cabinets for a solution. The answer came in a simple box of dried shiitake mushrooms.

I don’t want to go through the rest of the though process, but the I ultimately ended up with a Shiitake & Kombu seaweed butter.

So why Shiitake and Kombu? No good reason, simply because both ingredients have high amounts of glutamates, which the tongue perceives as umami, and because I just so happen to have found both ingredients lying around. There are tons of other ingredients high in umami- tomatoes, Dashi, parmesan cheese, fish sauce, soy sauce, ham, and so on. You can use all these ingredients, but be aware that they will impart their own flavour into whatever you are cooking it with. For example, green tea has good amounts of umami in it, but that doesn’t mean that you should be sprinkling green tea powder into every meat dish you cook right?

Why incorporate it into a butter as opposed to a stock or an oil? I use a lot of butter in Sous vide cooking. Firstly, it stays solid longer than duck fat(2nd most used fat in sous vide), making it easier to work with. And secondly, because I don’t have a professional vacuum sealer, I cannot have any liquids in the sous vide bag when I vacuum seal it, otherwise it will get sucked into the vacuum pump. Butter also adds a certain unctuous quality to whatever its cooked with, you don’t get that with olive oil. Thats a win-win-win situation. (I hope someone gets this reference)

I don’t really have a recipe because I pretty much guesstimated everything, but this is the crux of the process

– Cut the mushrooms into halves, dry out the seaweed and mushrooms in an oven. Low temp ~70C for about an hour. Test the texture- if you squeeze the mushrooms, they should crumble

– Finely grate the Shiitake into a powder, and finely crush the Kombu. Pass everything through a sieve to make sure that there are no large chunks.

– Put the soft butter in a mixing bowl with a whisk, run it at low speed and slowly add in the Shiitake/Kombu powder mixture, allowing it to incorporate (I was unfortunately too lazy to do this and I used the back of the spoon, you’ll see that my butter isn’t very well mixed)

– Use cling film to mould the butter into your desired shape, then set in the refrigerator.

Use as you see fit. Note that if you use salted butter, you should adjust seasoning accordingly.

Home Cooked

Home Cooked: Sous Vide Chicken Breast with Truffles 61.5C for 90 mins

This is inspired by a dish served at Eleven Madison Park in New York. I knew way before I got my immersion circulator, during the days when I used a rice cooker to cook sous vide, that chicken breast was one of the meats that really benefits from sous vide cooking (Even though I didn’t give it enough time during my first attempt and parts of it were inedible) I recently saw a video of chef Daniel Humm preparing chicken breast sous vide, and I immediately put it on my “to-sous-vide” list.


– Shave truffles into thin slivers

– Use your finger to gently separate the skin from the breast meat, but stop pulling when you reach the center so that the skin stays connected to the breast

– Place a layer of truffles in between this pocket of space between the skin and the breast, do this for both breasts, thats what she said.

– Slice a knob of butter and place it on top of the truffles, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper (Just sprinkle onto the truffle/butter)

– Flip the breast over, season the meat with salt and black pepper again, coat with a thin layer of herbs, I used rosemary and thyme

-Place the breast on a piece of cling film and roll to form a roulade, the cling film I used wasn’t big enough and I had to use two pieces, no biggie

– Let the chicken sit in the fridge overnight, then vacuum seal the whole thing(with cling film) in a vacuum bag

– Cook in a water bath at 61.5C for 90 mins

Pros: I had high expectations for this, and I wasn’t disappointed. Easily one of the moistest breasts I’ve had(At least 25% of the content in this post is probably illegal in some countries), an instant hit with everyone at the table. Meat was well seasoned, herbs really shone through, and the truffles added a nice subtle earthy-ness to the dish. With something cooked sous vide like salmon, for example, the meat achieves a completely different texture- its pretty close to sashimi, and yet the meat still flakes, something that completely defies logic, and not everyone can appreciate this seemingly new texture. But chicken breast is one of the meats that is hard to argue against doing sous vide(I may have confused myself with this double negative), the product is just incredibly moist and meat isn’t stringy, it isn’t something that you can achieve with traditional cooking methods.

Cons: I can’t think of any issues with the meat, but the truffles I used were the size of grapes and were pretty cheap, you get what you pay for, because it didn’t flavour the meat as much as I thought it would. Ideally, when you slice across the roulade, you get a nice circular chicken breast, a contrasting outer layer of black truffle, and the (almost) invisible chicken skin; all that was lost because the truffle I used was already physically handicapped, and I had also sliced them very thinly, a thicker truffle would have added some visual appeal to the dish

Thoughts: I had actually wanted to use a lower temperature, I know Heston Blumenthal uses 60C for chicken breasts, but I was in a rush and decided to increase the temperature, plus I had no idea how long I was supposed to cook them for. Would 1.5C make much difference? That’s something I definitely want to find out, maybe the next time I get my hand on some  fresh truffles….

Home Cooked

Home Cooked: Sous Vide Eggplant: 85C for 50min

I’d love to do a long writeup on the dish but I’ve just had a crazy weekend of cooking for my family, and I’m dead tired. So I’ll jump straight to the point.


– Vacuum Seal slices of Eggplant with salt, pepper, garlic powder, a splash of sherry vinegar, and butter

– Cook in a 85C waterbath for 50min

– Remove from bag and sear on high heat to give it a nice colour

– Top with a slab of mozzarella cheese, some tomato compote, and fresh chopped basil

Pros: The eggplant was soft, its not difficult to achieve a similar texture by simmering it in water, but the sous vide eggplant held its shape pretty well, you could cut into it with a fork and not have the whole thing disintegrate into mush. Definitely strong enough to act as a base for the dish. Flavour was well concentrated

Cons: That being said, the texture was nothing groundbreaking. I don’t think I would have been able to tell if this was done sous vide if I was served this dish blindly.

Thoughts: Considering the cost of sous vide bags, unless you’re doing a shitload of eggplants, or you have a running water bath at 85C(A lot of vegetables sous vide at this temp), I don’t see any real reason make any sort of special effort to cook eggplants sous vide. Also, running a 85C waterbath is definitely not for the faint of heart. Logically, you know nothing should go wrong, the immersion circulator is able to work with temperatures up to 90C, the sous vide bags state that you can use them in boiling water. But the amount of heat and visible evaporation is incredibly disconcerting. I had a water bath running at 57C for 3 days without batting an eyelid, but I was ready to crap myself during those 50 mins at 85C.

Home Cooked

Home Cooked: Polenta with Sous Vide Egg (65C)

I seem to find more interest in cooking than eating out as of late. Polenta isn’t traditionally a food you would eat in Asia, and I was pretty surprised when I saw it in the local supermarket. I’ve never cooked with polenta, but I’ve eaten it enough times to know its not only delicious, but its a great ‘canvas’ ingredient, in the sense that its incredibly verstaile- you can cook it multiple ways, and the liquid you cook it in greatly influences  the final product. Moreover, its incredibly easy and fast to cook, great for an afternoon snack. Leftovers? Throw them in the fridge to set, cut them up and sear them with high heat- Boom, polenta cakes. If theres a cure for cancer, I think it may be hidden somewhere in polenta.


– Roast garlic in an oven (Any recipe is fine, I use Keller’s: 150C for 90 mins)

– Allow the garlic to cool, then pass it through a tamis with a good knob of butter. Reserve the roasted garlic butter in fridge

– Place eggs in a 65C waterbath for  75min

Crisp up a few slices of smoky bacon, then cut into small chunks

– Boil 4 cups of chicken stock (Once again, you can use any liquid you want, depending of what kind of polenta you want)

– Slowly add 1 cup of polenta into the boiling stock, constantly stirring with a wooden spoon, give it time to cook and thicken

– Once cooked to the desired consistency, remove from heat and mix in roasted garlic butter. Season to taste

– Mix bacon into polenta, create a ‘hole’ in the center with the back of a spoon, and crack the poached egg in. Lightly season the egg with salt and pepper.

Thoughts: The dish is simple enough that I’m not going to do a pros and cons list.  I’ve done eggs sous vide from several temperatures ranging from 62.5C to 65C, and yes, every degree makes a huge difference when you’re poaching eggs. 65C yields an egg that has soft, smooth, velvety whites, and a yolk that doesn’t “flow” when you push your fork through it(it holds its shape, more or less), but is still incredibly creamy and moist. The creamy yolk goes well with the polenta, and is cooked enough that there is a perceptible difference in texture. The roasted garlic adds a tinge of sweetness and nuttiness to the polenta, and the bacon leaves a pleasant, never overpowering smoky flavour on the tongue, as well as a much needed crunch to an otherwise goopey dish(still delicious though).

Home Cooked

Home Cooked: Sous Vide Baby Back Ribs 57.3C 72h

Its a funny thing that when my mum goes on a trip to the US, the only thing she buys back for me is food. No, I’m not talking about the typical kinds of food that you would associate as a gift, Im talking about raw, baby back pork ribs. And trust me, if I sound like I’m complaining, I’m really not.

I didn’t want to make the same mistake with an inferior cut of meat(as I did with the brisket) so I decided to test out the ribs. Half of the ribs went into a pressure cooker with water, raw garlic, Bak kut teh spices. Outcome? Delicious, ribs had good pockets of fat within the meat, and there was a nice chunk of meat on each rib; taste-wise, it wasn’t mind blowing, but it was good enough to perk my curiosity. So I started looking for temperatures and times for pork ribs on the internet. Gathered in my little book, I have:

80C for 8-12h, or 68C for 24h (Baldwin Tables)

62C for 24h (From a blog, I can’t quite remember which)

57C for 72h (From this blog)

Seeing as to how my parents were on holiday and I would be putting two less lives at risk; I went with the lowest and slowest cooking method. I decided to do 57.3C for 72h, because I notice that my Immersion circulator fluctuates between +/- 0.2C, and I just wanted to be on the safe side.


-Coat ribs with a mixture of salt and sugar(Inspired by Momofuku, although salt+sugar isn’t exactly inspiring), let the ribs sit covered in the refrigerator for about 14h. Any leftover liquid at the end of those 14h was discarded.

-Ribs went straight into the vacuum bag, along with some duck fat(get used to this), a teaspoon of liquid smoke(and this too), and a dash of garlic powder.

-Ribs were cooked at 57.3C for 72h

-Removed from water bath and plunged into ice bath, then refrigerated for a day (Only because I planned this badly and they finished cooking at 10.30pm)

-Ribs were then reheated at 57C for 30 mins, and burnt with a butane torch.

Positives: The ribs were tender, very very tender. In fact, while I was trying to remove the ribs from the sous vide bag with a pair of tongs, the ribs broke apart under the force of its own weight. I wouldn’t normally throw the phrase “Falling off the bone tender” loosely, but I think this is as close as it gets. The meat was a perfect medium rare, and it was almost surreal to eat it because I normally associate baby back ribs to be cooked on the barbecue; while tender, the meat is often in the medium-well to well-done region. The meat was moist, not as moist as I would have liked, but everytime I felt that the meat was getting a little too dry, I would bite into a pocket of fat that would instantly bring everything back to delicious normality.

Negatives: While the bone on the rib released flavour into the meat as it cooked, I felt that the meat could have been a little more flavourful with its own natural flavour, the salt/sugar seasoning seemed to mask the taste of pork; then again, this is probably my own fault because the meat was fairly cheap. I also found it difficult to get a nice crust on the meat with my butane torch, it certainly didn’t brown as fast as I thought it would (Pork vs Beef?). The doneness of the meat was also fairly inconsistent, the center portion of the meat had a significantly redder interior than the outer portion of the meat(Im talking about from where it was cut), I would think that after 3 days of cooking, the entire slab of meat would have cooked through consistently.

Thoughts: Overall, I was very pleased with the results. 3 days is a long time to wait, for any piece of meat. I’m not sure if you can achieve the same texture with any of the shorter cooking times and their corresponding temperatures listed above, but I can vouch that 57C for 72h yields a baby back rib that is falling off the bone, a texture and doneness of meat that cannot be replicated without a controlled water bath. Another thing to note is that restaurants that use a Cryovac, or any other professional vacuum sealing device, have a significant advantage because they are able to seal at a much higher pressure. To quote http://www.foodsavervacuums.com:

“Apparently the vacuum pressure opens the pores in the meat allowing the marinade to penetrate the meat more easily. Then when the vacuum seal is released the meat will suck in the marinade that is around it. Pretty cool stuff!”

With a stronger seal, the meat is able to re-absorb much more moisture, which might explain why I felt the meat was a little dry. I’m still stumped as to the inconsistency of the done-ness of ribs though.

Home Cooked

Home Cooked: Sous Vide Brisket 55C 48h

The first time I ever used my immersion circulator- I was given a huge chunk of beef brisket. It was definitely not number one(or top 5, for that matter) on my list of things to sous-vide. Why? Because there is a lot of conflicting information and debate over the temperatures and times used for beef brisket. Why? Because brisket contains alot of collagen and elastin(More on that later). The two basic trains of thought for cooking brisket sous vide is as follows, low and very slow, which I had gone for, or high and (relatively) faster. Baldwind tables provide 2 choices:

57C for 36-48h

80C for 24-36h

-Keller uses 64C for 48h

-Egullet members and various blogs mention 55C for 48h

I didn’t give it much thought as I hadn’t cooked brisket sous-vide prior to this, so I went with the lowest and slowest option.

Preparation was simple enough, Brine meat in a 4% Salt, 3% Sugar, teaspoon of Liquid Smoke solution for 2.5 Hours.

Remove and pat dry, sear fat cap with a blowtorch to render some fat (To flavour the meat as it cooks)

-Season one piece with salt, pepper and a touch of garlic powder and vacuum seal, season the other piece with salt and pepper, vacuum seal with duck fat

-Cook at 55C for 48h

-Remove both bags, plunge the brisket with duck fat into ice water, immediately freeze (I have not eaten this)

-Remove the other brisket, cut off fat cap(very chewy), and sear on both sides

I am a safety hazard to everyone in the house

Positives:  Meat had a nice doneness, I expected it to be in the Rare to Medium-rare region, but it felt like it was more between the Medium-Rare to Medium region. The liquid smoke really added a nice smoky depth of flavour to the meat, have to go easy on using it. I think the brine added enough seasoning to the meat for my palate. Also, the immersion circulator is so much more powerful than the PID+Rice cooker combo, its ridiculous. I turned away for about a minute or so and the temperature had already gone up by about 10C, the rice cooker used to go up in 0.1C increments

Negatives: There was a lot of connective tissue present in the meat. The meat itself was nicely cooked, but the elastic tissue held the meat together and made it very tough. The meat was also fairly dry, it wasnt completely dried out, but it wasn’t as moist as I would have hoped for. So what went wrong?

Thoughts: After probing around for answers, I discovered that the elastic tissue that holds the meat together are elastin, and collagen. Elastin needs to be physically destroyed (pounding or grinding), whereas collagen will melt as it is heated, and it begins melting at a temperature of 55C. Based on this, my theories were: 1) That was a cheap cut of beef(US$16 for the whole slab), with more elastin than a normal cut of brisket  2) The brisket wasn’t cooked long enough at 55C, or the temperature wasn’t high enough for the collagen to fully melt, or a combination of both. Taking whatever information and theories I had, I went over to egullet to seek help, the replies I got:

Keep in mind that the speed at which the reaction happens is temperature dependent. The lower the temperature, the longer it takes. Probably, you needed to could it longer. I would recommend cooking at 56 or 57 celsius — at 48 hours it should be fork tender.

Also, you should trim all the excess fat you can before cooking. It won’t render at these temperatures. “The flat” part of a brisket has very little interior marbling unless you use Wagyu beef or a very high-quality brisket. A lot of butchers only carry the middle unmarbled section. Such meat will become tender when cooked long enough BUT it will also seem somewhat dry. Part of a brisket has a lot of interior marbling and gives much nicer results sous-vide — although that part of a brisket also has parts that are so fatty that they really are best chopped up after cooking and used for making hash the next day.

All that being said, brisket is very hit & miss because the quality of briskets seems to vary a lot even from the same purveyor. I also personally feel that the best briskets while very nice are not nearly as delectable as sous-vide short ribs at the same temperature. I have never had a dinner guest do anything but rave about short ribs and how amazing they are. The best briskets that I have done people have liked quite a bit but they don’t beg me to cook it again like they do with short ribs.”

I had the same brisket-flop last Xmas (Frank Hsu quoted me in this blog ), and I also suspect I had a cut of “brisket” that was not beef breast but some other cut containing more elastin than collagen (which according to Douglas Baldwin occurs in some muscles in the rump). Since then I always look for a cut which has obviously been cut from the ribs, i.e. I can see the intercostal muscles. Apart from this flop, my briskets 55°C/48h always were fork-tender and succulent. I have no experience with short ribs.
My other preferred cuts are “brisket” from veal 55°C/24h, veal shoulder 55°C/5h (16h was too much, falling apart), beef shoulder 55°C/50h, which all came out even more tender than brisket.

Conclusion: The next time I decide to have the other brisket sitting in the freezer, I’ll let it reheat/cook at 57C for another 24 hours, it’s probably going to be very dry, but it’d be interesting to note if the extra 24h at a slightly higher temperature has any effect on the collagen of the meat.