Nature Abhors a Vacuum.
I have a lot of friends who barbecue, everything from back yard mess makers to champions on the competitive circuit. They are a dedicated lot, secretive, frequently purist, and almost impossible to charm. Those road guys, they aren’t doing that for kicks. That is a huge amount of work, setting up and breaking down every couple of days, and their lifestyle is more like Carneys than, say, pro golfers.
For so many years, even for generations, the smoke ring was the thing, an essential component upon which to be judged, criticized, and even banished if you couldn’t make it happen. Technology catches up to all of us eventually, even those determined to reside in the ancient arts. These days, judges for the KCBS and other BBQ judging organizations no longer take smoke ring into consideration.
People figured out how to ersatz it easy peasy, rather than letting it occur as a by product of proper processing. Turns out, exposure to carbon monoxide and nitric oxide (not nitrous oxide) do the same thing to meat that they do to human tissue — they displace the oxygen and fix the pink color of the myoglobin near the surface so it doesn’t darken. This can kill a human. Fortunately for that brisket, Elvis has already left the building.
Taking the Wind out of the Sails.
What has this to do with Sous Vide, you may ask? Those of you who have been SV processing for a while have heard, and/or participated in numerous conversations about how to achieve the most perfect vacuum in the bag. Equipment manufacturers would have us believe that a device called a channel vacuum will do the trick. Foodsaver is a large manufacturer of these devices that suck the air out of the bag as best it can, and then seal the bag using a heated strip. The seal is not always reliable, and the strength of the vacuum created is, well, underwhelming. The dedicated proprietary bags do, however, create a very profitable business model for the manufacturers.
Chamber vacuums are much more effective. The bag and food are placed inside a sealable chamber, from which ALL the air is removed, like in a science fiction movie. In the adjustably oxygen free environment, the bag is then sealed. These devices are heavy, bulky, and very expensive. Many of us switched to using Ziploc Quart and Ziploc Gallon bags in concert with Archimedes’ principle of displacement to achieve the minimum necessary vacuum and seal. We did so with some regret, as we were forced to abandon our romantic notions involving a wishful fantasy of oxygen deprived, culinary perfection. Once we got over the shattered dream syndrome, we realized that the obsessive pursuit of that perfect vacuum may have had more to do with neat-freakism, control issues and anal tendencies than actual scientific necessity. Much like the colloquial smoke ring.
Don’t throw that baby out the window yet.
This is not to say that vacuum processing is becoming obsolete, far from it. One of the most appealing features of Sous Vide is the combination of pasteurization and preservation. A steak or a piece of chicken that would ordinarily start to degrade after 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator will now stay fresh and viable for much longer, like an unopened carton of milk. That being said, it seems that most people opt to either consume within a day or two, or freeze their SV projects immediately after processing. This makes the maintenance of the pasteurized state unnecessary.
A Moment of Nordic Clarity.
After I had been beta testing Lipavi Gear for a while, the rep made an observation that I’m sure he had made before, but that I had neglected to consider. I must say, the Norwegians I have met, of which he is one, are extraordinarily polite and well mannered. They have a patience rarely seen in the States, which ends up making me feel slow on the uptake. After all, they endure four months of pitch darkness every year. That has to take some patience. Anyway, he cheerfully pointed out that the Lipavi dedicated racks extend above the water line in the vessels.
The containers are basically the same dimensions as your standard Cambro and Steam Table inserts, so it wasn’t because of a different container spec. I had noticed this, but I didn’t really think anything of it. Then my friend told me that there was a purpose to this — that being you don’t have to seal the bags in order to process.
Wait. WHUTT!? It finally hit me!
This could be huge. I thought about all the times people in the FB Sous Vide Group had shared their frustrations with bags that wouldn’t sink, wouldn’t seal, and/or wouldn’t hold their seal. It creates a lot of anxiety, and is enough to make some people throw their hands in the air and stow away the IC. I went through this myself, it was an ever present glitch. I thought of all the tense insomnia that we experienced wondering if we would wake up in the morning to discover a tank full of weak stock and an irreparably damaged IC. The Lipavi rep is a member of the group, too, so he watched while we fussed and floundered, all the while knowing it was just a matter of me coming to my senses that I might improve the situation.
So, From Sous Vide Comes Sans Vide™
Sans Vide™ processing will pasteurize just like Sous Vide does, but, since the bag is not sealed, the benefits of pasteurization will not remain after removing your package from the bath. That is, UNLESS, you seal the bag BEFORE the process is finished; you must also give the equipment the necessary time and temperature to recoup the pasteurized state under sealed conditions. So, while Sous Vide means “under vacuum,” Sans Vide™ means “WITHOUT vacuum.”
What’s the Norwegian word for Miracle?
The next link in this chain of non-coincidences was the fact that I had accidentally purchased some lentils at the store. I reached into the barley box, and didn’t really scout the bag. Lentils. Not a big fan. Beans in general, I buy in the can, I admit it, there, I said it. I never really explored the idea of SV processing dried beans, even though people asked about it. A bean is a bean, what’s the point. Plus, they’re gassy, so the bag will most likely burst, what a mess. And, of course, at SV temps, they will take FOREVER. I said a prayer. I put half the bag of lentils in a gallon bag, followed the water directions on the bag, hung the unsealed bag over the edge of the vessel, and set the Star Date Timer for four hours@183F. Here, I have a few pics.
I keep thinking “Milagro,” but that can’t be right!
- I shocked the beans cold, as is the standard SV practice.
- Much to my amazement, the beans were cooked.
- I won’t say perfectly cooked, because, like I said…not really a big fan.
- Lentils, and beans in general, always seem either undercooked and hard to me, or overcooked and mushy.
- There are a few salad recipes with Lentils in them that would be really good if not for this fact.
- For chili and most bean soups, this tendency to dissolve is almost part of the charm, providing thickness.
- Otherwise, meh.
- These were right in that middle region. Intact, but pleasantly yielding to the tooth.
- No pulp in the bottom.
- I didn’t use the stopwatch either, it was all whatever, whenever.
- I decided to proceed and prove that I was wasting my time.
- I reserved half the beans (I almost said I split the beans), so I could experiment with the salad model.
- First, soup cooked to death.
It’s bad form to predict failure.
- I added the usual suspects, some celery, onions, and carrots chopped fine.
- and a ham shank that someone at the church had donated to the cause.
- I moved on to other projects, and lowered the temp to 165F before I went to bed.
- I figured that would do it, by morning I should have brown split pea soup.
- But no.
Structural Integrity is the Richest Kind
- No matter what I did, those beans would not break down at 183F.
- Okay, how about a salad or two?
- There’s this well known Lebanese dish, called Salata Adas, very simple, basically the lentils, garlic, parsley, EVOO, S+P, lemon, that sort of thing.
- You can see, even with the tossing with dressing and so forth, the lentils’ structural integrity remains.
- I could be lying about the tenderness, how would you know?
- There is only one way to find out.
- Try it yourself.
- Even for a bean, that looks pretty darned good.
Well, if THAT’S the way Sans Vide™ is gonna be…
- As more of a side note, I have never been able to really get the Sous Vide model work for me when it comes to eggs.
- I usually chalk this up to the fact that I have cooked at least 10K orders of eggs over the years, and probably many more.
- Now that this particular scale has fallen from my eyes, I realize that with Sans Vide, eggs can be poached in a “double” bag, with that bit of vinegar, and there’s no peeling or estimating or wondering.
- You don’t need a time table, or a stopwatch, you just watch the eggs.
- Good Lord, what could be easier?
- After 2 cups of water and 1/4 cup vinegar in the Ziploc Quart come up to 183F, the eggs are simply cracked in to the open bag, or poured from a bowl.
- If you jostle the bag a little bit, you can see the quiver in the whites.
- This is an easy way to measure doneness.
- Once the whites appear stiff enough to pull, you lift out the whole bag and carefully lower into a vessel of cold water.
- Then, you can either store them in the cold water, or fish them out with a slotted spoon and serve.
Broccoli. Potatoes. Asparagus. And then some.
- Double bagged, the gasses from the broccolini can escape, so you get to keep that awesome color that you lose in a sealed bag.
- The potatoes can be done either way.
- If you still have passion for the battle of sealing the bag, hey, knock yerself out.
- We paid dearly for that skill, I understand.
- It’s hard to stop, once you’ve learned it.
- We were so proud.
- Again, the Broccolini, just about right for the Ziploc Gallon.
- I was surprised how fast the vegetables cooked in the 183F water, less than five minutes.
- I went a little too long with the asparagus, so it started to darken.
This could be big.