Cooking With Local Chefs

Cooking with ... Chef Jim Copening: Under water cooking a la sous vide

Chef Jim's Moroccan Lamb Shanks 
 PROVIDED PHOTO
Chef Jim's Moroccan Lamb Shanks PROVIDED PHOTO

Cooking is the science of maximizing deliciousness. There's a lot of science involved in how ingredients work together in a recipe, temperatures used for cooking and baking, and the chef's grab bag of culinary techniques. Like anything else in the modern world, technology is often used to help us to make the science of cooking work.

So, let's talk about the technique of cooking called sous vide, which means "under vacuum" in French. Using this technique, food is vacuum packed and submerged in water at a low and constant temperature for a lengthy period of time (slow and low).

The technology used for this technique is fairly simple. The tools you need are a vacuum sealer and a sous vide cooker or immersion circulator. It's actually easier than the equipment and name suggest and produces tender, juicy and delicious results, not possible using other techniques.

Simply place the food in a vacuum-sealed bag or canning jar and immerse in a water bath that will maintain a constant temperature within a degree or two. When the cooking time is up, remove the food from the bag, sear it or use another finish and serve.

So, why cook sous vide?

1. Most importantly, the sealed bag keeps the moisture within the cooking package. This braises the food, so ingredients are much juicier and tender than using other methods.

2. You don't need to watch the clock or worry about oven or grill temperature fluctuations. Using these other methods, it's easy to overcook meats and other foods if you happen to look away for a minute or two or don't time the cooking precisely. A few extra minutes in the sous vide won't affect

the cooking outcome.

3. Vacuum packing preserves food, prevents it from drying out, and stops its decay. Even ancient cultures wrapped foods in leaves, packed foods in salt, or sealed foods in animal bladders (it's not recommended that you try this one).

4. The sous vide cooker ensures accurate temperature control and can warm the water bath to any low temperature, maintaining the same level for hours or even days.

5. It's easy to do, maintenance free, and pretty cheap. You can find sources of sous vide equipment on the web as well as recipes. (Just be sure to use high quality polyethylene bags for vacuum packing. Bags with polyvinyl chloride or PVC shouldn't be used.)

Chef Jim's Moroccan Lamb Shanks

Lamb shanks (as many as needed for the group being served)

For meat rub:

Salt and pepper

Olive oil

Ras el hanout, Moroccan spice blend (buy already mixed at a gourmet shop, or you can make it yourself using a recipe on the web such as the one on epicurious.com -- www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/ras-el-hanout-101070.

Rub the lamb shanks with kosher salt, black pepper, olive oil and the Moroccan spice blend, ras el hanout. Seal the shanks in individual polyethylene plastic bags using a vacuum sealer. Place the bags in a sous vide cooker at 144 degrees for 48 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the bag from the sous vide and pour the juices from the meat into a tagine cooking vessel or Dutch oven. Place the shank(s) in a roasting pan and roast at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Place the roasted lamb into the tagine or Dutch oven with the juices that were poured from the vacuum bag, and simmer at low to medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes. Pour the liquid from the pan over the lamb to serve. Serve with rice, couscous, or other grain, and braised or stewed green leafy vegetables (kale, collard greens, spinach, or chard).

Chef Jim Copening, of Arts & Eats, can be reached at artsandeats@gmail.com. The restaurant is at 1114 12th St. W., Bradenton, in the Village of the Arts. Information: 941-201-6647 or artsandeatsfl@gmail.com.

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