Sous-vide for Beginners

002This was an experiment in sous vide cooking, which assumed I didn’t want to spend more money and space on new cooking equipment like a home sous-vide unit.

Sous-vide for those of you new to the concept is cooking very low and very slow. The issue of slowness will vary from item to item. Ideally you seal the food in a heavy vacuum bag, place it in water between 130 and 150F (55-65C) depending on the degree of doneness sought.

The result has a much more jelly like texture, closer to raw meat. It also tends to be moist and tasty.

Above you can see everything that went into my effort – eye of round roast, and some vegetables. The pot in the background is filled with water at about 140F, on a 6 inch electric burner.

I have found in the past that the small elements of an electric range when set to minimum work beautifully as slow cookers and it was that which inspired this attempt.

003 I browned the roast in a cast iron frying pan,after rubbing salt and pepper into the skin. This is unnecessary except for asthetics. If you don’t mind your meat looking slightly greyish then don’t worry about it.

I then stirred the onions and carrots into the pan, coating them with jus and remaining olive oil, covered them and put them in a 300 degree oven for two hours. The roast, once cool enough for me to handle – about five minutes – was popped into a ziploc bag and then into the water in the stewpot. The water was at about 140F and burner turned up to two. Over the next 15 minutes the temperature slowly dropped to about 130, and I reduced the heat to minimum.

For the next three hours I let the roast sit in water between 130 and 135. When the temperature of the water hit 135 I turned the burner off. When the temperature hit 130 I turned it on. I suspect just removing the lid could have got rid of this fiddling. (Obviously a sous-vide cooker removes the fiddly part.)

At the two hour mark I pulled the roast and stuck a thermometer in it: it was at 127. I also measured it again at the two and a half hour mark (131). I decided I wanted it a little more done as I wasn’t sure about the hygiene issue of half cooked and eventually pulled it from the water at 137.

finishedAt the two hour mark I turned the oven up to 400 added the potatoes, and left the veg in the frying pan in the oven. They turned to brown carmelized mush that didn’t look great but was extrememly tasty.

Here the finished product.

As you can see it was beautifully done and had a great texture. I normally don’t roast eye of round because it is too dry. But this way it made both a fine meal and the perfect cold roast beef sandwiches for a week.

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Viva Appassimento!

001If you are not particularly up on Italian wine, you may be unaware of the appassimento revolution underway.

Appassimento is the process of making wine from dried grapes. (There is a great deal more to it than that, but as a consumer that’s all you need to know.) The most famous – justly – product of this system is Amarone, an intense, alcoholic, fruity wine that ages forever and drinks beautifully with absolutely anything. (An Italian waiter friend of mine says he’d “drink it with anything, with my morning scrambled eggs.”)

Veneto is, like California in the sweet growing spot for wine. They can grow pretty much any grape. Which they have, producing endless bottles of junk Merlot etc.. But when they blend them with Corvina, Rondinello use the appassimento process, magic occurs. Otherwise useless grapes produce gorgeous wines.

For my money these are the bargains of the wine bin at the moment. You will almost never cross $20 for an IGT Appassimento, but it will be four or more years old in the store, and taste like Napa wishes their wines tasted like.

The most interesting segement of the market for the certified cork dorks, is that the technique is being applied to white wine now. Masi, a market leader in the technology produces Masianco a Pinot Grigio/Verduzzo wine that is cheap and so gorgeously constructed as to make strong men weep.

If you’re on a budget and want real wine, look for the words “Appassimento”, “Passimento”, “Appaxximento”, this last a Masi construction for trademark purposes. These are tremendous wines that the rest of the world has yet to notice.

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Binary Choices

This post is not about wine. At least not obviously. It is a little bit. But you’re going to have to read for a while before you get there.

We all hate binary choices. We search out people who can break outside the box, and find that one brilliant unseen choice. We write acres of columns about them in two dimensional games like chess and bridge and poker.

When someone you loves die, you are left in a horrid binary choice back test. What if you had done something differently then? What if you had said the unsaid? done the undone? Maybe it would have all ended differently.

But it can’t end differently. We are all dying. Some of us at a faster pace than others. I have tops 30 years to go. Some folks out there have 30 days or even 30 minutes. Once you grasp this, when you are trying to help someone you love all you can hope is to adjust the glide path. Maybe if you say this or that, you will lift the slope a degree. Or even if you cannot change the slope maybe you can add some degree of comfort.

It’s all an unknown. And even if it is known, still you question your decisions. Was it all a mistake when you walked away from university? Were graduate degrees all that you had to do? Or maybe in the last 10 years, once you finally grasped what his problems were you could have been more attentive. Maybe there was one more visit neglected or one more phone call avoided. The reality that unfolds from a binary choice has an infinity of bad outcomes possible. Outcomes that were your mistakes.

All my life I’ve not been good enough. From Grade One on, I was told I could have tried harder, done more, made things better. And I regret this one time that I didn’t.

So this isn’t about wine. at least not really. Tomorrow when you consider this drink or that, you will be making a choice. The choice that matters isn’t a 92 point wine versus an 88; nor is it a pinot versus a chianti. It is a choice to face up to the fact that expressing love with symbols is rather inadequate. Screw having a drink. Tell somebody you love them, that you’ll miss them. And maybe, if they didn’t have a bad commute, and the boss wasn’t horrible, and it didn’t piss down rain during their run, They’ll actually hear you and believe it. And then, and only then can you use a symbol, and get off with a rose or a glass of champagne.

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Cellar Math

“[Cellars] only work for people who intend to drink just a handful of wines from excellent vintages.”

Some people disagree with the above statement I made. Here’s my reasoning.

Let’s assume you drink 5 bottles of wine a week 50 weeks of the year. That’s 250 bottles consumption.

Let’s further assume you want to lay down the following basic cellar
– a chardonnay/Chablis to age 10
– a Riesling to age 15
– some kind of sauvignon blanc/young white 0-3 years
– a rose for 3 years
– a good rose for 8 years
– vintage blanc de blanc champage for 10 years
– vintage rose/ b de noir champagne for 10 years
– young bubbly for 0-3 years
– a decent medium red for 10 years
– a big red for 15 years
– an easy drinking red for 0-3 years

Now let’s say you drink
– 24 bottles of champagne a year
– 24 bottles of aged white a year
– 24 easy whites a year
– 48 easy drinking red a year
– 96 medium red a year
– big red 36 bottles a year

I’m going to assume the young whites, young bubbly and easy reds don’t need to be cellared.

Now your cellar only has to hold
– 11 years of two cases champagne, 264
– 16 years of one case Riesling, 192
– 11 years Chablis (and this is likely to short) times one case, 132
– 11 years of medium red has eight cases, 1056
– 15 years of big red times three cases,540

This gets you in at a 2184 bottle cellar. (and BTW this more or less describes my consumption)

Even if you assume every case above equals a single label (e.g 8 different varieties of medium red) you are only drinking 15 different labels per year. Frankly very few of us would get the vintage variation without that kind of specialization. What’s more if you only cellar a single bottle of Screaming Eagle for 15 years you have no idea if that wine is better younger or older. And call me an old cynic but a relatively few people, should they cellar a mere dozen bottles of a single vintage will recall what the bottle they drank 2 years ago tasted like.

I WANT to drink a MUCH larger variety of wine than that. The only way I can cellar wine AND drink a big variety is to drink vastly more AND to give away or sell broken cases of wine. (Or just let it go bad and pour it down the drain, something I’ve seen done in a few cellars of deceased winos.)

If you want to cellar wine, I’m all for it but explain to me with real numbers
– how much you drink
– the quantity you cellar
– the time you cellar for.


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Wine Spectator Carefully Avoids Sugar Question

IF you read yesterday’s post and comment you will see that the Wine Spectator is becoming a little touchy about their scoring system. You will also note two things.

Although I did not give the score for a “classic” as awarded by the Spectator – 95 Mr. Matthews tells us – I apparently implied St. Hallet had one. Far as I know they don’t, but I don’t worry about scores of classics.

Mr. Matthews does not address the notion that sweet “dry table wines” score higher in their system. This of course is what the last paragraphs of yesterday’s post says clearly and what the headline promises the article says. But possibly Mr. Matthews was so incensed by my spelling error he merely forgot to clarify the magazines position on this issue.

So to give Mr. Matthews and his magazine something to address:
– I think the Wine Spectator taste tests are about as scientific as the Pepsi Challenge. (IF you wish to dispute this claim I suggest you read articles posted in the AAWE Journal of Wine Economics.)
– I think that wines of high viscocity (i.e. “thick mouth-feel”) and high sugar content are prone to higher scores.

If the Wine Spectator wishes to claim their scores are more valid than the Pepsi Challenge they need to implement a tasting regimen similar to that employed by the IVDP.

Finally I apologize to all readers for my erratic spelling particularly with French. Alas I am nowhere near bilingual and it shows just about every time I use French terms and names in my column. I also avoid diacritical marks (e.g. e-acute) because they do not carry well across international operating systems. I also avoid apostrophes for this reason though I find that slightly annoying as a writer.

So to properly answer Mr. Matthews sneer I suggest the Wine Spectator research testing systems that depend on rigour beyond brown paper bags.002

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