Seasonal Flavors: Sous Vide

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Sous vide (adjective or adverb) sü – vēd: Relating to or denoting a method of cooking food slowly in a vacuum-sealed pouch at a low temperature so as to retain most of the juice and aroma.

– Merriam Webster Dictionary

We have some good cooks in Free Union, one of whom is my neighbor John Loehr. I’ve written about him before; he brings ramps from West Virginia each Spring. Also, he has told the Gazette’s Clover Carroll that he gives me all my recipes. Not true.

John is the proverbial Renaissance man: he has worked as a builder with Shelter Associates, cooked professionally at the bygone Charlie’s Restaurant (now Peter Chang’s) and the famous Virginian on the University Corner. Later, he decided to attend law school and now has a private practice. This practice used to be housed in downtown Charlottesville, but now, of course, since March, Free Union has a law office on Ballards Mill Road.

I’ve enjoyed deliciously cooked meats at John and Gwen’s home that he cooked using the sous vide method. John got his contraption for Christmas a few years ago and uses it a lot. He told me that he likes to experiment. “You can cook meat for eight hours or overnight, and it will still be medium rare, if you adjust the temperature accordingly.  Then you brown it on a hot grill or skillet—and it’s perfect.”

One can also purchase a special torch to finish/brown meat. John told me that it’s just a regular carpenter’s blowtorch, fancied up. “I bought one at the hardware store and spray painted it black so it looks like the expensive kind.”

John’s neighbor, Marc, also loves to cook using sous vide and uses his for incredibly delicious duck confit, beef cheeks, and tuna steak. Marc notes that this is the solution to taking a perfectly good piece of fish and not accidentally overcooking it. “It’s so easy, it feels like cheating.” 

When I first learned of this cooking method I thought, “low temperature for hours on end—what about microbes?” But Marc is a biochemist and John is still alive, so what do I know?

But here is a shocking recipe for sous vide: hollandaise sauce.  John told me that Sundays at the Virginian Restaurant started with 220 egg yolks and 5 lbs of butter. Hollandaise is tricky and will separate (break) if the proportions, temperature, and mixing are not just so. John decided to give hollandaise a try in a sous vide bath. He said it comes out of the pouch lumpy, but a good whisk makes it perfect.

John Loehr’s Sous Vide Hollandaise

  • 4 egg yolks
  • ¼ lb butter
  • Juice of one lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste 

Traditionally, white pepper is used so the sauce looks smooth and you don’t see any pepper. Mary Ann taught us to use black pepper at the Virginian, because she liked the look, and I do too. You can also add a little paprika if you really want to upset the traditionalists.

Set the sous vide at 1470F. Whisk everything together and put it in a zip lock bag, displace the air, submerge it in the water, and let it cook for 45 minutes to an hour or so. 

Remove the bag from the water, empty the contents in a bowl, and whisk it until smooth. (Alternatively, you can use a standard blender or an immersion blender.) The sauce will look broken and lumpy before whisking. Fear not, it will come together! The sous vide eliminates all the guesswork and worry about breaking the sauce due to overheating.  

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