A couple of months ago Fran and I decided to switch our main meals from evening to noon, for a couple of reasons (to help with my BG (blood glucose) levels, and perhaps to control weight). As kids growing up in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, we had our primary meals at noon (something the current generation knows nothing about). Our moms didn’t work, and we lived in small towns, where we could ride our bikes home or simply walk home. We were not rushed.
Metabolically, reverting to such a schedule makes all the sense in the world: half of the day lies before us, so why not fill our system with great food (i.e., nutrition) at noon, so we can burn off those calories over a longer period of time?
During the evenings, Fran and I decided to either skip dinner (thus lose weight, so we wouldn’t go to bed after a “giant” meal, and be bloated with calories that do us no good while we sleep) or we simply have a light snack for the evening meal.
The problem with this plan is, how to enjoy a decent meal at noon, which requires time and preparation to produce, while we are away from the kitchen all morning (we are at the office during the morning hours). Should we crock pot all of our food? The answer is, yes, sort of. The technique we now use to prepare and enjoy great entrees at noon, during our truncated lunch break, is to prepare the entrée using “sous vide” (French words, meaning: under pressure – sous vide is pronounced “sue veed”, or if you use the phrase in Paris, then pronounce it “sue vee”).
Since our noon meals are still an experiment in progress, let me give you an eagle eye’s view of what we are doing: in the morning before I leave for work, meat is placed in a Food Saver bag, then placed in a machine which vacuums the air out of the bag, or the air is sucked out the bag using a hand held device.
I then place the bag in a sous vide machine filled with water; the water is pre-heated to a temperature ranging between 130-140°. The meat is then left in the hot water, for 2-4 hours. When we arrive home at noon, the meat is removed from hot water. I open the Food Saver bag, remove the meat, and dry it off with a paper towel. I then season the meat with salt, pepper, and other meat seasonings (such as, barbecue rubs), and put it in a hot skillet. The meat is seared to a suitable color (and its core temperature is elevated), and then it is ready for serving. We add whatever vegetables are needed to round out the meal, and voila, we have a very good lunch with tender, juicy meats and vegetables. The taste of the entrée is not quite what can be done with my Big Green Egg (barbecue unit), except I have saved 45 minutes to an hour, which is required to heat the charcoal and cook the meat.
To pull this off, I had to buy a sous vide machine (not cheap). I had to study the theory of cooking sous vide; I read and continue to read Douglas Baldwin’s indispensable “treatise-cook book” on sous vide (Sous Vide for the Home Cook). I had to buy needed add-ons for sous vide: lots of Food Saver bags and a vacuum machine or hand held unit to vacuum the air from specially built bags which permit use of the hand held unit. Lots of companies make vacuum machines, and these can be pricey, but we bought a Zip lock machine for about $50 at Wal-Mart, and it works fine. We also bought a hand held vacuum unit, while also works fine (I can reuse the bags made for the vacuum unit, which is a cost savings).
After a bit of practice with the sous vide process (some meats didn’t meet my expectations), the entrees cooked sous vide are now consistently juicy, tender, and tasty.
Back to the Douglas Baldwin book: he always recommends adding a sauce to accompany the meat (which requires additional preparation time, which we don’t have at noon). However, on weekends I have tried some of his recipes, and one in particular was so spectacular I will give you the recipe with my variations. This sauce is comparable to the finest we enjoyed while we lived in New Orleans (during my days at Tulane law school).
And that, in short, is how we transformed a dull noon meal into something we look forward to enjoying, notwithstanding the time limitations.
Post script on barbecue: on weekends I continue to use my Big Green Egg, but occasionally use the sous vide machine in special situations, in combination with the BGE. If I am going to barbecue a tougher piece of meat, say pork tenderloin, I will first “undercook” the pork in the sous vide machine (for example, I will cook the pork tenderloin for 2-3 hours, sous vide, at 120-130°, which is lower than the recommended temperature of 140°). I heat the barbecue to about 225°. The meat is then removed from the Food Saver bag, dry the meat with a paper towel, and season the meat with a variety of barbecue rubs. It can be placed on the barbecue grill at that time, or cooked a bit later. I cook it until the temperature ranges from 135° to 145°. The meat is always juicy and tender (never tough), and tastes . . . well, grand is an understatement.
At first, I was offended in tampering with traditional barbecue techniques. However, the sous vide has worked wonders on meats which are tough and/or dry (such as brisket or pork tenderloin), which are barbequed later on.
4 oz. fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced (canned mushrooms also work, but drain the liquid from the mushrooms)
60-100 cherry tomatoes, fresh, sliced into tiny pieces (Baldwin uses a 14.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes, drained)
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 clove (3g) peeled garlic, minced or pressed
3 tbsp. lemon juice (or the juice from a fresh lemon); zest the skin, so it can used also
½ tsp. dried thyme (2ml)
Salt and black pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a skillet, medium high temperature
Add mushrooms, turning them as needed, so as to turn color to light brown, texture tender
Reduce heat to medium; add garlic and cook until mushrooms are golden brown
Add tomatoes, lemon juice and some lemon zest (not too much), thyme, ½ tsp. Adobo seasoning; and cook until sauce is thoroughly heated
Reduce heat to low, add salt and pepper, and cover pan; check it occasionally, turn the mixture, and continue to heat until sauce maintains a liquid state, semi-thick texture. If you have a high quality pan, which will stay heated for some time, you may turn off the heat and let the sauce simmer. Continue to stir it occasionally. The sauce will be ready in about 30 minutes, but you may leave it up to an hour.
This sauce goes well with mahi-mahi, sea bass, beef, chicken, pork, halibut, and lamb.