Culinary Arts Project

Vacuum-infusing a Watermelon, Sous Vide, and Salade Nicoise – Day 67


  • Magic infusing liquid: Yuzu juice + Elderberry Cordial. This combination of sweet and sour tastes incredible.
  • To instant peel a hard boiled egg – roll it around hard on the counter till it’s all broken like a web and you can peel it off in once piece instantly.
  • “Snap” your green beans AFTER boiling them – if you cut the ends off before boiling they tend to absorb more water and become a little more watery – it’s better to cut “on the bias” after they’re cooked.

Today we all experienced incredible new tastes. Chef Hervé took the afternoon shift and taught us all about Sous Vide, Low Temperature Cooking, and Vacuum Infusing. Sous Vide (literally “Under Vacuum”) is a recent way of cooking where meats or vegetables are vacuum sealed in a bag, and then put in circulating water at the desired “final temperature”.

Chef Herve demonstrating the vacuum machine.
Chef Herve demonstrating the vacuum machine.
Eggs "sous vide"
Eggs “sous vide”
Pickled watermelon rind
Instantly pickled shaved watermelon rind

Conventionally, if you were cooking a medium-rare steak you want an internal temperature of 145F, but you would set your oven way higher at 400F, and wait for the meat to get to that temperature. In all probability, the outside will be more done than the inside, and getting it perfect without drying it can be tough. In Sous Vide cooking the meat would be put in 145F water for many hours, and the whole meat will gradually come up to that temperature but no higher. Perfectly cooked! (and super moist too because nothing is drying out the meat). Meat will be grilled before (or after or both) to get that nice browning flavor to boot. (Apparently Jean-Georges where I’m hoping to extern does all their vegetables this way.)

What this all means is that you can cook food to the exact temperature you want and get PERFECT results every time. Chef Hervé really brought this home by showing us eggs that were cooked at 57C, 62C, 63C, 64C, 65C, etc… The one degree differences were incredible, and we all agreed 62.5C would yield the perfect poached egg. The 65C egg is at the exact temperature that the yolk is “like playdough” and you can fashion it in to a square – crazy.

Chef Dominique demo's the salad nicoise
Chef Dominique demo’s the salad nicoise
Got the thumbs up for my nicoises
Got the thumbs up for my nicoises
Megan building her profiteroles.
Megan building her profiteroles.

The real magic today, however, was using the vacuum machine to infuse foods. Watermelon cubes were put in a bag with a mixture of Yuzu Juice (a nice sour juice) and Elderberry Cordial (mellow sweet). This bag was put into the vacuum machine which first sucks all the air out of the watermelon and then when exposed back to atmospheric pressure, presses all the juice into all the spaces where the air was. It all takes about 10 seconds, and tastes incredible. Chef also took watermelon rind peelings and infused it with a pickling juice. In 30 seconds we had incredibly tasting watermelon rind shavings. The whole class couldn’t believe what we were tasting. Part 2 of the class is tomorrow. We can’t wait.

The morning was Salade Nicoise for half of us, and Profiteroles over Chocolate for the other. I was in the salad group, and tried to remember all the tips: I infused my wine vinegar with crushed garlic (not diced) and s&p before adding the oil, boiled the eggs for exactly 11 minutes, used waxy potatoes cooked with the skin on before cutting and peeling, infuse the potatoes with dressing while they are still warm, cooked the beans before ‘snapping’ them, peeled the green peppers to make them more supple, carefully ‘vinaigretting’ each item separately, alternate between green and not green on the plate, don’t overlap the rim, cut the nicoise olives in half, super fine chop the parsley, and present using a tray. It was worth all the trouble, all the elements got two thumbs up from the chefs.

Keep your eyes open for a meatball competition coming soon!

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