roasted chicken
Deep frying your Thanksgiving turkey is popular for a reason – it happens to be the same reason that Lipitor is popular, but that’s beside the point.  Unfortunately, every year, 10 million* Americans start house fires from attempting to fry their bird.  And in addition to the arson hazard, deep frying a turkey requires a ton of oil, which, let’s face it, you’re not going to filter and reuse.

Luckily, the folks at Char-Broil have created The Big Easy Oil-Less Infrared Turkey Deep Fryer, and were kind enough to loan me a unit for testing.  This cooker looks and works just like a conventional turkey fryer, except it uses no oil.  Instead, a ring of gas burners heat up the inside of the cooking chamber, roasting your meat evenly and allowing the fat to drip down, with no risk of flame-ups. 

Rather than test the machine with a turkey, though, I thought I’d try out a few other dishes.  Check out my video review after the jump.

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sous vide flank steak tacos
Sous vide strikes again! This time, we’re exploiting science for perfectly medium-rare, ultra-tender flank steak.  And, since we’re throwing ethnic authenticity to the wind, why be predictable with our condiments?  Salsa and Monterey Jack are out, red onion compote and chèvre (goat’s cheese) are in.  If you’re not a sous vider (yet), you can cook your flank steak however you like: broiled, grilled, smoked, or fried.

Makes: 4 Tacos Scientificos
Total kitchen time: 30 minutes (+12 hours cooking time)
Special equipment: Vacuum sealer, sous vide water oven

Shopping list:

  • 1 lb. flank steak
  • 1 tsp. Mexican seasoning blend
  • 2 tbsp. lime juice
  • 1 large red onion, diced
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. sherry vinegar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 4 four tortillas
  • 1 cup crumbled goat’s cheese
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 bunch cilantro

  1. Pat the steak dry and coat all sides with Mexican seasoning blend and lime juice.  Vacuum seal the steak in a bag large enough that the meat lays flat (but still fits in your water oven).  Cut the meat into two pieces and seal separately, if needed.  (If you’re not cooking your steak sous vide, place it in a zip-top bag or a covered shallow dish and let it marinate overnight). Note: although it might be tempting to add aromatics like garlic to the marinade, don’t! Your kitchen will smell like ass by the time the meat is done.
  2. Set your sous vide water oven to 56°C.  Add the vacuum sealed steak, making sure the meat stays submerged.  Cook for a minimum of 1 hour, up to 48 hours.  The picture above shows the meat after cooking for 12 hours, which was perfectly tender.
  3. Meanwhile, heat 1 tsp. olive oil in a medium saucepan over moderate heat.  Add the red onion and reduce the heat to low.  Let the onion sweat 5 minutes, until it is slightly translucent, but not browned.  Add the dark brown sugar, sherry vinegar and salt and stir to combine. Simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, and making sure the mixture doesn’t boil or burn. 
  4. Remove the bag from the water bath and let the meat rest, still in the bag, for 10 minutes before searing.  Remove the meat from the bag and pat dry on all sides.  Sear with a blow torch, under the broiler, or in a smoking-hot pan.
  5. Slice the meat perpendicular to the direction of the muscle fibers, and on a sharp bias. 
  6. Assemble the tacos: tortilla, sour cream, steak, cheese, onion compote, cilantro.  Enjoy!

Cooking the steak sous vide rather than just grilling it may sound like a pain in the ass since you have to plan 12 hours ahead.  However, the hardest part of cooking flank steak is getting your timing right. Leave it on the grill 1 minute too long and it’s overcooked and tough; take it off too early and it’s raw.  And, if you’re entertaining company, you may be more focused on your margarita than your steak.  Cooking your meat sous vide lets you be laissez-faire with your timing – sometimes I even sear my steak before company arrives and return it to the water bath to keep it warm until we’re ready to eat.

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sous vide short ribs
Sous vide cooking works its magic on a lot of foods, but short ribs yield some of the most dramatic results I’ve seen.  In traditional recipes, the ribs (usually cut into short 2-3” chunks by the butcher) are braised for several hours.  Although the braising method adds great flavor and makes the meat extremely tender, the meat is also necessarily well-done.  But, thanks to our sous vide wizardry, we’re able to maintain a perfectly-pink medium rare and have our meat come out fork-tender.  Feel free to experiment with marinades in the bag, but know that some herbs, like thyme, will start to reek after 3 days in the bath.

Makes: 6-8 best-of-both-worlds short ribs
Total kitchen time: 72.5 hours (give or take)

Shopping list:

  • 6 lbs. short ribs (I used a 6 lb. uncut slab from my butcher, but you can use 6-8 pre-cut pieces)
  • 8 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2 tbsp. coarse smoked salt (I prefer Alder wood smoked salt)

Special equipment: sous vide heating immersion circulator, vacuum sealer and (optional) blowtorch.

  1. Preheat a large water bath to 56C (133F).
  2. If using an uncut slab of short ribs, trim off any large areas of fat on both sides. 
  3. Coat all sides of the meat with salt and garlic cloves.  Place slab (or pre-cut short ribs) into a large vacuum seal bag.  If using pre-cut pieces, you may need to divide them between 2 bags, ensuring there is plenty of space between the ribs.  Seal the bag.
  4. Fully submerge your bags in the water bath and cook, turning the bags every 12-18 hours.  After 60 hours, increase the heat to 62.5C (144.5F) and cook an additional 12 hours.
  5. If using a blow torch: Pace a cooling rack on top of a sheet pan or jelly roll.  When ready to serve, remove the ribs from the bag and drain.
  6. If using a slab of ribs, turn the ribs bone-side-up and slice through the meat between the bones lengthwise to separate out each bone.  Cut the membrane running the length of the bone and slide the bone loose (it should give easily, with a little encouragement from your knife).  Trim any access fat surrounding where the bone used to be.  Cut the trimmed meat into portions.
  7. If using the blowtorch, place a cooling rack above a sheet pan or jelly roll pan.  Place each portion of ribs on the cooling rack, allowing plenty of space in between.  Pat the ribs dry with paper towels.  Using your torch, sear all sides for a few seconds, or until golden brown. 
  8. If you’re not using a blowtorch, give the ribs a quick fire under the broiler or in a little oil on a smoking-hot skillet to brown all sides as quickly as possible.
  9. Serve immediately.

After tasting these short ribs, I may never cook any type of ribs the same way again.  This summer, I plan to lightly smoke a rack of spare ribs, then cook them sous vide for a few days before finishing them back on the grill.  I expect pretty incredible results.

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