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Quick Pickling Vegetables with a Chamber Vacuum Sealer

tomatoes

After much ogling, I finally took the plunge and purchased a VacMaster chamber vacuum sealer when I caught an irresistible deal for an older model on Craigslist.  I had known for a while that my FoodSaver was woefully inadequate at sealing wet foods for sous vide, but after witnessing how much of a workhorse the chamber sealer is at the Modernist Cuisine lab, I knew it was an essential missing piece of gear for my own kitchen.  These are the results of my first real experimentation with the chamber vacuum sealer: “quick pickling.”

A chamber sealer pulls a much stronger vacuum than a FoodSaver – so strong, in fact, that it will boil water at room temperature.  When you apply this ultra-strong vacuum pressure to plant foods, you can physically change their cell structure in a way that causes the foods to quickly absorb  liquids that surround them.  Modernist Cuisine explains the phenomenon best:

The cells of plant tissue contain pockets of air and water called vacuoles.  As the outside pressure decreases during vacuum sealing, these vacuoles act like balloons rising up through the atmosphere, and like balloons they eventually pop.  The popped vacuoles cannot reinflate[…] so they collapse under the weight of atmospheric pressure as soon as the sealing chamber is opened.[…] Incidentally, this phenomenon also is the reason that infusing liquids into fruits or vegetables under vacuum compression works so well.  Once the vacuoles rupture, they quickly fill with any surrounding liquid.

So, I set out to exploit this phenomenon with a bunch of different plant foods.  Here are the results.

 

Tomatoes
tomato macro

The image at the top of this post shows the outcome of my tomato experiments.  On the left is a raw tomato, sliced 3mm thick.  In the middle is a tomato infused with olive oil.  On the right is a tomato infused with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Since the oil replaces much of the water in the tomato slice, you can safely top these tomatoes with salt without the salt melting, which is a neat trick.

The image just above shows a macro shot of the oil and balsamic tomato slice.  You can actually see the expanded vacuoles, which are now filled with oil.  As the pressure in the vacuum chamber dropped, the tomatoes boiled vigorously in the olive oil – they actually looked like they were being deep-fried, but at room temperature.  I think there’s more to explore here…

Cucumber

cucumber

[Raw on the left, infused on the right].  These are classic pickles.  I infused 3mm cucumber slices in a brine of rice wine vinegar, sugar, salt, water, coriander seed, black peppercorn and fresh dill.  Because the cell walls are collapsed, these pickles don’t quite have the same “snap” as traditional pickles, but they were still excellent.  Having total control over the flavor of the brine and being able to make pickles in less than 60 seconds more than makes up for the difference in mouthfeel.

Quince

quince
[Raw on the left, infused on the right].  Because the quince was so firm, I sliced it to 3/4mm on the mandoline.  I pickled the slices with Noble Tonic No. 4 and thyme.  Although they are quite acidic as a standalone snack, they’d make a fantastic garnish for something fatty, like a slab of pork belly or a chunk of tuna.  They’re also much more attractive when they turn translucent.

Jicama

jicima

[Raw on the left, infused middle and right].  Much to my surprise, the jicama didn’t compress much or turn translucent.  However, it did do a fantastic job taking on surrounding flavors.  My first test was Sriracha and light coconut milk.  This worked like a charm – the liquid was quite thick, but even after I rinsed the jicama, the flavors remained.  The second test was a brine of apple cider and fennel seed.  This has the potential to become a fantastic slaw.  Although I was happy with the flavors, I didn’t compare the results of the vacuum compression to simply soaking jicama in these liquids, so I can’t say for sure that vacuum did any magic here.

Turnip

turnip

[Raw on the left, infused on the right]. This was one of the most promising results – I infused 3/4mm sliced raw turnip with Nobile Tonic No. 1 Maple Syrup.  In fairness, I could lick that maple syrup off a cast iron griddle and still love it.  However, the sweetness of the syrup added a wonderful complexity to the bitter, spicy finish of raw turnip.  I could see these infused turnip sheets used as a wrapper for a filling, or perhaps deep fried into chips.

I’m very excited about the results of this first round of testing, and I look forward to more experimentation with the chamber sealer.

29 comments on “Quick Pickling Vegetables with a Chamber Vacuum Sealer”

In the video with the tomato in oil, is the boiling the water in the tomato or the oil? If the former, and you leave in under vacuum longer, do you end up boiling away most of the water and replacing it all with oil in the burst vacuoles?

Hey Scott. I noticed that you opted for the VacMaster VP210 and not the VP112. Any reasoning behind that? I’m in the market for a chamber vac and was just wondering if you thought the 210 was better for some reason. Or if you just got it cheaper…

How does this compare with an infusion using an ISI whipper? I’d love to see some comparative shots to see the difference between a negative pressure and a positive pressure technique.

Has anyone tried cheaper industrial vacuum chambers like this one? I’m happy with ZipLoc for my sous vide bagging needs, but I’d like to be able to do this sort of thing too.

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My parents got us a Food Saver for Christmas last year and this is perhaps one of the best gifts we’ve received. I have been saving and freezing food items regularly now and it has helped with our food bill, budget, and stopping waste. Since it’s just the two of us sometimes it’s hard to keep food fresh. The Food Saver helps with all this.

I have a vacuum sealer. My vacuum sealer also helped me very good food preservation. It helps me to preserve most of the food for my family from day to day. I think that any family should have a vacuum sealer machine.

Thanks for sharing such a delicious recipe using a Vacuum Sealer. I have been using a vacuum sealer for last couple a year. Still, now it works perfect and preserved my foods well. I keep my food fresh using my food saver device. I will try to make this recipe on my device, I think it is easy to make this.

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