Sous vide. This year a friend (not someone who cooks but a true gadgetholic, and mainly for camera paraphernalia) bought an immersion circulator in a group buy deal, and after buying it decided to loan it to me to try it out. The truth is that I have always been tempted to get a sous vide machine but never did because of the cost and the size of the machines. After all my home is already cluttered with a ton of kitchen stuff – I would be hard put to find more space to keep another gadget, albeit a large one.
Anyway the immersion circulator I was lent was pretty nifty, thin and space age-looking and in the end I bought it over from gadget friend.
It fitted well into a large soup pot – again I didn’t want to get a large polycarbonate container because of my space constraints. I also bought a small vacuum sealer and I was all set for sous vide cooking.
Sous vide in French means “under vacuum”. Apart from being a relatively new and revolutionary way of cooking – seems like every modern cook has to master this trendy technique – it is a really good way of temperature-controlled cooking. Because the food is cooked in vacuum-sealed bags, there is a retention of moisture and flavours that is unparalleled. Steaks, in particular, are phenomenal when cooked sous vide as you can cook the steak to exactly medium rare, but completely evenly even to the center of the steak, and you would just sear the steak just before serving, using the Maillard reaction to caramelize or crust up the surface of the steak.
It took me quite a bit of effort to figure out sous vide cooking, although I did have 1-2 friends who were my coaches (师傅) , I plain refused to buy this book about home cooking sous vide because Tott sold it at a ridiculous price (who would buy a thin book for almost $90 anyway???). So relying instead on a combination of advice on whatsapp messaging as well as some pretty good blow-by-blow instructions on the web (Serious Eats and Chefsteps are awesome sites written by geniuses), I started trying out sous vide cooking. It was slightly frustrating because some recipes took 36-72 hours…a bit long for a weekend cook. Mistakes also took a longer time to show up! But I think I have pretty much got it now.
The odd thing about trying to master sous vide is that actually it isn’t that useful a method for Asian cooking. Most Chinese food depends on the fast heat of stir fry or slow braising. For a while I wondered if my sous vide circulator was destined to be a glorified way of making perfect soft boiled eggs. I know that the Food Canon does that for his church breakfasts every week! For more than a 100 people, no less. And apart from truly awesome roast pork belly (which I made for Chinese New Year lunch this year), I couldn’t think of any way that sous vide would figure much in Asian meals. Still, when I came across this recipe for tonkotsu ramen where sous vide method was used to prepare the pork, I decided to break out my sous vide circulator again. The recipe was modified to be more low carb (more sake than mirin content, sugar substitutes rather than sugar, and shirataki noodles instead of ramen).
I faced quite a few glitches on this cook. Firstly I don’t have a chamber vacuum sealer and trying to vacuum seal the pork in marinating liquid was a horrendously sticky and messy exercise. Secondly, after painstakingly making the perfect roll of chashu pork belly, my home helper cut the belly up in strips rather than in perfect circles/semicircles as I had instructed. This completely drove me wild as it had been a bad day of having to cook and run out of the house multiple times to send the kids to their various activities and it was what I thought was a simple enough task for her to do while I was out. It just sent me around the bend. I’m not proud of how I completely lost it that day but the provocation was great. 😓
Anyway was it worth it? Maybe. But I might wait till another cooking buddy gets his chamber vacuum sealer before I subject myself to trying to vacuum seal a bag with pork belly and liquids again. And yes, I would slice the pork belly myself this time.
Low Carb Tonkotsu Ramen
SOUS VIDE PORK BELLY
- 1 kg pork belly, in a large piece
- 1/2 cup mirin
- 1 1/2 cup sake
- 1/2 cup of light soy sauce
- 1/3 cup sugar substitute
- 6 cloves of garlic, sliced into thin slices
- 6 sprigs of spring onion, white and green parts sliced into 1 cm lengths
- 2 inch piece of young ginger, sliced into thin rounds
- Roll the pork belly up and secure with kitchen twine at 2 inch intervals and then cut into 3 rolls.
- Bring the mirin, sake, soy sauce, sugar substitute to a boil till the sweetener dissolves. Set aside.
- Put the pork belly pieces into separate sous vide bags and distribute equal amounts of garlic, spring onions and ginger in each bag.
- Pour in ladles of the marinating fluid into each bag.
- Vacuum seal each bag.
- Sous vide at 70 deg C for 16-20 hours.
- Remove the pork belly from the bags and chill in the fridge for about 1-2 hours. When fully chilled, slice the pork belly into thin circular slices. Set aside.
TONKOTSU PORK BROTH
- 1 kg of pigs trotters cut into pieces
- 2 pieces of pork bones
- 20 pieces of chicken feet
- 10 cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole
- 3 inch piece of ginger, cut into 2-3 large knobs
- White parts of scallion, chopped
- 2 leeks, white parts cut into rounds
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 – 3 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp Miso paste
- Place the pigs trotters and pork bones into a large stock pot and over with cold water. Bring to a boil. When just boiled, take off the heat and pour away the water. Rinse the bones off and remove any pieces of blood or marrow. Set aside.
- Heat up the vegetable oil, then fry the garlic, ginger, scallion and leeks, for about 10 – 15 minutes until caramelized and browned.
- Put trotted, pork bones and chicken feet in, then fill pot with enough water to cover the bones, at least 6 cups of water.
- Bring to the boil and simmer for another 6-8 hours. Skim off scum as it forms.
- Drain the stock and add the miso paste and salt to taste. You can add a little water to the stock if it is too thick.
- 6 eggs, at room temperature
- Pot of boiling water
- Retained marinating fluid from pork belly sous vide as above
- Piece the fat end of the eggs with a pin
- Carefully lower into the boiling with a slotted spoon
- Boil for 6 minutes exactly
- Remove from the boiling water and cool*
- Peel the eggs and soak in the marinating fluid for at least 4 – 6 hours.
*alternatively can sous vide the eggs at 75 deg C for 15 minutes, then marinate from step 5.
Tonkotsu ramen assembly
- 6 packets of Shirataki noodles or ramen noodles
- Dry fry the shirataki noodles after draining and rinsing
- Place a portion of noodles into each bowl
- Ladle soup over the noodles
- Lay 1-2 slices of pork belly in the bowl along with the lava egg that is sliced in half
- Garnish with spring onions