Searing

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There is one important cooking technique that is impossible in my home kitchen, and that is searing. I can get good browning, but in order to sear you need your skillet super hot over the highest flames. In order to prevent my smoke detector from going off, I must also use my ventilation system, which is at the back of the stove behind the burners.

When the vent is on at the highest suction position, it literally pulls the flames out-of-place. Sideways.

Highest flame without vent. The vent is on the right of this burner, and this is the front burner.

And with the vent on.

You can see on the left the flames are practically non-existent, the flames are horizontal to the right, and at the front of the photo they’re all over the place.

Searing colors the meat and creates flavor from caramelization. Searing is important to me because it’s an important first or final step when cooking meat Sous Vide. The Sous Vide does the cooking, so all that’s required is searing the outside, without further cooking.

So if you’re trying to sear with my situation, the meat must sit longer in the skillet waiting for a sear, actually cooking the meat more. And this is wrong and practically defeats the purpose of using the sous vide.

I may have a found a solution for this problem, when I was reading a book called Mastering the Art of Sous Vide Cooking, by Justice Stewart. The book was recommended by fellow Sous Vide aficionado, Conor Boffin, of the One Man’s Meat blog.

I purchased the Kindle version of the cookbook; I was less interested in photos and food styling, and more interested in Sous Vide times and temperatures.

But there it was, at the back of the book, a photo of a Searzall attachment, that is placed on a butane torch.

We all own the little butane kitchen torch, I think use mostly for caramelizing the tops of creme caramel. But have you noticed that nasty butane odor? For that reason, I haven’t used mine for years.

Here is the description of the one I ordered from Amazon.

This thing sears without cooking, and doesn’t have the “off-putting aroma often associated with blowtorches.” Problem solved!

The photo on the left shows an example of a little torch like most of us own, compared to my new one. And on the right, the butane torch with the small Searzall attachment.

So to test it out, I seasoned a 24 ounce piece of beef called London Broil, and cooked it in my sous vide machine for 7 hours at 130 degrees F.

When I was ready to sear the beef, I wiped off all of the liquid and some of the remnant seasoning, and brushed on a little oil. And then I seared away!

In case you’re not familiar with a London Broil, it’s wonderfully tender, and a perfect cut to sous vide and share.

That night I served it alongside hummus and a tomato salad.

Notice that beautiful seared outside!

I’m so excited about this searing technique. I’m going to try it on shrimp next!

Pheasant, Sous Vide

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In January of 2015, I wrote a post entitled pheasant, in which I wrote about my shock in discovering that the man I married was a hunter. Since we only knew each other 3 months before getting married, there just wasn’t time to discuss such an important thing.

Read the post if you want a laugh. Because of my limited but scarring experience with drunk holiday hunters, my overall impression wasn’t positive. But I learned, slowly, that not all hunters are crazy fools, and that it is a sport to be respected.

I re-read the post myself, because I remember the emotional phase well – me trying to reconcile the fact that my husband owned a shotgun and shot living birds – him trying to get over me being nuts. Let’s just say that over the years I’ve relaxed a bit.

So it was just a couple years ago that I actually gave pheasant a shot, no pun intended. I made a recipe called Pheasant with Green Chiles that I’d made before with chicken breasts.

When I made the pheasant with green chiles, I wrote that the next time I’d sous vide the pheasant breasts. If the sous vide process would do the same for pheasant as it does for chicken breasts, then the pheasant would be moist and tender. So that’s what I decided to do, although I dragged my feet for a while, reluctantly accepting 4 whole pheasant breasts after a recent hunting expedition.

I cleaned the pheasants, because there are always remnant feathers, and dried them on paper towels. I seasoned the breasts with salt, pepper, and a little thyme.

I put the whole breasts in a vacuum sealable bag. I added 4 tablespoons of butter, a sprig of fresh sage, and vacuum sealed the bag carefully.

I set my sous vide at 135 degrees Farenheit, and the pheasants were in for 3 hours.

After cooking I put the bag immediately in the refrigerator. You can also use an ice bath to cool off the meat quickly.

When you are close to serving the pheasant breasts, remove the bag from the refrigerator. Drain the pheasants if you want to save the jus.

Cut the breasts from the rib bones and lay them out. Dab with paper towels to remove any excess liquid. Season with salt and pepper.

In a skillet over high heat, brown the breasts in a little oil, just for about 30 seconds per side.

For something different, I decided to use the pheasant in a composed salad.

Along with lettuce, I added red cabbage, tomatoes, barley, and feta cheese.

The dressing was lemon pesto, which went really well with the pheasant.

The pheasant cooked this way is superb. As expected, the meat was tender, moist, and flavorful.

I cooked the pheasant on the day our time sprung forward, and so because I used two different clocks, only one of which had the proper time on it, the breasts were actually in the sous vide 30 minutes longer than planned. Fortunately that had no difference on the outcome!

Sous vide is the only way I’ll cook pheasant in the future. And I won’t be so hesitant to have my husband bring them home!

Pesto’d Lamb Chops

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The thing that I learned about meat a long time ago, is that you have to cook it properly. Everything else is just icing on the cake. Whether it’s grilling a steak, roasting a pork loin, or braising a rabbit, it’s all about cooking the meat properly. It doesn’t matter if you’re adding a sauce to the steak, roasting the pork with sweet potatoes, or braising the rabbit in tomatoes. It’s all about cooking the meat properly.

Now to most of you this might seem like a simpleton statement, but many years ago, it was an epiphany to me.

When I first started cooking a lot, which was when I got married, we couldn’t afford most “fancy” meats, unless it was a special occasion, so I was very used to braises and stews, even if these were globally inspired, such as Ethiopian Doro Wat with chicken, and French Boeuf Bourguignon with beef.

As our financial situation improved, I was able to buy steaks more often, which is my husband’s favorite cut of beef. Such a man thing. But I got to play around with other cuts as well.

Because I hadn’t had much experience with just cooking meat, I bought a few meat cookbooks. And the books really taught me nothing. Why? Because the recipes were all about the icing – a red wine sauce for a veal chop, or a salsa to top a chicken breast, or an orange glaze for duck breasts. No matter what the accessory ingredients were in the recipes, the meat was always cooked the same. For example:

4 chicken breasts
Salt and pepper

4 duck breasts
Salt and pepper

4 – 1″ thick filet mignons
Salt and pepper

Pork chops
Salt and pepper

See what I mean? I really hadn’t thought much about this fact until after I read the meat cookbooks, and I really haven’t referred to them since. As long as you know how to properly cook cuts of meat, the rest is easy.

To me, it’s mostly about the rareness of the meat. I prefer my beef at 125 degrees, or medium-rare. The same with lamb. Both chicken and pork I stop cooking at 155 degrees. A thermometer is a good way to cook meat properly, or to your liking, until you get to the point where you can tell the doneness with your tongs.

So the doneness is quite important when cooking meat, and also the seasoning. There’s always salt and pepper, but of course, other spices and herbs can be used as well. But there’s always salt and pepper. Look at any meat chapter if you don’t believe me. No, don’t. I could be wrong…

Regarding salt and pepper, some chefs believe in adding them after the meat is cooked, mostly, if I understand correctly, so that the pepper doesn’t burn. I do a little of both, but I definitely don’t meat in dried herbs before searing them. They would burn.

So I’ve been craving lamb, and lo and behold my local grocery store had loin chops on the shelf today. Not my favorite cut, but I knew I could manage. And here’s my recipe:

5 loin lamb chops, approximately 3/4″ thick
Salt and pepper

Olive oil
Prepared pesto

Bring the lamb chops close to room temperature before cooking. If you prefer well done meat, then this step isn’t as critical.

Add a little oil to a large skillet over high heat. For a good sear on meat, the oil must be sizzling hot. Also have your ventilation system on.

Pat the chops dry, and season with the salt and pepper, if you believe in doing that.
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Add the chops to the skillet, only about 2-3 at a time.
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After a couple of minutes, turn them over and brown the other side.
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As with steaks, there are two ways to go about finishing the chops. Because these lamb chops are fairly thin, they could easily have been cooked only in the skillet, lowering the heat after turning the chops over, and cooking until medium-rare, or your preferred doneness.

However, chops and steaks can also be placed in an oven and finished off at 350 or 400 degrees. This works especially well with thicker steaks and chops.

There’s nothing quite as delicious as a lamb chop simply seasoned with salt and pepper, but I wanted to serve myself these lamb chops topped with pesto* (no one else around here eats lamb). So I chose to sear the chops, then put them all back in the skillet, off of the stove. Then I topped the chops with pesto.
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I turned on my broiler, but my rack was at the middle level, not at the very top. When the broiler was ready, I placed the skillet in the oven. Within about 4 minutes, the pesto was melted, and the chops had cooked a little more through.

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I served the chops with a sweet potato mash and Brussels sprouts.


It’s not pictured, but I later took some of the oil and jus from the skillet and poured it all over the Brussels sprouts.
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Fabulous!!!

* My pesto does not contain cheese, because I make so many jars of pesto during the summer months and freeze them. So it’s quite condensed. But pesto that contains Parmesan would work just the same. You could always grate Parmesan over the top when you serve the chops.

note: Pesto is also good on chicken breasts and pork. Of course, we’re kind of addicted to pesto in this household.

Herbed Pork Kabobs

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When I started my blog, my main goal was to be inspirational to those who are new at cooking, or fearful about cooking. This wasn’t a new thing for me – I’ve always promoted cooking at home. For one thing, it will always be less expensive, and also the healthier alternative to eating out.

So on my blog, there are no really difficult recipes. In fact, my recipes are often more like guidelines to preparing food. Because home cooking isn’t rocket science. Cooking is very much about common sense, and it’s easy to taper any recipe to your own tastes.

But I happen to love kitchen ware and kitchen gadgets. I’m obsessed with them. Fortunately you can prepare good food without owning all of this “stuff.” I just happen to collect it. It’s like a disease. I finally bought a deep fryer last year, and still haven’t used it.

Finally, after begging for a long while, my family honored my Christmas wish for a sous vide machine a couple of years ago. I studied them for so long, and was sure that I wanted one and would indeed use one often. And I was right.

So I have mixed feelings when I post recipes for which I’ve used my sous vide, because it is a high dollar machine, and not typically in novice cooks’ kitchens. But I wish they were. These machines do magic work.

My briskets and flank steaks will never be tough or chewy. Chicken breasts? Always moist and tender. And then there’s pork loin. Fabulous.

So here’s another recipe that includes a sous vide step. I apologize if you don’t own one. But, I encourage you to look into one. I own the “demi,” which is a smaller version, and much less expensive than the commercial-sized machine. And it still holds a lot of meat.

With a sous vide, meat gets cooked in water of a specific temperature, for a specific amount of time, in vacuum bags. You have a choice to marinate the meat first, then sous vide. (Notice sous vide is a noun and a verb!) Or, sous vide first, then marinate. The last step requires browning the meat, to color it and add some flavor. Otherwise the meat looks like it was just boiled.

For today’s kabobs, I used a fresh herb mixture for the pork’s marinade, which you can alter to taste.

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Herbed Pork Kabobs

Pork loin, not tenderloin
Olive oil
4-6 cloves garlic
Parsley
Oregano
Thyme
Rosemary
Bay leaves
Salt
Pepper

Sous vide the vaccum-sealed chunk of pork loin for 6 hours at 140 degrees Farenheit. I used half of a pork loin, and it was cut into two pieces. But not for any important reason other than the size the the bags I had available after I’d cut up the huge pork loin.

Immediately refrigerate the pork until it’s fully chilled.
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The next day, remove the pork from the bags, trim any fat, and wipe off any excess liquid.
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Then chop up the pork into kabob pieces that are uniform in size.

Make the marinade in a large bowl by simply adding enough olive oil to the bowl as needed to cover the pork pieces. Mince garlic and add to the oil.
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Then chop up all of the fresh herbs you’re using and add them to the marinade. Add a little salt, and pepper to taste.


Stir well, then add the pork. Stir well to make sure the pork pieces are completely covered with the marinade.

Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 2 days.

On the day you’re serving the pork kabobs, get the bowl from the refrigerator to let the meat lose its chill at room temperature.

Skewer the pork pieces.
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Heat an outside grill, if that’s what you’re using. I used my electric grill. Only a little browning of the pork is necessary, so it wasn’t worth doing the charcoal process. Alternatively, you could use a grill on your stove.

For browning purposes, the grill must be on high.

Place the skewers on the grill, and rotate them until they pork is browned on all sides.

If the pork is still cool in the middle, you will need a warm oven or a warming drawer to heat them properly. This will not counteract the lovely work of the sous vide. But it’s easier to make sure that the pork is at room temperature before browning. Some people are just pickier when it’s pork. It’s your personal choice.


Just about any green vegetable can be paired with this lovely garlic and herb flavored pork. I happened to use fresh zucchini from the garden.

note: Just a tip – unless you’re planning on marinating pork for just a couple of hours, no acid, like vinegar or lemon juice, should be included. It will break down the meat too much.