Supper this evening was Chilean sea bass (Patagonian toothfish. or Dissostichus eleginoides if you prefer). I’ve been skulking through cookbooks again–especially those that have sous vide recipes. (No, I haven’t bought anything special for sous vide cooking–yet, though I will confess to looking at immersion circulators and thinking a birthday present to self.)
In The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science by J. Kenji López-Alt I foud a lot of recipes for sous vide cooking–and a method of doing it without any special equipment (at least for foods requiring only a short cooking time). It’s done with a beer cooler. I do have a beer cooler so this seems like a method to try, as an alternative to the multifunction pot that I used before because I was too lazy to try the beer cooler method.
First I decided to check out the beer cooler to see how well it held temperature. I put about 2-1/2 gallons of hot tap water into it (118ºF) and checked the temperature over several hours. Two hours later, the water temperature was 113ºF, and at four hours, 110ºF. I decided that would certainly do for “short” cooking times. Seems most fish recipes call for cooking times under one hour.
The recommended temperature that I found for Chilean sea bass ranged from 122ºF to 140ºF so I decided to go with 130ºF. Since my sea bass was frozen (individually packaged filets from Costco), I thawed it in cold water, seasoned it lightly with salt and black pepper, a tiny splash of fennel fused olive oil (olives and fennel are crushed together), popped it into a zipper-lock freezer bag, and after squeezing out the air, plopped it into my beer cooler for 45 minutes. (Water temperature was 131ºF when I put the fish into the water and 129ºF one hour later.)
Results? Well, satisfactory. Obviously, the temperature in the cooler held well for the necessary time. The sea bass wasn’t quite as done as I’d prefer–though perfectly evenly cooked (even though this piece had one end that was definitely thinner than the rest). I think for my next–there’s more in the freezer–I’ll go with the 134ºF temperature or maybe just a tad higher.
I’ve also read lots of warnings about over-seasoning for sous vide cooking (and I came close to over-seasoning with the monkfish) this was bordering on under-seasoned. Next time, a bigger pinch of salt, and a bit more fennel oil, and a little lemon zest.