Monkfish sous vide

I’ve been thinking about sous vide cooking, reading about it, and I’m finally going to try it, especially since it CAN be done without any fancy equipment–except a beer cooler. That I can handle–in fact, I already have one–I just had not thought of it as a kitchen appliance.

I’ve been wanting to try sous vide cooking, especially reading about it Stefan’s Gourmet Blog posts. Being somewhat budget conscious, I’ve explored alternatives to the water ovens and circulators usually used in sous-vide cooking. I’ve looked at articles on how to turn your slow cooker into a sous-vide machine and discovered that requires some additional equipment and “hacking” to work; that’s also not for me.

There seem to be a lot of reasons for using this technique, not the least of which is to avoid heating up the kitchen and overworking the A/C! There’s also the appeal of the evenness of cooking and not being able to overcook unless you give a lot of attention to the actual cooking. All those advantages and some alternatives to expensive equipment or ones that require engineering know-how at least let me try it. One alternative I discovered was a big pot of water, low oven temperature–not an option in summer for me.  I found references on adding external temperature controls to rice cookers and multifunction pots, using the oven, and, of course, lots of ads for sous vide tools.

So what has precipitated this sudden fit of actually doing it? It’s the hot, muggy, humid, steamy weather we have here in the summer and the fact that I’m a serious fresh-air freak. If it’s at all possible I’ll have the doors and windows open–Frankie especially appreciates this. I want to cook without having all the extra heat–so I’m exploring all possible alternatives, including adapting recipes that normally involve using the oven for the slow cooker–looking for ways to beat the heat.

Krups rice cooker IMG_3796

For food safety temperature is important so I looked at lots of articles giving temperatures for various meats and fish, including on that considered using the keep-warm function on the rice cooker or multifunction pot. Next to the beer cooler method this looked like a possible one for me since I do own a Krups multifunction pot. To check that out I filled the pot with and checked the temperature on the slow-cooking setting–the temperature held at 185 ºF which looks as if it might work for some veggies and, perhaps, for tough cuts of meat. Switching to the keep-warm function and doing a temperature check two hours after I had switched to keep-warm function–but the water started at 185 ºF and I had absolutely no information on what the rate of cooling in the closed multifunction pot was. So–more data, please! I started with water at 110 ºF on keep-warm setting to see what happened. What happened was 165ºF.

So the multifunction pot (Krups) is out for just using the warm function, but I’ve discovered that if the pot is hot and then turned off, it hold a steady temperature for about two hours. Since I’m only doing sous vide for one and quick things, I don’t need a huge pot. This is going to take a bit more tending, but it would certainly be easier for quick things than a beer cooler (my laziness is showing, I know).

Searching for the best temperature to use for monkfish sous-vide produced an interesting array of suggestion. Always preferring data, I was glad to see Monkfish sous vide temperature experiment which tested throughout the range of temperatures that I found and gave a description of the fish texture at each.

From ChefSteps I also found the following temperature guide for fish and from Amazing Food Made easy temperatures and times in the range of 10 to 30 minutes:

  • Tender  40ºC/104ºF
  • Tender and flaky 50ºC/122ºF
  • Well done 60ºC/140ºF

For my monkfish, I think tender and flaky is a good option; for tuna, I might go for just tender–or even rare, depending on the grade. Now for time specifically for monkfish to be medium the general consensus seemed to be “medium” at 140ºF for 10 to 30 minutes. Since my tap water is at 140ºF with the beer cooler I should be good to go–though it seems strange to not have to be concerned about time but since it won’t go above the water temperature anything in that range should work.

For seasoning? Well, simple seemed good for my first try so I went with salt, freshly ground black pepper, and butter. I used the rice-cooking mode to bring the water up to 140ºF, put the monkfish in, closed the lid and crossed my fingers. It just seems too simple even though I’ve cooked other things by putting them in liquid and then turning off the heat and letting the residual do the cooking.

The results? The best monkfish I’ve ever eaten. Okay, so I’ve not had anyone else’s monkfish cooked sous vide, but it’s the best monkfish I’ve ever cooked. I cooked it at 140ºF for 30 minutes. Temperature check at the end of the cooking was still at 140ºF. The fish was tender and just starting to flake. I’m still trying to find some adjectives for it. If i have to pick one I think it will be just plain luscious!

Now that I’ve done all the temperature experiments on the Krups multifunction cooker (in slow-cooking mode and keep-warm mode), and on how it holds temperature, I see more sous vide in my future.

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Chilean sea bass (Patagonian toothfish)

I could scarcely believe my eyes when I wandered past the seafood display in the newly opened Fresh Market.  There was Chilean sea bass (this name is really a marketing ploy)!  Or really, Patagonian toothfish.  It’s not pretty when as  the whole fish, but it’s luscious in the pan.  It’s also NOT cheap. And there are some that are considered “sustainable”, so I wasn’t being totally irresponsible–just fiscally irresponsible for my budget.  But it had been, literally, years since I’d eaten this luscious fish.  No will power effort here–I brought some home.

When I spend this kind of money for special fish (how about 7 ounce piece for $13.00–yes fiscally irresponsible, and the hock-your-soul category) I’m going to make very sure that I don’t screw up the cooking or seasoning. The texture is firm and meaty with large flake (in that respect somewhat like monkfish, tuna, or swordfish, but still has character of its own) and moderately oily so it doesn’t dry out during cooking. The flavor is often characterized as mild, buttery, somewhat like cod, halibut, or stripped bass;  not fishy in an undesirable way.  It’s the combination of flavor and texture that makes the toothfish so special–and nothing else can really be substituted if you want that particular flavor-texture combination.

If you’re looking at something called just “sea bass” it’s probably not toothfish–that’s usually sold as “Chilean”.  There are, however, a lot of fish sold as “sea bass”–white-fleshed, and lovely as well, but not as special, or expensive, as the toothfish, but still well worth trying.

The toothfish is oily enough to allow for lots of flexibility in method Picture of a cast from a 70kg Patagonian Toothfish of cooking–even broiling or grilling.  To keep it simple and let this special fish really shine, I took the really easy route: seasoned with salt and baked in a covered dish in a 425°F oven for about 25 minutes since it was a thick (almost 2 inches) piece of filet.  While that cooking was going one, I made a pan sauce of brown butter, shallots, and white wine, salt and pepper.

Efforts are being made to legally harvest toothfish, so before you buy check the source, but then break the budget and enjoy! (This image is from the Coalition of Legal Toothfish Operators, Inc.)

The wine? Well, another glass of my Alandra Portuguese white since this was a really simple preparation–and that’s a good all purpose white wine for causal use on a weeknight when I want a rather short glass.

Cooking monkfish

TGIEOT—yes, that’s a bit more than TGIF!  It’s end-of-term.  The Spring term was the school term from hell, starting right at the end of Fall term!  Over the winter break I had unexpected course preparation to do for two online classes—switching from Blackboard to Sakai—for content management.  Top that off with an ongoing indexing project, and it’s—well, let’s just say it left very little time for cleaning, cooking, or writing!  Then, add to that a hard-drive failure for my computer….but it’s over now.

I’ve taken some time to work on revising the on-deck herb garden since I had plants that needed to go into their home pots, and a couple of days to do nothing but have quality time with the cat.  All that has left me yearning for some relaxation time and some really good food—cooked by me.

My day was absolutely made when I got my email delivery of the “Fresh Catch” specials from my local Harris Teeter this morning: they had monkfish! In terms of favorite fish, that’s right up there with Chilean sea bass for me.  Needless to say, I scarfed down my morning coffee and headed right off to HT.

fennel, leeks and garlic ready to roast

fennel, leeks and garlic

Supper this evening was roasted monkfish, with roasted fennel with leeks, garlic, and a dash of red pepper flakes, with a nice un-oaked chardonnay.  The fennel was an in-store, spur of the moment thing since it looked so gorgeous.

Even though it is warm this afternoon, I opted to cook in the oven because I wanted roasted fennel as well. I’ve done monkfish in hobo-pack style before but I thought I’d try roasting it this time and see if I couldn’t have a one-pot dinner.

monkfish

monkfish

I’d seen a post by Edward Schneider in Mark Bittman’s NY Times column (Diner’s Journal) about roasting monkfish, and the differences in monkfish on both sides of the Atlantic. After reading that I salted my monkfish for about an hour, and then roasted it.  I did manage to make a one-pan meal out of it. Since I had to allow about 40 minutes for the fennel to roast, I started that first.  After about 15 minutes, I laid the monkfish on top of the leeks, pushing the fennel wedges to the side, and popped it back into the oven for about 15 minutes.  I used very simple seasoning on the fish—olive oil and salt before going into the oven, and nothing for than fresh-ground black pepper and a pat of unsalted butter after it came out of the oven. So very simple—so very good, and even healthy.

(The only thing I wish I had done differently would have been to add some sweet red (or orange or yellow) bell pepper with the fennel. A glass of un-oaked chardonnay complemented the meal very nicely.)

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