Cookbook Review: ‘Sous Vide: Better Home Cooking’ by Hugh Acheson

Later, I made eggplant in a mix of mirin, soy, and ginger. After that, I tried leeks barigoule, an Acheson riff on a classic Provençal dish usually made by braising artichokes. I also tried an acorn squash dish with pumpkin seeds, chocolate, and queso fresco, something that Acheson classifies as “wackier than it is.” I tried the latter on family dinner night, getting my niece and nephew to grate the chocolate over the squash, and it got thumbs up from everyone at the table.

I was getting into a groove with the book, and while the recipes were sometimes a bit cheffy, they also tended to be profoundly good, leaving me both wanting more and thinking about the food I’d made for days. They’re also classic sous vide, often starting with slow, precise cooking in the bag, followed by a quick sear on the stove or under the broiler for flavorful browning.

The recipes in Sous Vide are excellent and imaginative and—importantly—doable.

Switching over to the Birds (& Eggs) section, I made some “63.5°C Eggs,” a chef’s magic number for the perfect soft-boiled egg, where, after an hour in the water, they emerge with creamy, loose whites and silky yet firm yolks. Experiment (or just look it up) and you can work your own magic on the textures of the yolks and whites by tinkering with the cooking times and temperatures. Acheson also suggests popping two eggs in a mason jar with gruyere and sautéed onions and spinach, covering and cooking them in the water bath for an hour. It’s simple yet sophisticated, and if you’re on the ball, you can prep large numbers of these ahead of time for a low-stress, high-impact brunch.

I also scored with mojo chicken. Blitzing garlic, oregano, nutmeg, and cumin with a bunch of cilantro, lime juice, OJ, wine, and olive oil in a blender and pouring it into the sous-vide bags creates a lovely Cuban-inflected medium for cooking chicken. That cooks away for two hands-off hours. When it’s done, you sauté onions in a skillet, pour the chicken and cooking liquid out over them, brown it all under the broiler, and serve it with beans and rice. It’s an easy recipe to follow and the return on investment is high.

Later, I made stunning pork ribs for a group, acquainting myself with the lovely guajillo pepper, which is part of both the rub and the sauce. The ribs cook for 12 hours at 165.2 degrees, which meant I did all the prep the night before, woke up at 6:00 on a Saturday to drop the bags in the water bath, then went back to bed. That night, I pulled the ribs from their bags, patted them dry, broiled, sauced, broiled again, and served them. They had a texture just shy of fall-off-the-bone and a deep meatiness. Mid-meal, my meat-aficionado brother-in-law Ben looked over at me and said, “Damn fine ribs, Joe Ray.”

My pièce de résistance, though, was the pâté de campagne. Traditionally made in the oven inside a covered terrine nestled into a water-filled roasting pan, pâté always felt like a complicated, high-risk project. In Acheson’s book, though, I felt a sense of assurance.

“This is the kind of food I want you to develop confidence in,” Acheson says in the headnote. “It will open so many doors to the culinary world, and soon you will dream of opening up a place called Mes Terrines in the South of France.”

So I made the pâté, creating a farce—a mixture of ground pork butt, cubed fatback, puréed chicken liver, and spices, enrobing it in smoked bacon from Bob’s Quality Meats near my home in Seattle. Instead of the traditional preparation, here the terrine (or loaf pan) is bagged and submerged in the sous vide tub for two hours at 149 degrees. When it emerged, I pulled out some Dijon mustard, sauerkraut, and a bottle of red, then I called my wife. We were in heaven.

Knowledge Vacuum

This Halibut dish is one of the recipes in Sous Vide.

Photograph: Andrew Thomas Lee

Acheson’s book isn’t for everybody. You’ll need to pick up the basics of sous vide elsewhere. Considering the lack of competition, I was surprised not to find more fundamentals in it—stuff like simple steak and chicken breasts you can cook in a hurry on a Tuesday, or a time/temperature chart that can give you guidelines at a glance.

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