Tuesday, June 28, 2011

under pressure

sous vide cooking has been kind of an obsession of mine since i first learned about it a couple of years ago. for a good long time, our wedding registry on amazon consisted of one item alone: a $400 sous vide circulator. i finally wised up and realized if i didn't register for more, it didn't mean that i'd get the machine, it meant that i'd get NOTHING. (and boy am i glad i did! ladies, if you're on the fence about this marriage thing, do it. worthwhile for the gifts alone. [i kid.]) four hundred dollars for an appliance isn't really in the budget these days (not to mention that our apartment, post-wedding-gifts, is so overflowing with appliances - a slow cooker, a pressure cooker, a large roasting pan, an upright chicken roaster, an ice cream/sorbet machine [thanks keiko!] two different mixers - that i don't know where we'd put it in our little brooklyn abode) so i'd given up on the idea of sous vide cooking for the time being, until sunday. some people exercise after a shitty day; some sleep, some drink (well, i do that, too,) and i cook. i decided to make a big, fancy dinner to get the stink of the weekend off.

i'd bought a duck breast at smorgasburg a week before, and i'd planned on turning it into prosciutto - next time. this time, i decided to see how well i could turn our large le creuset french oven into a sous vide-r. i knew duck needed to be submerged in 135 degree water for at least an hour, so i used a digital thermometer to monitor it and slowly brought up the temperature of the water. i used this pot because it holds heat well and evenly; even so, i had to turn the stove off and on several times to keep the temperature between 130 and 140. first, though, i took out the duck breast and cut off all the excess fat i could and set that aside. rub the duck thoroughly with salt and pepper and vacuum seal the duck back up, ready to be submerged. (if you don't have a vacuum sealer, a. i recommend getting one [it really helps keep things fresh longer, freeze without freezer burn, etc.] b. you can use strong ziploc bags with the air pressed out - or so i've read. haven't actually tried this method myself.) i put the duck in and kept the lid on and temperature monitored for about an hour and a half before taking it out of the water and letting it rest for a minute.

all the while, i got the rest of the meal ready - i peeled 2 potatoes, chopped them, and threw them in some salted water and mashed up a half quart of too-ripe strawberries. the strawberries were reduced with some balsamic vinegar for sauce, and the potatoes were mashed with some horseradish cream, butter and a bit of milk.

now time to break the duck free from its binding, pat it dry, and start a cast iron pan on medium high heat. once good and hot, turn it down to medium and set the duck to crisping. once good and brown on one side (after four or five minutes,) flip it and let the other side just brown before taking it off the heat. let the duck breast rest on a cutting board for a few minutes, then slice. serve on top of horseradish potatoes, with the strawberry balsamic sauce; i served this with a simple strawberry arugula salad on the side.

on the left, just out of the water bath; right side, post-resting and drying.

the duck was perfect - pretty rare, but firm; totally moist and succulent and then crispy around the edges. the strawberry balsamic sauce was great with it, and worked surprisingly well with the horseradish potatoes, too; i'd pour yourself a nice glass of wine with this and enjoy.

oh! and, lest i forget - all that fat you've saved from the duck breast? i put this in a small saucepan and turned the heat on very low and basically just poked at it now and then until it had turned into mostly liquid. strain this out into a jar, and voila! you've got duck fat. you can use it for frying anything. . . i've got plans for this stuff later on this week.

and thanks so much to everyone for your sweet words about my haircut! i'm still getting used to it but all of your kind compliments certainly help boost my confidence in it. still working on feeling like a lady in it.

xo audrey


  1. my husband hacked his own sous-vide machine using a cheap crock-pot and a set-up very similar to this: http://www.cookingforgeeks.com/blog/posts/diy-sous-vide/

    i don't eat meat, so i can't speak to it's effectiveness, but he's very very happy with it.

  2. @courtneykorinne that is so cool! i just got a crock pot recently so i'll have to give this a try. thanks for the tip!

  3. mmmm that duck looks goood. I just ate a big meal and I am still made hungry (greedy!) by your photos.

  4. Wear more earrings! That should make you feel like a lady! Thanks for the info on sous vide!

  5. I've never had duck. But that looks so delicious!

    <3Chelsea Elizabeth

  6. it looks beautiful -- to be honest i'd never heard of sous vide cooking before now. but it seems like it works very well... it's all pretty interesting, and i think it's down right impressive you can do it so well!

    i like to think of myself as a little bit of a foodie, i'm ashamed of my ignorance haha.