“Sous Vide” might immediately make you think this recipe involves a fancy, overly precious cooking method that only the food snobs among us will be interested in. But what if we tell you that the two main cooking tools it requires are a picnic cooler and a Ziploc bag, and that heating water is the only cooking skill required?
We’ve been reading about sous vide for some time now, but it took a recipe sent in by Szara Loring for the Primal Blueprint Reader-Created Cookbook Contest to encourage us to try it at home. Szara’s recipe for Sous Vide Salmon made us realize you don’t necessarily need expensive, professional sous vide equipment to try the cooking technique out. Turns out, all you need is the aforementioned cooler, a large Ziploc bag and a thermometer.
“Sous vide” basically translates as “under vacuum” and refers to cooking food in an airtight bag submerged in a temperature-controlled water bath. Unlike stovetops, ovens, or grills, which invariably become hotter or cooler as food cooks, a temperature-controlled water bath insures that the food is cooked at the exact same temperature the entire time. Think of sous vide as a kinder, gentler cooking method. One that cooks protein, but doesn’t ever cause the protein to seize up and become tough. Proteins (or even vegetables) cooked sous vide come out perfectly cooked every time, which is one reason this method has become increasingly popular in recent years with chefs at some of the best restaurants in the United States.
Professional sous vide equipment, which is used in restaurants and has only recently become available to home cooks, has an immersion circulator that ensures the water temperature will remain precise. Using a picnic cooler to hold the temperature of the water steady is admittedly a little less precise. Nevertheless our salmon came out perfectly cooked using Szara’s method. Professional equipment also employs a vacuum sealer to ensure all the air is removed from the cooking bag before immersing it in water. This is especially important if you are a chef who plans to cook the meat, then hold it for several days before re-heating and serving it. Lack of a completely airtight seal increases the risk of bacteria forming over time, so when you cook sous vide in a cooler you’ve rigged up at home, just cook it and eat it without waiting. Which is exactly what you’ll want to do anyway when you pull your perfectly-cooked fillet of salmon out of the cooler and have fresh salad greens and a summery blackberry vinaigrette ready and waiting.
Topping off Szara’s tender and flavorful sous vide salmon fillet is a crispy treat we like to call salmon skin bacon. It’s addictive, easy to make and as it turns out, the perfect topping for salad.
Without any further ado, we bring you sous vide cooking at home. Sure, your family might look at you funny when you pull dinner out of a cooler, but that’s all part of the fun.
A wild salmon fillet (about 3/4 -inch thick) with skin on
A few tablespoons of fat (beef or pork drippings or olive oil)
Blackberry Vinaigrette (see recipe below)
Thermal picnic cooler (3-5 gallons)
Ziploc bag large enough for salmon
First, remove the skin from the salmon. This is easiest to do if you add a few tablespoons of fat to a skillet and sear the salmon, skin side down, for 3 minutes. Remove the salmon from the pan and use a knife to separate the skin from the meat. Set the skin aside.
Next, heat several gallons of water and monitor it with a thermometer until the water reaches 130 degrees Fahrenheit. When it reaches 130 degrees, pour the water into the cooler.
Put the salmon in a large Ziploc bag. Partially close the seal, leaving approximately 1 inch open for air to escape. To create the most airtight seal possible, slowly lower the unsealed bag into the water. Once the bag is almost entirely submerged, then finish sealing the bag. There should be no air left in the bag.
Release the bag into the water, trying to position it (if possible) so that the bag has water all around it and is not just lying on the bottom of the cooler.
Close the lid on the cooler and let the fish cook undisturbed for 45 minutes. You cannot overcook the fish so it can go longer if you need it to.
To make the salmon skin bacon, heat more oil in a pan and sear both sides of skin until crispy. Salt to taste and break into small pieces.
Take salmon from the water bath, remove from the bag and place on a bed of greens tossed with blackberry vinaigrette. Top with salmon skin bacon bits.
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1 tablespoon honey, or less to taste
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup blackberries, roughly chopped
Combine vinegar, shallots, honey, mustard, tarragon, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl. Slowly add the olive oil while whisking continuously. Stir in the blackberries and adjust seasoning to taste.