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Look Who’s Cooking: Sous vide cookers provide consistency, convenience and good taste

  • Hillary Hoffman makes an Asian pork belly rice bowl with ginger scallion sauce, and pickled vegetables, on Monday, March, 26, 2018 at her home in Greenfield. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Hillary Hoffman, pictured at top, makes an Asian pork belly rice bowl with ginger scallion sauce and pickled vegetables using a sous vide cooker at her home in Greenfield. Her finished meal is pictured below. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Hillary Hoffman makes an Asian pork belly rice bowl with ginger scallion sauce, and pickled vegetables, on Monday, March, 26, 2018 at her home in Greenfield. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Hillary Hoffman makes an Asian pork belly rice bowl with ginger scallion sauce, and pickled vegetables, on Monday, March, 26, 2018 at her home in Greenfield. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Hillary Hoffman makes an Asian pork belly rice bowl with ginger scallion sauce, and pickled vegetables, on Monday, March, 26, 2018 at her home in Greenfield. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Hillary Hoffman makes an Asian pork belly rice bowl with ginger scallion sauce, and pickled vegetables, on Monday, March, 26, 2018 at her home in Greenfield. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Hillary Hoffman makes an Asian pork belly rice bowl with ginger scallion sauce, and pickled vegetables, on Monday, March, 26, 2018 at her home in Greenfield. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Hillary Hoffman cuts vegetables to make an Asian pork belly rice bowl with ginger scallion sauce, and pickled vegetables, on Monday, March, 26, 2018 at her home in Greenfield. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Hillary Hoffman makes an Asian pork belly rice bowl with ginger scallion sauce, and pickled vegetables, on Monday, March, 26, 2018 at her home in Greenfield. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Hillary Hoffman uses a sous vide cooker to make an Asian pork belly rice bowl with ginger scallion sauce, and pickled vegetables, on Monday, March, 26, 2018 at her home in Greenfield. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Hillary Hoffman cuts scallions to make an Asian pork belly rice bowl with ginger scallion sauce, and pickled vegetables, on Monday, March, 26, 2018 at her home in Greenfield. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Hillary Hoffman cuts vegetables to make an Asian pork belly rice bowl with ginger scallion sauce, and pickled vegetables, on Monday, March, 26, 2018 at her home in Greenfield. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Ingredients used by Hillary Hoffman for an Asian pork belly rice bowl with ginger scallion sauce, and pickled vegetables, on Monday, March, 26, 2018 at her home in Greenfield. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Hillary Hoffman makes an Asian pork belly rice bowl with ginger scallion sauce, and pickled vegetables, on Monday, March, 26, 2018 at her home in Greenfield. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • WEDEGARTNER Contributed photo/Matthew Cavanaugh



For the Recorder
Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Hillary Hoffman has a confession to make. This marketing and communications director at Stoneleigh-Burnham School and former Greenfield Town Council president is a self-confessed cookware gadget lover. From the InstaPot, to the pressure cooker, to today’s obsession, a sous vide precision cooker, also known as an immersion circulator, she has it, or wants it all.

As a testament to that fact, her husband has repurposed a section of the laundry room off the kitchen to hold the gadgets and cookware. For Hoffman, there’s no question as to whether using a sous vide cooker is a good idea.

“I’m interested in finding the best way to cook things that allows me to then go do other things while it’s cooking,” said Hoffman.

Sous vide is French for “under vacuum.” In the kitchen, it refers to a method of cooking that involves vacuum sealing your food — any meat, poultry or fish for instance — in a plastic bag, then cooking it in a precise temperature-controlled water bath. You can also cook root vegetables and eggs using the sous vide method. Devoted sous vide cooks say there is no other cooking method that achieves the same type of results as consistently as sous vide or with the same delicious taste. The immersion circulator cooks and maintains the food at the exact temperature it needs. While it may take longer, you can truly “set it and forget it.” And there’s no poking and testing periodically.

Roxann: How long have you been cooking?

Hillary: I didn’t really begin to cook a lot until I was on my own in college. But I was an adventurous eater as a kid and I had parents who were adventurous cooks. I think I tried sushi for the first time when I was 8. I didn’t like it, but that’s how it was. I grew up in rural Pennsylvania. We would drive for hours to Harrisburg just to get Chinese food. My father had a wok, not something a lot of my friends’ parents had in their kitchen.

R: I see we’re under the watchful eye of Sophie, the cat, from her perch on the stool.

H: Oh, yes. She loves to come in here and watch while I cook.

R: Who or what is your cooking muse?

H: I don’t really have one. Well, unless you count the walls full of cookbooks and food magazines in the dining room. I just like to learn and try new things when cooking. I also like to experiment with adapting recipes to fit what’s available locally. I’m not a strict locavore, a person whose diet consists only or principally of locally grown or produced food. But I do like to eat mostly locally grown food when I can. So for today, we’re having carrots, turnips and radishes from Atlas Farms, which will get quick-pickled.

R: Can you explain sous vide cooking and what are we eating today?

H: Sure. We’re having an Asian pork belly rice bowl with ginger scallion sauce, and pickled vegetables on the side.

You put your immersion control device in a pot of water, and set the time and temperature to the exact degree of doneness you want for the meat. The pot can be a waterproof, heatproof plastic container like a Cambro container, or it can be a metal pot.

You put the food in a vacuum-sealable bag and clip it to the side of the pot with a large binder clip. And let it cook. Plastic freezer bags that have been sealed tightly with no air left in them work as well as vacuum-sealing the food. The pork bellies that we’re doing today were put in at 170 degrees and cooked for just under 10 hours.

When the meat is done, you can finish it by searing, grilling or broiling it for a few minutes. Today, I’m letting the pork bellies braise a bit longer directly in an Asian sauce made of soy sauce and seasonings, and then I’ll broil it briefly. While the pork braises, I’ll make the quick pickles and the ginger scallion sauce. The rice has been cooked in the rice cooker.

R: What are the special ingredients in your pantry?

H: Box wine is a necessity, for cooking and drinking, for that matter. Then, I always have scallions, lemons, miso, mustard, rice wine vinegar, brown rice, sushi rice, canned tomatoes, pastas, good olive oil, and the best thing, Nori Fumi Furikake Rice Seasoning. You can get that at the Asian market in Hadley.

R: Do you have any spectacular failures you’d like to share?

H: Well, since we’re talking about sous vide, just a word of caution. See that crack in the granite counter top? I had the water container sitting directly on the counter and the temperature for the immersion circulator was set at 190 degrees for a long time. I heard a big “Pop!” It was the counter cracking. So, use a wooden cutting board or some type of protector under the sous vide cooker.

Asian pork belly rice bowl with ginger scallion sauce

Hoffman adapted this recipe from those by David Chang’s Momofuku and the Serious Eats website.

To serve, prepare sushi rice ahead of time and keep warm. Place rice in bowls and cover with a few pieces of pork belly, drizzled with the ginger scallion sauce and a big spoonful of pickled vegetables. Sprinkle it with the Nori Fumi Furikake.

Ingredients:

1 to 2 lbs pork belly, in large pieces

½ cup soy sauce

½ cup mirin, a type of rice wine similar to sake, but with lower alcohol content

½ cup granulated sugar

2 t fish sauce

2 whole scallions, roughly chopped

3 medium cloves garlic, roughly chopped

1 (2-inch) chunk ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

Extra chopped scallions for garnish on the rice bowl

Preheat a sous-vide style water bath to 170 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine soy sauce, mirin, sugar, fish sauce, scallions, garlic and ginger in the bowl of a food processor. Process until vegetables are roughly pureed.

Transfer pork belly and marinade to a food saver-style vacuum bag and seal, or to a gallon-size ziplock freezer bag. If using a freezer bag, seal by slowly submerging into a pot full of water, sealing the top just before it goes underwater to remove all air.

Transfer to sous vide cooker and cook until completely tender (about 10 hours).

Some people don’t like pork belly skin, so you can remove it after cooking or eat it. Remove from braise, slice into small squares or strips about 1½ inches wide. Transfer to a foil-lined pan and broil on one side for a couple of minutes to caramelize. Careful, fat can pop!

Strain marinade and reduce by boiling down a bit. Watch and taste to make sure it doesn’t burn or get too salty. Pour over pork bellies after broiling.

Sauce Ingredients:

2½ cups scallions, finely chopped whites and greens

½ cup fresh ginger, finely chopped

¼ cup canola or grapeseed oil

1½ t soy sauce

¾ t sherry vinegar

¾ t kosher salt

Mix all ingredients together. Let sit for 20 minutes.

Pickled vegetable ingredients:

1 to 2 carrots, cut on diagonal in ovals

1 to 2 turnips, cut in rounds or on diagonal

1 Daikon radish, cut on diagonal in ovals

Brine

½ cup rice wine vinegar

6 T sugar

2¼ t kosher salt

1 cup very hot tap water

Stir all ingredients together and pour over vegetables. You can eat right away if serving dish immediately. Can also refrigerate for up to two days.

For some of the ingredients in today’s recipe, you’ll want to visit the Asian section at your local grocery store, an Asian market or order online.

For more information and tips on how to get great results with sous vide cooking, the internet offers a wealth of articles.

In the “Look Who’s Cooking!” monthly column, Roxann interviews and shares the recipes of people from around Franklin County who may be well-known in their professional or political lives, but not necessarily for their lives as passionate cooks, bakers, or all-around foodies. Roxann can be reached by email at roxanndw6@yahoo.com.