Sous vide chicken fried steak

While I do not get to play around in the kitchen as much as I would like, I was fortunate that my friend Nat invited me to help cook dinner on Saturday for a group of our friends. He is always up for experimenting so this gave us the chance to try an idea I have had in mind for a few weeks: sous vide chicken fried steak.


Chicken fried steak, in its classic rendition, is a usually inexpensive cut of steak pounded to tenderize it, coated and fried like a piece of chicken and served with gravy. During season thirteen of Top Chef, chef Jeremy Ford tried the technique of cooking a nice cut of steak in the sous vide, “gluing” chicken skin to the steak using transglutaminase and then frying the end result so the chicken skin was crispy. I was interested in trying this technique.


We followed a similar preparation, cooking a very nice grass-fed filet mignon in the sous vide until rare and then slicing it into medallions. The benefit of sous vide is that by cooking the food in a vacuum-sealed bag immersed in a water bath, the entire piece of food reaches exactly the desired temperature and then cooks no further. Instead of the outside of the steak being cooked and the inside being raw, as might happen when you fry or roast a steak, the entire cut was a consistent 131 degrees Fahrenheit and still a pretty pink.

As the meat cooked, about two-and-a-half hours, we skinned whole chickens, basically turning them inside out. This was an interesting experience, something I have never done before. The end result are these sheets of chicken skin (seen layered in plastic wrap, above) with little “fingers” of skin like a glove where the legs were.


After the meat was finished and sliced, we sprinkled it liberally with the transglutaminase.  (From the website, “Transglutaminase is an enzyme that stimulates a bonding process at the cellular level with the amino acids lysine and glutamine in proteins. It’s not technically glue, though that’s what it’s often referred to as. It’s a protein that’s present naturally in both plant and animal systems. The product used in kitchens is created from natural enzymes using a fermentation process.”)


I then wrapped the chicken skin around the steak. Trying to get the chicken skin cut to the right size was a bit tricky, and some extra transglutaminase was needed where there was overlap of the skin.


Normally, it takes about two hours of refrigeration for the “glue” to firm up. But a quick trip back in the sous vide for about ten minutes sped up the process, resulting in this tightly-wrapped packages that looked a bit like duck breasts.

When it was nearing time to serve, we dredged the pieces in a mixture of flour, salt, pepper and chili powder and fried them in about two centimeters of rice bran oil. The end result was a crispy skin and a steak that was a perfect medium rare. We served this with an onion gravy and salad.

All in all, the result was positive. We could experiment with more consistent portion control – sizes of steaks varied a bit – and maybe a liquid batter instead of a flour batter. But, overall, I would rate this a culinary success.


Deep Fried Sous Vide Bacon Dinner

My friend Nat prepares the most fantastic dinners. A few weeks ago he bounced an idea off me: sous vide unsliced bacon and then deep fry it. Before I knew it, a date was set and a dozen guests invited.

The Preparation


Nat was at the market and they had a whole, uncut bacon – smoked pork belly. He bought it, certain that it would make an interesting sous vide main course. Sous vide cooking is a technique where the food is vacuum sealed in plastic bags which are then cooked in a water bath for long periods at a relatively low temperature.


Not certain how long would be ideal, he ran a test batch with three bags, pulling a bag out every 24 hours to check the texture. Seventy-two hours was perfect.


After pulling the bags from the water bath, they were plunged into an ice bath to halt the cooking. Once cooled, the slabs of bacon were removed from the bags and patted dry with towels.


The final step, to ensure a nice, crisp exterior, was to deep fry the pieces of bacon for a few minutes.


The end result, a soft, silk chunk of bacon with a crispy exterior. The day before dinner, Nat asked my suggestions for a sauce. I suggested a lychee sauce since it was lychee season and the astringency of lychee would cut through the richness of the bacon. What I received for my suggestion was the assignment to cook the sauce! 


Once I arrived, I started turning fresh, seeded lychees through a food mill in order to extract all the juice. This was cooked in a pot with chicken stock and chopped onions and allowed to cook for an hour before I seasoned and thickened the sauce.


A nice rocket and tomato salad was prepared to garnish the dish. Bitter greens in a vinaigrette would contrast with the rich bacon and sweet/tart lychee sauce.


One item was sitting on the counter, waiting to be turned into amuse bouche – appetizers. Do you recognize these?


Poaching on the stove is a dish of tiger prawn quenelles, made by taking a choux paste (same one you use for cream puffs) and mixing it with finely ground, raw prawn meat and seasonings.

The Dinner


As usual at Nat’s house, dinner brought together a wide variety of guests, people with different backgrounds, occupations, and interests – all of whom share an appreciation for good food.


Charming salt and pepper shakers.


Amuse bouche: escargot in garlic crust. Very tasty!


Soup course: chilled leek and lemongrass soup. The lemongrass was very subtle, just sneaking up into your nose when each sip of soup was already swallowed.


The tiger prawn quenelles served with a prawn roe sauce and steamed asparagus. Very light texture with rich flavor.


Palate cleanser: mojito sherbet.


Main course: Deep fried sous vide bacon with lychee sauce served with a rocket salad with soy vinaigrette. Alas, the plate was a little cool and my sauce thickened a bit too much by the time I took this picture. Nonetheless, the meat was very tender and the sauce’s flavors worked nicely with it. Of course, the serving could have been a third this size and we would have been fine!


Linda and I pose for a picture mid-dinner, only to discover a moment later that Cha had inserted himself into the shot!


For dessert, sticky toffee pudding with a toffee sauce and homemade yamazaki ice cream. Decadent!


Serving the Lavish Dinner

After twelve hours preparing a multi-course small plates meal for a dozen guests, it was finally time to sit down and taste the fruits of our (and Nat’s staff’s) labors.

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Left – Tawn, Bee, and Cha pose for a picture.  Right – Bee takes a picture of the party.

The guests were a combination of my friends, Nat’s friends, and several people we know in common.  With a total of thirteen people, there was enough variety of experiences, perspectives, and opinions while having a small enough group to not be overwhelming.  I must compliment Nat’s job at arranging the seating as everyone was strategically placed to maximize the interesting conversations.

What follows is an overview of the menu that was finally served, as well as commentary on some of the last minute changes that had to happen!  I’ll also critique the dishes, as I think an important part of any culinary undertaking is, in addition to enjoying the food, to learn from the experience.


Amuse bouche: Thai-style poke – A mixture of sushi grade yellow fin tuna seasoned with lemongrass, kaffir lime zest, mint leaves, fish sauce, and tamarind paste.  While I think this turned out nicely, I have other ideas about how it should be made, based on a dish I had at lunch the next day at a Thai restaurant.  You’ll be seeing this “Thai-style poke” concept appearing again in this blog as I refine it.  We also managed to veer off the “small plates” course from the very first dish – this serving was about ten bites, when it should have been just two or three.


Alternate amuse bouche for one of our guests who does not eat raw meat: a slice of smoked salmon with sour cream, dill, and capers.  This was pulled together at the last minute as I didn’t realize we had a guest with dietary restrictions.  While not the most original thing to serve, I think it photographed very nicely.


Hot Soup: We followed the poke with small glasses of a lemongrass Vichyssoise, a pureed potato and leek soup that had a fragrant lemongrass flavor.  This was very nice and was fun to drink.  It worked well both in terms of concept and execution.


Dinner guests with their hot soup.  Several people were disappointed that the lemongrass garnish could not be used as a straw!


Cold Soup: Tomato and beetroot gazpacho, served icy with a dollop of sour cream and a sprig of dill.  In a moment of inspired improvisation (or, at least, what I think was improvisation), Nat explained that the guests were meant to stir this soup to mix in the sour cream, at which point it would have a drinkable consistency.  That worked pretty well.  The presentation was neat, the flavor was fine but nothing spectacular.  I think we should have started with raw beets and gone for something more borscht-like.


Pasta: Ravioli filled with pumpkin puree served on a bed of roasted red bell pepper sauce.  The staff ended up cooking the pasta some thirty minutes before we served the dish and then left it to cool in a strainer, which resulted in a pretty tough exterior.  The flavor of the filling, though, was very nice and the contrast with the pepper sauce was fantastic.  Next time, I think I need to make a dough that has some color in it, or maybe stipes, just for effect.  I’ll be making this at home sometime soon.


Fish: Smoked salmon served on top of a piece of shiso leaf focaccia, garnished with sour cream and capers.  Nat’s focaccia is fantastic and I have to get the recipe.  The shiso leaf added an interesting, and unexpected, flavor.  I think we could have doubled the number of shiso leaves, though, and cut the serving size in quarters.  This is another example of where we lost our focus on the idea of “small plates”.  Did I mention, though, that the bread was amazing?


Palette Cleanser: To clean the palette after the smoked salmon, Nat served a scoop of a special sorbet.  We asked the guests to guess what flavoring was used in addition to the lime juice.  This was actually something he and I had tried first thing after I got there in the morning, settling on lime juice and Frangelico, a hazlenut-based liqueur.  The combination was really nice and very surprising.  If only I had room in my kitchen for an ice cream maker, the idea of serving a palette cleanser midway through the meal is very sophisticated.


Fowl: The sous-vide chicken breast stuffed with a shrimp and ground pork mixture, served with mango-avocado salsa.  This dish underwhelmed me on a couple of levels.  The shrimp-pork stuffing tasted very good in the morning – we fried some up just to check the seasonings.  But after four hours cooking at a low temperature in the water bath, the flavor was more like pate.  The salsa was nice, but mixing it in advance led to the avocado breaking down, causing a creamy consistency.  I think it would have been nicer to have a salsa with very distinct ingredients.  All in all, this dish probably needs a rework before it is served again.


Salad: Simple mixed greens served with a light vinaigrette.  Nothing much to be said about this, although it could have used a cherry tomato, Parmessan crisp, or something to cheer up the plate.


Meat and Veg: Pork loin, cooked sous-vide then pan-fried, served on a carrot puree with curried cauliflower and creamed broccoli.  I have to take the blame for this dish that ended up not being more than the sum of its parts.  Having not cooked sous-vide before, I underseasoned the pork loin.  It was very tender, which was nice, but didn’t have much flavor.  Originally, we had discussed slicing the pork then flouring and briefly deep-frying each slice, to give it a nice outer crust.  We changed our mind late in the game because trying to deep-fry a dozen pieces of pork (even with a staff to help) seemed like a lot of work.  In retrospect, I think that would have been a more successful approach than the pan frying.

As for the vegetables, we had a lack of focus and this is one place where some advance planning would have helped.  I made the cauliflower in advance, because I like the recipe, but the flavors didn’t have anything to do with the rest of the plate.  The creamed broccoli was meant to contrast with the cauliflower while having a similar shape, but it also evoked a bit of an “meh…” response on the taste buds.  The carrot puree, which we wanted to leave as a neutral canvas for the pork, could have used something other than salt and pepper to season.  A stronger flavor – cumin, maybe? – would have been nice.

At this point, we had served too many too-large “small” plates and guests were getting full.  It was at that point that we decided to skip the cheese course – sad, because we bought some nice cheeses! – and then the individual cranberry souffles were knocked off the menu because one of the kitchen staff mistook the souffle base for a sauce.  While in the kitchen plating another course, I looked at the stove and asked Nat, “Is the cranberry mixture meant to be boiling?”  The answer, of course, was no.  Scratch the souffles.


Dessert: Peppermint ice cream.  We were left with only the ice cream for dessert.  This was meant to be a rosemary ice cream but after an hour of the rosemary steeping in the cream mixture, the flavor was indistinguishable from vanilla.  Running out of time, we settled on peppermint, added the extract, and started freezing the ice cream.  The flavor was perfectly nice and made a nice conclusion to the evening, though.

All in all, the diners had a fun time, enjoying good company and good food.  Nat and I had a fun adventure preparing this elaborate, even lavish, meal.  There were some successes as well as some mistakes, and plenty of lessons to be learned.  Nat probably put it best when he wrote in a text message to me the next morning, “I’ll be ready to do it again in about a year.”