Okay, so today going to continue our theme of recipes that require some special equipment in the kitchen. We’re going to be doing Duck Breast Sous Vide.
For many of you, you’re thinking “okay, I’ve heard of this sous vide … it’s that thing that seems to impress the judges on Chopped”. Yes, that’s true … but let’s talk about what sous vide cooking actually is.
Sous vide is French for under vacuum. In this process, the food (usually a protein like steak or duck) is sealed in a food-grade plastic bag, under vacuum (see, that’s where the sous vide comes in!), and placed in a strictly temperature controlled water bath to cook. Why do this?
Okay, let’s look at beef. A steak is rare at a temperature of 52C. So, you want to make sure the internal temperature is 52C. Typically you grill a steak and hope to remove it in time. The heat, having come in from the outside (at a very high temperature) will cook the exterior to a very well done level, only being rare once you get towards the centre. Timing depends on thickness.
Sous vide cooking is what I would call equilibrium cooking. The water is kept at exactly 52C in this case. The meat, sealed in a bag, is placed in the water. After about an hour, the contents of the bag will have reached the same temperature as the surrounding water. In other words, the meat will be cooked to rare … through out the entire steak, evenly.
Here’s the even cooler part … if you left the steak in there for four hours it would still be perfectly cooked to rare! You can’t overcook in the sous vide method … the meat can never be a higher temperature than the surrounding water, it’s just thermodynamics!
Okay, you probably want to see this at work … so let’s do that most finicky of meats to get right, duck breast!
Here’s the stuff you’ll need for doing this at home. A sous vide vacuum sealer, food grade plastic bags for sealing, a water circulator, a large pot … and of course the duck breast! (You can also get one piece controlled water baths but a circulator will cost about half as much)
First we prepare the duck breast!
Take your duck, skin side up, and make diagonal slices across the skin
Repeat the process with diagonal slices the other way, to create a diamond pattern
This is going to allow the fat in the skin to render without too much shrinkage
Season normally, with salt, pepper and a bit of thyme
Now, go grab a large sous vide bag. It’s important that you have a bag that was meant for heating the food. A low quality plastic will have chemicals leech into the food during the cooking process.
Place the duck breast into the bag, leaving about six inches from the top
Now, our first piece of special equipment, the sous vide vacuum sealer
The sealer I am using is from Sous Vide Supreme.
With the bag laying flat, put the open top under the tabs in the sealer
Press with both hands until you hear a click, then walk back and let the sealer do it’s magic! The machine will stop when the vacuum has been created and the bag heat sealed.
Your duck breast is now ready for the next step!
You can see the bag is tightly sealed … isn’t this cool?
Fill a very large pot (like a stock pot) with water … fill it high, don’t be shy! (yea, I’m gonna claim that rhyme)
This is my water circulator, from Sansaire. The combination of a circulator and a large pot is by far the most cost effective method … a one piece heated water bath usually is about double the price. This circulator will heat the water to a specific temperature and keep it at that temperature within 0.1C for as long as I want!
Place the circulator in the water. This one attaches to my pot with a nice metal clip!
When I turn it on, I see the current temperature of the water
Set the temperature to 57C, which is the internal temperature we want for a medium cooked duck breast (it will be wonderfully pink, as duck breast should be!)
The reading will go back to show the current temperature of the water. Once it hits 57C, we’re ready to add the duck!
Place your bag into the water, make sure it’s fully submerged. As there is little air in the bag, it should submerge easily
Now, you let this cook for at least one hour. Remember, the meat will never get to a higher temperature than this, so you can’t overcook it! (If left for many hours, the meat may get very soft … which if you are using a cheaper cut of beef can be good actually).
Don’t panic if the temperature drops 0.2 or 0.3 degrees when you add the cold meat … it will come back up.
After an hour, remove the bag (using tongs, don’t burn your fingers!) from the water
The duck is now perfectly done
Remove the duck from the bag and place on a plate
Okay, it’s done … but that looks kinda gross. Now, here’s the trick!
Heat a frying pan on the stove medium high heat with a little oil. Place the duck, skin side down in the pan
Cook for only about 30 seconds … just enough to get a crispy golden skin
Flip over and cook other side
Again, like 30 seconds
Now remove them back to the plate
Doesn’t that look better?
Let’s see how they are inside …
Slice the duck breast on a cutting board. In this method, no need to let the meat rest.
Place the meat on a plate
Add some sides like a salad and some mashed potatoes …
This is a method used by many restaurants. It allows for the chef to play a bit with the timing, so your steak is always ready exactly on time with the other dishes. It also allows for less experienced cooks to prepare the steaks, as it doesn’t have such strict timing involved!
There you go, Duck Breast Sous Vide!