Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Stovetop "Sous Vide" Episode 1: The Best Duck Breast Ever

If you watch any food television at all, you've undoubtedly seen the "sous vide" (French for "under vacuum") technique many, many times. What was once a very unique procedure is now about as rare as a hung-over line cook.

Not so long ago, only a handful of pros using state-of-the-art sous vide set-ups, costing thousands of dollars, got to play this game. Today, there
are many options for home sous vide kits, most costing hundreds of dollars, but what about the home cook who just wants to try this once and a while, and doesn’t want to invest that kind of money and space?How about a simple, almost foolproof, stovetop sous vide method that requires no special equipment? Too good to be true? Well, I'm happy to report it's so very true, and produced what Michele and I agreed was the best duck breast we've ever had.The principles behind this sous vide duck breast's succulence is quite simple. Put the meat in a watertight, vacuum-sealed bag, and place it in a water bath held at a temperature exactly equal to the ideal desired internal temperature. After a certain amount of time, the meat reaches that temperature and stays there.
That's it. Not only is there no real danger of overcooking the meat, but it cooks so gently, in a vacuum, that virtually no moisture is lost. The only real difference with our stovetop sous vide and the professional set-up, is the vacuum part.

We're going very low tech here; simply pressing or sucking the air from a ziplock bag. It's not a perfect vacuum, but as you'll see, it doesn’t have to be. As long as your package sinks below the surface, and no water gets in, you're good to go.
After an hour in the 135 degree F. water, my duck breasts were picture perfect inside. I crisped-up the skin, drizzled over some sweet and sour peach sauce, and ate in stunned silence. I could not believe how amazing the texture was. I won't even waste time trying to find the adjectives, as most of the ones I need haven't been invented yet.

I've only done this with one other meat (a NY Strip steak, also very impressive) so I can’t give you any info on other recipes/times/temperatures just yet. I will, however, post the quick and easy peach sauce seen in this clip soon. Anyway, I really hope you give this spectacular sous vide duck a try. Enjoy!




Ingredients:
2 large duck breasts, boneless, skin-on
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon vegetable oil


View the complete recipe

81 comments:

Sommer J said...

I am trying this next weekend!

Anonymous said...

THAT LOOKS AWESOME! got to try this on the weekend

Anonymous said...

That looks awesome! had no idea it was so simple. got to try this sometime.

Byron said...

Brilliant! You have done to my eyes what music does to my ears. An orgasm for the senses! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

This looks amazing! But are there any health risks associated with heating food in plastic for such a long time? We've all heard about how bad it is to microwave food in plastic/tupperware containers. Wouldn't the same processes happen here as you heat the meat in the plastic bag?

grumbleghoul said...

if it floated it would be a witch.

"so if she weighs the same as a duck, then she's made of wood"

"and therefore??"

"A WITCH!!!"

Basia said...

If she sinks, she's innocent. If she floats, she's a witch and we burn her! (Shouldn't that be a Catch 22?) http://wuzzle.org/cave/mpwit.html

ANYWAY - think this would work with those vacuum seal bag jobbies? I have one that I use for freezing garden harvests. The vacuum is really strong. Maybe too strong? Might pull juices from the duck? I'm tempted because the seal is totally waterproof and the bags are actually made to withstand cooking at higher temps.

BillW, NH said...

Sounds great and I want to do it but where on earth around here am I going to find 2 large duck breasts? Frozen? Fresh? Where?

Rich Stillwell said...

I hope you try the Sous Vide in a Cooler technique as well... I did, with a NY Strip...and well. Yea. Best home cooked steak I've ever made.
http://richstillwell.com/images/sousvidestrip5.jpg
SOUS VIDE FTW! Thanks for the duck recipe!

Anonymous said...

I was excited to see the video, it looks sooooo good, gonna try it for sure!
Thanks again for such a clear video!
Dorothea

Anonymous said...

Chef, you could use that device you tested a while back for ageing meat.

How do you calculate cooking time?

Anonymous said...

Chef John, my dad loves duck but unfortunately has no appreciation for any shades of pink on his meat (sigh). I'd still really wanna make this for him! If I wanted the duck a little darker, would I want to get the water temp higher than 135, or just leave it in longer?

Mark said...

me too!!!

Steven said...

Looks beautiful, Chef John!
But once again you're stealing my ideas! I'm going to have to adjust my Facebook privacy settings.

Anonymous said...

This is where having a Foodsaver vacuum sealer pays off! Might try this with a steak sometime.

Oliver James Spicer said...

Hey Chef John - this looks fantastic!

If you get the time, I would love to see this done on some pork loin chops :D

Chef John said...

Basia, yes those bags work great from what I hear.

Bill, no duck in NH??

Rita said...

that duck looks soooooo gooooooood! cooked to perfection.

Fernando said...

CJ,

As mentioned by Rich, using a beer cooler will help keep the temperature you want for one hour without much heat loss (maybe 2-3 degrees). You also don't have to monitor it since a cooler won't accidentally catch your house on fire.

Chef John said...

Anyone who starts a fire using the method here, should never, ever attempt to cook again. ;-)

Chef John said...

Sorry everyone who wants more info, I've only done this one method, so I'm not sure of how time is calc, etc. There are tons of sous vide articles online with times/temps, etc. I just used the info from the Serious Eats post I references last week.

Chef John said...

Also, not sure about plastic danger. I don't think 135 is a problem.

If you want less pink duck, then you have to use a higher temp, like 145, because longer at 135 will just stay the same (that's the whole idea!)

BillW, NH said...

yes, right New Hampshire. When we shoot a turkey we just pull the breast out, too much trouble for the rest, never thought about doing ducks that way.

KrisD said...

@BillW--I've seen duck breasts at Hannaford and Shaws, and even Market Basket. Usually they stock them with the "special occasion" cuts, and you're more likely to find them closer to a holiday, but they do have them pretty regularly.

Chris K. said...

Highly technical and in-depth sous vide primer, courtesy of the French Culinary Institute:

http://www.cookingissues.com/primers/sous-vide/

I think I'm going to pass on this technique with beaver tails, simply because it's wild game meat. I'm concerned about parasites vs. cooking temperature. Believe it or not, there are some critters that can survive above 135 deg. F.

However, if I ever get my hands on some nice venison or elk backstrap cuts, sous vide will be in order.

Jean said...

I can't stop looking at that beautiful plate of food--so perfectly prepared. I've been considering picking up a sous vide machine and when you tweeted about this, I thought you had done the same. I think I'll experiment with your method before I make that kind of investment. This dish is stunning.

Asian Malaysian said...

Fernando/ Rich, Thank you so much for suggesting the beer cooler method! What an incredibly blinding light-bulb moment! Ive heard every other suggestion (including Keller's suggestion of dropping in ice cubes into the water bath as needed) but never even considered using an everyday product proven to mantain the temperature of warm to hot liquids without any chance of me screwing it up!

Steve said...

Chef:

You are my hero! This looks wonderful and I'm looking forward to trying it.

I picked up Thomas Keller's Sous Vide book a couple of years ago and hadn't really thought about it since then but this now obvious "hack" I think is going to open up a whole new world.

Fernando said...

@Asian Malaysian:

Just make sure you start with water that is a bit warmer than what you want the food to finish at because dropping even room temperature food into water will drop the temperature by 5-10 degrees.

My suggestion, which is the way I do it, is to put the food in the cooler with the water set to 5 degrees above what you want and then check it 5 minutes later and add 1 cup of boiling water at a time until the temperature reaches the original temp. (plus maybe 2 degrees). I know that in my beer cooler, for example, the water will drop 2-3 degrees per hour so if I'm going to cook for more than 1 hour I will come back and add a cup of boiling water each hour.

Good Luck!

Anonymous said...

hello chef john, just wanted you to know that lavender is a wonderful herb with a duck breast done that way.

done it for high end catering, total success with everybody, and with a few fresh lavender flowers extra on top of the slices in a salad for the madams they go even more crazy

Anonymous said...

Just tried this last night and it worked perfectly! However, after doing some reading today, it seems that for safety purposes, 2:20 is the recommended time for poultry (1 inch thick breast fillets). I will definitely try this again, but at longer time.

Sander said...

I bought a very cheap sous vide a couple of months ago, mainly to freeze food (great machine to make popsicles too). Gonna buy some duck breast tomorrow (I live in rural France, so that won't be a problem) and try this way of cooking. Looks great, thanks for showing this video.

Nath said...

According to this chart, 63 minutes at 136 is long enough to kill most the bacteria:
http://www.cookingsousvide.com/info/sous-vide-safety/more/sous-vide-safety-salmonella-and-bacteria

But that's not 63 minutes of total cooking time. That's 63 minutes from when the *coolest* part of the meat reaches 136 F. I'm not sure how long that would take; depends on the size and shape of the meat. So, yeah, that 2:20 figure sounds more reasonable. Longer if you aren't sure how accurate your thermometer is.

If the plastic is a concern, perhaps you could put in a layer of some heat-safe product like foil, to keep the food from directly touching the bag.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for paving the way, oh fearless leader!

milkshake said...

55 degree centigrades is too low - there is no safety margin. Maintaining duck meat at 55 C for one hour can perhaps make the meat pasteurized but not sterilized. Since duck is a pretty high salmonella risk, I suggest that you make sure the thermometer works well in this temperature range (for example, by measuring the temperature of boiling water and ice slush). Also I would recommend not to save any leftovers from this dish.

Chef John said...

Those wanting to go longer than an hour, feel free, as this is supposed to be perfect for holding the duck at that temp with no ill effects to texture.

BUT, If you think about a conventional duck breast cooked med-rare in a restaurant... it's seared on high heat and cooked for only 10-15 minutes until the inside is around 135-140. Then it is sliced and served. The middle is only at that safe temp for a few minutes. But, people aren't getting salmonella poisoning from these meals. Why?

BTw, This method the duck is at that temp for much longer and even then is seared in hot fat before serving.

Unless you're poking into the breast all over with a knife and contaminated the inside of the meat somehow, any bad stuff is on the surface anyway (like a rare steak - same argument).

Bottom line - if eating pink duck was as risky as some would think, we'd have chef being sued left and right, because of all the thousands of duck breasts that are served in this country on a daily basis, 95% are pink.

Nath said...

milkshake: 55 C (131 F) for one hour would indeed be too short. 58 C (136 F) for one hour, on the other hand, reduces the number of bacteria by a factor of 10 million, if I'm reading their notation correctly. The time required decreases exponentially as the temperature increases.

Chef John: you're right; people don't get sick because the official temperature guidelines are very conservative. We don't really need a 10 million-fold decrease in the number of bacteria. Most people follow 'dangerous' food practices all the time (e.g. touching other things after handling raw meat) and rarely get sick. Hell, you could probably eat most meat completely raw, and 9 times out of 10 you'd probably be fine. But the 10th time would suck.

Rich Stillwell said...

Boom! Thanks again John...Worked like a charm :)
I made a Cranberry/Orange and Wine Reduction for mine, with some Steamed Baby Spinach
http://richstillwell.com/images/sousvideduck4.jpg

Chef John said...

Looks great!! And can you please tell everyone you feel fine.

Rich Stillwell said...

I feel much better than fine...I had a couple glasses of wine with it. ;) Why must Trader Joe's make such delicious cheap wine?

Rodge said...

Thanks for this demo CJ !
I always tought that Sous-Vide was a very complex technique that no one could achieve at home.

@ Chris K : if you are concerned with parasites in beaver meat, perhaps freezing the meat for at least 48hrs would kill the parasites. This method is recommended if you wish to serve salmon raw.

Stove Repair said...

When I was a scout leader, we would do breakfast this way. Eggs in a ziplock with whatever else (onion, cheese, peppers, etc.), mix it up in the ziplock, remove the air and seal. Drop them in the pot of water at the campfire, and let them cook. It was a great meal with little cleanup necessary, and all of the boys could participate.

Who knew we were cutting edge??

matt said...

Chef, thank you so much for doing this. I tried it over the weekend and, in addition to having no ill effects, the duck was just amazing! The texture, as you stated was indescribably good. I'm planning on using it to impress some foodie friends this weekend.

Thanks again for all you do for the community.

Nate said...

Wow, great duck! I modded the recipe to have more of a Peking Duck spin. I seasoned it with 5-spice and finished with a honey hoison sauce then served with forbidden rice.

The Duck was the most tender I've had and the skin was out of this world.

Thanks Chef!

Here's a bad pic but you'll get the idea:

http://i186.photobucket.com/albums/x12/Nate69637/d55b8193.jpg

Rich Stillwell said...

Chef John...

I've come back to complain about something.

I can't get this out of my mind. Duck breast now haunts my dreams. I think about it day and night. I must find a less expensive source!

I'm just posting this as a warning to the rest of your fans.

BEWARE! THIS RECIPE WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE! Sous Vide Duck Breast must be stopped!

;)

Steven K. said...

Chef John,

The only duck breasts I could find have a disclaimer stating that they contain up to a 15% phosphate solution. Do you think a long, slow cook with a treated duck breast will result in a mushy final product? I'm asking because I cooked some ribs that had this solution comment on them once in a low & slow bbq smoker, and they turned out kind of mushy.

Thanks.

Melodie (Singapore) said...

Chef John, I must confess. I watch this video every time I'm feeling a little upset. The first time I watched you flip that duck breast, it took my breath away and I just gaped. To quote another commenter, I had to stop myself from merging with the screen.

Absolutely magnificent, and I'm going to try it as soon as I find some duck breast. :)

Chef John said...

thanks, you made my night. :-)

Amy said...

This is a game-changer!!! I'm going to try it tomorrow with grass-fed beef and hope it stays moist and tender. Been having some trouble getting used to cooking it. : )

Anonymous said...

What do you guys think about this idea (since I don't have a thermometer): Use the oven to warm and keep the temperature at 135... seems like less hassle then watching the stovetop thermometer.

Rob said...

Did this on the weekend, and it worked brilliantly. I might have made more sauce, but the sound of the knife on the duck breasts was exactly as billed.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't get the knife across crispy duck skin sound? I carefully papertoweled the skin side of the duck, sprinkled vegetable oil into heavy Paella pan (non-stick kind but of course did not use glass cover) on my electric stove at medium-high heat and tenderly placed the duck breaksts in, skin side down.
It took 2 minutes before they started crackling, I did five MORE minutes after (7 min), but when checking out the color, the skin wasn't organgish-looking so I went 2 more minutes (total 9 min) and then flipped over the slightly-yellowed duck, 1 more minute, moved to plate.. but NO crispy skin??? boo hoo hoo

where did i go wrong.. like another poster, sometimes when I get distressed from work, I come home and watch Chef John run the knife across the crispy duck skin and feel better immediately, so I was really hoping for crispy skin (otherwise i might as well use cheaper pork, no?)

Chef John, where did i go wrong?
Was it the non-stick pan?
The electric stove? Should I have papertowel dried the other side too? Should I have bought a real cast iron pan or at least stainless steel? SHould I have bought a gas stove instead of electric?

perplexed in geneva, switzerland.

Chef John said...

I have no idea!! Did the fat render out like in my video? There needs to be duck fat in the pan to help it fry. Also, just the thin layer of skin crisps, not the fat underneath. Maybe you thought it all gets crispy?

Anonymous said...

Wow thank you for answering (it's like getting a letter from santa claus)! on Rendering: Compared to your video, much less oil leaked out. Now that I think about it, I did have a thicker layer of fat compared to your duck when i was eating it.
Also the skin didn't turn orangish but stayed yellowish with only some parts turning darker.

I guess I thought you could taste or detect the crispy skin when eating??
Maybe I should have let more fat bleed out since the fat was still quite thick (of course my swiss duck also looked different raw; instead of pinkish white skin, the skin was yellowish peach when raw.) If i "render" longer or at a lower heat, can i melt out more fat (like Peking duck)? maybe it was the thick slab of fat that disguised the crisp skin?

Heidi said...

My dinner club just tried your recipe tonight. We loved it! We're going to try your baby back ribs next week. Thanks for the videos!

Chef John said...

Awesome! I want to be in a club like that.

orlando.lannes said...

I just did last week end and it was perfect. Even my 6 years old son loved.

I'm planning to invite some friends and try again this recipe and at this time I will need to cook 4 pieces. How to keep the first batch still warm while I finish the other one? Can I pre heat the oven to 135F and let it there?

Daniel Bottoms said...

Dear John,
Thanks again for showing this amazing technique and making the French cram their carte blanche up their ass.... stonishingly good cooking :D

But hey 2 questions please, when you have time:

When i did this today, had it in what i am pretty sure was straight up 57 celsius for 1.5 hours, but holy cow a LOT of liquid came out. loads. i'd say a cup at least. I crisped up the skin and it was glorious, but just soooo much liquid came out. The only thing i can guess that i did wrong, was maybe one or 2 of my scoring piericed the flesh? Any clue why so much liquid would come out? (the bag was sealed properly too, so no water got in)

2nd: what size is your main white dutch-oven? my wife has promised one to me for Xmas, we just haven't bought it yet.

Thank you for such inspiring dishes!
Cheers,
Daniel and Elisabeth from Vienna, Austria

Chef John said...

Really not sure why that much. Could be cutting the flesh. Do not cut past the skin ever. Or could be the duck? My pot was 9 qt. Thanks!

Eric said...

Chef John,
I made the Duck last night for the second time and have done chicken breasts and flank steak and a venison tenderloin so far. The method rocks for kitchen planning and timing flexibility. This would be a great way to do a large party or catering with searing at the end for perfect plate presentation. Actually it is way easier to quick sear a quantity of the entree meat in a short time rather than try to fully cook from raw. The duck is truly wonderful.

I've never been a big fan of NY Strips since a lot of the meat is tough from being over cooked on the outsides. With Sous Vide the meat is tender through out.

Thanks for bringing this method to light! Well done Chef!

Agnieszka said...

I made this duck for my friends when they came visit me for St. Patrick's Day . They love it . And me too. Its definetly my favorite for next few months. Thanks Chef John.
Oh and i have some FoodWish . You mention one time that you have some Polish in your blood . Could you do your version of Bigos?

Atif said...

Hi Chef John, I saw this in the supermarket yesterday:
http://www.reynoldspkg.com/reynoldskitchens/handi_vac/en/product.asp?cat_id=1337&prod_id=3918

and I thought of this recipe. With this device, there's no need to suck raw duck air. :)

Edwin said...

Dear Chef John,

Is it ok if this method is cooked with chicken breast instead of duck breast?

Thanks.

Chef John said...

yes, but different temps. Check internet sous vide sites for chicken guidelines.

Kelly said...

Chef John,

As the fat does not render out during the cooking process, I am wondering what, in your opinion, is the advantage of scoring the skin before cooking, as opposed to right before searing? Would it make any difference at all?

Anonymous said...

Chef John,

might tell us how you did the peach sauce? How did you prep the lentils?

Regards and have a nice sunday

Chef John said...

lentils were from Trader Joes, and the sauce was just some peach jam thinned with a little rice vinegar.

Randy Frid said...

OMG! Okay. That has to be one of the best dishes I've tried in such a long time. Brilliant John. I followed your technique to the letter and it was incredible.

I finished with a peach and black current white wine reduction and when I bit into that crispy coating accompanied by the most tender and moist duck meat ever, I reached some bizarre Freudian/Zen place with an idiotic facial expression and low moan of ecstasy. My family thought something was wrong with me until they tasted it as well.

Damn, that was good. Rushing out to buy more duck breasts ASAP. My wife doesn't even like duck, but she liked this one.

Thanks for waking up my taste buds again.

Cheers, Randy

Anonymous said...

I am officially in love with you, Chef John. This is my first comment on your site, I'm only following you since last week. I had to make this duck, and it turned out exciting and delicious and fantastic. I put some rosemary in the bag, made it very special, although I put it into the oven and steamed it in there for about 4 hours on 60°C. Thank you so much for the recipe and the many instructions in the video.

Kriszta

Anonymous said...

Maybe the guy that didn't get it crispy was supposed to wait for the pan to be hotter before putting the meat in it?
And some people may have too much liquid coming out if they let the bag sit on the bottom of the pan while the thermometer is on the side showing a lot less , or maybe too much salt in the bag?

yumhwa said...

hey chef john. how is this different from cooking the duck (without vacuum bagging) slowly in duck fat?

Anonymous said...

Wow this is an excellent recipe, the duck was gorgeous and crisp, and while I used an actual sous vide, the result using my sous vide looks identical to the one in this recipe, so I wouldn't hesitate using this method if you don't have a sous vide. Also the sauce is worth doing really good accompaniment for the duck.

Midori said...

hey there chef just wondering if you ever cooked a WHOLE duck on the oven? please do! ^ ^

gail said...

Chef, just finished dinner having prepared the duck (shot yesterday) as you showed. Had to jump up and thank you! Absolutely superb!

I vacuum-packed the breasts and this also brought the flavor of the thyme out, too. Husband said this was probably the best duck he had ever had and he has been hunting them for 60 years! Thanks so very much for this.

Am going to try with other herbs and sauces (we used Cumberland since I had it in the freezer). Will also use this method on venison tenderloin as a previous poster has done.

gail.

Chef John said...

Great! Thanks!

Florin Ilia said...

Link to peach sauce recipe:

http://foodwishes.blogspot.ro/2011/01/5-minute-peach-sweet-and-sour-sauce.html

I am making this recipe as I type this. Looking forward. Gotta go :)

Kitty Chen said...

Just tried this recipe recently!! I didn't have any thyme so I used a five spice powder rub on the duck instead! Tasted like Chinese roast duck but much better!! :) Thank you so much for sharing this!! I shared my version of it on my blog if you are interested!!!

http://tchensays.blogspot.com/

Adam said...

Holy moly! This was delicious! Surprisingly easy, in fact.

Used the sweet-n-sour glaze as well.

My wife is too picky to eat chicken, but even she LOVED the duck!

Thank you!!

Florin Ilia said...

I did this "high-tech" (i.e. with my $190 sous-vide setup) and your time, temperature and sauce proved amazing, it was delicious!

I just wanted to post this vacuum sealing method which in my experience is best unless you have a machine: http://blog.sousvidesupreme.com/2011/06/sealing-liquids-archimedes-principle/

Terry Pogue said...

I use so many of your recipes. I love the lambage rolls, a dish I first had in 1955 at a wash.,,DC restaurant called The Desert Inn. It was there I was introduced to pita and hummus. We had no ethnic restaurants in the city at that time. Swedish meatballs is another favorite. Your duck breast is now my husbands favorite. I do use a sous vide circulator (SanSaire) and it was perfect cooked at 130F for over an hour. I wasn't ready for dinner after the hour so just held it in the water bath until I was. I used a razor blade to score the skin for that crispness. Sharper than my knives at the moment.
I look forward to your recipes each day.
Terry Buff Pogue

Chef John said...

Thank you!!