Saturday, December 10, 2016

Herb and Butter Sous Vide Chicken Breast

AND ... besides an awesome recipe, I'm going to give you a bunch of reasons why you need a vacuum sealer.

I mean Christmas is coming, right?

Full disclosure: This post is sponsored by FoodSaver and they sent me a really slick new vacuum sealer to test.

But this is now my THIRD vacuum sealer made by them, so I knew I was going to be happy with it before I agreed to post.

My first FoodSaver suffered a tragic accident, so I replaced it. The second one is still here and functional. I bought both of those. And now I have a new one with some features I really like. More on that later, though.

There are a bunch of reasons I think a vacuum sealer is a great kitchen tool, in general.

First, it saves food from freezer burn. You'll see photos of what I mean.

Second, you can seal foods that are affected by oxygen and they'll last longer. Like guacamole. I have guacamole that's been in the freezer since last year, and it still looks perfect.

Third, you can vacuum seal things in ball jars, bottles, and canisters with the adapters. There are also vacuum bags with zip opening, so you could seal vacuum-seal things that you'll be using in portions, like lunch meat or cheese.

Fourth, you can marinate foods a lot faster.

Fifth, you can see what's in the bag when it's frozen.

Sixth, and this is a huuuuge one for me. You can cook foods sealed in the bag using sous vide.

I'm a huge fan of sous vide cooking, and I've posted a lot of recipes here for foods I've cooked sous vide. I trust the thick bags that the Food Saver uses. I don't trust zipper plastic bags, particularly not for long-term cooking. If I've got an expensive hunk of meat or I'm investing a lot of time into a cooking operation, I'd be really mad if a zipper failed.

So anyway, the challenge from FoodSaver was to pick a food product and store one in the freezer for a month sealed in a FoodSaver bag, and have another one stored in the freezer in the usual way. I bought some chicken boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

For the "normal" method, I chose a zip-top bag and removed as much air from the bag as possible. The second one went into a Foodsaver bag.

A third breast got seasoned first with some spicy chipotle seasoning, before I froze it. This is actually a great idea if you want to have some food that's prepped and ready to go into the sous vide, you can add seasonings, butter, or whatever.

Adding different seasonings to different pieces of chicken (or other foods) could be quite handy of you have people in the house who like different flavors or different levels of spice. You can add the seasonings and label the bags, but you can still cook all the different flavors at one.

Just toss  as much chicken (or whatever) into the water, set the time, and walk away. If you're not sure what you're going to use the chicken for, then leave it unseasoned. It's easy enough to add that later.

After a month in the freezer, the FoodSaver chicken (the one on the bottom in the photo below) looked about the same as it did when it went into the freezer. It was solid, of course, but it looked pretty much like it did before. The one in the zip-top bag (the one on top) didn't fare quite as well. Where the plastic didn't freeze right against the chicken, freezer burn was already taking over. You can see it there on the right side, where it's turning white and there are ice crystals in the bag. UGH. It sure as heck didn't look pretty.

Normally, I'd trim off the freezer burn if it wasn't too bad. I mean, sometimes it's just too far gone and the whole thing needs to be tossed. But if it wasn't awful, I'd lop off the bad part and salvage the good part. But I decided to just go forth with my cooking plans since the freezer burn was just in one place. I was curious how bad it would be after cooking. I'm a risk-taker, huh?

So ... I opened the sealed FoodSaver bag and added a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of an all-purpose seasoning called Chef Shake. You could use pretty much anything you like ... Mexican, Cajun, Italian, Greek ... whatever flavors you like. Or your own custom mix. Whatever makes you happy. Olive oil would be okay, too, or leave the fat out entirely.

I put the zipper-bag-stored chicken into another FoodSaver bag and added the same seasonings. Those two, plus the pre-seasoned breast, went into the hot tub. I mean ... the sous vide.

Once they were cooked, it was hard to tell by looking at them in their bags that one of them had suffered freezer burn because of the spices milling about in the bag. But ... when I sliced into the one with freezer burn and tasted it (yes, I do these things for you) it was a little more obvious. I don't suggest you eat freezer-burned food.

So ... I removed that part and went on to bigger and better things.

Herb and Butter Sous Vide Chicken Breast

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts (one per serving, unless they're huge)
Your favorite seasoning mix (I used Chef Shake)
Salt (optional)

For individual servings, use one bag per breast. This is great if different people like different flavors. Otherwise, you can put several chicken breasts in a single bag. Keep them in an even layer rather than piling them on top of each other.

Add about a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of the seasoning to each bag. Please adjust the amount of seasoning to your taste and for the seasoning you use. If you're using something super-spicy and you only want it mildly spicy, cut back on the seasoning. If your seasoning is very mild or you want something flaming hot, add more.

If the seasoning doesn't have salt, add a pinch, or to taste. Much of today's chicken is brined, so it's a little salty. But a little pinch is fine.

Seal the bag using the FoodSaver. You can cook this right away, but let's assume you're prepping to cook later. So ... into the freezer they go!

When it's time to cook, set the sous vide for 146 degrees for 2 1/2 hours. Toss the still-frozen chicken into the sous vide.

Yup, you can cook it from its frozen state. It thaws really quickly even before the water had reached cooking temperature, and I started with hot tap water.

When the timer says it's done, remove the chicken.

You can slice and serve immediately. I used the chipotle-spiced chicken right away, in tacos.

For the more gently-spiced chicken, I opted to toss them into the refrigerator to chill. I used them the next day on a salad. You could also cook ahead and then gently reheat and serve. Or add the chicken at the last second to a stir fry - just long enough to heat it up.

Chicken breast cooked this way is always moist. Never dry. And it absorbs the flavor of the spices you add, so it's never just plain chicken. So freaking good!

About the new FM5000 series FoodSaver:

So, the big benefit of this model over my old one (which is pretty old) is that it does the sealing closer to the end of the bag, so you're not using as much bag material.

This one has a different method for making bags, too. You make the first seal at the end of the roll, before you pull the bag material out. So, you pull a bag out, and that end has already been sealed from the previous operation. You flip a lever which seals and then you cut your bag loose. Again, you have a seal at the end of the roll.

The new bag, when you seal it, goes into a different slot, so that roll is never in the way.

Also, the roll stores where you can see it, which is nice. I wish there was space for two rolls, but I mostly use the widest ones, so it's not really a big deal.

Thanks to FoodSaver for sponsoring this post.