The tools of the trade
Food For Thought
With Chef Tim Tibbitts
As anyone who has spent time in a commercial kitchen will tell you, there are a lot of tools and gadgets used every day that may be similar to the tools you'd find in every good home kitchen. Let's face it, without a good knife cooking stops before it starts.
However, we also employ some gadgets that most people won't have in their home kitchen mostly because they simply aren't tools most people would ever need.
The modern chef also employs a massive list of gadgets taken from the science lab in order to maximize the experience for the guest. The only thing that prohibits using these gadgets for most new restaurants is the upfront cost.
When you are just starting out, dropping $25,000 on a centrifuge, $27,000 on a combi-therm oven and $18,000 on a rotary evaporator doesn't seem very sensible. We felt the same way. So these giants of the modern kitchen remain a dream to me.
However, there are some much more affordable gadgets for the modern kitchen that we do use every day. Some are simple to use and others require a little more experience to use properly but each has its own place in my kitchen.
One of the most important gadgets in the kitchen (other than a good knife) is a scientific digital scale capable of recording to 1/100th of a gram. Precision is key to providing consistency in your recipes, especially when using some of the modern ingredients we spoke of in my last article.
We have done away with the teaspoon and tablespoon style of measure and do all our recipes by weight. In tandem with your scale should be a good heavy-duty hand blender or "immersion" blender. For techniques like "spherification," and "gels," the scale and the blender go hand in hand.
Some of the more fun gadgets we use include the Anti-Griddle. The Anti-Griddle is precisely what it sounds like. It is a flat top griddle but instead of getting really hot, it gets really cold. The surface maintains a constant - 40F degrees that allows you to flash freeze elements.
We use this technique for my modern conch salad. A frozen disc of vinaigrette is placed over the salad and then with the application of heat at the table it dissolves in front of the guest. Theatrical presentation to engage the diner is one of the most important parts of fine modern dining and this dish has it in spades.
Another fun gadget we have is called the Paco-Jet. It's basically the world's best blender turned upside down. A double action blade, one for cutting and one for aeration, spins at approximately 2,000 rpm. It also lowers on a piston from above instead of from below, thus giving you the ability to process only the amount of portions you need.
The only catch is the product you are processing must be frozen solid. The texture of ice creams and sorbets freshly cut by the Paco-Jet is unlike anything else out there. That's why almost every serious kitchen in the world now possesses one of these beauties. The cost can be prohibitive and is definitely not something you would likely splurge on for your home kitchen.
The unit itself runs about $4,000 plus $40 for each beaker for storage of your product. Once you include shipping and import duty, add about 50 percent to that. We have about 40 beakers in rotation, so you see the cost can get up there for the home cook.
Lastly, and most importantly in my kitchen, are the tools we use for cooking "Sous Vide."
Sous vide cooking is not really that new a technique. The French designed the style of cooking nearly four decades ago to control the heat at certain temperatures and infuse the products with flavor. The term sous vide actually means "under vacuum" which is precisely what we do to the food we want to cook.
Sous vide cooking requires two pieces of equipment. The first is a vacuum sealer. You can use a home version vacuum sealer to do this at home but the unit we use in the restaurant is slightly more complex. It is a vacuum chamber sealer, which encloses the product and the bag in an airtight chamber and lowers the atmospheric pressure inside the chamber to 0.1millibars.
This does a few things.
First it removes any possible oxygen from the chamber giving your product longer shelf life and protection from oxidization.
Also, the lower pressure causes some interesting physical changes to some ingredients like fruits or vegetables that change their texture and flavor, both in a good way I think.
Thirdly, it allows you to infuse flavors into the base ingredient at rapid speed.
As the pressure drops, the cell walls of the base ingredient begin to explode and collapse. As the vacuum and sealing process happens, any other flavor or ingredient you place in the bag with your base ingredient is violently crammed into the base ingredient at a very high rate of speed.
For beef, we are using basil, garlic and olive oil. For lamb, rosemary, garlic and olive oil. The final product tastes of the infused flavors but you don't see those ingredients on the plate. Again, this is another way to keep the diner thinking about the food.
The second piece of equipment necessary for sous vide cooking is a water bath.
You can do this at home with a large pot of water on your stove, a good thermometer and a bucket of ice cubes. Heat the water to the desired temperature, place the bag or bags into the water and then watch closely and control the heat by dropping a few ice cubes into the water as the temperature starts to rise.
In the restaurant however, we use a device called a Thermal Immersion Circulator. These are digital, computer controlled heating and circulating devices that attach to a metal or plastic water bath maintaining temperature to within 1/10th of a degree for long periods of time.
The beauty of cooking this way is the control. If you want your steaks medium rare, simply cook the meat at 130F degrees. It can never over cook. It will always only get to 130F degrees since the surrounding temperature is constant. Each ingredient has its own favorite temperature and duration of time it requires to be perfect. Some examples from the restaurant: beef striploin 128F degrees for 45 minutes, lamb rack 136F degrees for 40 minutes, lobster 124.7F degrees for 30 minutes, duck breast 133.7F degrees for 50 minutes and my favorite, the perfect poached egg is 147.2F degrees for 75 minutes.
Each of these temperatures we use allow us two things: pasteurization, which protects it from contamination, and the ability to cook it once more on the stove for extra flavor without over cooking.
After sous vide cooking, each of these ingredients then find themselves in a very hot pan (or pot for the eggs) for a short period of time for flavor boosting by caramelizing the outsides and basting with butter just before being served.
The eggs find themselves in boiling water for 10-15 seconds to set the whites for a perfect poached egg unlike any you've ever had before.
There is no question that tools and gadgets make interesting cooking techniques possible and your food more delicious. The question for the home cook is whether to invest the time and money into these gadgets or just come down to the restaurant and save oneself the effort!
Since I don't have these gadgets in my home I know which choice I choose! If you'd like to continue this discussion please email me at email@example.com.
n In my next article I'll be discussing one of my favorite ingredients, Bacon! Until then, thanks for reading.
Tim Tibbitts is the chef and owner of Flying Fish Modern Seafood in Freeport Bahamas. Flying Fish is the #1 rated restaurant in The Bahamas on tripadvisor.com. You can see what Flying Fish is all about at www.flyngfishbahamas.com or www.facebook.com/flyingfishmodernseafood and follow Tim on twitter @flyingfishfreep.
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