Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Mother Sauces: Velouté/Suprême, Sous Vide Chicken

Next in our series on the five mother sauces is velouté sauce.  Velouté is similar to béchamel sauce in that it's a single liquid thickened with roux. Also like béchamel, you'll see that's it's pretty darn easy to make.

For this post, we'll be making the mother sauce, velouté, a child sauce called sauce suprême, and some awesome sous vide chicken and vegetables.

Part I: Sauce Suprême
Velouté Sauce
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1 cup chicken stock

Sauce Suprême
1 cup velouté sauce
¼ cup heavy cream
1 tbsp cold butter for mounting

Inspiration for the chicken and vegetables comes from the ChefSteps recipes for chicken roulade and whole poached chicken. The sauce suprême recipe is from a combination of a few recipes + personal experience.

We begin by making a roux, as seen in the béchamel post.  However, unlike the white roux that's used in béchamel, we want a blond roux which is slightly darker.  I would suggest cooking until the roux is a tad darker than the image above—this will add a hint of nutty flavor to the sauce and create a nice brown color.

When the roux is the correct color, add the chicken stock and bring to a boil to thicken, and now you have velouté! (Pretty similar to béchamel, huh?)  The classic velouté is made with chicken stock, but I've seen velouté made from vegetable stock as well.

Unfortunately I forgot to take pictures of the final steps that turn this velouté into a suprême, but it's straightforward:

  1. Take the sauce completely off heat, add the cream, and stir.  The residual heat should be enough to keep the sauce warm.  
  2. Add the cold butter to the sauce (still off the heat) and swirl it around until the butter is melted. This step, known as mounting with butter, creates a nice velvety texture in the sauce.
  3. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Side note: there are several other child sauces made from velouté—one of my favorites is sauce poulette (that recipe adds curry powder, which is unconventional but really interesting!) which goes great with, well, poulet (chicken).  Sauce poulette and sauce suprême are not so different from each other, and I find that they both are great with chicken and potatoes.  Think of them as a form of chicken gravy.

Part II: Sous Vide Chicken and Vegetables
1 split chicken breast
1 oz crimini mushrooms, cut into ~1cm chunks
1 lb fingerling potatoes
2 leeks, leaves removed
2 carrots
12 pearl onions
~1 cup chicken stock

If served as a lone entrée, this is enough to make 2 filling servings.  Otherwise, this will make 4 fancy-pants servings as part of a multi-course meal, depending on how stingy you are with the chicken.

Now onto the actual food!  This works best if you have chicken breasts with skin, and the easiest way to find that is to buy a split chicken breast (bonus: split chicken breasts tend to be pretty cheap!).

A split chicken breast has a few extra parts that we want to remove.  On the bottom, there's this hanging flap of meat called a chicken tender.  It's very similar in texture to a chicken breast, but it'll get in the way for this recipe, so we want to remove it.

Most of the time, the tender will be barely connected to the breast by a little bit of meat.  Cut through and separate the tender.  If you're feeling hulk-ish, you can rip it off too.

Easy.  Chicken tenders are super fun to cook with, and a classic way to use them is to make...chicken tenders!  Bread them your favorite way and fry 'em.  I like using panko and shallow frying, it's like mini chicken katsu.  Anyway...

Now we want to remove the breast from the rib cage.  There's this one annoying bone that protrudes into the breast, as seen here—cut around that bone to separate it from the breast.

From here, separating the rib cage is simple—follow the curvature of the rib cage, making several shallow cuts with your knife.

Eventually the breast and skin will separate from the bones.  Looking good...

Now we want to trim this a bit.  Cut off any extra skin and fat hanging on the sides...

...and now you have a nice pretty chicken breast, with skin!  I guess if you can find skin-on boneless chicken breasts at your store, you can buy that and skip all of this.  I guess.  I've never found skin-on boneless chicken breasts at any supermarket.

Poke a few holes into the skin.  I did this a bit out of order, but ChefSteps says that this helps remove air pockets from underneath the skin, which will prevent blowouts during frying.  We won't be deep frying, but we'll be shallow frying this later, so you don't exactly want scalding oil flying everywhere.

Place the chicken breast on some plastic wrap...

...and start rolling it up.  If you've ever made sushi rolls, this first step should look familiar—after the first half turn, push the chicken back against the plastic wrap to ensure a tight fit.  You want to get rid of as many air pockets as possible.

After four full turns, poke some more holes through the plastic wrap.  This gives any trapped air a way out as you continue to roll this up.  Try to make it as tight of a roll as you can—when this is cooked sous vide, we want conduction from water to plastic wrap to chicken to be the main source of heat transfer, and any trapped air pockets will mess that up.

After you've poked holes through the plastic wrap, roll up the breast a few more times (I think I did 4 more times).  You may actually notice some fat seep out the holes and/or sides if you're rolling tight enough.  That's fine!

Twist up the ends until they're tight...

...and tie up the ends with kitchen twine (or unwaxed floss if you don't have any twine).

Now for some sous vide cooking!  I set my Anova to 65°C, but I would actually recommend 60°C if you try this—as you'll see later, the chicken breast at 65°C is ever so slightly fibrous.  I've made this at 60°C before and the resulting texture is similar to a brined chicken breast: smooth and grain-free.

Drop the chicken breast in and cook for 45 minutes.

Although I'm using an immersion circulator that was made for the exact purpose of cooking sous vide, you can try sous vide on your stovetop as well!  You just need a thermometer and a watchful eye.

Meanwhile, boil the potatoes, onions, and carrots for 10 minutes.  Eventually all the vegetables will be cooked together sous vide, but these three vegetables in particular soften at relatively high temperatures.  If you throw them straight into the 65°C (149 F) bath, they're just going to stay hard.  I would know.

Pearl onions are a pain to peel, so what I did was score them, boil for a minute, take them out and peel them, then throw them back in the pot.

While those are boiling, prepare...

...the rest...

...of your vegetables.  I like forming carrots into these long teardrop shapes—you can do this by cutting them into approximate shapes with a knife, then fine-tuning the shape with a vegetable peeler.

Not bad, huh?  You will get a bit of waste as you form the carrots, so be prepared for that.  If you build up a bunch of carrot strips, boil them for a few minutes, purée, and add some butter and cream.  Easy carrot purée!

Once the potatoes, onions, and carrots are done boiling, add all the vegetables to a bag and barely cover with chicken stock.

(fluid mechanics geek-out side note: notice how that jet of chicken stock is fairly smooth near the top, but wavy looking near the bottom before it hits the vegetables?  This is the Plateau-Rayleigh instability, and it happens because non-perfect jets will have perturbations in pressure; under the right conditions, pressure due to surface tension will eventually win, pinching off the jet into droplets to minimize surface area.  If you've taken a class on fluid mechanics, check out this handout to see the conditions required to induce this instability.  We now return to your regularly scheduled food post.)

If you have a vacuum sealer, seal your bag per instructions and toss it in the water bath with the chicken breast.  If you don't have a vacuum sealer like me, no problem!  We'll use the water displacement method to evacuate most of the air.  Zip up most of your plastic bag, but leave a little section unzipped and open at one end.

Slowly lower the bag into the water.  As the name of the method implies, the water will push the air out of the bag through that little section you left unzipped, creating a kinda-vacuum.  Keep submerging the bag until the only thing above water is that section that's unzipped.  Zip up that last part and fully submerge the bag.

It also helps that the vegetables are covered in chicken stock in the bag—the chicken stock will help a lot with evenly dispersing heat (thanks, conduction!).  Leave this in the 65°C water bath for 30-45 minutes, although there's nothing wrong with leaving it in longer.

After the chicken breast has been cooking for 45 minutes, take it out and unwrap it.  Yes, it looks totally weird, but that's okay because we're not done yet—sous vide cooking usually requires a finishing step.  In many cases (especially with meat), that means seasoning and searing.

We're going to shallow fry this because it's a more reliable way than pan searing to make an evenly browned surface (deep frying would be even better, but I didn't want to use a bunch of oil just for this).  Season with salt and pepper, add oil to a skillet until it's a few millimeters tall, and add the chicken breast when the oil's hot.  Fry for a few minutes per side, rotating when each side is browned.

After frying, let the chicken breast rest for a few minutes while you gaze at its deliciousness.

Here's a video showing how crispy that skin is.  mmm.
(shot at ISO 3200, so ignore that video noise, thanks)

When the vegetables are ready, it's time to start plating!  There's absolutely nothing wrong with slicing the chicken, placing it on a mound of vegetables, and pouring sauce all over it.  But if you want a fancy-pants presentation, take some extra time to layout the vegetables.  For a good first read on plating, I'm a fan of this writeup on eGullet, the OG of food forums.

Honestly, it's easier to place most things with your hands, but if you're making plates for guests then they might not enjoy seeing your fingers all up in their food.  If they don't care, I find that using fingers for medium sized things (a few cm) and tweezers for small things (a few mm) works best for me.

And of course, add the sauce suprême to the chicken and vegetables.  I've been using measuring spoons for making consistent pools of sauce, and normal spoons for making streaks/tadpoles/spoon pushes.  I'm still new to plating sauces, so this is definitely an area that can be improved on!

The best way to get better is to look at pictures to get inspired, figure out what looks good to you, and just practice. To me, some of those pictures look dated, some look overelaborate, and some look awesome.

Now serve...

and charge your guests $20 enjoy.

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