So this is a special milestone bento it's number 100! That's right, I've managed to churn out 100 of these babies. Looking back it doesn't feel like I've already been at this for nearly four years. This year has been a slower start for bento production but I'm pretty happy with my work/life/bento balance, sometimes it's not so easy to be inspired to cook up lunch other times my bentos are a refuge from the daily stress of life and work.
Enough nostalgia! What did I come up with you ask? Well for this bento I decided to go with a fully Sous Vide bento, meaning everything in the box was prepared sous vide. I recently ordered a series of books from the good people at Sous Vide Supreme. I went with this as my theme for a couple of reasons but mainly to experiment with non-meat dishes. Don't get me wrong I love the meat that the sous vide cooking process produces. The end product is always amazing and if any of you ask, yes both rigs (the commercial version and the home brew) are worth the cost and have long since paid for themselves in terms of quality of food and time savings. More recently the peas I did showed me the value of sous vide cooking for vegetables and I wanted to try more.
You can't beat the texture and tenderness of chicken, pork and beef that come out of my "water ovens". I considered re-doing my beef short ribs, a big favorite with my eaters but I ultimately decided I need to try another long cook experiment, this time beef tri-tip. The beef tri tip is a tough cut of meat that really benefits from long cook times to break down all the connective tissue. The beef tri-tip is a cheaper cut of meat often cooked with the fat cap on due to it being a leaner piece of meat. This means it benefits from a low and slow cooking method a perfect candidate for sous vide cooking. I did two batches, the first two days and the second a three day. Did it make a difference? Yes. Is it worth the extra day? Well, technically the three day tri-tip was more tender, but not to the point where it was really noticeable unless you did a side by side taste test. The tri-tip was amazing in texture and fork tender. To go with the tri-tip I whipped up a compound cilantro chile butter. Ancho chiles added a smokey flavor to complement the Mexican inspired dry rub I used with the beef.
I've never worked with pearl onions before but when I saw the recipe I knew I had to give it a try. I had to look up how to prep the onions as peeling each individual onion didn't seem to make any sense (I had over 100 to prep). Turns out the best way to go is to blanch, shock and chop the root off and the tough skin just pops right off. How did they turn out? The onions had a nice cooked texture, firm but not raw tasting a good balance of the sweetness of cooked onions without turning everything brown and yellow. I put in cooked bacon as well as some salted pork so the dish didn't suffer from an overly fatty taste of just poached pork belly. The cinnamon and thyme rounded out the slightly sweet onions and made it an interesting tasting dish.
I will say that roasted potatoes are a better way to cook this side dish. I think a nice crusty outer skin is preferable to the sous vide method. The texture was unusual in that it was a firmer potato (without tasting under cooked), but there wasn't any appreciable benefit to going the sous vide route. I'm thinking vegetables that let off lots of cooking liquid benefit from the sous vide technique because the resulting "sauce" captures all the goodness that is usually leeched off. In this case potatoes don't give off much moisture and the crispness from the oven is a desirable trait that goes missing from this cooking technique.
Finally I didn't really have a dessert scheduled, but this sweet corn tomalito (corn pudding) had enough sweetness (actually too much, I should have cut the sugar more) that it was a good middle ground between dessert and side dish. The biggest challenge here was that the baking powder gave off CO2 and caused the bags to float and I had to weigh the whole thing down with plates to keep the bags submerged. I think I could have designed a make shift snorkle to allow for keeping the bag deflated and allow for full water contact. An interesting dish with good feedback on the unusual taste but very tasty flavor. I added sage to this dish which gave it a more savory twist, a happy mistake since the sage was actually meant for the onions.
I actually got praise for this being one of my best bentos thus far :) definitely very happy that I was able to deliver on my 100th bento. I'm looking forward to trying to make it to bento number 200. Work is keeping me busy so I'm just happy to be able to post. Thank you all for coming by and visiting and supporting my little culinary endeavor. As always if you see something you like I'm happy to post any recipes just ask. Stay tuned for more!
- Sous Vide Beef Tri-Tip with Cilantro Chile Butter
- Sweet Corn Tomalito
- Pearl Onions withCinnamon and Bacon
- Rosemary and Garlic New Potatoes