Friday, March 28, 2014

Tools of the Trade: Heat Gun

A few posts back I mentioned crisping up my duck breast using a heat gun. I was talking with CookingForEngineers and he mentioned that his wife bought him a heat gun for purposes of work around the house but he mentioned that he's used it for some alternate culinary uses. This compelled me of course to pick one up (I think I spent around $40 at the local big box hardware store).

There's a low and high setting, you can set the gun as low as 250F or as high as 1350F. It's like (ok it is) a variable heat blow dryer. Typically you use a heat gun for paint drying, pipe thawing, paint removal, shrink wrapping, the list is pretty long basically anything that requires hot dry air. And when we're talking 1350F that's hotter than I can get my green egg and for $40 bucks I was willing to give it a shot.

Here's what I figured out: you gotta hold the heat gun pretty close to the subject in order to achieve the desired heat concentration. As you can see it's a pretty small patch that you heat up, so it's not very practical if you're working on a large piece of meat. The other downside is that since you're holding it so close the splatter from the marinade and fat from the duck breast created a caramelized gunk on the nozzle of the heat gun. (not easy to clean off)

But for a small piece of duck breast (even 4) it worked out pretty good (I set it at 950 "high" power). It took a while to get to the entire surface of everything (a few mins, but it felt like a while) but still faster than hitting a broiler that has the potential for further cooking the duck breast since all sides would be subject to heat in the oven. Granted the broiler can let me do all for duck breasts at the same time. My wife was pretty happy with the results but next time I may try a slightly lower setting and longer heat treatment, at 950 the skin crisped nicely, but it could have used a bit more heat further into the fat layer.

As a multi functional tool I think Alton Brown would be proud, I just need to find some more culinary uses for it. A word of warning  since you are blowing hot air, I would not recommend this device for finishing a creme brûlée you'll end up with sugar all over the place.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Roasted Bento

Today's bento theme is: Roasting. The application of dry heat to meat and vegetables to prepare a dish. A lot of the time, roasting is associated with low heat longer cooking but it's not limited to low and slow, sometimes you can apply the technique in a high temperature setting (usually on tender cuts of meat). But for the most part low and slow gets you a lot of flavor without having to stand and watch over a dish. In vegetables you get the sugars to caramelize, root vegetables get nice and tender. For tough or large cuts of meat it gives it time to break down collagen and connective tissue so it becomes "fall apart" tender.

The key is retaining moisture. A lot of time you either sear (in the case of meat) or slather in fat or oil to help in that process. In this case, I did neither....  This recipe came from listening to NPR on my commute home, it was a "copy cat/fast food fakeout" recipe for a roasted chicken. The idea seemed sound, you put on a dry rub on the chicken and then you sit it in a slow cooker for seven hours (no liquid) and roast it. The chicken smelled absolutely delicious and the meat was fall off the bone tender. The only problem was the meat itself did not retain any moisture. There was a large amount of liquid at the bottom of the slow cooker, all of the fat had rendered out of the chicken! The chicken I selected was the prescribed pounds so I was at a loss to why the dish turned out to be such a failure. After a bit of digging it seems that slow cooker to slow cooker "low" can vary quite a bit. I'm use to throwing things into a slow cooker and it magically "working" but apparently chicken is more finicky, which makes sense since it's low on the connective tissue and fat (in the breast). To correct for this problem next time, I will insert a probe thermometer and go for target temperature rather than time. It seems stupid and elementary when I type it out and read it to myself but there you have it.

Roasted butternut squash with sriracha.

Roasted turnips, which came out nice a sweet, just a bit of salt and pepper. Usually turnips and radish are used in soups and stews in Chinese cooking, I think i prefer it to the roasted version which has a little bit of bitterness to it.

Apparently brussels sprouts are in season so I picked up a box at the farmers market. I've been trying to recreate a balsamic brussels sprout dish I had a restaurant. I roasted them in the oven with a bit of olive oil and salt and ten minutes before I tossed in a bit of balsamic vinaigrette, tasty but not quite right. I may try to fry them next time. The sprouts sweeten as they roast and the balsamic gives it just a bit of tang but there was a missing crunch texture to the exterior and loose leaves.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Valentines day bento

I know it's a few weeks late, but this was a pre-Valentines day bento that I made my for my wife. (duck breast blows the budget for my normal bento list of people)

I marinated a duck breast in a hoison, plum, ginger sauce and then sous vide-ed them for about two hours. I actually ran a test with a Anova immersion circulator head to head against my new Nomiku. (I'll post details later) Then I used a heat gun (thanks for the suggestion from CookingForEngineers) to broil the duck breast. Finally I topped it with a little pat of foie gras mousse.

To keep with the asian theme I put together a bit of sesame fried rice. I used sesame oil (a little goes a long way) and a bit of scallion for flavor and aroma.

Roasted broccoli and cauliflower with garlic and red chili

Finally I sautéed Chayote in a bit of butter.