Slow, tender and steamy…
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Its all gone a bit Français at Cabernet Towers… yes, we’re doing La Cage Aux Folles AND sous-vide cookery in the same post – ooh-la-la!!
Based on a French play of the same name, Cabbage Aux Folles – no, sorry, La Cage Aux Folles is the award-winning Broadway Musical by Harvey Fiersten and Jerry Herman, set in a St Tropez nightclub owned by Georges and his flamboyant drag star “wife”, Albin. Georges’ son Jean-Michel gets engaged but, as his fiancé’s soon-to-visit conservative parents won’t approve of their future son-in-law’s family, Jean-Michel persuades George that the effeminate Albin needs to make himself scarce lest the wedding be called off. On discovering the ploy, devastated that Georges and Jean-Michel are trying to disguise his (and their) identity, Albin sings what has become a gay anthem of defiance, I Am What I Am.
Meanwhile, back at the club, following an unfortunate-yet-comical accident involving a vacuum cleaner and a bidet, Monsier Sous-Vide, the chef, discovers an innovative method of keeping his filet mignon tender and succulent, and…. ok – maybe that’s from the lesser-known sequel.
Sous-vide cookery, once the preserve of professional chefs, has become an increasingly popular in home kitchens thanks to the increasingly-affordable equipment. Food is sealed in plastic bags using a vacuum pump to remove the air. This allows the heat from a water-bath to be efficiently transmitted to the food, allowing cooking at very low temperatures to be very accurately controlled, making that both the interior and exterior of the food reach the same temperature. The most popular example of this (in restaurants and at home) is in the cooking of rare steaks in a controlled and predictable way as it is impossible to over-cook the meat as the water is kept at a constant temperature using a specialised heating-pump that clips onto the side of the water bath. The steaks are then briefly seared before serving. Vaccum pumps (both electric and hand-operated) and water-baths are easily obtainable. Instead of a water-bath, I use my steam oven (which has rapidly become one of my favourite kitchen appliances), but the same principle applies.
Here, I’ve used this method to cook a small, butterflied (ie, boned and opened out) leg of lamb. First, I slashed the fat on the joint of meat and rubbed in a paste of garlic, anchovy, fresh mint, fresh rosemary and olive oil. I then vacuum-sealed the lamb and cooked it at 55C for 8 hours (yes, you read that correctly). After patting the meat dry, I then put it under a hot grill for 5 minutes to crisp up the fat and, after a brief rest (5 minutes is fine due to the low-temperature cooking), the meat was ready to serve (in my case, with a side of A Fennel Thing Happened On The Way To The Oven). The lamb was beautifully pink and tender, much more-so than when I’ve used the traditional roasting approach!