Sunday 20 June 2010

Winter Solstice

I love the sun. I love sunshine. I love warm sunny days. I love the feel of the sun on my skin. I love the feel of the heat that passes through clothing to the body underneath. I love the smell of summer. I love the sounds of summer. I love being warm. Give me the heat over cold anyday.
Today (Sunday) was a cloudless sunny day. The heart of winter. Despite a cold start to the day the sun shone and warmed my body. But not only my body it warmed my soul also.
The winter solstice is on June 21 in 2010 for the Southern Hemisphere. For us Southerners the Solstice is, of course, the shortest day of the year. The day when the combination of the Earth's orbit around the Sun and the tilt of it's axis of rotation, place the Sun as far North as it travels. The Sun is actually directly overhead the Tropic of Cancer on this date.
It's a day that historically has had huge significance for our ancestors. Many ancient civilisations had rituals and myths and celebrations that revolved, date wise, around the (northern) Winter Solstice and also their Summer Solstice. I find it an amazing thing that our antecedents could map the Solstices so accurately. For Brisbane this year the length of day for the 21st is 3 seconds less than the 20th and within 1 second of the 22nd. And several thousand years ago people could measure the solstice to within a couple of days. Magnificent.
As I get older the Winter solstice has started to take on more meaning. In my youth it was just a day. It had scientific interest as being the shortest day. It had intellectual interest as the orientation of the sun and earth changed as they moved through their orbits. Nowadays it is an important date to me as the days now start to get longer and I know that the warmth and sunshine are on their way back.
I don't like winter. I am a child of the sun. I get the winter blues. I feel more alive in summer. I am more positive. I have more energy. Maybe I need to move further north in winter.
The Bludger is looking forward to the return of the sun.

Saturday 12 June 2010

Cooking in a bag

I had my first experience of cooking steak in a bag this evening.
For those who are not aware of cooking in bags, let me explain.
In the last few years chef's and food scientists have actually been applying science to the art of cooking. They have been questioning all the truths that we know about cooking and asking whether they are valid or not. On Australian TV Masterchef has shown cooking in the bag a few times, with much discussion and a fair bit of revulsion on the forums.
What this scientific approach is showing is that we have a lot of cooking know how that is simply wrong.
An Example. To cook a perfect steak, we all know the following. Sear both sides on high heat to seal in the juices and then cook on reduced heat until the juices appear on the top surface, flip once and cook until the steak still feels tender to a push with a fork or tongs. This method retains maximum moisture.
Well that is wrong! It is a very pervasive thought and it has been drilled into us since birth. But it is incorrect.
Our new found scientific chefs have tested and found that the best steaks are cooked with gentle heat, not seared before hand, and can actually be turned as often as you like during cooking. (I would like to give you a reference to that but I lost the link).
Consider this, have you ever had spit roast meat? It is turned continuously, never seared and if done properly comes out sweet and tender.
Anyway an outcome of all of this scientific testing concludes that Steak must be cooked to certain temperatures inside to achieve certain levels of done-ness. The traditional way is to use a meat thermometer to measure the inside temperature of the meat. Sear the outside, cook on a more gentle heat and when the temperature is correct there you have the perfect steak.
Our new scientific chefs have turned that around. You can pop a steak into a reseal-able plastic bag, withdraw the air, dunk it in hot water and 30 minutes later you have a perfect tasting and cooked steak. Note it may not look perfect if you are used to the blackened and caramelised flavours of a steak off the BBQ our from under the grill. Oh and that 30 minutes is not necessary. That amount of time gives sufficient time for the middle to come up the temperature. But leave it for an hour and you won't overcook it.
I had my first attempt at this tonight.
I bought some reasonable quality Black Angus Sirloin and cut it into 1" Steaks. I bought this steak cheap from a man in the markets and while I believe that he sells quality meat, it is so cheap that I always wonder.
I ground salt and pepper and then added crushed garlic to both sides of the meat and then wrapped in 2 layers of cling film. I then placed this into a zip lock microwave vegetable steamer bag and tried to get as much air out as possible, before closing it.
I placed the bag into a pan of water heated to 70 C. Temperature was checked with a Milk Thermometer and I had to control the temperature by turning the heat off and then back on periodically. Thirty minutes later I took the steak out of the water. The outside was a light grey, and the fat looked raw. Oddly enough the crushed garlic had turned a virulent green. Following someone's advice I threw the steak onto a hot BBQ plate and cooked both sides for about 40 seconds. This gave a bit of colour to the outside and removed the green colour from the garlic.
How did it turn out?
Well it was very tender.
I could not taste the salt or pepper that I had put on. I could taste the garlic and my first impression was that the garlic had a raw taste, by the end of the meal I didn't mind the rawness because it was also a very fresh taste.
The meat itself was a very bright red. If you have a look here at the rare steak it was like that, but without the grey edge. It cut very easily. Not fall apart, and while I used a steak knife, a standard knife would have been fine. I felt a bit of trepidation because it didn't look cooked but when I tasted it I found it to be very tender, very moist and very tasty. The bright red was playing with my mind, but the taste and tenderness was excellent. Shut your eyes, enjoy the texture and flavour and quite possibly it was the best steak I have ever had. Certainly I have never cooked a more tender or tasty steak, unless I had marinated it for 12 or more hours.
My conclusion. Cook in the bag works.
You need to "get over" the colour however. I certainly recommend the searing at the end. I have heard that you can do it in reverse. Sear first and heat in the bag second.
I intended to put a photo here, but my camera seems to have died.