Alienia_book Due to a blunder of colossal proportions in the Ruhlman Enterprises travel department, my itinerary returned me to Cleveland last night rather than to Chicago, where Donna and I were to have been a part of the second of three per se/alinea/french laundry dinners.   So rather than eating black truffle explosions and sea urchin soup, Donna and I ate carbonarra and salad with the kids.

These dinners, as have been noted here, are to promote and celebrate two new books I’ve had a part in, Alinea and Under Pressure, very different and wonderful books.

While they are both valuable in and of themselves as published works of text and image (and alinea also offers an interactive website if you purchase the book there, at Amazon's price no less), both are aimed at professional cooks and intrepid home cooks; in other words, the recipes are exact documents of the way these four-star restaurants prepare these dishes with no concessions made for home-friendliness.

Nevertheless, some have already begun to write about Alinea recipes.  In a hilarious back and forth effort between Decider Chicago and Alinea co-owner Nick Kokonas and kids, Kokonas demonstrates how cooking from Alinea is child’s play, after watching Decider Chicago’s disastrous attempt at a pheasant dish.  All of which Decider wrote about with good humor.

(If you missed Grant Achatz giving Kokonas a sous-vide-at-home demo, here is part one and part two—it’s interesting and valuable especially as it shows Grant using nothing but zip-top bags and a pot of water on the stove with a thermometer.)

And today, the Washington Post writes about Carol Blymire, erstwhile FL at Homer, who has begun to work her way through the Alinea cookbook.  It’s an excellent article accompanied by a slide show of Carol at work in her kitchen.  She’s got some serious work ahead of her.

And if you’re curious about how the dinner at Alinea went—I know I am!—check in on, where Mike Nagrant promises some description of the dining experience of a lifetime. …sigh…

(Btw, I've just been sent a link to the podcast of Keller and myself at the Free Library in Philadelphia.  Click past my windy intro to hear Keller describe sous vide in his own words.)


51 Wonderful responses to “The Meal Missed”

  • Natalie Sztern

    1. Carol is my hero, no doubt. I read every post and it actually inspires me.
    2. Nick K. got mad at my comment on grant’s turkey part 1 or 2 -don’t remember (it was s’posed to be LOL, guess not?)
    3. I wanted to sous vides my turkey so badly but could not find weights or times and temp’s:so now I am off to buy Under Pressure
    4. Never too earlier to put a young’un in front of the camera, especially when he is so cute and smart
    5. If I were Donna, you would be on the couch for a week!

    and all this is meant with a smile 🙂

  • Sean Kelly

    Cleveland is better than Chicago, anyway. Chicago gave us Al Capone, Cleveland gave us Superman, Lifesavers candy, and Terri Garr.

  • carri

    Is there no chance for you to take part in the third one? If not that is very sad indeed! The videos were all so entertaining…and educational!

  • Allison

    Thanks for the video links — I’m inspired!

    BTW, there’s a video out there on your upcoming book Ratio. It’s under the name “Mark Ruhlman”.

  • luis

    Ruhlman, I am learning and I am kicking the tires on sousviding… This is not for the clueless but it is for the folks that are willing to learn. A lot is left to the home cook to work out but there are definite rules and highlights and facts in Kellers book to help the home cook along. I have been reviewing food safety rules and from what I have gathered with a broad brush… this is doable right on the cooktop like Achatz demos in the thksgvs Turkey shoot..on “You Tube”.
    The home cook needs to become more sophisticated and that is as it should be. This type of cooking is Hollywood, Rockstar fare. So clean and crisp and flavorfull. Well if it means I will have to spring for that second cutting board or pick a board scrap somewhere and sanitize it daily and desinfect it once a week… so be it!. The precision of the method is ELEGANT!.
    Case in point today I grilled a small, skinny ribeye steak. Took a core reading and it was around 145… By the time I took the second reading the steak had crossed the 155 deg mark. Damm it, all I could do is watch the juices drip out of the steak as it cooled on the rack. I felt sorry for the cow.
    All in all the steak was delish and medium rare but… I knew once again I had screwed the pooch!!!!!!!!….grrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!!

  • Jason

    I tried the sous vide stuffing idea from the Achatz video for T-Day, and it was fantastic! My wife mixed up her usual stuffing, we sealed it in a bag, put it in 170-175 degree water for 2-3 hours (checked for internal temp at the end), then chilled, sliced, and browned in a pan. Best stuffing ever.

  • JoP in Omaha

    What a bummer, missing that dinner.

    The Alinea Cookbook is quite a work of art, and I’m thrilled that Carol has undertaken this as her current “at home” project. We readers are in for some fun as we follow her adventures with Alinea dishes.

    Speaking of Alinea, I was happy to see Achatz on Top Chef last week. I enjoyed his comments about conceptualizing new takes on traditional dishes.

  • Rhonda

    Sorry to hear about the missed meal!

    I am very excited about the upcoming “Ratio” book. I mean REALLY REALLY excited! This is the book I have always wanted and it is absolute genius of you to come up with the concept.

    April 2009 seems like a loooong time to wait. I hope your publishers reconsider.

    If I understand the concept of the book correctly, it will revolutionize the way home cooks approach a meal.


  • Jon in Albany

    I thought the podcast was very interesting, but it seemed to be in conflict with the sous vide cooking video post.

    In the podcast, Keller is talking about technique, sanitation and getting the NYC health department to understand what they are doing. In the video, Achatz tosses some turkey, butter and herbs into a ziploc bag. Keller talks about equipment that may become standards in households in the same manner microwaves became common. In the video, Achatz casually puts the bag goes into a pot of water on the stove.

    In one hand, we have something for expensive equipment and professional chefs. In the other, we have wrap it, put in a pot on the stove and come back in a few hours. Which is it?

    Using the vacuum to compress watermelon sounded delicious. A steakhouse with tubs of steaks holding in vats of water at different degrees of doneness sounded a little gross to me. Sous vide technique may be able to cook an entire steak to a perfect, tender medium rare…but it can’t replace the taste you get from grilling over hardwood coals.

  • luis

    If you are a searcher… you will see the convergence in this three simple rules that came about through a Sousvide epiphany… this morning.
    1. If your meats have released their juices then you crossed the magic 155 deg F core tmp of the protein.

    2. If you feel the need to reach for the munchies…instead of finishing up one of these wonderful cookbooks or starting your mise en place for tomorrow you have probably overdone it as well…..

    3 if you lose your love juice before it’s the right time… then you guessed it…your brain got ahead of the process…apologize profusely (gifts are good) then work on that….

    Oh, I know Rulhman…. this one is a bit…over the top but can you see the big picture here? This is all a huge organic process convergence here!. I guess you never know were a good book can lead you.. do you?

  • ruhlman

    jon in albany: your question is excellent. the answer that you can absolutely to it the way grant did it at Nick’s house. I think that thomas fells that the results are too hit or miss to recommend home cooks, whose skills vary so enormously.

    You can’t compress watermelon with a foodsaver. It’s difficult to seal a custard well using a foodsaver. but clever cooks can jury-rig as they feel comfortable.

    and about the steaks in vats of water. they’ll be seared on a grill after they come out of a bag, so you wouldn’t know it had been sous vided.

  • Tags

    I guess if you can roast meat after sous vide you can probably incorporate sous-vided (sic in my head) ingredients in baked good as well.

  • Jon in Albany

    In theory, I’m going to have to disagree about the steaks. It will have to be in theory because I’ve never had a sous vide steak.

    Just searing a crust on something doesn’t make it grilled. The method of cooking matters. To me, pizza is a good example of method making a major impact on the final product. If you take the same dough, sauce and toppings and cook two pizzas – one in a commercial pizza oven and the other in a wood fired oven – the two final products are very different. I’d argue the wood oven pizza will be better.

    Getting back to sous vide, I’m sure you could sous vide a brisket and make it delicious, but you’re not making Texas style barbecue. The method matters. I’d be ok with the appearance of a totally pink sous vide steak, but it is interesting that it would be finished on the grill “so you wouldn’t know it had been sous vided.” I would think it would be finished on the grill to create a delicious crust that can’t be made in a vat of water. The gross part would be wondering how long my steak has been held at medium rare. A few hours? Since yesterday? The day before?

    I don’t mean to come out against sous vide, especially since I’ve never knowingly tried it. It’s just that the video looked very “set it and forget it” and podcast raised a lot of technical questions in my mind. Do you bring something to room temperature before it goes in the water? How do you safely deal with the temperature drop of adding the cooler food to the heated water? How long can the food stay “in the danger zone?” How long can it be held once it is done? I’d guess this is all addressed in the book. I looked for it today but couldn’t find it.

    I understand that every single thing produced in the future will not be prepared sous vide, but what about fond and pan sauces? And cooking by touch and smell? Adjusting the seasonings while you cook? Making it up as you go?

    In the podcast, it sounded like cooks at per se got more pleasure poaching lobster in butter than they did when they prepared the same thing sous vide. It might not be perfect/identical every time, but sometimes the journey is as important as reaching the destination.

  • luis

    Jon, Sousviding some protein as Ruhlman has mentioned is just a part of the process. The protein is finished afterwards in a different technique. There is nothing wrong with making a cooking process more RELIABLE and BETTER and EASIER. Listen if you wish to set up a spit and burn some meat in your den…Nobody is gonna stop you. Next generation cooks will build on this generation cooks and so on and so on….
    The issue as I see it is simple. Does it work for you and does it rock your world????
    answer that and take the appropiate action and don’t stress. Souviding I think may be one of the HEALTHIEST cooking ways that came along. But It is probably not the best tasting one in the sense your fond and grease ladden dish delivers. Sousviding is most flavorful because it is PURE. It is a pure method!.

  • luis

    Saturday night, Art Basel sucked although the girls were awful pretty, the art was not.
    So I found a Kosher turkey breast.. beautiful thing and I am sousviding it in a bag on the stockpot on the small burner to get it around 151 is my goal.
    In the bag there is mojo, butter, sage, cardamon, apple slices, salt and lots of garlic. The flavor bible calls turkey a quiet taste but doesn’t really offer much advise to help it along.
    The neat thing about sousviding this way is I get to pull the bag out of the pot and swish it around to insure the turkey is well marinated as it cooks ever so slowly and evenly. The low temp will prevent the turkey from realeasing its juices and I will finish it under the broiler to crisp its skin.
    Hopefully it will sear and not weep… This is very exciting here.
    My hands are soo perfumed from the marinade that I find myself smelling them for pure pleasure. I know it’s all that garlic…I chopped with the bitter orange of the mojo.
    Excellent technique.

  • luis

    Ok, the ziplock bag failed…. need I go on???? I don’t think so…. I am just a lonely home cook… do I need the agravation and technology shit… I don’t think so…. so I am putting “Under Pressure” into the TRASH!!!!!!!!!!! IMMEDIATLY if not SOONER… I just don’t need this type of agravation….
    I love the concept, the technique… but please I don’t need this shit…type agravation… what I need is flavor. FLAVOR!@

  • luis

    Under Pressure is safe on the shelf…what a disapointment with the breaking bags… Next time I will use oven safe bags. The temperature never went above 151 degrees on the stockpot but my seasoning was ruined when the bag broke. Anyway I like the technique but I can’t seem to get a basic handle on the right plastic bag.

  • luis

    Well the book is safe, tonite I try again with zip lock microwave steamer bag. I’ll do boneless chicken breast fillet to minimize any adversity. I’ll season it similar to the turkey but I will use olive oil instead of butter. Oil based marinades add flavor to meats. I love this technique and I want to make it work as intended.

  • luis

    Well and the souvide chicken breast is away. I just got a cast iron napkin holder at Target and it does a super job of holding the bag vertically immersed in the water. Also the ziplock top is firmly clasped to the side of the stockpot with a spring paper clamp.

  • luis

    Done!, the souviding of a chicken breast with no bone went very smooth. No bag problems. I think the steamer bag is different in the sense that it has NO seams, unlike the freezer bag. The freezer bag seams gave way? go figure how they are made??… but the steamer bags made for the microwave seem to work fine. With all that out of the way I am a happy camper and the dish goes in the freezer. Tomorrow, the next day I will brown it on the grill pan and then I will taste and see for myself if this technique is worth the trouble.

  • luis

    Well the sousvided chicken breast is in the fridge now and it will keep until tomorrow. But I am thinking of just taking the whole bag with the marinade and finishing it up on the microwave. That should be fantastic over rice seasoned right with veggies.

  • luis

    Well yes!. I am only figuring out the technique. I don’t expect anything more than that. My seasoning is off and the real works starts now. Basically I had a bite and chucked it. I can see the power of this technique and I can see that it needs to be tamed, timed and seasoned properly.
    The ziplock steamer bag works great. Everything works just great. Now the work begins. This technique is sensitive to the thickness of the protein and so it really needs to be tailored to the dish as Keller suggests. The dish defines the technique and not the other way around.
    One thing that I can tell you is that Pritickin would be rolling over in his grave at a chance to cook like this. Pure, pure, and more pure. The POINT YOU MAKE is a very GOOD ONE. The pure way to go is from souvide to my table. I am thinking of using this technique as a BLANK CANVASS to experience flavors. I finally have a BLANK CANVASS to TEST and LEARN Flavors. It’s all a moving fluid thing…Jon, how is it for you?

  • luis

    Along these same lines a marinade and quick SEAR followed up by Souviding could yield interesting results….

  • Jon in Albany


    I’d need a little more education on sous vide before I tried it myself. I would be paranoid about serving bacteria laden meat with my current knowledge. I found a copy of Under Pressure in a bookstore today and thumbed through it. There looked to be a handful of safety tips that I would need to read a few times before I gave it a go. The temperature directions looked very accurate too. Many of them are to half a degree C.

    I do have a food saver, so I will probably try it at some time. Just not yet. I’m still working my way through Charcuterie.

  • luis

    Yes, I have these concerns too. Let me tell you the turkey I took over the line to 160 that shed the fluids… was broiled and served with sauce and was safe and delicious.
    But I agree, baby steps here.
    At least I feel that I am now FREE to read the rest of the book becuase I can souvide in my kitchen. Got that out of the way. And I feel the work begins now.

  • luis

    Jon, as I venture inside “Under Pressure” I find that this technique as Ruhlman has said may be the most important breakthrough in Culinary techniques to come along.
    In the professional kitchen the chefs strap a temperature probe to the food or HAVE the ABILITY todo so. Keller just seems to know or this detail is too technical and hasn’t been mentioned on the book yet. (still reading).
    Heere is WHERE I am going as a HOME cook.
    I must take temperature readings of the proteins and veggies just AS I DO when cooking anything else. The steamer bags are safe and can be oppenned and I can thermoprobe everything. Anything over 160 deg KILLS BACTERIA.
    This is by NO means overcooked territory but juice is lost beggining with core 140 deg.
    So I think that as I souvide my next meal in a bag and it crosseso over the 140 and drops its juices… I will take the BASTER STICK and remove the juice and keep right on cooking till the food reaches my preffered SAFE 160 deg tmp.
    The difference between “PER SE’s” highly refined PERFECTION and my home cooking is AGAIN only perceivable by a FOOD CRITIC.
    The turkeybreast I took to 160 and finish under the broiler absorbed the gastrique sauce I served it with just beautifully and was very tasty and SAFE.
    So basically Jon don’t lose the forest for the tree. This technique is very worthwhile.
    On vaccum packing I think will hold of on it because to me is more important to take core readings and suck out the extra juices than to change the texture of bland fruits or fish etc….This is the most exciting read I have had since the “Elements of Cooking”.

  • luis

    To follow up, soo many different things the Home cook can do ….
    I may just take the food across the 140-155 deg core and then add my SEASONING and Butter/fats etc AFTER I have basted away the expunged juices in the bag. Hell I can use two bags and just take the protein out of the juiced bag and into the seasoned bag. This is good and fun to try and adjust sousviding to the home.

  • luis

    I have my eye out but have not come across any reference to brining and susviding yet. Denaturing the protein seems to offset the core temp juicing out thing.
    I have no doubt this technique is the most important culinary progress of recent times.
    But I have a shortcut technique as well.
    I find that fish and veggies can be cooked part way in the microwave and finished on the grill pan, broiler , oven or fryer.

  • luis

    I did pasta primavera type dish today and I cooked celery and carrot in the microwave. The shrooms, tomatoes, tomato sauce, poblanos, onions and garlic on the wok. The pasta was store bought farfalle and the basil was from my basil plant which was donated by lil’ bro. Vigorous plant…But the Kafka inspired carrots was a huge hit. So sweet and clean it was…. I can’t imagine sousviding can improve on that? but I WILL FIND OUT! I have to. Damm…this was a good meal and very very healthy to boot.

  • luis

    Going ethnic, now that Christmas is upon us. It’s fun to do traditional with a souvide twist. Instead of boiling yuca (cassava I think..) I will sousvide it in an oven bag or even a steamer bag..ALONG with its garlic and olive oil seasoning. Plan to do it in the slow cooker because I can insert the probe and stop the core tmp from going any higher once it reaches 180-185 deg’s. A classical sousvide set it and forget it and NO BOILING!.

  • luis

    Of course this will require a bit of ingenuity. I can keep the bags upright using the cast iron paper napkin fixture and heavy paper spring clips. Probe rigth into the middle bag. I think this will work out one way or another.. I think this is Doable!.
    Now if anyone has ever tried to work with yuca…. if there ever was a need for uniform through out even cooking profile… Yuca is it. Yuca is the flank steak of the vegetable world. Can’t wait to try and sousvide it… can’t wait….. this will be good.

  • luis

    Wow!, the Steamer bags really really work. My first try at Sousviding Yuca Root yielded more food for thought.
    Yuca root is hardy and it souvides just fine. I just happened to run out of time this time.
    Have a lot going on for the Holidays… So this one may or may not go right now. Mostly it souvided beautifully… but it was too thick for the time I had available. I’ll try it again and this time I will horizontal slice it evenly for more uniformity of cooking times.

  • luis

    KELLER ON THE TODAY SHOW, Bringing Sousviding to the country. There is popular support for it I think. But we must close the gap between “Per Se” and the clueless home cook which is most of the Today’s show audience.
    Just look at RR’s show… she knows!!! those seventeen ingredients she armed wrestled to her 30 min meals…. are now 6 or less.
    The high point of the piece was when he showed the USA how to do Brussel Sprouts. Because he connected the DOTS, damm it.
    blanch in salty water, cold shock them and finish them by frying them in pig fat and lardons.
    Thank you Keller…..Oh thank you for connecting the dots there. This stuff should be in the “Elements of Cooking”. I was left at the shocking them step… Doooooooooohhhhhhhh!@ who knew?

  • luis

    Rather than going ahead with another batch of souvide yuca I seasoned it and I am cooking it in the Hamilton Beach slow cooker with thermo probe. I plan to take it to 180 and leave it in warm to make sure there are no hard spots. I cut all the pieces to a consistent size slightly larger than restaurant fries. (No boiling, no steaming…) cooking it in its own mojo sauce should be as good as a plastic bag. Although the sousvide version was turning out one incredibly terrifically done yuca.
    The Hamilton Beach thermo probe is set to 180 as Keller suggests and it’s so much easier to set it and forget it. I am just not in the mood for fidgeting with keeping the stockpot water tmp constant. Turns out that as the core tmp of the item inches up towards the desired core tmp the temp of the water inches up as the thermal equilibrium of the system is disturbed due to the loss of cold. Stove top sousviding requires attention. The slow cooker on high barely reaches 200 degs so no big diff there.

  • luis

    Got three boston butts…to do. I am thinking the first one I will sear in the dutch oven so I can saute the red onions and make a sauce. Then I will cook it in the slow cooker with the thermal probe. This way all the work is done upfront and I don’t need to fidget with the thing much other than basting it and turning it to keep it moist and delicious.
    The big todo is gonna be making the apetizer meal bites using sushi techniques to wrap all the goodies in congri(rice and black beans mix) and yellow and white sushi rice. I plan to substitute thin sweet ham for nori and do a California roll type thing with chorizo, pork, cornichons of different flavors and carrots and celery done to perfection in the microwave. It will be an spectacular array of different sushi logs with different heats and flavors. with lots of different dipping sauces.

  • luis

    So ok!, the yuca in the slowcooker cooked allright but it was dry. Dry, Dry, Dry…. It basically desicated during the cooking process.
    Enter Sousvide technique. Yes we need THA BAG!!!!!!!! damm it!. Tha water doesn’t hurt either… So tomorrow when I go for the gold it will be Sousvide in a steamer bag in a slow cooker full of H2O. It will be perfect and we will know why it is perfect!. I want yuca that is cooked through with no hard spots inside. It should melt in the mouth and deliver that taste we all do backflips for.
    Imagine elevating a nothing root to the pinnacle of Ethnic cuisine heaven. Yummoooooo!

  • luis

    Can not sousvide yuca…nope, not well. The yuca will be reseasoned and fried. No problem it’s a tough root. Kinda like a carrot… Traditionally it’s boiled or steamed through until tender and served with a great olive oil and garlic paste.
    The pork butts are done to perfection. The grab bag of veggies cournichons and pork tenderloin done in sushi rolls with sweet ham went over big. Folks loved it.. I didn’t think it turned out as I had envision it but it was tasty and interesting with the sweet caramelized plantains and hot italian sausage bits.
    Another lesson learned and another day in the kitchen. I will look up yuca(cassava) in Barbara Kafka’s microwave gourmaid book. Just in case she offers the technique.

  • luis

    I am begining to think Sousvide works well for tender, very tender cuts of fish and veggies which have delicate textures and tolerate little heat.

  • luis

    Traded in my Christmas present (Roomba thinga) for the new food saver. Folks this takes sousviding to a whole new level. In fact the foodsaver website has a page on sousviding. It also came with a vacuum bowl for speed marinading. This one is for Magee to figure out. Something to do with food pores opening up in a vacuum and taking in the marinade deeper and licketty split.. like ten minutes time.
    When do I find the time for all this???? Don’t know? but find it I will.

  • luis

    I am excited about the new foodsaver vacum bag system. I can now save processed food as well as new store bought food. When you consider time and labor to make great food, saving it for another day really helps out and saves money. I can go exercise now when the food is ready, instead of just hanging around cooking all the time.
    This is a good thing.

  • Healthy Juices

    Healthy Juices are a wonder in my life. I discovered them about one year ago in a friend’s house. She served us this delicious guava juice, which awoke curiosity in everyone that was present there.