Sous Vide Salmon

Date Cooked: July 30, 2018

I first heard about sous vide cooking about two and a half years ago. I’ve thought about getting an immersion cooker off and on since then – including creating a wish list on Amazon – but never pulled the trigger. Then a couple of weeks ago we were at some friends for dinner and Scott was using an immersion cooker to cook halibut and scallops sous vide style. Then last weekend Carla and I were out for a walk and remembering how good the fish was – she suggested I buy an immersion cooker. Well, if you know me you know she didn’t have to say it twice.

Sous vide is French for “under vacuum” but when I think of it I think of the cooking element which is a device that sits in a container of water and circulates water heated to a specific temperature. Here is the basic set up.

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Water from the container enters the cooker at the bottom, it is heated up and pushed by a fan out of the slot which you can see just above the 5.5L mark on the container. The picture makes it look like there are two slots – but that is due to the water refraction.

The “under vacuum” name comes from the food prep. The food you are going to cook is put into a plastic bag and the air is squeezed out, sealed prior to cooking. Sous vide is perfect for fish – which we really don’t want to overcook. With the sous vide method you set the desired temperature; then once the water is heated the packet is added and the food will cook to the desired temperature – it will not overcook because it is impossible for the food to get hotter than its surrounding water.

I’m guessing that many of the poached eggs – think eggs benedict – you’ve had in restaurants have been made using immersion cooking method (without the vacuum bags). Put the lots and lots of eggs in the hot bath and keep them just below the temp needed to poach. When an order comes in, pull a couple of eggs out of the hot water and poach in less than a minute.

We’ve cooked salmon so many ways: grilling on a cedar plank, sautéing, in the oven. It’s been good but it is difficult to hit that target temperature. Usually, if I look away for 30 seconds it gets way too cooked. So salmon was the perfect candidate for our first cook. I found a great sous vide salmon recipe on Serious Eats. J. Kenji López-Alt has a full write up telling how to cook depending on how well done you want your fillets. Start with a couple of salmon fillets.

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There are only four ingredients to this recipe – salmon, salt, olive oil, and thyme sprigs – and preparation is a cinch. Pat the fillets dry with paper towels, then liberally sprinkle some kosher salt on them,  tuck them in a plastic bag, add some olive oil and rotate the bag a couple of times to get the oil on the salmon. Place an aromatic – we used thyme – on top of each filet and seal the bag.  I used the same method to get the air out as I do when storing chicken stock in zip seal freezer bags. Seal all but an inch or so of a plastic zip top freezer bag and slowly immerse in water. As the bag gets deeper, the water pushes the air out. Get the bag low in the water but don’t let any water get in the bag; when all the air is out completely seal the bag.

Once the water is up to temperature, immerse the bag and clip it so it won’t jostle around too much. We could tell we got most of the air out because the bag didn’t start to float.

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I used the app that came with the Joule immersion cooker we bought. It asked what temperature we wanted and how thick the pieces were; from that it calculated the cooking time – 40 minutes in our case. I probably didn’t need to but I flipped the bag skin side out about half way through. Forty minutes was the minimum time for our desired “doneness” and fillet size – you can leave the salmon in the cooker for another 30 minutes before the texture gets wonky – so you have plenty of time to get the other dinner dishes prepped.

We wanted to sear our salmon at the end so I heated the cast iron skillet with some high smoke point oil.

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We got so engrossed in searing our salmon that I neglected to take any pictures. But here are the fillets after their stint in the skillet. You do need to treat the fillets gently as they will fall apart otherwise.

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The top side only spent about 30 seconds in the skillet. We should have pressed down – genthly –  a bit or given it a bit more time. We had a salad and nice rolls to complete the dinner.

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Rating: ★★★★

These were delicious – I think the best salmon I’ve cooked. The recipe will easily get to a full five stars when I perfect the searing. And perfect for family or company – the only limitation is the size of the water container – we could have easily put two more packets in which would yield six fillets. It’s a hard-to-screw-up recipe which is rare for fish.

There are quite a few immersion cookers out there; the big two are Anova and Joule. I bought the Joule for three reasons.

  1. Our friend cooked with one and the results were delicious. I knew it would meet my needs.
  2. It’s smaller than the Anova cookers which means there is more room in the container for food.
  3. It has a higher wattage. I’m no engineer but I figure that will make the preheat go faster and allow it to cook in larger containers.

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