How I cook, January 2020

I’ve been diving deeper and deeper into a cooking rabbit hole over the last several years, and it really accelerated this year after a work colleague asked me “What do you do for fun?” and I couldn’t think of an answer and blurted out “Cooking”.

And here we are. I’m going to ramble a bit in the hopes that this is interesting to somebody - even if it’s me a year from now when I can shake my head ruefully at how silly I was.

Today’s a light day for me. For dinner, I’m making roasted asparagus, twice baked potatoes, and a pair of sous vide, bone-in pork chops. I’ll probably throw in a pan sauce of some sort as well.

The first two of those are familiar: The asparagus is a family favorite and the twice baked potatoes I made on a whim a few weeks back and everybody liked them.

The sous vide is still a new appliance for me. I made a turkey roulade for Christmas with it, and the turkey turned out perfectly moist, but I couldn’t effectively sear that big a mass. I’ve also made a chipotle chicken sort of thing in it for tacos which was fine I guess.

The setup

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Lately, I’ve been setting up our largest cutting board over a towel on one end of our kitchen island as a work station for all my prep work.

I keep my chef’s knife next to the board and a bowl for scraps nearby.

I also have a black cross-strapped (rather than one that ties behind your neck) apron to keep my clothes clean - or really, to give me a place to wipe my hands when I’m in a hurry.

If my family’s out, I’ll bring down my Bluetooth speaker and crank up some classic punk or heavy industrial while I prep and cook. If they’re home (like the are today), I’ll just use the iPhone speaker and keep it to something clean.

As I’ve cooked more and more, I’ve learned the importance of prep work - or mise en place. I look at the recipes I’m cooking and get all the ingredients ready before anything starts cooking (an exception today might be throwing potatoes in the oven to bake while I prep the rest).

I’ve also become a huge believer that you can’t have enough towels (we’re pushing twenty flour sack towels now) or enough bowls.

The other adjustment I’ve made over time is to make sure the dishwasher is empty (or at least dirty with room) and all hand-wash dishes are clean and put away before I start. I generate a lot of dirty dishes and need some out of the way place to put them - having an empty dishwasher works great for that (and makes later cleanup significantly easier).

With all of that out of the way …

The prep

Like I said, today is pretty light.

I need to poke some holes in some potatoes before chucking them into the oven for an hour.

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I need to mince some garlic for the asparagus, some more for the pan sauce, plus peel a clove for the chops. Aside: I didn’t grow up with actual garlic being a thing. It’s been one of the earliest and best revelations once I started trying to cook more seriously.

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I need to trim the particularly woody ends from the asparagus.

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I need to cut up a green onion.

I’ll need ½ cup of buttermilk, a 1/3 cup of sour cream, and a ¼ of butter for the potatoes.

After that, it’s time to season the chops with salt and pepper and get them into a plastic bag. I didn’t feel like dragging out the vacuum sealer for this, and ziploc bags work fine using the water displacement technique.

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Now, it’s time to plug in the immersion circulator and let it come up to temp - 147 degrees.

The cook

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Once it’s at temp, it’s time to drop in the chops and wait an hour.

Meanwhile, the potatoes are done with the first bake. Time to let them cool a bit before ripping their guts out and mashing them to bits while adding all the other stuff (bacon bits! cheddar cheese! that dairy I mentioned earlier!)

Then it’s back into the oven for 20 minutes or so.

The asparagus gets put on a baking sheet, doused in olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper and sprinkled with the minced garlic (aside: this is good with Parmesan cheese, too). They’ll go in the oven after the potatoes, but it doesn’t hurt to get it prepped now.

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The potatoes come out, and then I crank to oven to 450 degrees before throwing in the asparagus.

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Meanwhile, the chops’ time in the water bath is up.

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I get a pan heating to medium-high on the stove, while I taken them out of their bag (save the juice) and pat them dry with paper towels.

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A little vegetable oil in the pan, and in go the chops to sear - including the edges.

Add a knob of butter and baste the chops with it a bit until everything looks crispy.

Set those on the cutting board to slice in a few minutes.

Pull the asparagus, turn off the oven.

Add some garlic and then the pork juices from the bath to the pan to deglaze and reduce. A splash of apple cider vinegar. Finish by mounting the sauce with some butter and checking for seasoning.

Plate everything up …

The result

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The pork looked amazing, but ended up pretty tough. Most of the family didn’t finish, and I think I’m going to need to experiment a lot more with this sous vide machine because it’s hit or miss on delivering what I expect. The pan sauce also didn’t work … I likely needed to empty to fat from the pan before adding the juice and trying to make a sauce.

Meanwhile, that was about the best batch of asparagus I’ve made in a while and I think everybody went back for seconds of the twice-baked potatoes.

Regardless, tomorrow I’m firing things up again to make stuff for my lunches (mashed cauliflower and roasted broccoli to go with some freezer turkey meatloaf) and a batch of chicken and broccoli mac and cheese for dinner with the kids.

But I’ll save you those gory details …

Chris Vannoy @v