Thanks to television shows like “Top Chef” and “Iron Chef”, cookbooks from the likes of Thomas Keller and Nathan Myhrvoid, and perhaps your friendly neighborhood fancy-pants restaurant, “Sous-vide cooking” has become an increasingly familiar term among home cooks these days.
For those unfamiliar, “sous-vide” is French for “under vacuum”, and Sous-vide cooking itself basically involves vacuum sealing raw food in a plastic bag, then submerging the bag in a water bath whose temperature is precisely controlled via some sort of thermal circulator. The primary benefit of sous-vide cooking is that the final temperature of the food you are cooking never surpasses the temperature of the water bath. So if you want a perfectly medium-rare steak, you set an immersion circulator at about 125 degrees F, vacuum seal a rib eye in a plastic pouch, and toss the bag into the 125 degree water bath. You could theoretically leave the steak in the bath for days, and the internal temperature of the steak will never rise above the chosen temperature–leaving you with perfectly cooked steak every time (save for the absence of a crisp brown exterior–but that can be easily achieved with a quick sear in a hot cast iron pan, or under a blowtorch, once the steak is relieved of its jacuzzi time).
And while this type of culinary sorcery was once reserved only for high-end restaurant kitchens and highly paid celebrity chefs, immersion circulator technology and sous-vide cooking have made their way into home kitchens via a number of affordable, small-footprint water ovens and portable immersion circulators.
So when the fine folks at SousVide Supreme offered to send me the SousVide Supreme Water Oven for review, I knew it would be a good chance to not only try out some great kitchen technology, but to also showcase Filipino food. Sous-vide cooking and Filipino food? Well, yeah. Why not?
And once the SousVide Supreme arrived on my doorstep, I knew right away which Filipino dish I wanted to tinker with first: Kare Kare, a very rustic stew of braised oxtails and peanut sauce. But for this version, I had a bit of fun and made a Kare Kare Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich which included tender shredded oxtail meat picked from the bones after being sous-vided, a rich peanut sauce made from the savory oxtail stock left in the sous-vide bag, a sweet/umami-packed jam made from caramelized onions and a smidge of fermented shrimp paste (a traditional condiment for Kare Kare), slices of eggplant sauteed in leftover oxtail fat, and a big Filipino pandesal roll.
Kare Kare Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich
To start, I seasoned some beef oxtails with salt and pepper, then threw them into a plastic vacuum bag along with a couple of bay leaves, some garlic, and some ice. Because it’s easier to seal a vacuum bag without any liquid (not impossible, just easier), I threw some ice in the bag because I wanted to create a beef stock from the oxtails as well: melted ice + flavorful oxtail juice and collagen=beef stock.
Ice and Oxtails (a good name for a rap group, or wrestling duo)
Using the SousVide Supreme Water Oven was incredibly easy. It’s a self-contained unit about as big as a bread maker. All I did was fill the SousVide Supreme with water, set the temperature with a few button clicks, then eased my vacuum-sealed seasoned oxtails into the heated water.
Oxtails in a Warm Bath (sounds like a Ruth Reichl novel)
Another benefit of sous-vide cooking is that tough cuts of meat, such as oxtail, are easily rendered to have a tender, fall-off-the-bone texture–a slow cooktime at a precise and consistent temperature breaks down connective tissues and transforms collagen into lip-smacking gelatin. So after about 24 hours in a 175 degree F water bath, the oxtails were visibly tender in their vacuum bag and surrounded by a rich and flavorful broth created by the melted ice and the extracted meat juices and gelatin.
After the oxtails cooled, I made a peanut sauce with peanut butter and the reserved oxtail stock left in the vacuum bag. I then picked the meat from the bones, then mixed the shredded oxtail meat into the peanut sauce. Along with some caramelized onions and some Bagoong (Filipino fermented shrimp paste), as well as a couple slices of sauteed eggplant, I slapped everything in between a sliced pandesal roll for the glorious, yet twisted, PB&J sandwich pictured above. And of course, you can serve this Kare Kare over rice, but where’s the fun in that?
- 2.5 pounds beef oxtails
- Salt and pepper
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
- 8 ounces of ice by weight
- 1/4 cup natural unsalted peanut butter
- 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1-2 teaspoons Sambal Oelek chili paste
- 1-2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
- 1 cup of reserved beef stock from oxtail vacuum bag
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 onions, sliced
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1/2 cup water
- 1-2 teaspoons Bagoong (fermented shrimp paste)
- 1 Chinese eggplant, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon canola oil, or 1 tablespoon reserved fat from oxtail
- Fill the SouVide Supreme with water and heat to 175 degrees F.
- Season the oxtails with salt and pepper, then place in vacuum bag with bay leaves, garlic, and ice.
- Vacuum seal the bag and place the bag into the SousVide Supreme for 24 hours.
- Remove bag from water bath and let cool slightly.
- Snip off a corner of the vacuum bag with scissors, then pour liquid into a small bowl and set aside.
- Open bag and remove oxtails, pick meat from bones and discard bones. Set shredded meat aside.
- Whisk together all of the ingredients of the peanut sauce in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Season sauce with salt and pepper, and adjust flavors with more lime juice or chili paste if desired. Thin sauce with additional beef stock, or water, if needed.
- Mix shredded beef into sauce and remove from heat. Cover saucepan and set aside.
- Melt the sugar in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. As soon as the sugar liquefies and turns an amber color, immediately add the onions and butter to the skillet and toss to coat. Cook, shaking pan occasionally until onions release all their liquid and brown coating builds up on bottom of pan, about 6 to 8 minutes.
- Add 2-3 tablespoons of water to the pan while scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to deglaze. Continue cooking, shaking the pan and stirring the onions occasionally until coating begins to build up again, 3 to 5 minutes. Repeat deglazing and cooking steps until all water is used and onions are deep brown. Push the onions to the perimeter of the pan, then add the bagoong to the center of the pan. Saute the shrimp paste for 2 minutes, then stir to combine with the onions. Transfer jam to a small bowl.
- Wipe out the pan used for the onions, then heat oil over medium-high heat. Saute eggplant slices until golden brown on each side, 3-4 minutes total.
- Serve meat, peanut sauce, eggplant slices, and onion jam between slices of warm Filipino pandesal roll.