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Sous-Vide Scallops

In my last installment, I had just purchased and calibrated a PID (proportional-integral-derivative) device from Auber Instruments, designed specifically for sous-vide cooking at home. Since its AutoTune feature was complete, I figure this next dish would be simple. I am a huge fan of scallops and love them simply prepared, just searing both sides briefly. When I read about twice-cooked scallops at Ideas In Food, via an eGullet post by Brian Z, I was intrigued. I took the temperature of 122F as suggesed by Alex and used Douglas Baldwin’s chart to determine a cooking time of about 35 minutes. I vacuumed seal three pieces of scallops with some butter, fleur de sel and probably pepper.

I did not use any liquids because I did not want any getting sucked into the machine. I poured warm water into the rice cooker and turned on the machine. It started at about 110F and started climbing so I left for a bit. When I came back, I noticed that it reached 122F then surpassed it, heading to 130F. At this point, I tried to cool it down by tossing in some cold water. I put in the scallops at this point and set the timer. The temperature kept fluctuating, rarely staying at 122 so I changed it from the AutoTune settings to “home rice cooker.” I shut off the unit and turned it back on to “reset” it. I finally started hovering around 122, but never 122 exact. Usually 123. I ended up taking the scallops out around the 45 minute mark (I wasted a lot of time fiddling with the machine). After I felt the scallops were done, I took the bag out of the bath and dumped it into a bowl of ice water. The idea of twice-cooked scallops is you are supposed to create a “custardy” interior when you cool it (just like a creme brulee) and then you sear it for the mallard reaction and color. I made a mix of purple sticky rice and brown rice, in my new rice cooker, and served it with the scallops. It tasted good but since I have never had “properly” done SV scallops, I am not sure if it was “correct.”

After this incident, I was frustrated and had may questions and I received them straight from the source(s). Now I’ll share them with you using bullet points!

  • I was told that 122F is a strange (too low) temperature to cook seafood. Ideas in Food thinks it’s a good idea. *Shrug*
  • The manufacturer recommends using the preset home rice cooker (54,60,15) setting rather than AutoTune. It seems like it’s a work in progress and it’s really impossible for them to make a system that would work perfectly with every device. That’s totally understandable.
  • The PID claims +/-1 and my digital thermometer specs say it is +/-1. I guess the readings where the water was 2 degrees off is acceptable
  • Having water regulated at 122F is apparently very difficult to do. The machine is designed to cook at 140F and above and that’s where it shines. There is a solution, though! According to the manual, I can reduce the power to 30%. The way it works is say you have a 1000W heater and are heating a small amount of water. It’s so strong that even if you turn it on for a few seconds, the temperature will overshoot. On the other hand, if you have a small heater and lots of water, turning it on for a split second won’t really raise the temperature. So what you can do is set the power output to 50% and it’ll act like a 500W heater. I have a Salton 300W 3-Cup rice cooker. I am not sure how to figure out the optimal power reduction to us, but the manufacturer says that as long as it’s within the ballpark, we’re OK.

Please remember that I am just posting my results. I am sure the experiences I am having will be familar to those new to SV cooking. I am new to this and I don’t want anyone taking what I am saying as gospel. The manual that comes with the Auber Instruments unit is well written and pretty detailed and both Suyi (Auber) and Frank (Fresh Meals Solutions) have been very helpful in answering my questions.

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