sous-vide gammon with honey
It’s been four years since I last discussed the modernist technique of sous-vide and despite promises I never tried any homebrew recipes. Now, armed with a Sous Vide Supreme and Vacuum Sealer I can have a more serious crack at it. But first, for the uninitiated, what is it? Let’s experiment with a sous-vide gammon recipe.
What is sous vide cooking?
Brought into restaurants in the Seventies by Georges Pralus, the trade took to it as a simple way to cook large batches of ingredients and hold them at the right temperature. A bit like how when slow cooking you can let it go over by half an hour and it makes little difference. It’s a water bath, cooking food held under vacuum in a plastic bag.
Popularised by Heston Blumenthal banging the drum for scrambled eggs and steak, and popping up in just about every cookery show nowadays, sous-vide is now starting to penetrate the home kitchen. Step forward the SousVide Supreme. John Lewis stocked this model in September 2010 and following a wave of Heston-branded publicity, it’s making it’s way on to Christmas lists everywhere. And at £300+ it definitely has the gift price tag.
Why the price? The machine itself is fairly unremarkable to look at, but it’s precision is the key. The temperature must be stable to keep the food safe. Heston has run tests on this model where this was accurate by about 1/10th of a degree over seven days. And if it’s good enough for HB, it’s good enough for me.
I was talking with an ex-chef mate of mine who was skeptical of the safety of the process. He was always taught to get food above 65°C. In traditional cooking methods this makes sense as it only takes 30 seconds at that temperature to kill off the Big Three (salmonella, E.Coli and listeria), whereas at 55°C it takes around 15 minutes. Douglas Baldwin, author of an excellent sous-vide book, has an excellent discussion on this at his website.
What is gammon?
Gammon is a type of cured ham that is popular in many parts of the world, but referring to it as ‘gammon’ is mostly used in the UK and Ireland. It is typically made from the hind leg of a pig and cured using salt, sugar, and other flavourings, and often smoked. A gammon is the bottom end of a whole side of bacon (which includes the back leg), ham is just the back leg cured on its own. Gammon is used as an ingredient in dishes like ham sandwiches, eggs Benedict, and gammon steaks. It is known for its salty and slightly sweet flavour, as well as its tender and succulent texture. Some people prefer to cook gammon with the bone in, while others prefer to remove the bone before cooking to make it easier to slice and serve. In the UK gammon is often served at Christmas or Easter. I like to cook one early in the week and make several dinners out of it.
Cooking sous-vide gammon
I’m used to simmering gammon, but it must be just around the 100°C mark (not that I’ve ever taken a temperature). This was 62°C for six hours and came out great. My aromatics of honey and bay were subtle, but the texture was very firm. Rather than flaky or stringy this was meaty.
Sous-vide really does lock in the natural flavour of many foods. Or to be more accurate, the food never reaches the temperature where the cell walls burst or proteins start to denature, at which point flavour literally leaks or is wrung out. As with my sous-vide gammon, it never hit the point at which it gets to the flaky texture. The gentle cooking, while slower, cooks the food to the most tender point. It’s slightly bonkers, but completely great. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it’s going to creep into my kitchen more and more.
Here’s a video version of the recipe:
Sous Vide Supreme gave me a machine to try. Here’s the Sous Vide Supreme machine that I’m using https://amzn.to/3llT97r
sous-vide gammon with honey
- 1 kg smoked gammon joint
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 leaf bay
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- Preheat your sous-vide oven to 62C.
- Rinse your gammon joint in cold water to calm down the salty taste.
- Vacuum seal your gammon joint in a food-grade bag along with the bay, fennel, peppercorns and honey.
- Sous-vide for 6 hours. Slice and serve.