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This time we try vacuum-Sealed Brandy and Maple Syrup-Infused Peaches and Champagne Vinegar and Tarragon Chanterelles.
Technique and Equipment
A vacuum-sealer eliminates air from a food-grade plastic bag, helping its contents retain their freshness longer – the same way confit duck legs keep longer in oxygen-free containers of duck fat than in Tupperware. Before iceboxes and freezers, preservation in rendered fat was a godsend. But a vacuum-sealer is much more versatile: vacuum-sealed duck legs can be cooked sous vide without the requisite vats of fat, which, while delicious, hog valuable fridge space. Vacuum-sealing is also a good way of quick pickling – it simplifies everything from kosher dills to Peter Piper’s preferred pimientos. With traditional canning, jam and pickles become shelf-stable after processing in a water bath or pressure canner. A vacuum is created as the jars cool, oxygen is expelled from the jar, and the lids seal in place. Sterilizing and processing the jars, however, is a time-consuming and exacting process. Vacuum-sealing is not. You simply boil the brine, pour it over the items to pickle in the bag, and vacuum seal. The process is similar to making fridge pickles but the pickles will last longer and stay crunchier as they’re not exposed to oxygen. They’ll also infuse immediately rather than in several days, making them pickles for the impatient. At least, that’s what I hoped when I met Nel.
Vacuum sealers range from the size of a three-hole punch to a photocopier. The smaller ones simply suck air from the bag containing food while the larger chamber vacuum sealers suck air from an entire enclosed space, bringing liquids to a boil as the pressure decreases. The larger sealers allow you to adjust pressure manually and seal liquids relatively easily. In the Modernist Cuisine lab, Nel, the vacuum sealer named after the mid-sized chamber sealer series from Canadian company, Hi-Tech Vacuum Inc., resembles an oversized record player. Chef Sam Fahey-Burke instructed me to place unsealed bags with the open ends elevated and aligned between the sealing bar so the liquid didn’t spill. We set the pressure gauge and closed the lid. As the pressure decreased, the liquid began to bubble, and we flicked the switch to suck out the oxygen and seal the bag before it overflowed. In small machines the sealing step is automatic, but often any liquid in the bag is sucked up before the seal begins, ruining the vacuum-seal, as I discovered while testing last year’s model of the Sous Vide Supreme Vacuum Sealer.
A way around this when using a smaller sealer is to at least partially freeze any liquids in the bag before sealing. But you can’t make Champagne-infused strawberries, or hot-infuse these tarragon chanterelles or brandied peaches properly.
I asked the lab’s former head chef, Maxime Bilet, what would happen if I vacuum-sealed chanterelles. “With tarragon,” was his response. I took this as encouragement.
I first made this recipe for brandied peaches with Japanese pears from the Columbia City Farmers Market in Seattle. The farmer told me his pears tasted like maple syrup and Butterscotch. I tried one and disagreed, so I decided to add maple syrup and brandy. It worked. Butter, cream and scotch would, presumably, also work.