For a long time, I have wanted to cook, vacuum seal, and freeze chicken, salmon, and other meats as an alternative to canned meats. The only problem was figuring out a low-salt, low-fat method to cook them that retained their natural flavors, texture, and moisture.
I had heard of sous vide cooking a long time ago, but the only machines available were the large and expensive commercial models. Fuggidaboutit!
For alternatives, I turned to the Internet and found a bunch of stovetop sous vide videos on (where else?) YouTube. Unfortunately, my efforts to duplicate them failed. I couldn't control the cooking temperature terribly well and even the heavy duty freezer bags had a tendency to come apart along the seams.
Then one of my favorite cooking shows, America's Test Kitchen, had an episode on poaching boneless, skinless chicken breasts using a method that borrowed from sous vide (Season 13, episode 14, "Waldorf Chicken Salad"). The first time I tried it, the chicken was almost perfect. But, again, I had trouble controlling the cooking temperature, somewhat overshooting the 170° mark given in the recipe.
Recently I stumbled across an article on kitchen gadgets that described the Anova Precision Cooker, which seemed like the perfect solution. I did a little research, discovering what a "thing" immersion cooking has become, what with dozens of articles and YouTube videos featuring all sorts of contraptions and techniques. I just wanted to keep it simple, so I ordered the Anova plus the SIOchef Premium Silicone Sous Vide Bags, intending to use them with my existing cookware.
My first adventure involved cooking four rather hefty, boneless, skinless chicken breasts, two per silicone bag. In order to keep things simple, I decided to cook them plain -- no brining, no seasoning, no oil or butter.
Figuring out the temperature and timing was a head-scratcher. After reading several recipes, I settled on 150° F for one to four hours with plenty of testing along the way.
I immediately discovered that my dutch oven was not deep enough for both bags, so I cooked one bag at a time. (I have since ordered a 12-quart food storage container that is frequently recommended for immersion cooking and is a good three inches taller than my dutch oven.)
After an hour, I took out one of the breasts, temped it, sliced it open, and decided to give it another hour.
After a second hour, I repeated the temping and slicing and decided the breasts were done.
I was a tad disappointed. They seemed a little dry and, without seasoning, pretty bland, but they should be okay for chicken salad or adding to soups or vegetables. They did lose quite a bit of moisture into the bags during cooking.
So, my first experiment was not a screaming success, but not a failure, either. Next time, I'll try seasoning the breasts. Not sure about oiling them, though.