Sous vide experiment: Maillard reaction

For those of you caught unawares, sous vide is French for “yum.” No, it isn’t really, it’s French for “under vacuum”: a style of cooking where a foodstuff is vacuum sealed and then cooked in a warm water bath at a low temperature for a long time. The result is a much more even heating, a much higher water retention, thereby providing juicier, more tender and flavourful food. It should be French for “yum.”

I’ve played around with sous vide at home several times already, and the thing that has impressed me the most is how tender and juicy chicken breasts can be—even in my dodgy home setup, where the temperature fluctuates as much as 10°C. Yes, beef steaks, duck breasts, lamb chops all gain tenderness and juiciness, but I feel chicken breasts benefit the most from short-term (1–2 hour) sous vide cooking. Please, cast a glance at my most recent experiment (I apologise for all these photos, they were taken on my iPhone, which sadly is nowhere near as good as my DSLR):

Sous vide chicken breast (cooked between 60.5 and 70 degrees celsius in a cheap, fluctuating home setup) with pomme puree and a creamy cepe and white mushroom sauce

I am perfectly happy searing (searing involves the Maillard or browning reaction, it is a reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars, giving foodstuffs that sexy caramelised brown look) any of the red meats (and pork) post-sous vide, but chicken never really seared all that nicely for me. Exhibit A, grapeseed oil heated to 200°C, cooked each side for 40 seconds:

A close-up of what I believe to be a less-than-awesome Maillard reaction on the chicken breast, a uniform golden colour alike shallow or deep frying chicken

So, I did some research. I read up some more about the Maillard reaction to find that I can increase the Maillard reaction by adding a little glucose. For exhibit B, a half-and-half mixture glucose syrup and hot water, muddled together and basted onto the chicken breast just before frying, again in grapeseed oil, but only at 180°C and for just 20 seconds each side:

A close-up of what I believe to be a more awesome Maillard reaction on the chicken breast, brown caramelisation and a more 'seared' appearance

A much better result. The flavour was essentially the same, but the appearance is closer to a traditionally-seared chicken breast. It is simply 1,000,000 times juicier and tenderer-er-er on the inside.

Okay, maybe not 1,000,000. Maybe … five. At least two.

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