“Tzimmes,” an Yiddish term for “a big fuss” or “uproar,” is a traditional Ashkenazi Jewish holiday stew that earned its name from the many ingredients, tedious preparation work and long cooking time. A casserole type dish, it comprises of various root vegetables, dried fruits and sometimes meat in a spiced citrus syrup. In Jewish circles, it has been said that you can make a big fuss about almost anything, but you can’t make a real tzimmes without carrots. Congenial and colourful, carrots are the common denominator in recipes. Other non-paramount inclusions are sweet potatoes, dried apricots, prunes and honey.
In my usual fashion of precise cooking, I decided to try out sous vide tzimmes. Will it be worth the effort and time to set up the immersion circulator? Sturdy root vegetables like carrots are the natural choice for sous vide. Plant cell walls are made up of three types of structural molecules with different physical properties: cellulose, hemicellulose, and pectin. Cellulose does not break down readily in cooking, but the other two do. Pectin and hemicellulose in and between adjacent cells start to degrade between 85°C (185°F) and 92°C (198°F). So in this range, a carrot softens from snappy to bendy, yielding a tender texture and simultaneously retaining all its flavourful juices within the vacuum-sealed bag. On the other hand, starches in vegetables gelatinise at lower temperature, between 60°C-70°C (140°F-158°F), the exact temperature dependent is the specific starch. Cooking times for vegetables are usually 60 minutes, depending on hardness and size of the cut. To test for doneness, remove the bag from the water bath and give a light squeeze. In this experiment, I kept it simple and sous vide the carrot with olive oil, salt and a sprig of rosemary.
To complete the tzimme dish, I had to add back the dried fruit, citrus and spices component. This was done by poaching or stewing the dried fruits until plump and juicy with the poaching liquid. The remaining liquid was then reduced and thickened slightly with kudzu starch to make a glaze.
My conclusion is that if you would like to make a tzimmes out of tzimmes, go the sous vide route and you will be rewarded with carroty carrots; otherwise, throw everything in the dutch casserole, but expect more confounded flavours.
- 227 g (1/2 lb) carrots, or a mixture of root vegetables
- 1 tsp cold-pressed olive oil
- Pinch Himalayan salt
- Sprig rosemary
- 160 g (2/3 cup) orange juice, from 2 oranges
- 80 g (1/3 cup) filtered water
- 60 g (1/4 cup) lemon juice, from 1 lemon
- 3 strips orange peel
- 1 strip lemon peel
- 35 g (1/4 cup) coconut sugar
- 1 cm (1/2-inch) ginger, sliced
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon chips
- 250 g prunes, or a mixture of dried fruit
- 1 tbsp kudzu starch, for the glaze
- Preheat the sous vide water bath to 85°C (185°F). Start with the hot water from the kettle to save time.
- Peel the carrots and dice to 1.3 cm (1/2-inch) chunks. Toss with olive oil and salt. Transfer carrots to a sous vide bag and vacuum seal.
- Place the bag in the water bath and cook for 1 hour.
- After 1 hour, remove the bag and set aside until required for assembly.
- Combine everything in a medium saucepan and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes until the prunes are plump and tender, then remove from heat. Strain the remaining liquid and return the liquid to the saucepan. Stir the kudzu in a little water to form a slurry. Add to the poaching liquid and continue to simmer until it forms the consistency of a thick glaze.
- Remove carrots from the sous vide bag and toss gently with the prunes. Drizzle the glaze over. Serve warm.