Sous Vide Cooking Guide
Sous-vide means, literally, ‘under vacuum’ from the French. It entails enclosing food in an airtight bag and then immersing it in hot water. A round cylinder-like apparatus is then used to get the water to a specific temperature; this allows you to achieve the precise heat desired and with zero risks of overcooking the food, very useful with meat. Fans of sous vide claim that the meat heated through it never tasted so consistently succulent and juicy before.
How does it work? Well, in a nutshell, you place raw or partly cooked ingredients into your bag which is vacuum-sealed, pasteurized, then held exactly at 130°F, or whatever the temperature needs to be until it needs to be served. It’s as simple as that. A little searing on a pan or kitchen torch action can give the food that finishing touch, as you wish.
Do professional chefs use sous vides?
The question is not, do professional chefs use sous vides? but which professional chefs do not use them! The use of sous vides is pervasive in the high-end restaurant industry. The science behind vacuum-sealing food is reassuring. Unlike boiling broccoli, for example, sous-vide broccoli retains vitamins – 60% more, in fact. When it comes to meat, 130°F is the magic temperature which kills bacteria and yet breaks down fat and tendons; so your steak will have all of its juices intact, a beautiful color, and can be quickly seared on either side with a kitchen torch before being served to diners’ delight. For fish, that magic digit is 122°F; for scrambled eggs 167°F. In short, the extent to which chefs can control the temperature and retain the juices, vitamins, and taste, make it highly attractive. Then there is the added advantage of being able to gently reheat food which has already been cooked to perfection at a previous point in time; vital in a busy kitchen where timings are everything. It makes the humble microwave look positively prehistoric!
Can you leave sous vides unattended?
In a word, ‘Yes’. It is possible to leave the sous vide unattended; however, it is as robust as an oven or a slow cooker so it needs to be checked up on, sporadically. It also contains a vacuum-sealed bag, and this should be clipped to the side of the sous vide container so that it doesn’t get awkwardly suctioned onto the circular heating apparatus. Certain models have apps that enable you to keep an eye on the time and temperature remotely. The heating of the food, remember, is uniform because it’s coming from all angles, submerged as it is in the water bath. If worried about electrical failure or even fire, the safety circuitry in the sous vide should close your unit down if there a malfunction. It would be prudent to place the whole sous vide on a work surface which is absolutely non-flammable; laminate or granite surfaces should be fine.
Can you leave meat in sous vide too long?
In theory, ‘No’. That is, your meat won’t overheat because the sous vide is set to a specific temperature which remains constant; it won’t go above or below this temperature so over-heating isn’t really possible. However, if you leave certain foods for more than a certain number of hours then there is the chance that that delicious steak, for example, could become mushy and its texture starts to disintegrate. It won’t be overdone, true, but neither will its overall appeal be as appetizing. The sous vide’s container is also not as robust as a crockpot, for example, and is designed really just to hold the water in place while it gently heats your food up to its optimum temperature.
What can you cook in sous vide?
The sous vide is brilliant at making traditionally tougher cuts of meat remarkably tender. Neck or leg cuts, for example, tend to have more protein strands in the muscles and are usually sold more cheaply as a result. If you were to put these cuts on your indoor grill or outdoor charcoal grill, they would often be quite tough to the taste, unless you engaged in some overnight marinating or tenderizing, which is quite time-consuming. With the sous vide it breaks down tough proteins and creates, as if by magic, a tender out of a tough cut! Then, all you need to do is use a vacuum sealer to store it away for another day, if you don’t need it instantly. It can easily be reheated with your sous vide.
Eggs are brilliantly controllable in the sous vide, and because they come in shells there’s no need to vacuum pack them. You can cook them to your perfectly desired texture, each and every time. Pork can be a little dry if grilled, but the sous vide helps it to retain its inherent juices and brings out mouth-watering flavors. Lamb is another meat that is hard to cook effectively in an oven; often too chewy or tough. The sous vide guarantees a succulent, delicious outcome. Vegetables are also wonderful in your sous vide; keeping all their natural vitamins and tastiness as well as delivering a crisp, firm texture. You can also experiment with herbs and duck fat. Try it first with carrots, for instance, and then brown them with a kitchen torch before serving.
Another fact is that sous vide-produced food is reputed to be easier to digest. This is because it breaks down the collagen proteins into gelatine; easier for the body to absorb. There is also less to clean up with sous vide food because the temperature is much lower than with oven or stove-top cooking (not to mention barbeques!). Finally, you can save money from the lack of cooking oils, gas power, and higher-quality cuts of meat you would have had to have provided, which over months and years adds up to a small fortune.
Sous vide cooking may be new to many of us but in fact has been around for nearly 50 years, in top-flight restaurants around the world. Only quite recently has it become marketed and suitable for the average home kitchen. It could revolutionize the way you go about things.