Regardless of whether you are a five star chef or a home cook, the ability to create a good sous-vide dish is an asset in an era obsessed with healthy food. Most “healthy” foods fail to make the cut when it comes to taste. Sous-vide dishes on the other hand preserves all the tastes and flavors of food while sacrificing none of the nutrients.
In case, you are unfamiliar with what sous-vide cooking is Meriam Webster Dictionary defines it as “a method of cooking food slowly in a vacuum-sealed pouch at a low temperature to retain most of the juice and aroma”. Most commonly food is placed in a sealed plastic bag and slow cooked in a water bath also known as a sous-vide oven. More recently sous-vide dishes are made by inserting the sealed bag of food in a bag with an immersion heat circulator in a pot of water.
I am going to guide you through the basics of sous vide cooking by introducing you to,
- What is sous-vide cooking
- Sous-vide through the ages
- Equipment for sous-vide
- Cooking times
- Cooking temperatures
Sous-vide cooking – What is it?
Sous-vide cooking – once the realm of a few five star chefs is a now a popular trend among home cooks. Simply a method of slow cooking food in a sealed pouch in a water bath, it was slow to become popular among masses due to sous-vide equipment being accessible only to chefs. However, with healthy food becoming the norm and immersion circulators becoming widely available sous -vide cooking became increasingly accessible to home cooks.
Benefits of this cooking method include:
- Sealing all nutrients, flavors and moisture in the food
- Ability to tenderize tough cuts of meat without drying them out due to temperature control
- Temperature control prevents sea food including fish from overcooking, drying out and becoming leathery
- No additional oil or fat required to retain moisture in meats or fish Allows
- vegetables to be perfectly cooked inside and out without losing any of the moisture
Sous vide could be used to create both savory and sweet dishes and can create unique textures of food. The biggest advantage of sous videing is that food does not need constant attention while cooking due to temperature control and precise timing, which allows you to set up the sous vide process and get on with other things.
Sous vide through the ages – a short history
Although techniques similar to sous vide have been used since the 18th century to produce succulent food. Georges Pralus a French chef first used the technique in 1974 in a restaurant in Roanne, France. Bruno Goussalt a scientist from Virginia, USA was another pioneer whose extensive research led to perfecting cooking times for different types of food in vacuum sealed bags. Although Pralus and Goussault initially worked independently, they later collaborated to perfect the art of sous-vide. Gossault trained many chefs in this method and sous- vide dishes were made available in high end restaurants. Expensive sous-vide equipment was not easily sourced. However, with the development relatively inexpensive immersion circulators which are freely available in the market, sous-vide is being increasingly popular among home cooks.
Equipment for sous vide
Equipment for sous-vide varies on the purpose and scale of cooking and may vary depending on whether you are a chef, butcher, caterer or home cook. It is also possible to improvise sous-vide equipment with a certain degree of success. Basic equipment includes seal able bags to act as pouches for the food being sous-vide, vacuum sealers, water ovens or immersion circulators with pots or vessels to hold water for cooking.
- Sealable bags and vacuum sealers
Sealable bags which act as pouches for cooking food are essential for the cook regardless of whether you are a pro chef or a home cook. Sous-vide bags made of BPA plastic or silicon are freely available. These bags often come with a hand pump to expel air from the bag, bag clips for sealing and sous-vide clips to attach the sealed bags to the pot or vessel containing water. Vacuum sealers are also separately available for bags that do not come with sealing clips.
One thing you need to watch out when purchasing bags is whether they are FDA approved, as non- food grade bags can be harmful when exposed to heat. Many plastic and silicone bags in the market are reusable, and can be used after washing with water and a detergent.
- Water ovens
Water ovens also known as sous-vide overs and water baths are popular with chefs and other commercial food production operations, however small water baths of 9 -11 quart capacity are also available for home use.
Modern water ovens come with their own timers and sometimes are sold as bundles with other equipment. These water ovens are either programmable for cooking times and temperatures or come pre-programmed for different types of food. Some programmable slow cookers and multi cookers also have sous-vide features incorporated.
Water ovens dedicated to sous-vide are comparatively more expensive than immersion circulators and are generally priced above US$ 200. Larger capacity water ovens may cost above US$ 700.
- Immersion circulators
Immersion circulators are available in a range of models and capacities for chefs and home cooks alike. Immersion circulators for pro chefs come in a range of models which are programmable or come pre-programmed for the type of food being sous-vide.
Some high capacity immersion circulators include racks which can be placed over vessels which are made of stainless steel, LCD displays and built in timers and pumps. Commercial immersion circulators are used for mobile food preparation and service by catering services.
Immersion circulators for home use are similar in size to hand held blenders and come as programmable models or with apps and WiFi which can be controlled with your mobile phone. Some models contain LCD displays with built in timers and are programmable.
Cooking times and temperatures
Cooking time and temperature control is key any sous-vide dish. Several factors affect sous vide cooking times such as the type of food, thickness amount of fat and the desired level of doneness. The cooking temperature varies of the type of food, toughness and the desired doneness of food. Temperature and cooking charts are freely available for different foods and sous-vide recipes generally specify the temperature and cooking time for the particular dish.
Modern sous-vide equipment is has programmable timers and temperature control is often within a range of .05 degrees. However cooking time commences from when the water bath is preheated to the required temperature.
Sous-vide skills are great to have regardless whether you are an accomplished chef or a home cook in this day and age of healthy cooking. This guide to sous-vide cooking will help you to understand the technique of sous-vide cooking better and improve your cooking skills and help you prepare restaurant quality sous-vide dishes.
As practice makes anything perfect, practice is the key to perfecting sous vide cooking. Look forward to more helpful tips and tricks for successful sous- vide cooking.