Evenly cooked, perfect texture, every time

“This technique might be the biggest advance in cooking since the gas oven.” – Time Magazine, December, 2010

Have you ever imagined what it would be like to be able to cook all of your food evenly and have it turn out perfectly every time? Sadly, most of our traditional cooking methods use high heat and, if you don’t watch closely, you can easily screw up a lot of expensive groceries! The idea behind sous vide cooking has been around for hundreds of years in the early civilizations in China, south Pacific islands and Mexico. Modern sous vide cooking with vacuum packaging dates back to the 1960’s in Switzerland where hospital kitchens used it to sterilize and preserve food. Fun, huh? In the 1970’s, a French chef began experimenting with the technique as a way to reduce shrinkage of foie gras. It is now used by many restaurants as a cooking method for steaks, chicken and pork, along with many types of vegetables. It is also used as a storage procedure because sous vide cooked food will keep several days longer than raw food.

Pretty fancy word, that sous vide! You can probably tell it’s a French term but the meaning is simple – “under vacuum”. Sous vide is the process of cooking food packaged in vacuum sealed bags in low temperature water baths. While most of our traditional methods of cooking don’t allow for even doneness throughout the food, sous vide, if the water temperature is closely regulated, will ensure improved texture, flavor and uniform doneness. And by cooking under vacuum, foods retain their original size, appearance and nutritional values. Water temperatures are regulated using a thermostat-controlled water oven or with an immersion circulator attached to a large container that holds the water and keeps it at a constant temperature. The key here is to keep the water at the exact temperature that would be considered “done” for the meat or other foods you’re cooking. As an example, 130 degrees F is considered “done” for a medium rare steak. By submerging a vacuum packaged steak in 135 degree water for an hour or two, the steak will cook to a perfect, even medium rare 130 degrees. It obviously cannot go any higher than that so you don’t ever run the risk of your steak being tough and overcooked. In fact, you could leave it in this bath for several hours and it will never overcook. When you’re cooking meat such as a steak, when it’s to its done temperature, simply remove it from the bag and place it on a very hot grill or frying pan to give the outer surface some color (30 seconds per side) and it’s ready to serve – perfectly cooked! Additionally, you can cook multiple steaks to the desired doneness and refrigerate while still vacuumed. The food will keep for several days. Then they can be quickly grilled or fried for some color and reheating later. It couldn’t get much easier, right? It’s pretty apparent, then, why it would benefit restaurants to use this method. They can cook and hold a bunch of steaks at various temperatures of doneness and when an order comes in, they simply open a bag and drop on the grill for a few seconds on each side and you have a steak that could not be cooked more perfectly.

So to review a bit – why would you want a sous vide water oven or an immersion circulator in your kitchen?

  • Food loses less nutritional content compared to traditional cooking methods.
  • Working with low cooking temperatures requires less additional fat to be added.
  • Naturally-enhanced food flavors means less salt and fewer spices, reducing the overall sodium content.
  • Food cannot be over-cooked or dried out due to the low and precise cooking temperatures.
  • Tough meats are tenderized and cooked perfectly, even at medium rare.
  • Compressing foods under vacuum creates a more dense food with a smooth and pleasing texture.
  • Consistent results are easily achieved each time food is prepared.
  • Meals can be prepared in single proportions and stored safely for future use.

Today’s home cooks are fortunate in that the equipment needed to prepare food sous vide is available in smaller sizes and at less cost than what commercial kitchens would use. First, a quality vacuum packaging machine is required. We recommend a chamber machine because of the ability to vacuum package foods with liquids, including the meat juices. Our VP line of chamber vacuum packaging machines are the perfect companion for sous vide cooking. Second, a way to monitor and regulate water temperatures is required. Several companies manufacture and sell water ovens, many of which, however, have small capacities. Coming next month, VacMaster will have available our new SV1 Immersion Circulator to make sous vide cooking a breeze. It can be used with any water container that is large enough to hold between 12 and 30 quarts of water. Look for it on our website in late September or early October.

A Note on Bags: VacMaster’s chamber pouches use a BPA-free material and are perfect for low temperature recipes or high heat rethermalization. The pouch design ensures a thorough seal that prevents water or air from migrating back into the pouch. A strong seal ensures accurate cooking times, longer shelf life and prevents dehydration and freezer burn.

Slow Cooker Freezer Meals for Week Night Convenience!

August has arrived and before we know it, our kids will be headed back to school. Our nights will be consumed with all sorts of school activities that fill the calendar and make us long for the weekends. Add to that, we adults are just as busy with the job, commuting, transporting kids and all of the extra things we volunteer for. Who has time to cook healthy meals for the family?

Thankfully, all is not lost! A slow cooker and a vacuum packaging machine can help alleviate some of the stress and hurried meals you’re probably accustomed to during the school year. The concept basically involves placing all ingredients for a complete meal into a vacuum bag and vacuum packaging for the freezer. Then, when you’re needing a quick and simple meal, thaw a bag in your refrigerator overnight, cut open and empty into a slow cooker (such as a Crock Pot) before heading out for work. When you get home, you’ll open the door to a great smelling meal, ready to enjoy! And if you use a slow cooker liner bag, even clean up will be a breeze!

The Web is full of great recipes for slow cooker use that will work great as freezer meals. Google “slow cooker freezer meals” or “Crock Pot freezer meals” for all sorts of possibilities. Many of the sites you will find will list several recipes and shopping lists so that you can spend a day during the weekend packaging weeks worth of easy meals! Here are some of my favorite recipes for slow cooker freezer meals.

Slow Cooker Hawaiian Chicken

(serves 4-5)

3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
½ cup white sugar
½ cup vinegar
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbp soy sauce
½ cup of pineapple juice
½ can of pineapple chunks

Add all the ingredients to a VacMaster bag, vacuum seal, label and freeze. When ready to use, thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Before leaving for the day, empty into a slow cooker. Cook 4-5 hours on high or 6-7 hours on low. Use a timer switch in your outlet to turn on your slow cooker at the appropriate time so that your meal is ready and not over-cooked when you get home. Serve over rice. While cooking rice, shred the chicken and add back to the juice.

Peppered Steak

(serves 4-5)

1 ½ lb boneless beef round steak
2 medium onions, sliced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
½ teaspoon finely chopped ginger (or ¼ tsp ground ginger)
2 medium green bell peppers, cut into ¾ -inch strips
1 cup water
2 Tbp beef bouillon
3 Tbp soy sauce
2 Tbp cornstarch (do not put in the bag)
¼ cup cold water (do not put in the bag)

Instructions

Cut up beef into strips (about 1 ½ inches long). Place beef, onion, garlic, peppers, ginger, water, beef bouillon, and soy sauce to a VacMaster bag. Vacuum package and label the bag. Freeze until ready to cook. Cook on high for 3-4 hours or 6-7 hours on low. Use a timer switch in your outlet to turn on your slow cooker at the appropriate time so that your meal is ready and not over-cooked when you get home. When the beef is almost cooked, whisk cornstarch and water and mix into beef mixture. If cooked on low, now increase heat to high. Cook 10 to 12 minutes or until it’s thickened. Serve over rice.

Slow Cooker Creamy Ranch Pork Chops and Potatoes

(serves 4-5)

1 1/2 lbs pork chops, boneless (about 4-6 chops, thick sliced)
6-8 medium potatoes, chopped into large pieces
2 (10.75 oz each) cans cream of chicken soup
2 (1 oz each) packages dry Ranch dressing mix
1 cup milk
Dried parsley to sprinkle on top (optional)

Directions:

In a bowl, mix together the soups, milk, and ranch dressing mixes and pour into a VacMaster bag. Combine all other ingredients together in the bag. Vacuum package, label and freeze. When ready to eat, remove from freezer and thaw in the refrigerator for overnight. Cook on HIGH for 3-4 hours or LOW for 6-7 hours. Use a timer switch in your outlet to turn on your slow cooker at the appropriate time so that your meal is ready and not over-cooked when you get home. Use the extra sauce in the slow cooker as a gravy for the potatoes and the pork chops. Sprinkle with dried parsley if desired.