“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.