Monday, 4 March 2013

Introduction to Sous-Vide

Sous-vide is a method of cooking food in vacuum sealed bags that are submerged in a water bath at carefully monitored temperatures. The temperature used is much lower than traditional cooking and the food often must be cooked over a long period of time (sometimes as long as two or three days). The intention is to cook the item evenly, and not to overcook the outside while still keeping the inside at the same "doneness", keeping the food juicier. When cooking sous-vie the temperature setting is more important than the particular length of time as the goal is to bring the entire product up to the exact temperature of the water.

Sous-vide lends itself particularly well to delicate foods and is a great was to cook the perfect egg. It is also helps ensure consistency when cooking in larger volumes as everything is brought up to and held at the same level of "doneness". The downfall is that it doesn't heat food to the level where browning and carmelization occurs, so flavor has to be developed another way, or seared after being sous-vide. Additionally, while cooking in this way helps keep food juicy, it makes it impossible to develop a crust that would come from cooking at a much higher temperature than can be reached in water.

The basic theory was first pioneered by Sir Benjamin Thompson in 1799, although at this point air was used as the heat transfer medium instead of water. In 1974 French chef, Georges Pralus cooked foie gras in the manner we now think of as sous-vide and noticed that it kept its original appearance and kept a great texture and its high fat content. After this sous-vide became started to gain popularity in restaurant use. 

Sous-vide cooking has three basics steps:

  • You portion and vacuum-seal the food (the smaller the portions the faster it will cook)
  • You heat the food via precise temperature control.  You then hold it there until you achieve the desired texture and any food borne pathogens have been reduced to a safe level.
  • Here you have the option of chilling or freezing the food for storage.  You want to chill the food as rapidly as possible to maintain texture and for food safety reasons.  When you are ready to serve, rethermize the food in a water bath at a lower temperature than it was originally cooked at.
  • Finally, remove the food from the package, sear and/or sauce if desired and serve immediately.

An immersion circulator is the best way to sous-vide, because it features a thermometer a heater and a water circulator, giving you the highest degree of control and consistency. However, immersion circulators are often too expensive for the home chef ($800 +). For those who want to try to sous-vide at home without having to first make such a large investment, try using a heavy bottom pot fitting with a candy thermometer. This technique works best on an induction cook top, and for recipes that take less than an hour, since the water temperature requires monitoring.

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