The in vogue gadget of the more exclusive professional kitchen is now available for the home cook to experiment with. The “Sous Vide Supreme” available at $399 is being marketed as “the world's first water oven designed specifically for use in the home”.
Sometimes referred to as Cryovacking, but more regularly termed sous vide from the French under vacuum, was first developed in France in 1974. Georges Pralus of the Troigrois restaurant in Roanne was challenged to produce foie gras that didn’t lose excessive amounts of fat when cooked. He developed the sous vide method which resulted in just a tiny weight loss of his foie gras. This discovery also found that the ingredients attained a better texture, as opposed to any other cooking method.
Most ingredients can be placed into plastic bags and have the air pumped out ready for cooking immediately or later in a water bath that ensures the temperature is accurately controlled. Removing the air means that no aerobic bacteria can form, this translates to food not spoiling so quickly. Food can then be cooked uniformly throughout for several hours and even for days at the temperature that it will be served at.
There are many advantages in using the sous vide cooking method:-
• Minimal loss of moisture and weight, typically less than 5%
• Color is retained
• Flavor is preserved and even enhanced
• Nutrients and vitamins are preserved
• Consistent results
• Minimal wastage with food prepared well in advance of service
• Cheaper cuts of meat are tenderized when cooked this way
• Energy efficient compared with ovens
• Cooler kitchens
• No fire risks
• Clean up time reduced
• Same bath can be used for all dishes from starter to dessert.
The pressure, the temperature and the time scales are the three major mechanisms of this cooking method that need to be considered. For example, using too high a pressure in vacuum packing a meat joint could result in bones puncturing the plastic. Differing ingredients are cooked at usually somewhere between 120f and 190f, but meat is generally held at a temperature of 130f to 150f. The texture of ingredients can change when cooked this way. Seafood, such as squid, will no longer turn ‘rubbery’, while salmon can take on a unique texture that is somewhere between sushi and being cooked medium rare.
The only drawbacks in using the sous vide cooking method are that meticulous hygiene conditions must be observed to ensure that anaerobic bacteria are unable to grow when subjected to conditions with little or no oxygen. The high price for obtaining the professional water baths and vacuum machines can also be prohibitive
Late last year Thomas Keller brought out “Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide” which should be a help to any home cook seeking to replicate dishes from professional kitchens. Being cooked in, as Harold McGee of ‘On Food and Cooking’ literary fame describes, “the twenty first century bain marie”.