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Sous Vide Chicken Breast: Step by Step Instructions

Updated on August 10, 2014
Sous vide cooking starter pack
Sous vide cooking starter pack | Source

Sous vide cooking, which has been the preserve of high-end restaurants for many years, is now accessible to home kitchens. It offers a number of advantages over the normal open cooking method including the preservation of flavours and nutrients.

What is Sous Vide?

Simply put, sous vide cooking is the preparation of meals under a vacuum. The food is vacuum packed and cooked with indirect heat for a specific period of time under exact temperature conditions.

The Sous Vide cooking process has evolved over the years from use in high class kitchens and restaurant to everyday use at homes and standard kitchens.

This rise in use can be attributed to improvement in the kind of sous vide machines in the market today.They have become compact, efficient and reliable with results comparable to the industrial large-scale machines in the market.

There has also been development of appropriate sous vide recipes that has enabled the cooking of more foods using the method.

Some research also indicates that cooking sous vide helps in maintaining the flavour and nutrients of the food.

Step 1: Ingredients Preparation

This simple recipe is a twist on the normal pan-fried roasted chicken with spring vegetables in that the airline chicken-breast is sous-vide prepared, the skin is then seared to give a crispy finish.

The chicken breast will first need to be brined in a 5% brine solution for 24 hours to give it that distinct flavour as well as enhance the moisture content.

Once you are through with the brining process, you will place each piece of chicken breast in a vacuum bag then use either a chamber vacuum sealer or a common home suction systems that are readily available.

You should make sure that when you are putting the chicken into the vacuum bags, the skin completely covers the breast. This is important so as to achieve a clean finish during the crisping process.

Step 2: Packing and Bathing

You will then place the sealed bag in a 60°C / 140°F water bath for 4 hours which will ensure that the dangerous micro-organisms such as salmonella are completely eliminated.

You can serve the chicken immediately or chill it for later use – in which case you will have to return it to the same 60°C/140°F bath for around 20 minutes to re-heat.

Step 3: Sauteeing the Veges

The sous vide chicken breast will go down well with sautéed mushrooms which are readily available at the local store. Prepare the mushrooms by slicing the larger mushrooms and keeping the smaller mushrooms whole.

Since you are sautéing the mushrooms, you will need to heat a skillet over a high flame, put in some oil and throw in chopped onions.

Put in the sliced mushrooms with whole butter then cover with a lid and let the mixture steam for around thirty seconds. When the mushrooms have softened, you will then add some blanched baby carrots and also some blanched English peas.

Let the mixture sauté further and deglaze with a little white wine which is going to add some acidity and moisture to the vegetable mixture.

Step 4: Crispy Finish

To prepare the sous vide chicken breast for a crispy finish, you soak the skin side of the breast in either a rice flour mixture or potato starch. Remove the chicken breast while it is still hot and press the skin side only in the rice flour or potato starch mixture, then let it rest for a few minutes skin side up on a clean plate.

On a separate sauté pan, put some chicken fat over low heat and let the moisture evaporate to leave pure fat on the skillet. If you do not have chicken fat (which I assume should be easily available from any chicken stock that you have made previously), you can still use your favourite cooking oil. Gently lower the chicken breast on the melted fat skin-side down and make sure the fat is enough to cover the chicken breast up to the level where the skin ends.

While the chicken breast in the fat, you will want to bring the sauté back to the fire for reheating. The point at this time is to reduce the moisture that has been left out from the white wine.

Add a handful of baby spinach leaves which will not only add more colour to the mixed vegetables, but will suck up the remaining moisture.

Remove the chicken breast when it is crispy brown and place it on a plate skin-side up. Season the chicken breast immediately with spices such as smoked paprika or black pepper.

There will be no need for seasoning with salt as the chicken breast has already been brined.

Benefits of Cooking with Sous Vide Machines

In sous vide cooking, the food is first put in plastic bags and the air evacuated using a vacuum machine.

The bag is then sealed and put into a sous vide machine that has water set at precise temperatures. The food is left to cook for a specific period of time depending on the desired results.

Another method of cooking sous vide apart from the water bath is through the use of a conventional oven.

Since the vacuum bags are oven proof, the food will still cook in the same way as if it was in a bath of water.

Sous vide cooking has several advantages over the traditional direct heat cooking method:

  • Flavour of food is maintained in the sealed bag and is not lost like in open cooking
  • Nutrient loss is reduced since the food is cooked under precise temperatures for a specific period of time
  • Over-cooking is not possible because the food is not under direct heat
  • Food safety is guaranteed as there the possibility of cross-contamination is greatly reduced
  • Extended life of the food due to sealing
  • Low skill level is required to produce high quality meals
  • Productivity of the cooking operation is increased because the operators are able to man several machines at the same time
  • Increased profitability as food costs are reduced because of lower yield
  • Consistency meals is attained because the heat is evenly cooked
  • Clean working environment devoid of smoke and strong odours
  • Fewer cooking utensils are required and this reduces the cost of dishwashing chemicals and labour

Cooking Sous Vide

Cooking using the sous vide method is quite simple and does not require very advanced skills.

For example, if were to cook the 72 hour rib-eye, all you require is to season the meat, vacuum pack it and cook it for 72hrs at 55 degrees centigrade.

The good thing about this type of cooking is that even if you were to leave it in the machine for longer than required, it will not over-cook because the temperature and cooking time has been pre-set.

It is important to take food safety into consideration when using this type of cooking because the temperatures used are lower than the conventional cooking methods and deadly pathogens may not be controlled if care is not taken.

Food cooked under this method must be rapidly chilled, then either frozen or held in temperatures between 0 and 7 degrees centigrade as shown in the table below.

Storage of Sous Vide foods

Temperature
Maximum no. of days
Potential Pathogens
Below 2.5 degrees C
90
Clostridium botulinum
Below 3.3 degrees C
31
C. perfringens
Below 5 degrees C
10
B. cereus
Below 7 degrees C
5
B. cereus
It is very important to immediately chill the food cooked under sous vide then store under these temperatures to prevent microbial growth

Keeping the food under the temperatures shown above helps to prevent the multiplication of pathogens that may have survived the sous vide process. There are three distinct stages when cooking sous vide and they are:

  • Preparation for packing which includes seasoning, marinating, tenderizing and brining. Seasoning under vacuum is more efficient as the flavours are forced deep inside the food by the vacuum. Marinades are also absorbed better under the vacuum than in the conventional method.
  • Cooking is done under the relevant temperature conditions depending on the type of food been cooked. Different types of food require different temperature and period of time as can be seen in the table below for meat. The core temperature of the food must be attained in order to ensure complete and safe cooking.
  • Finishing such as searing and saucing is necessary for foods such as steaks. This is to give them the appearance of been roasted as well as to add flavour that results in the process of browning. For foods that are traditionally served poached such as eggs and fish, the searing process is not necessary and they are served as is.

Sous vide cooking times

Different foods require different cooking times when using the sous vide method. The cooking times are also dependent on the thickness and shape of the food involved. This is especially true when it comes to meat as attaining the core temperature will be influenced by these factors.

The tables below show the cooking times for three types of foods prepared using sous vide:

  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Meat (beef, pork and lamb)

Times for sous vide cooking of fish

Thickness (mm)
55 deg.C
56 deg C
57 deg C
58 deg C
59 deg C
5
150 mins
105 mins
75 mins
50 mins
35 mins
10
165 mins
120 mins
90 mins
60 mins
45 mins
15
165 mins
120 mins
90 mins
75 mins
60 mins
20
180 mins
135 mins
105 mins
90 mins
75 mins
25
195 mins
150 mins
120 mins
105 mins
90 mins
30
215 mins
180 mins
150 mins
120 mins
105 mins
35
240 mins
195 mins
165 mins
150 mins
120 mins

Times for sous vide cooking of Chicken breast

Thickness (mm)
57 deg C
58 deg C
59 deg C
60 deg C
61 deg C
5
135 mins
105 mins
75 mins
45 mins
35 mins
10
135 mins
105 mins
75 mins
55 mins
40 mins
15
150 mins
105 mins
95 mins
75 mins
50 mins
20
165 mins
120 mins
105 mins
75 mins
75 mins
25
180 mins
135 mins
120 mins
90 mins
90 mins
30
225 mins
165 mins
135 mins
120 mins
90 mins
35
225 mins
180 mins
150 mins
135 mins
120 mins

Times for sous vide cooking of beef

Thickness (mm)
55 deg C
56 deg C
57 deg C
58 deg C
59 deg C
5
120 mins
75 mins
60 mins
45 mins
40 mins
10
120 mins
90 mins
75 mins
55 mins
45 mins
15
135 mins
105 mins
90 mins
75 mins
60 mins
20
150 mins
120 mins
105 mins
90 mins
75 mins
25
165 mins
135 mins
120 mins
105 mins
90 mins
30
180 mins
150 mins
120 mins
120 mins
105 mins
35
205 mins
165 mins
135 mins
120 mins
120 mins

Sous vide cooking process

Sous Vide machines

There are many sous vide machines available in the market for domestic and industrial use.

These machines come with different features depending on the intended use.

Together with these sous vide machines, there are a number of important equipment that are a must if the process is to be successful. The following are the most important of these equipment:

Digital thermometers

As temperature is an important aspect of sous vide cooking, monitoring and control devices are very essential. This is because pasteurization must be done at specific temperatures to prevent the multiplication of deadly pathogens.

The wrong temperature may mean that the food does not get cooked to the core and it may take longer than necessary to cook. The basic concept is to get the bath water at the required temperature and ensure that it is maintained for the required period of time.

There are a number of affordable thermometers available in the market depending on the kind of investment one is willing to make. All thermometers must be regularly calibrated to ensure accuracy of the readings.

Sous Vide machine

Sous vide machine : vacuum packing
Sous vide machine : vacuum packing | Source

Vacuum sealers

Proper evacuation of all the air when vacuum packing is essential for the sous vide process to be efficient. Vacuum sealers come in two main types:

  • Chamber vacuum sealers are more appropriate in a commercial setting as they have a higher capacity. They are the best to use because they seal the bags completely without any problem. Costs may be a hindrance for small business operations and for domestic use. Manufacturers are developing mini chamber sealers which are as efficient as the more commercial models.
  • Table top vacuum sealers are small and affordable for domestic use. Though they are cheap, the vacuum bags which are used together with these type of machines are very expensive and one must weigh the total cost of using them. It might be better to buy a chamber vacuum sealer which uses less costly freezer bags as this will be cheaper in the long run.

Water baths

For foods that do not have long cooking times, a water bath is a cheap alternative for sous vide cooking. However, this method requires a lot of monitoring and manual temperature adjustments. It is not a practical way of cooking large quantities of foods that require longer cooking times.

Sous Vide machine

Sous Vide Machine: water oven
Sous Vide Machine: water oven | Source

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