Top chefs love sous vide. Is sous vide cooking something you can do at home?
cooking sous vide
Sous Vide explained
Most of the nations best restaurant's are on the sous vide bandwagon, and the reason top chefs are so excited about what is essentially a boil in the bag dinner is both consistency and exceptional quality…and the minimal wastage doesn’t hurt the bottom line either!
What sous vide cooking is, is placing a portion of food inside a vacuum sealed bag with appropriate seasonings, and simmering this at a precise temperature for a time until the food is cooked exactly as wanted, every time. This sounds like a bit of a cop out, but it's actually not, and some foods will be cooked at low temperatures for as long as 36 hours to achieve the desired effect.
What makes sous vide cooking so good?
Firstly, by cooking the food at a precise temperature, things are cooked to perfection every time. You may decide that the ideal temperature for the interior of a cut of beef is 140 degrees, but by using any traditional cooking method, no matter how good the chef is, it's pretty hard to hit that number exactly right every time, and there can sometimes by some considerable difference between the ideal and the reality. With sous vide cooking, a food wanted at 140 degrees, will be cooked at 140 degrees in simmering water, and because the cooking medium is not hotter than the desired temperature, the food can never be overcooked, no mater how long it's left in.
The second reason that chefs love this is for the intensity of flavoring possible. The food effectively cooks in its marinade, and since it's vacuum sealed into the meat, the effects of the seasoning are more pronounced. Additionally, because the food is cooked under a vacuum, the natural juices are unable to escape from the meat, and the resulting food is much more succulent.
Thirdly, the technique allows for a manipulation of food that is not really possible in any other way. Take short ribs for example. A really delicious and flavorful cut of meat…but also very chewy, and as such the only way to cook it and make it tender is to braise it low and slow, and keep cooking it until it is thoroughly well done, and all of the collagen in the meat is transformed to gelatin. Trying to eat a medium rare short rib cooked conventionally would be close to impossible. But using sous vide, the short ribs can be cooked over a very low heat for many many hours, and during this VERY long and slow cooking, the collagen eventually transforms to gelatin, and what you get is a short rib, cooked medium rare, with the texture of a sirloin steak, and the incomparable beefy flavor of a short rib. Pretty remarkable stuff.
Professionals cook vacuum sealed food in water baths originally designed for laboratory usage, and these water baths can maintain the precise temperatures wanted for as long as needed. These can actually be found on ebay relatively cheaply, but for the home cook experimenting with the technique, just using a very large pot of water, and checking the temperature often should give you adequate results.
Perfect for entertaining, all the preparation is done in advance, and the meat remains perfectly cooked, waiting for any time you decide to serve. Very stress free.
The vacuum sealed meats can also be held without spoilage for far longer than usual, which is another thing that restaurants love, but this does raise some concerns of botulism. For the home cook, if you are making the food for immediate consumption, you have absolutely no risk of contracting botulism, no matter how the food is prepared (Botulism takes a period of several days in an anaerobic environment to produce the deadly toxins).
Please see the link below to the web's best discussion on home sous vide, and for loads of recipe ideas, and temperature and doneness time charts.