Cultural Spotlight: Sous Vide

Cooking sous vide with SousVide Supreme If tender meats and nutrient-rich veggies are calling your name, you might want to listen more closely to see if you can hear an accent.  You might find that what you have been...

Cooking sous vide with SousVide Supreme
Cooking sous vide with SousVide Supreme

If tender meats and nutrient-rich veggies are calling your name, you might want to listen more closely to see if you can hear an accent.  You might find that what you have been craving is, in fact, the French sous vide method of cooking.

The term “sous vide” is actually French for, “under vacuum,” and captures exactly what it is that makes this method of cooking different from any other.  While you might have heard of putting bagged food in an ice bath to chill it for refrigeration, you might not have ever considered using the same methods to heat your meals.  However, that is exactly what the French did.

The sous vide process involves separating various servings of meat, fruits, or vegetables, into various bags (similar to Ziploc bags), which are later vacuum sealed.  Then, they are placed into a bath of warm water (typically around 135 degrees Fahrenheit for meats and closer to 175 degrees Fahrenheit for vegetables, which are harder and require more heat before they soften up).  Because the temperatures are milder than traditional boiling, they are typically left to slowly cook over the course of several hours (in some recipes, food is even left sous vide over the course of multiple days).  Afterward, the food is ready to either be served or chilled in an ice bath and frozen until it can be quickly reheated at a later date.

Chicken servings ready to cook sous vide
Chicken servings ready to cook sous vide

So, why do so many people choose sous vide?  It turns out that there are a number of reasons depending on what you are cooking.  Since the sous vide method completely seals the food item, juices are not allowed to escape the meat, which means that it stays juicy and tender throughout the process--this is also why many choose the sous vide method to marinate their meats, as the flavor is fully absorbed throughout this process.  Similarly, while cooking fruits and vegetables, nutrients are not lost (as they typically are through other methods, such as boiling) and therefore make sous vide vegetables, both, a healthy and more flavorful option.  Other proponents claim that the process allows the food to cook evenly through, whereas other methods may cause the other edges to be drier and more well-done than the center.

For first timers, here are a few helpful tips to get your sous vide techniques up to celebrity chef status in no time:

  • Flatten meats if in a rush:  It is widely known that flatter food items require dramatically less baking time than thicker items--the sous vide method is no exception.  If you are in a hurry, try to flatten your meat before you vacuum seal it to shorten your cooking time.

  • Standardize thickness:  Items of different thicknesses require dramatically different cooking times, which leads to either under or over-cooking of various portions.  To avoid this, it is important to be sure that all of the bags are approximately the same width.  This can be done by manually flattening pieces of meat and only stacking one layer of fruits and vegetables in each bag.  Bonus: this also makes sure that food is evenly cooked on both sides.

  • Save the juice:  As previously mentioned, the sous vide method keeps the natural flavors of the meat from escaping through evaporation or by mixing with outside water.  Because of this, you might find extra juice in the bottom of the bag once the meat has been removed--you can drizzle this on top of each serving for added tenderness and flavor.

  • Turn extra marinade into a sauce:  When preparing some dishes with the sous vide method, you might find yourself including a few seasonings for flavor.  For example, if you are preparing apples, you might add cinnamon, brown sugar, and some butter--the mixture remaining in the bag after the apples have been removed can then be made into a delicious, thick sauce after just a few minutes on a skillet.

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