Until a few months ago, I’d never heard of the sous vide method of cooking. When I wanted to cook something slowly, I pulled out the slow cooker—and the five ingredients for the one thing I cooked in a slow cooker, bean dip (1 can of refried beans, 1 pound of hamburger, 16 ounces of processed chessestuff, a can of tomato soup, a jar of salsa--heaven in a crock pot).
But, here lately, thanks to our creative partners David Leite and Cook’s Country, I’ve been encouraged to try slow cooking for actual meals. As a result, I’ve been researching methods of slow cooking other than using what Mom always called “a crock pot.” And I found something new to me, yet ancient: sous vide.
Exactly the question I asked when the idea was presented to me. First of all, it’s pronounced “Sue Veed” and the French words literally mean “under vacuum.” So, it’s a modern day, upscale version of “Boil in a Bag,” the 1970’s divorced dad’s salvation? Well, yes but no, not really.
According to Wikipedia, sous vide is “a method of cooking food sealed in airtight plastic bags in a water bath for longer than normal cooking times—72 hours in some cases—at an accurately regulated temperature much lower than normally used for cooking, typically around 131 F to 140 F for meats and higher for vegetables.” So, in a sense, yes it is similar to “Boil in a Bag,” but sous vide has been around much longer.
The theory behind the method was first described in 1799, but Sir Benjamin Thompson used air as the heat transfer medium, rather than water. The idea of sous vide started to come back into vogue in the mid-1960 as an industrial food preservation method. But Bruno Goussault researched the effects of temperature on foods and trained many top chefs in the technique, while developing the parameters of cooking times and temperatures for a variety of foods.
What initially almost put me off the idea was Wikipedia’s reference to “72 hours” to cook. Really? Who has that kind of time? Or, as a wise foodie friend said to me, “That’s too much mucking about for me.” But, I explored further—and became more and more intrigued. (See an upcoming blog for a product review of the Sous Vide Supreme.)
One of the benefits, according to sous vide enthusiasts, is that food cooked in the style doesn’t lose any moisture or flavor (because it’s vacuum-sealed). But that’s not all. Sous vide also allows chefs to cook less expensive, often tougher, cuts of meat at low temperature, tenderizing them.
In addition, the vacuum sealing process can make food more dense, according to the website CookingSousVide.com, and can result in “silky and smooth textured food that is impossible to replicate in the oven or pan.” Okay, now that sounds like it has potential!
But, a drawback may be the amount of time the method takes. A recipe for short ribs at the above site calls for cooking them at 130 F for 36 hours—hours. That’s a day and a half. While that's shorter than Wikipedia's 72 hours (3 days), you'll want to be aware that if you try sous vide, you’ll have to change the way you think about and approach cooking. It does require extensive planning ahead. Most of the time spent cooking you, as the chef, don't have to do anything--unless you want to use that time to plan next week's sous vide meals.
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