Friday, June 26, 2015

All About Sous Vide

All About Sous Vide
Modern Sous Vide is inexpensive and simple!
In the next few weeks, I will begin posting some fabulous recipes that use the "sous vide" method of cooking! But fear not....I will start now with a short primer on the technique. Trust me, it is amazingly delicious and soooo easy!

Sous vide is a French term that is literally translated as “under vacuum” and refers to a technique that is associated with more experimental chefs. In fact it is now used by chefs in all kinds of restaurants and now by the home cook. It is not complicated; it involves slowly cooking food sealed in plastic bags immersed in water at precisely controlled, steady temperatures. The defining feature of the method is not packaging or vacuum sealing; it is accurate temperature control. A computer-controlled heater can warm a water bath to any low temperature you set, and keep it there for hours – or even days, if needed. People think that cooking sous vide is only about precision, but its convenience and cost efficiency lend it beautifully to making many dishes.

Higher temperatures traditionally used in cooking do irreparable damage to food. The cell walls in the food burst, making it impossible for the food to reabsorb the liquid it loses. 
Most of the time in the kitchen, there is a great difference between the temperature at which we're cooking the food and the desired final temperature of that food. We may want a piece of lamb to be perfectly medium-rare at 139 degrees, but we cook it in a 400-degree oven. The result is vastly different degrees of doneness between the surface of the meat and its center. Furthermore, because the oven temperature is so high, if you leave in the lamb for too long, it will overcook. With sous vide, you cook food in a water bath that is at the desired final temperature of the meat. The water bath for that piece of lamb will be 139 degrees, so it will have exactly the same degree of doneness from the outer surface all the way to the center.

Sous vide gizmo is less than $200 and clips onto your pots
How the gizmo attaches to the pot. Very simple.
Some of the most impressive results of sous vide are created with tough cuts of meat. Sous vide allows you to do things that traditional cooking methods are unable to accomplish, such as cooking the roasts medium-rare and falling apart. This is accomplished because cooking tougher cuts with sous vide allows you to break down and tenderize the meat without overcooking and drying it out. The amount of flavor in meat is determined to a large extent by the amount of work that muscle had to do in life, and so shanks are very flavorful. Unfortunately muscles that do a lot of work also become tough, so there is often a choice between tender meat with a light flavor (such as tenderloin) or tough meat with lots of flavor (such as shanks). With traditional preparation, tough meat is often braised or stewed which makes it tender and flaky. The drawback of braising is that braised meat is often a bit dry. With sous vide, you can have the best of both worlds: tough cuts can be cooked at a temperature that is just high enough to break down the toughness, but also low enough to allow the meat to stay succulent. The meat will be fork tender, succulent, and very flavorful.

Sous vide is especially useful for cooking seafood, for which the window of proper doneness is often vanishingly small when traditional methods are used. When you fry a piece of fish, the flesh is most succulent and tender within a very narrow temperature range. Traditional cooking with a range, oven, or grill uses high and fluctuating temperatures, so you must time the cooking exactly; there is little margin for error. With just a moment’s inattention, conventional cooking can quickly overshoot perfection.

Cooking vegetables and fruit sous vide is both fun and convenient. It also all but ensures that you do not overcook them, so they retain all the nutrients as well as their distinctive flavors and textures. Fruits can also be infused with liquid when cooked at lower temperatures when liquid is added to the bag.

Precise temperature control and uniformity of temperature has two other big advantages. First, it allows you to cook food to an even doneness all the way through—no more dry edges and rare centers. Second, you get highly repeatable results. The steak emerges from the bag juicy and pink every time. A final important benefit is that the closed bag creates a fully humid environment that effectively braises the food, so ingredients cooked this way are often noticeably juicier and tenderer. Food cooked sous vide doesn’t brown, but a simple sear adds that traditional flavor where needed so that you can have the best of both worlds.

To cook sous vide, you first seal your food in a plastic bag using a vacuum sealer or, as I do it, a Ziploc bag. Then, submerge the bag into the heated water bath for a period of time. After you remove it (the time and temperature are available online for every food), the food might look grey or unappetizing. The answer is to flash sear the meat, fish or vegetable and caramelize the surface.
Chicken for sous vide in a Ziploc bag. You don't need a special sealed bag.
The goal of post sous vide browning is to create the crust while heating the interior of the food as little as possible. The main keys to accomplishing this goal are dry foods, high temperatures, and short times. Moisture that is on the surface of the food will prevent it from browning, increasing the cooking time needed, and potentially heating the food further. Properly drying the food after sous viding is critical but easy. A simple sear at the end produces a dish that is both moist and pleasing to the eye.

After you take the food out of the pouches pat it food dry, either with paper towels or clean kitchen towels. I tend to dry it off 5-10 minutes before I will sear it, allowing the remaining moisture to evaporate and the meat to cool slightly. Remember, some proteins require no sear at all – such as many fish or meat being shredded for use in a sauce.

You will be surprised that it is no longer expensive and that it is actually easier than traditional cooking for many dishes! I use the Precision Cooker by Anova, available for $150-$180.  There are several brands available in addition to Anova: Sansaire, PolyScience, Julobo and others. 

I will be sharing my tested sous vide recipes over time and will encourage you to share with me!  Please send me your favorites and we can all develop our home cook sous vide expertise!

Larue - 
My extraordinary food photographer instructor has put together an incredible Food Photography Tour and Workshop in sunny southern California....check it out:

I have been asked many times about the safety of cooking plastic bags. The bottom line is that bags made expressly for cooking sous vide are perfectly safe —as are oven bags popular brands of zip-top bags,(like Ziploc), and stretchy plastic wrap such as Saran Wrap.
The plastic that these products are made of is called polyethylene. It is widely used in containers for biology and chemistry labs, and it has been studied extensively. It is safe. But, do avoid very cheap plastic wraps when cooking. These are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and heating them presents a risk of chemicals leaching into the food.

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