Sous vide indeed
Sous vide (pronounced soo–veed) is a French term, meaning ‘under vacuum’. Developed in the 1970s, the sous vide cooking method was originally used in high-end establishments with chefs such as Heston Blumenthal declaring it “the single greatest advancement in cooking technology in decades.” Today this method of cooking – which is quick to prepare, easy and highly unlikely to overcook – has become much more widespread as its benefits cannot be ignored
What is sous vide?
In the sous vide process, foods are vacuum packed and then submerged in water at a specific temperature for a prolonged period of time. The method can be used for the cooking of both meat and fish.
How it works
Technically, sous vide works in the same way as any other cooking method: by using heat to break down the proteins in foods. The key difference comes from understanding the different proteins within each of the different products, and subjecting them to specific temperatures over varying times.
Benefits of sous vide
Sous vide offers a much more precise and gentle way to cook meat and fish, while extracting the very best from the ingredients. As such, sous vide is not a method that is relevant only to those cooking in large restaurant kitchens. I believe that this method of cooking should be used in all cooking; indeed the beauty of sous vide is the fact that it can be used anywhere – from the smallest kitchen with one chef, to the very largest with brigades of over 50 – all you need to get yourself started is a waterbath and a vac
Due to the fact that it is almost impossible to overcook food when using sous vide – so long as you adhere to certain times and temperatures for each product – waste becomes virtually non-existent. For example, a fillet of beef weighing 100g will take 50 minutes to cook rare at 58°C. To prepare in advance, cook the fillet for 50 minutes then place in iced water for 90 minutes to chill. At service, when a guest orders the fillet you have a waterbath set at 50°C into which you place the fillet as soon as the order comes on. Now we know that the fillet requires a temperature of 58°C to cook so therefore at 50°C all that will happen is that the fillet gets hot – and it is guaranteed not to overcook.
Coupled with knowledge, sous vide can be used in any environment to streamline the operation and reduce costs significantly while consistently delivering a far superior product to the clientele. In my opinion sous vide is far more than a passing trend, it is here to stay and will be used increasingly in all manner of hospitality establishments.
As with anything to do with food, you have to know what you are doing to ensure safely cooked food that tastes good. If you are considering changing to the sous vide method, read up on it as much as possible beforehand. There are now many books available on sous vide. Thomas Keller has a great book out which is aptly named Sous Vide and is available on Amazon.
Don’t be afraid to network. I often see things about sous vide on Twitter from people I am following and ask a few questions. I also put images of our new dishes on Twitter and get asked lots of questions about the cooking technique, which I am always happy to answer.
Sous vide can be used to cook fish as well as meat, however, I still prefer a pan of foaming butter for the majority of fish. Although, having said that, we currently have a poached sea bass dish on the menu which we vac pac with olive oil and thyme and cook, using sous vide for 12 minutes at 56°C.
Photos courtesy of Dennis Hardley Photography.