Sous Vide - Satisfaction guaranteed
The sous vide technique involves slowly cooking food – anything from sauces to meats, fish, fruit and vegetables – in vacuum-sealed pouches in a water bath at a precisely controlled temperature. Followers of the sous vide method love the fact that it is very simple to use; it does not require highly trained – and costly – kitchen staff; and you are guaranteed good results every time.
“A chicken or duck breast, for example, can be gently cooked in a water bath for around an hour, and will never be dry or over-cooked,” explains Alex Shannon, founder and managing director of Sous Vide Tools, the UK’s leading supplier of sous vide equipment.
“Once taken out of the water bath, the meat can be finished off in a pan to add colour and crispiness. The result is a succulent and juicy piece of meat, because, unlike roasting or frying, all the moisture is retained while cooking.”
Sous vide convert
Chris Holland, head chef at 3AA Rosette, Alderley Edge Hotel, Cheshire – and a Great British Menu contestant last year – believes passionately that no professional kitchen should be without sous vide. EC caught up with him to find out why he is such an exponent of this method of cooking.
EC: What are the most important pieces of light kitchen equipment for a pub kitchen or small independent establishment?
CH: “As we all know, there are a number of important pieces of kitchen equipment that we all rely on every day in our business including good quality knives, mixers, pans and scales. But something that many pubs and bars don’t consider, because they think it’s just for fancy restaurants, is the use of sous vide equipment. I first discovered this way of cooking ten years ago and it has revolutionised the way I work.”
EC: Why is sous vide so good?
CH: “Personally I cook sous vide style for several reasons including flavour, precision and efficiency. Nutrients and juices stay locked in whether I’m cooking vegetables or meat and the precision of the cooking style guarantees a really clean, natural end result every time.
“Flavours are really enhanced, so minimal seasoning is required. Just a touch of your desired flavour, such as a herb butter or a thin spread of truffle
or garlic oil, is all you need. The great thing about sous vice is that, during the cooking process, the flavours are drawn equally through the entire piece of meat or fish.
“Consistency is at the heart of cooking sous vide. This means exceptionally good food, happy customers, repeat business and, perhaps one of the most important considerations, improved profit margins in a very short time.”
EC: Improved profit margins?
CH: “Undoubtedly. Once a dish is created and cooking times are calculated, those calculations can be used time and time again to create the same perfect dish. This prevents potential waste due to staff mistakes. Interestingly, because the cooking efforts in the kitchen are minimised, we now probably use one less chef than we used to.
“Cooking sous vide also allows you to use cheaper cuts of meat, which are often tastier but can be tough or sinewy if not cooked carefully. Thanks to the slow and gentle cooking process of sous vide, meats are tenderised perfectly. There is also little or no shrinkage in cooking sous vide, so we get more portions compared to cooking with other methods.”
EC: How much does the style of establishment affect the choice of kitchen equipment?
CH: “In my opinion, when it comes to using sous vide equipment, the style of business shouldn’t matter. So long as you are a business that wants to offer high-quality, consistently good food, while increasing profit margins then this is for you. Your initial outlay for the equipment is very quickly recouped.”
EC: What equipment do you need to buy for sous vide?
CH: A vacuum packing machine and a water bath or thermal circulator. I use PolyScience Thermal Circulators supplied to me by Sous Vide Tools. The thermal circulators can be easily attached to almost any cooking pot; I have used many brands over the years but these outperform others in terms of getting the water up to temperature quickly and circulating it evenly around the food – two very important elements of sous vide cooking. The machines are also small enough to be put away after use, unlike the water baths, perfect for where space is an issue.”
Sous vide to the rescue
The Duke of York pub in Berrow, Worcestershire was closed for nearly a year due to its country location and lack of reputation. A derelict independent country inn, it was taken over by Myles Ball whose ambition was to turn the pub around and make it a successful enterprise. Operationally, some of the key problems Myles faced included limited kitchen space, limited funds for kitchen staff salaries and a lack of inspirational dishes to encourage first-time and repeat visits.
Since re-opening the pub in January 2012, Myles has changed its reputation and established a thriving business. With an annual turnover of £600,000, nearly half is generated by the food offering. Regularly serving more than 50 covers at a time, Myles believes unequivocally that a key driver of this success has been the introduction of a part sous vide menu.
“Due to limited space, we use pre-prepared sous vide dishes from Create:Great,” explains Myles. “These not only complement my homemade food – we pride ourselves on our delicious seafood dishes – but they also significantly reduce the pressure on kitchen staff while ensuring consistency every time.”
Sous Vide, The Art of Precision Cooking is available priced £23.99. The book provides you with everything you could possibly want to know about sous vide from cooking times to food safety, recipes and advice on how to smoke, cure and pickle.
For further information about sous vide, including recipe ideas and sous vide training days, visit www.sousvidetools.com