A Beginner’s Guide to Sous-vide

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sous-vide unit

Though the technique has been around since the 1970s, sous-vide cooking has just begun gaining popularity in the restaurant industry. Literally translated to “under vacuum,” sous-vide (pronounced soo-veed) cooking is a precise, controlled cooking method using¬†water as a medium to transfer heat to product in a vacuum-sealed bag. In traditional cooking methods, overcooking is likely to occur due to the high heat involved. With sous-vide, you set the desired temperature you want your food to reach, as the food will only reach as high a temperature as the water bath it’s in. This way, your food will reach the exact temperature you want it to reach every time, with no overcooking.

Benefits of Sous-vide

The benefits to sous-vide are multifold. It allows you to achieve consistent, repeatable results with your food. For beef, your meat will have the same temperature from edge to edge, rather than the well-done ring you usually see around the outside of the meat. For tougher cuts, it won’t overcook the meats, and it breaks down connective tissues, allowing you to serve great entrees using cheaper cuts. Sous-vide allows you to create cook-chill items, where you can transfer food in it’s vacuum-sealed bag from the water bath directly into your blast chiller or freezer for later use.

Sous-vide Process

Image Courtesy of Vollrath

Image Courtesy of Vollrath

First, you want to select the freshest ingredients possible. It’s important to remember, that sous-vide will amplify good AND bad flavors. Don’t even think about using that week old fish for your sous-vide! Next, you want to season your food. You can use herbs, marinades or the ol’ standby, salt and pepper.

Once you’ve got your seasoning down, you will need to vacuum pack your food. Place your food in an unsealed plastic bag, place the bag in a vacuum chamber and let it do its thing. You should have a tightly sealed, ready-to-cook bag o’ food. Now, it’s time to cook. Place the sealed bag into the water bath and let it sit for as long as you need it to cook. The bath will bring the food up to the proper temperature you set. Because the temperature of the water is set only to the temperature¬†you want the food to be, you have a longer window of doneness than you would with traditional methods. Food can be left in sous-vide for a long time, as long as two or three days. The longer you leave it in, the more time the process will have to break down connective tissues, so if you’re cooking a tough piece of meat, it will come out tender.

Finally, once your meat has reached the preferred level of doneness, you have the option to finish the meat by searing it. Searing will deliver the familiar appearance and texture that diners expect to see on their meat. Searing also will raise the external temperature slightly. One of the risks of sous-vide is the potential of anaerobic bacteria developing due to the lack of oxygen in the vacuum-sealed bag. Searing after sous-vide helps kill off that bacteria.

In addition to meats, sous-vide is great for non-green vegetables, eggs, tempering chocolate, hold hollandaise sauce and more!

Where to Buy

Ready to get started? Central carries Vollrath’s complete sous-vide unit, which comes with immersion circulator, water bath and cover. Be sure to also check out Vollrath’s vacuum packaging machines and bags as well.

See It in Action

Finally, check out the video below, courtesy of Vollrath, which takes you through a demonstration of the sous-vide process.

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