Sous Vide & Chefs – A Modern Method Winning Traditional Fans
Sous Vide; A Modern Method with Traditional Roots
For chefs, sous vide is a revolutionary cooking method when compared to the inconsistencies of the centuries-old techniques of grilling, sautéing, steaming and roasting. It is quickly winning over professional culinarians who’ve spent their careers practicing these more traditional skills though, because it affords the modern kitchen assurance that its product will come out exactly to the chef’s specifications each and every time.
The idea of cooking foods which are encapsulated in some form of cooking medium is an ancient one and yet still found in many cultural recipes. Examples include “en paupillote,” fish steamed in banana leaves or the French/Germanic version of cooking chickens in bladders. Modern cuisine has adopted its own versatile approach to the method in the form of sous vide, which was developed in the 1970s as a method for reducing food shrinkage (particularly in a very expensive foie gras preparation) and increasing consistency in commercial kitchens. It quickly found favor in the European food service industry due to its efficiency, ease of use and dependability but sous vide has more recently jumped the pond to become a standard preparation method used in the progressive and eclectic culinary community of the United States and elsewhere as more chefs and caterers have become familiar with the quality of its results.
Long ago, one of our culinary ancestors realized that encapsulating foods within protective, and sometimes flavor-imparting wrappers/ barriers, produced an end-product that was juicy, flavorful and took on the flavor of whatever seasoning(s) were included in the vessel. Anyone who has cooked in a foil packet on a campfire or had the joy of eating a food using one of the aforementioned techniques can easily see why this particular style of cooking has become a staple in many kitchens around the world. Sealing product in a vessel ensures that the natural juices, and more importantly the volatile organic compound (VOC ) composition of the food product stays trapped in the cooking container. These molecular compounds make up everything we taste and smell. Retaining them means that the fats, natural moisture and flavor profiles of the cooked food remains with the product and marry together to deliver a sensational end-product that tastes great and has the desired mouthfeel when fully cooked. When cooking with conventional methods, the natural fat and moisture of the product can escape causing shrinkage and allowing only a very small window of how long the product remains palatable. In addition, incorporating auxiliary flavor into conventionally prepared foods requires post seasoning in heavier amounts to achieve the desired effect.
All of the previous points discussed are why the modern technique of sous vide is ideal for the preparation of meats, poultry, fish, vegetables and seafood. These factors, combined with the low temperature a commercial circulator affords, equate to more VOCs, fat and juice integrity during the cooking process. Overall, this means a chef can cook food perfectly with very minimal effort and utilize less additional seasoning to impart flavor into their product. The benefits go beyond moisture and flavor retention though. For example, using traditional cooking methods may result in the edges of the food being cooked to a greater degree than the center; however, sous vide ensures a consistent temperature throughout (edge to edge doneness) without an off color ring. It is also perfect for keeping vegetable fresh, vibrant and crisp, and is virtually the only way to achieve preferred temperatures (i.e. Medium Rare) in tougher cuts, like short ribs and shanks, while still obtaining the tender and flaky texture expected by the guest.
Reasons to Love Sous Vide
One of the biggest advantages offered by sous vide to chefs in a restaurant, catering or other commercial setting is its consistency. This preparation method does not allow for foods to become over- or under-cooked. An immersion circulator ensures meats and vegetables are precisely cooked to a specific degree of doneness, and no further; once foods are removed from the water bath, their temperature does not continue to climb as it does with baking or roasting. This helps keep foods prepared using sous vide juicy, fresh and ready for finishing. Also, foods can be held for longer periods of time without over-cooking. This application lends itself to shorter pickup times during service. Now, a previously sous vide prepared chicken breast can be in front of the guest (juicy and succulent) in five minutes versus 30 minutes.
Low temperature cooking to a precise temperature in the vacuum sealed bags helps to assure a safe and sanitary product (when proper procedures are implemented) even if the food is set aside for later finishing. Some foods can be safely chilled and refrigerated after preparation, allowing for advanced preparation of larger quantities in a commercial setting. Imagine prepping ahead (without any loss of quality) and essentially making your prep schedule work for you instead of the other way around. The product can also be safely held in the bath until ready for finishing as is the case with the previous chicken breast example.
Success in Numbers
This ability to prepare ingredients en-masse and complete dishes individually also makes sous vide an ideal technique to employ when timing is critical, such as a catered event or busy restaurant service. The use of a water bath allows the chef to complete other tasks while key ingredients are cooking without any fear of killing the product.
Perfect preparation, timing, efficiency and safety all help to cut down on waste and labor, critical components to the success of any commercial restaurant, especially high-end operations where margins are already razor thin.
Ancient roots (how we have grown to enjoy food) and modern technology (how we have evolved to control the cooking process) are enabling sous vide to make fans of classically trained chefs discovering the advantages it offers over the traditional cooking methods they are familiar with. If you are interested in improving quality, efficiency and profits contact us today to discuss adding a fusionchef™ immersion circulator to your commercial kitchen and learn why you will become a fan too.