Sous vide cooking hit the domestic world about ten years ago, but it had been around for a lot longer commercially. There seems to be quite a difference of opinion in terms of using it as a ‘home cooking’ method, and commercially, some chefs love it, and others would not let sous vide machines within a mile of their restaurants.
At the onset, machines and the paraphernalia to go with them, such as vac bags were all expensive items, but now sous vide has become very affordable.
What is sous vide Cooking?
What is sous vide cooking? In a nutshell, it is a method by which precise temperature control is used to ensure consistency of the cook itself, and fans will say that it provides exactly the right ‘doneness’ of the food and impeccable quality. It is simple – sous vide means ‘under vacuum’, and nowadays you can literally operate them at the touch of a button. However, the chef jury are split on this and particularly the most vociferous. From my point of view, it is great for some meals, but not so great for others, but like everything else, you need to try it and make your own judgement. But it is easy, as long as you have space in your kitchen for the equipment, as the method of using a large water bath is definitely difficult in smaller areas. Opinions vary:
Not as tasty as other methods, like grilling a steak, but you will get the right texture and whether you want it rare or well done. But it certainly does lack in flavour if you like that charcoal taste to your grilled steak. Meat in general should be heavily marinated before popping into your chosen vac bag or Ziplock (that is another issue – machine manufacturers will tell you best results come from the vac bags, but that is because they sell them with the sealing machine!) But it is the taste that counts, cooking sous vide will ensure that it is cooked evenly.
The appearance of the finished item – I find that a steak needs to be finished off in a pan, to get that nice brownish crust, that you do not get with sous vide. There is just something about seeing it that way on your plate. Arguably, you can fill the bag with herbs and spices before immersing in hot water, it’s horses for courses.
Ease of Use
They certainly are easy to operate, and good manufacturers will supply clear and concise instructions, as well as recipes to try. It is also a ‘cleaner’ method of cooking – no messy pans to wash up (unless you use my method of cooking steak or chicken!). You also have the benefit of no constant operating switches to turn heat up or down. Top choices are immersion circulators, which means these units clip to the side of a pot and work to keep the water a consistent temperature. It’s also very easy to clean the machine or parts without too much hassle.
Something we are all concerned about these days, there is too much food wastage. This is where sous vide really comes into play. For instance, a piece of beef or steak will lose up to 40% of its volume and be dry in places or sometimes all the way through. You do not get this with sous vide, it’s perfectly cooked, how you want it (even colour and juiciness all the way through, unlike conventional cooking methods (for some that are inexperienced). You are unlikely to eat dry, chewy meat the following day, as sous vide cooking will retain the meat juices. Juicy pieces of meat are very tasty the next day too!
Eat When You Want
Cooking sous vide allows you the flexibility of eating when you want and not having to attend it all the time – a little like why we all use crockpots or slow cookers, just not quite so precise in timing.
Personally, you cannot fail if you cook your eggs in a sous vide, whether you want perfectly boiled or poached, soft and runny eggs, even though it may seem a bit of a rigmarole as opposed to just putting them in a pan in water. But boy, these eggs are good, and perfect every time. I am also keen on vegetables, for the same reason – you cannot really fail, it’s simply a question of timing and following instructions in the beginning. You can also cook grains, beans and some desserts such as custard to go with a delicious home-baked apple pie. As a fish lover, I would use an SV, fish is always meltingly soft and glossy.
If you are going to cook the sous vide way, I would suggest that you arm yourself with everything you need, plus a good sous vide cookbook, showing temperatures and timing. You don’t want your perfect steak looking like ribs, and vice versa!
If you are lucky enough to have friends who use this method of cooking, see if they will let you have a go, before you dig into your pockets and buy a machine. All too often, cupboards and garages are full of the latest ‘kitchen fads’, that have barely come out of their boxes!