The Tasty Bits Blog

Mar 11, 2013

Initial Thoughts on Cooking with Sous Vide

Food and Health  ·  

The term, "sous vide," or "under vacuum," is a cooking method where foods are vacuum pack sealed in heavy bags and then cooked for very long periods in a heated water bath. Despite being around since the 1970’s, the method is now entering the mainstream and according to some chefs “it's going to revolutionize home cooking in ways that the microwave didn't even dream of doing." (Heston Blumenthal).

I experimented with my new Sous Vide Supreme machine yesterday, trying 3 different types of meat; beef back ribs, pork belly and three portions of duck (2 legs and 1 duck breast). All were cooked together, in separate vacuum bags, at 70C for about 24 hours.

Overall, I found the results to be a mixed bag, much like when you try the first loaves from a bread machine. The duck breast was very tender, but it cooked to well done, not the best choice for that cut. The duck leg was next, and it was very good, all it needed was a touch of salt and 10-15 minutes in a hot oven to crisp up the skin. The flavour was very good, but next time, a few more hours cooking would be better to render more of the fat.

The beef ribs came next, but they were only okay. Beef back ribs tend to shrink up a lot as they are cooked and these shrank by a third of their original size. I flavoured the ribs with a bit of BBQ sauce and my seasoning mix, and then finished under the broiler for a few minutes. We found the flavour to be good, but they were still a bit tough and the meat was a bit stringy. Like the duck legs, they would likely be better with 10 more hours cooking.

The pork belly was our final item and it became our dinner last night. Like the rest of the food items, it was cooked for 24 hours at 70C. The pork belly was seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic and fennel seeds before sealing the vacuum bag. After cooking in the sous vide I cooled the pork belly for an hour in the bag, and then trimmed it into 2” squares. All that was needed was to finish for about 10-12 minutes in a hot oven to bring crispness to the skin. Like the other items, the flavour was good, but it still wasn’t as tender as I thought it would be after 24 hours.

Overall, I was impressed with the sous vide; it’s truly a hands off process. You seal the proteins in bags with the seasonings you like, load the machine, set the time, set the temperature and go away for a day, even two. After that, you just finish the meat the way you like and you’re done.

The downside is that you need to plan ahead - way ahead - maybe days, so it really limits the value to most home users (more about that in a future blog). As a professional chef, I can see lots of uses for the sous vide, and rest assured I’ll be experimenting with my machine again soon.

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