Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of sous vide (pronounced “soo-veed”). Up until a few years ago, this method of cooking was mainly used in restaurant kitchens because it needed bulky equipment. This slow method of cooking entails three components: a vessel filled with water at an exact temperature, a well-sealed food-safe bag and, most importantly, patience. Put these components together and you get a meal that’s perfectly cooked and flavoured, which will amaze even the fussiest of gastronomes.
Sous vide is French for “under vacuum.” It was developed in the 1970s by two French chefs who had no knowledge that the other was developing the method around the same time: Chef Georges Pralus and Chef Bruno Goussault. However, it was Goussault who was able to bring the method to French restaurants on a large scale, because it was in restaurants where chefs had to time various meals to the second so the patrons’ food arrived at the same time, hot and perfectly cooked. With sous vide, the steak, chicken, even crème brûlée could be cooked at the precise temperature without overcooking or undercooking it, and it could be left at that temperature for hours.
Take salmon steak, for instance. Under normal cooking conditions, you would preheat the pan, oven or barbeque then put in the salmon. The pan starts to heat up to a high temperature, and the air around the salmon warms up, too. Add to the scenario that you’re constantly checking the food for taste and doneness. This results in temperature fluctuations so the pan and the food never stay at the ideal temperature. And what normally happens is the outside of the food will be overcooked (as it’s closest to the heat) and the middle will not quite be done. With the sous vide method, the salmon is put into a vacuumed-sealed bag, then into a pot or designated sous vide cooker that’s filled with water brought up to the exact temperature at which the salmon should be cooked (125°F for med-rare; 145°F for well-done). This heated water completely surrounds the salmon so it cooks evenly, plus it can stay in that water bath from 20 minutes to an hour and it’ll never be overcooked.
However, sous vide is slow. In our fast, busy lives, having to wait longer than 30 minutes for a meal is a test on our patience. On the bright side, if you use sous vide for the main part of your meal, you can focus on other elements of the dish. You may have a tricky sauce or maybe you want to try your hand at making custard from scratch.
We all know that cooking something slowly allows the flavour to develop, and having your piece of steak in a sealed bag keeps the juices from evaporating into the great unknown. The steak or any other meat, vegetables or fruit won’t shrink during cooking because the juices—and vitamins—have nowhere to go but back into the food. During conventional cooking, a piece of meat can lose up to 40% of its volume.
The French have it right. Food shouldn’t be inhaled, barely tasting anything before we swallow our mouthful. Good food is too important for that. Food considered, prepared and eaten with care, and in a leisurely fashion, is much more fun. With the sous vide method more accessible and less cumbersome for home cooks, making delicious meals doesn’t have to come at French bistro prices.
Meat isn’t the only thing you can make using sous vide. Here are some other delicacies.