Sous vide has only just started to become popular with home foodies over the last few years, so you might be surprised to hear that it actually has a history stretching back over hundreds of years.
The Beginnings – Benjamin Thompson
The man who we can thank for the invention of sous vide is one Benjamin Thompson, a physicist who conducted many experiments on the transfer of heat.
Thompson stumbled upon the method almost by accident in 1799, attempting to see if he could roast meat in a machine which he had created to dry potatoes.
He placed a shoulder of mutton in the machine and left it for three hours, before giving up and leaving the shoulder to the maids.
The maids then left the mutton in the machine overnight, with the intention of cooking it the next day, they discovered the shoulder fully cooked, but more importantly, perfectly done!
In Thompson’s own words, the meat was: “Not merely eatable, but perfectly done, and most singularly well-tasted.”
And much like modern day sous vide, the meat was nice and tender, and “Though it was so much done, it did not appear to be in the least sodden or insipid; on the contrary, it was uncommonly savoury and high flavoured.”. Sounds just like sous vide to us!
While Thompson used air at the heat transfer medium, instead of water, it’s definitely sous vide, and he even noted that the method had loosened the fibres of the meat, and commented on how the juices had been retained!
While Thompson’s discovery was the starting point, things didn’t really take off until the invention of the heat stable vacuum pouches in the 1960s by teams of French and American engineers.
At this time, vacuum packing or ‘cryopacking’, as it was also known, were mainly used for preserving industrial foods for a long period of time.
Pralus and Goussalt
It wasn’t until 1974 that Georges Pralus really put incorporated sous vide into a commercial kitchen, at the Restaurant Troisgros, in Roanne, France.
Chef Pierre Troisgros was looking for a new way to prepare foie gras, which loses almost 50% of its weight during traditional cooking.
He enlisted the help of his fellow chef Pralus, who wrapped the foie gras up in plastic, and found that it now only lost about 5% of its weight.
This is seen as the real birth of modern sous vide, and Pralus went on to teach the method at his own school, Culinary Innovations.
However, another important name in the world of sous vide is that of Bruno Goussalt, chief scientist for a US foods company.
Goussalt carried out further research, trying to add a more scientific basis to the method, and eventually developing guidelines on cooking times and temperatures for various foods and also began providing sous vide prepared meals to first class passengers on Air France flights.
The two chefs have a friendly rivalry, with Pralus being described as ‘the artist’, with Goussalt, ‘the scientist’.
These days, the method is embraced by all kinds of top chefs and is probably used a lot more than you realise.
Always at the forefront of new foodie tech, Heston Blumenthal has been one of the biggest promoters of sous vide, and even went as far as to call it: “The single greatest advancement in cooking technology in decades”.
Finally, it’s also starting to make its way into home kitchens, which is where we come in here at Sous Vide Tools, offering affordable sous vide machines and circulators so that you can create your own kitchen quality meals, in your own home.