How to Sous Vide - An Intermediate Guide | The Tool Shed

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How to Sous Vide – An Intermediate Guide

You’ve got to grips with the vacuum sealer, you’ve cooked an egg sous vide, and now you’re looking to move up a gear.  The most important thing to remember when rising to an intermediate level in sous vide, is: there are no rules!

But seriously, there are some rules.  You should not cook beef cheeks for less than 8 hours.  You should not cook a salmon fillet for more than half an hour.  However, unlike baking, don’t hold yourself  to strict rules when it comes to sous vide.  You’ll be rewarded for being adventurous. When you’re adjusting water temperature and cooking times, you’ll find there are many, many different ways to boil an egg or cook a fillet of steak to perfection.

AS010-Slow-cooked-duck-egg-with-duck-confit,-asparagus-and-cobnuts

Sous Vide Eggs

If you’re a traditionalist look away now!  With a sous vide you can say goodbye to the hard white of a boiled egg.  A slow-cooked egg can enhance a dish and turn it into a show stopper. Sous vide expert Douglas E. Baldwin feels the “perfect” egg should have ‘a custardy texture’.

He suggests you set the water bath at 64.5°C, and cook the egg in its shell for 45-60 minutes. Break  it into a slotted spoon and let the white drain away.  You’ll be left with a custardy, rich yolk.

Experiments are key though as chef Adam Simmonds’ approach is vastly different to this. He advises: ‘Preheat the water bath to 60°C. Place the duck eggs in the water bath for 1 hour, then reduce the temperature and hold them at 50°C.’

Test temperatures and times to create different effects. But don’t forget that 54.4°C is classified as ‘raw’ – 75 minutes of cooking at 57°C will turn the whites milky and pasteurise the eggs. The Codlo guide states the yolk will be like ‘viscous honey’ at 63°C for 1 hour, ‘thick mayonnaise’ at 64°C for 1 hour, and like ‘pliable Camembert’ when cooked at 68°C for 1 hour.

Monkfish and Parma Ham - Chris Horridge

Sous Vide Fish

Fish cooked sous vide is exciting for many home cooks. Firstly, you get more control over the precise temperature the fish is cooked at, in a way that’s not possible if you were sautéing a thin fillet in a blindingly hot pan. This is very exciting when making seafood like octopus, squid or lobster which can  turn rubbery if not cooked properly.

Secondly, sous vide vastly intensifies the flavour of a fillet of white fish.  When poaching it’s easy for white fish to become overwhelmed or diluted, as the fish’s flavour leeches into the cooking juices. Finally, remember that fish is relatively quick to sous vide, so decide to sous vide fish on your way home from work, rather than having to think about it at breakfast.

Also with fish remember that it’s rare that you will pasteurise fish when cooking it sous vide, so you have diners with a weak immune system let them know.  Alternatively only use sushi-grade fish. Furthermore even those with strong constitutions, should only use the freshest of fish for this same reason. To pasteurise fish, it needs to spend 2.5 hours at 55°C (see the table below from Douglas Baldwin for more). Generally, it’s best to assume that fish cooked sous vide will be unpasteurised, and to take the appropriate precautions.

When cooking fish sous vide follow these general guidelines:

  • 42°C (108°F) rare
  • 50°C (122°F) medium rare
  • 60°C (140°F) medium

When deciding how long to cook fish, you must remember that the type of fish as well as the fillet’s thickness will impact timings. A lean fish cooks far faster than oily fish. Somewhere between 10-30 minutes is most conventional.

Don’t be scared to seal fish in the vacuum bag with additional flavourings. But don’t go overboard. A sprig of lemon thyme or grating of lime zest all go a long way. Generally it’s best to avoid onions and garlic as they can take on a bad flavour during the sous vide cooking process.

Finally here’s how to prevent the milky-white albumin which can appear across a fish’s surface when it’s being cooked sous vide. Brine the fillets in a 10% salt solution for 10 minutes in the fridge. Afterwards, rinse them, pat dry, and then cook as usual.  

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Sous Vide Meat

No matter what type or cut of meat you use, there are a few basic tips to follow with the loose temperature guide below.

  • 50°C (125°F) rare
  • 55°C (130°F) medium rare
  • 60°C (140°F) medium
  • 70°C (160°F)+ well done

“In general, the tenderness of meat increases from 50°C to 65°C, but then decreases up to 80°C,” says Douglas E Baldwin. Despite most sous vide cooking falling within this 15-30°C window, cooking times can alter wildly, depending on whether you’re cooking a portion of beef fillet  (20 minutes) or are slow-braising feather blade beef (60 hours).

The ideal way to cook meat sous vide is to find out what internal temperature will give the desired results (e.g. 50°C for a rare finish) and cook the meat for as long as it takes to reach that temperature – that’s why it’s so difficult to overcook meat using a sous vide system. Obviously, thicker cuts of meat will take longer for the core to reach that temperature, but once it has, it can be held at that temperature without overcooking.

Many cooks sing the praises of chicken breast cooked sous vide: after 2-3 hours at 65°C a chicken breast will be slightly moist and pink looking. But it’s safe for consumption as it has been pasteurised during the slow cooking process. Many home cooks love the transformation of braising meat sous vide.  It can be brought up to the exact temperature so that tissues melt into gelatine, but no higher. Others will praise the effects of sous vide when cooking a butterflied leg of lamb.  The  meat is cooked uniformly all the way through, creating a wonderful medium-rare cross section.

The Malliard Reaction

Cooks will need to finish a piece of sous vide meat by browning the outside.  The Malliard Reaction, which creates the distinct meaty and roasted flavours in meat, doesn’t occur until the surface of the food hits at least 150°C. So when you’ve finished cooking your meat in a water bath, give it a final blast to crisp up the skin and create a flavoursome exterior. However you do this, make sure it’s very hot, so the meat is not “cooked” but quickly “seared”.

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