For some home foodies, sous vide may sound too fancy and too much hassle, something more suited to Heston Blumenthal’s lab, or Gordon Ramsay’s Michelin star restaurant than their humble kitchen at home.
But while it is true that sous vide is a favourite amongst professional chefs, there’s no reason why it can’t replace traditional cooking methods in your home as well.
We’re going to take a look at some of the reasons why so many chefs are turning to the technique, and how it can improve your meals at home.
One of the main reasons people are reluctant to embrace sous vide is that they simply think it’s too much hassle or too difficult to get to grips with.
This would be understandable, although the fact is that it isn’t true! In fact, sous vide couldn’t be much easier.
Once the desired cooking time has elapsed, simply take it out and give it a quick sear to finish if needed, and you’re done!
No need for constantly checking to see how done the food is, no flipping and turning, simply let the machine do its thing.
One of the most noticeable benefits of sous vide cooking over traditional methods is the tenderness that it brings to your food.
Because the food is cooked at a low temperature, the cell walls in the food don’t burst, and the tough collagen which is found in the connective tissue of meat can be broken down without the protein in the meat being heated up so much that it toughens and loses its moisture.
The precise control over the cooking temperature is also useful in the cooking of vegetables, where tenderness and softness can be undesirable.
Sous vide cooking allows vegetables to be cooked at below boiling temperature, ensuring that they’re properly cooked, without losing their firmness and crispness.
The window of perfect tenderness when cooking using traditional methods is surprisingly small, and it can be very difficult to get right.
Even if you leave your food to cook for just a couple of minutes too long, the ingredients could be overcooked and ruined, take it out too early and it will be undercooked, and maybe even unsafe.
Fortunately, with sous vide, you lose this margin for error, because the food will never get hotter than the bath which it is in, allowing you to leave your food in the bath or container for longer than intended, with little to no loss of flavour.
Another issue is that even if you manage to nail the perfect piece of meat or fish using a traditional method, the cooking temperature of the pan or grill will be significantly higher than the ideal core temperature, meaning that the edges will inevitably be more cooked than the centre.
With sous vide, you’ll achieve a nice, consistent doneness all the way through, every time.
Lack of Shrinkage
One of the main benefits that sous vide holds over traditional methods of cooking is that it yields far less shrinkage when cooking meat.
In general, most cuts of meat and fish will shrink by about 25% of their original size when being cooked, although, with sous vide cooking, this number can fall by up to 40% in comparison.
The closed, vacuum sealed bags which are used in sous-vide cooking create a humid atmosphere, locking in all of the moisture and aromas which are usually lost during cooking, effectively braising the contents.
This added juiciness makes the food come out with much more intense flavours and texture.
One of the few downsides when cooking sous vide is the cooking time. As an example, a tender cut of beef or lamb would take a few minutes in a pan, but would take between one and four hours when cooked sous vide, while a boneless chicken breast would take between 30 to 40 minutes in the oven, but as long as four hours sous vide.
While it is true that sous vide food can take longer than other methods, we think that once you’ve tasted the difference in flavour and tenderness, and seen the other benefits, you’ll agree that the extra cooking time is more than worth it!
In addition, once your ingredients are in the machine, even though they’ll take longer to cook, they won’t require your constant attention, giving you more time to spend on preparing other aspects of your meal, and the more enjoyable, creative aspects of cooking.
The “Maillard Effect”
Another perceived downside of sous vide cooking is that because the food doesn’t reach a high enough temperature, it doesn’t produce what is known as “the Maillard effect”.
This is the chemical reaction that occurs when food begins to brown (you can learn more in this post from Science of Cooking).
Not only does this reaction make the food more visually appealing, giving it a browned crust, but it also gives it a distinctive flavour too.
However, this isn’t a problem, as the food can simply be browned before or after it goes into the water bath, either being grilled or seared in a hot pan, or by using a blowtorch.
(This browning will usually be very brief and at a higher heat than would normally be used, to ensure that the interior of the food doesn’t end up overcooked, and only the edges are browned.)
As you can see, sous vide cooking is no more complicated than traditional methods of cooking, and in fact, it’s actually quite a bit simpler!
But more importantly than this, it yields food which is much more tender and flavoursome, with no risk of overcooking.
If you’ve ever considered trying sous-vide as an alternative to your traditional cooking methods to see it for yourself, check out our Home Sous Vide Shop here at Sous Vide Tools.