I like food. I like good food. My bathroom scales however thinks I should avoid food for while lol. Unfortunately my latest purchase bought in advance of my new kitchen is another food gadget.
What we are talking here is the latest food revolution for the home cook, Sous Vide. The French gave this name to the process of cooking “under vacuum”. Now to do the process and food a great dis-service it’s kind of like posh boil in the bag. Only it’s much, much better. Unlike boil in the bag food, where you just boil the thing to death, sous vide lets you cook just about anything in vacuum sealed bags but at precise temperatures, sometimes for up to 3 days!!
It’s a very gental way of cooking with the temperatures required far lower than conventional ovens or frying. Ever put your hand in an oven at 100 ℃? Feels quite cool doesn’t it? Would you put your hand in water at the same temperature? Fry chicken or steak? Same thing, the pan has to be massively hot and you have to be standing over your food constantly to cook it perfectly.
Sure you can use a temperature probe as I often have, to get the perfect temp of 56.5℃ for a medium/rare steak, however a lump of meat will still cook after you take it off the heat. That means you have to take the steak off BEFORE it reaches that magic temperature. That is pure guess work since the thickness of the steak will effect this. It’s a nightmare! Not to mention adding flavours, and you know the lovely smells you get? Well that’s just tastiness evaporating.
Not so with Sous Vide, all those flavours and juices stay in your food, just put everything in a food safe bag along with your required seasoning, seal it and then cook it for the minimum time and your done. Depending on what your cooking you may need to flash it on the pan to get the nice crust on say a steak by utilising the maillard effect.
I know I keep going on about steak, but the other great thing about cooking sous vide is the whole food is cooked to the right temperature. Ever had a T-bone steak medium say, but the meat near the bone is rare? Or a thick steak in the middle is under done and overdone at the edges? A sous vide steak is perefctly cooked throughout the whole steak, edge to edge. The texture, the taste is all heightened to the maximum level and it really is like eating those same foods you’ve always had seem a new experience
Sous Vide has been around for years in professional kitchens and many a time will your meat or veg be cooked in this style. While the home consumer could purchase these machines, there were mighty expensive. But thanks to some big publicity in the form of Master Chef in the UK and USA and the likes of Heston Blumenthal championing them the Sous Vide Supreme company has introduced to the UK the delights of technique for a reasonable amount of money.
I say reasonable because they still cost a fair amount. For the large version, we are talking £350 and you still need a vacum sealer and food safe vacum bags. The official sealer is over £80 and bags run to £15 for 20 large bags. But you don’t have to buy these official items and similar products can be bought for cheaper. Just make sure the bags are food safe and don’t contain BPA, lead and phthalate free. However, Sous Vide Supreme does offer a package with bags, sealer and cook book which is what I plumped for.
The actual cooker is fairly big at 29cm/36cm/29cm, but you do get a lot of internal cooking space and Sous Vide Supreme do offer a smaller version for £249. It looks great with stainless steel sides and top and neat display/control unit on the front. Inside you get a rack for your food and holed plate for heat distribution/cirulation. Just fill it with water, select the temperature required (within 0.5 degrees celcius) place in your sealed food for the required time and relax.
What’s great about cooking sous vide, is the fact you can litterally forget about cooking your food and hours later your steak will still be perfectly cooked. It’s a great help with timing, my biggest stress factor in the kitchen. Steak is done in around 45mins, but it still be perfect 4 hours later. It’s brilliant! Want perfect boiled eggs? Dial in the temp and again they’ll still be perfect 4 hours later! It’s bizarre, but it also makes cooking a meal so much easier. With such precise temperarture control, you can cook your food just as precisely.
So as you can tell, I’ve cooked steak. But also eggs. As much as it is a secret to cook the perfect steak, how many ways or times have you heard about boiling an egg? How do you like your egg? It’s doesn’t matter here. However you want it, you can have it exactly, every, single, time. For runny eggs just set the sous vide to 63.3℃ and 45mins later you got your egg. Now OK so 45mins is a long time, but it just means a touch of planning. Just stick them on as soon as you get up, wash/shower toast your bread and then break open your egg. I’ve never had egg on toast quite like it with absolutely know worries about it if’s been over done or under done. I know for sure after 45mins and upto 4 hours that egg will be exactly as I want it.
I’ve also just done some fish and again, it’s fish unlike I’ve ever tried before. It’s the texture that’s so incredible. it’s kind of like it’s tastes like it looks when raw. But with zero flavour lost and anything you add magnified compared to baking or frying.
My next attempt was BBQ’ing. You all know how BBQ’ing perfect food is tricky, and on the whole, everyone makes exceptions on how they get their food. I often slow cook many kinds of food and of course this means you can get some sensational food. But for bog standard burgers or sausages getting them cooked precisely on a hot grill is not easy and of course your stuck there in your hat an apron (or is that just me!).
Being the cook and sociable just doesn’t work for a BBQ. Now with a sous vide, this all changes. Stick your burgers in with your herbs or even a small amount of red wine, have a drink and an chat, then when they are done, just finish off on the grill for delicious burgers done perfectly. If you want maximum smokiness, you can sous vide the burgers at say rare temperature, then when you cook them on the BBQ, add some smoking wood chips and cook for a couple of minutes longer. Job done.
So is it all perfect? Well not quite. While the quality of unit is OK, it’s not professional grade and the temperature does fluctuate within a degree, but nothing that’ll effect the food to be honest. I’m not sure about the flow/heat distribution of catering std machines but here the flow with just be from natural convection, so you may get a small area where the water might not be precise, hence the one degree fluctuation I’ve seen on mine. Again this is not major unless your cooking for Heston or the Michelin Star critic that stopped by your house.
The other issue is that there is a risk if it’s not done properly of botulism, a rather serious disease that results from toxins that grow on food in the absence of oxygen. Eek. But, anything where that is a risk, the temperatures required are available on the web or in books. Suffice to say, unless your experimenting and don’t know the risks I’m not at all bothered.
The one other issue is if you want to cook food at different temperatures at the same time and this can add to the botulism concern. Vegetables need a much higher temp than beef. Now I’ve read you can do both but a bit of timing and organising is required.
You can easily cook anything fast cool it and even freeze it to be cooked later. But then you need to be careful not to over or under cook the item your adding. It is do-able, you just need some planning, which having used a sous vide is one the great things you don’t need to do!
There of course we arrive at the crossroads. I’ve got the big cooker and want to easily cook multiple foods; do I organise and all of a sudden have to have a sense of timing or, buy the cheaper smaller cooker and be able to cook gourmet meals with virtually no effort?!
But overall, this is one of the best gadgets I have bought. Everything tastes exceptional, everyone likes the results, it makes cooking easier and despite actually needing more time, kind of gives you more time to cook. Superb and highly recommended.