My newest toy, a Sous Vide Supreme. Sleek and elegant, yet simply designed and easy to use, the sous vide supreme is my latest grubsession. Backed by Heston Blumenthal and coming in at $450, the Sous Vide Supreme is certainly a step above my previous sous vide contraption, and since I don't see myself neglecting to sous vide anytime soon, I think I'll be using this baby for a while.
But what is sous vide you say? What are its benefits? Why use it over traditional cooking methods? I've touched on this topic before, but I think it's a good time to go over it again, possibly with some additional information.
Sous vide involves cooking food in a vacuum-sealed plastic bag in a temperature-controlled water bath. In the bag with the food are often seasonings and fat. The food, often protein, is cooked for a certain period of time, sometimes even 72 hours, then served or chilled for later use. Invented in the 70's to minimize the fat loss of foie gras, sous vide has turned into a widely popular method throughout restaurant kitchen across the globe.
In my mind, the greatest benefit of sous vide is the precision it gives the cook. Cooking sous vide at a specific temperature, ensures that your food will come to that temperature and not go beyond. If you like your steak medium-rare, you cook it in a vaccuum sealed bag, maybe with some butter and thyme inside of it, in a water bath set at 135 degrees. When heated through, the steak will be a perfect medium rare throughout. The only problem is that the low temperatures necessary for sous vide cooking do not brown the meat, however once the steak is finished, simply browning it in an extremely hot pan for about a minute on each side can solve that.
Sous vide benefits meats like short ribs that are heavy in collagen as well. Typically, meats that are braised or stewed are served well-past well done, because the time and temperature used to dissolve the collagen and make the meat "falling apart tender" cause the meat's interior to rise well above 160 degrees. This drastic overcooking squeezes the moisture out of the meat. With sous vide, this problem can be averted. Fortunately, collagen begins to dissolve into gelatin around 131 degress (I believe) and therefore, tough, collagen-rich cuts can be cooked at 135 degrees for 72 hours (or however long it takes for the collagen to dissolve) and still be medium rare (meaning that there's still a lot of moisture in the meat).
Since the food is in a vaccuum-sealed plastic bag, sous vide also prevents flavor loss. Typically, a braised meat loses most of its flavor to the liquid around it. Not so with sous vide. Also, sous vide cuts down on the fat or liquid required to cook food, making it more economical than regular methods. Duck confit with normally requires tubs of duck fat, needs only a few table spoons when sous vide. More importantly, sous vide produces consistent results each time, and really takes a lot of the guesswork out of cooking.
I can attest to its awesomeness. I work at Lacroix where sous vide is used in excess, and for a year now, I've been using a special little machine and a rice cooker to cook sous vide with phenomenal results. Experimentation will be documented here. Can't wait to put this baby to use.