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The Caterer

CESA guide: sous vide

12 February 2010
CESA guide: sous vide

Developed in the 1980s, sous vide is an energy-efficient procedure that uses vacuum-packed raw ingredients in plastic film pouches, which are then partially cooked in water at a low temperature for finishing off later.

Sous vide cooking (cooking under vacuum in special sealed bags) has been gaining in popularity recently, although the technique was first developed in the 1980s. It is an energy-efficient, consistent cooking procedure that locks in juices and flavours while minimising shrinkage. Meat in particular becomes very tender and succulent when cooked sous vide.

With sous vide the preparation is done in advance. Raw ingredients are vacuum-packed, three-quarter cooked at low temperatures, and then refrigerated for later reheating and finishing off. This means portion control is simplified as food is portioned prior to serving.

Sous vide is a fast method of producing dishes to order. It's ideal for coping with peaks and troughs in demand and for hubs supplying satellite kitchens.

WHAT IS NEEDED?

Sous vide production depends on vacuum packaging and heat-sealing raw ingredients in plastic film pouches.

CHAMBERED VACUUM FOOD SEALERS

The filled sous vide food pouch is placed in a large vacuum chamber, which is then closed. Next, all the air is removed from the bag, which is then sealed. Because all the air is sucked out of the bag, there is maximum heat transfer between the water and the food during cooking and reheating. You can even seal food with sauces or marinades. In fact vacuum food sealers are great for marinated foods because they don't need as much marinade as when cooked by conventional methods.

COOKING AND REHEATING THE SOUS VIDE PACK

Purpose-built water baths heat the sous vide packs gently and at exactly the right temperatures to ensure even and thorough cooking of the product. Some kitchens use combi ovens to cook and reheat the sous vide packs.

WHO CAN USE SOUS VIDE?

Sous vide cooking can work for caterers right across the industry from small pubs and fine-dining restaurants to large chains. It's ideal for hotel banqueting and event catering where portion control, food quality and speed are essential.

The sous vide method of cooking vacuum-packs individual portions of food, which are then cooked slowly in warm water


FOOD SAFETY

â- There is less chance of contamination with a sous vide process as the portions are hygienically sealed into bags.

â- The exclusion of air in the bag greatly reduces the growth of aerobic bacteria, and this delays the contents from spoiling.

â- Points of risk during sous vide production include: breaks in the cold chain, unnecessary holding time, improper stock identification and rotation, and the time taken to cool cooked food for storage.

Q&A

Q It's hectic in our kitchen, which is in a large hotel. I want to rationalise cooking methods, and food quality is paramount. How could sous vide help?

A
Because the dishes are prepared in advance and are effectively held on standby, they can be quickly cooked on demand without the need for a skilled chef to be on duty. This frees you up to spend time with the junior chefs and develop new menu items. Also because the results with sous vide are consistent, junior chefs can be trusted with more dishes, which builds up their confidence. Clean-up time is also reduced because the sous vide packs can be simply thrown away.

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