Celebrity chefs have made the sous vide cooking method the flavour of the month, with its ability to consistently enhance the texture
and taste of food with hardly any wastage, says Diane Lane
Sous vide is now firmly established in many kitchens, and chefs from all sectors have discovered the benefits of cooking for longer periods of time at lower and very precise temperatures.
"French for ‘under vacuum', sous vide was first used in kitchens in France in the 1970s," says Heather Beattie, Clifton brand manager at Nisbets.
Graham Crisp, national sales manager at Instanta, says its comeback in recent years is largely due to high-profile chefs using the technique, but adds: "Despite growing awareness, the biggest challenge facing the sous vide market is how little chefs know about it and its benefits as an energy efficient method of cooking that produces high- quality food full of vitamins and flavour.
"We believe the trend will continue to grow in 2014 because of the relatively low-cost investment required and the many benefits, such as consistency of results, improved texture, nutrients and flavours, higher yield of cooked product, and improved efficiency, service and portion control."
Stefan Cosser, innovator at Food Innovation Solutions, is a former senior development chef at the Fat Duck and works with Grant Instruments. For him,
sous vide is not just another cooking technique: "It's a different way of organising the kitchen and doing mise en place," he says. "Lots of foods can be portioned, vacuum-bagged and even pre-cooked ahead of service, taking the pressure off the chefs during peak hours.
"There is no risk of overcooking foods or having to juggle meat in and out of the oven if a guest leaves the table. Sous vide-cooked foods will sit in a bag in the water bath at a precise temperature, ready to be opened and finished as needed. This gives more quality control and consistency, and minimises food wastage."
As for the impact sous vide cooking can have on the menu, Cosser says: "Sous vide can deliver new foods and textures; for example, it can cook a tough beef short-rib pink but also mouth-wateringly tender and succulent, or poach an egg at exactly 62Â°C for a specific texture. This precision is just not possible
without sous vide."
Alex Shannon, managing director of SousVideTools, cites consistency, flavour, texture and precision as benefits of sous vide cooking, in addition to financial business benefits. He says: "Sous vide cooking can improve gross profit by up to 40%."
The technique is sometimes misunderstood, according to Ian Houldsworth, managing director of Sammic UK. "It is neither complicated to do nor exclusively for those with a Michelin star," he says. "What it does is ensure even, consistent cooking every time. The margin for error is diminished as the reliance on the fluctuating heat of a range or grill to achieve that perfectly cooked piece of meat or fish is removed.
"When you cook sous vide, your recipes will be precisely executed as your food will have been held at exactly the correct temperature for the right amount of time, ensuring the correct level of 'doneness' all the way through. The bag creates a humid environment that guarantees a succulent piece of meat, and all that is needed is a quick sear in a pan before service to add colour and texture."
Steve Durham of the Hospitality Sourcerer has used sous vide for many years when recipe testing or when cooking for private events. "Sous vide can be used when cooking over long or short periods of time and it is great when paired with brining because it seasons the produce," he says. "It works particularly well with collagen-rich products as it begins to break down the fibres, adding flavour with a long, slow cook.
"My favourite cuts for cooking sous vide are pork collar, salmon and rump steak. I have a selection of favourite rubs and marinades that I use when cooking sous vide; smoked paprika, brown sugar and salt and black pepper, or rapeseed oil, lemon thyme, rosemary and bay leaves are great combinations for adding extra flavour."
For Myles Ball, director and owner of Create Great, sous vide is a method of cooking that maintains the integrity of ingredients. "Unlike conventional cooking techniques, sous vide enables food to retain its nutrients as the cooking liquids do not evaporate," he says. "Meat is cooked for an extended period of time - for instance, six to eight hours - so the protein is broken down and the fats in the meat, which can be easily damaged at high temperatures in the presence of oxygen, remain un-oxidized and intact, and are therefore healthier. It is perfect for tougher or delicate cuts of meat like beef, pork tenderloin, game, poultry and shoulder of lamb. Beef bourguignon, spare ribs or brisket will turn out perfectly tender every time. The method is also great for sauces, in regards to maintaining consistency and convenience."
However, he has a word of warning: "As all sous vide recipes are cooked in their own natural flavours, you do not require as much seasoning. With herbs
we recommend you use only 30% of what you would usually use and it is important to evenly distribute the seasoning in the bag or on the food."
Cosser says the results are down to the precision involved in the cooking technique. "A medium-rare steak in my book is 52Â°C and vegetables cooked at 85Â°C cannot overcook because that temperature is exactly enough to cook the vegetables without breaking down the cell walls."
His advice is to start off slowly and focus on implementing sous vide for one or two items on the menu at a time.
"There are many books and websites offering times and temperatures, but ultimately cooking is very subjective and you'll rarely find agreement on what time and temperature combination to use for each type of food. Start exploring the possibilities and see where it takes you," he advises.
Chris Holland, head chef, Alderley Edge Hotel
After hearing about sous vide cooking abroad more than 10 years ago, Chris Holland, head chef of Alderley Edge Hotel in Cheshire and development
chef for Sous Vide Tools, now uses the method to cook the majority of the dishes on the ever-evolving menu.
"Personally, I cook sous vide-style for several reasons, including flavour, precision and efficiency," says Holland, whose collection of sous vide equipment includes a PolyScience Sous Vide Professional Thermal Circulator with a maximum capacity of 45 litres.
"Nutrients and juices stay locked in, whether I'm cooking vegetables or meat, and the precision of the cooking style guarantees a really clean, natural end result every time."
With consistency at the heart of cooking sous vide, once a dish is created and cooking times are calculated, those calculations can be used time and time again, saving on waste due to error and staff efficiency. There are also several financial benefits for the restaurant, which can serve anything up to 120 covers at a time.
Holland says: "We probably use one less chef than we used to, and as there is little to no shrinkage in cooking sous vide, we get more portions compared
to cooking with other methods. We can also use cheaper cuts of meat as the flavour produced is so good."
Mark Veale, head chef, Thornbury Castle
Thornbury Castle head chef Mark Veale likens his Clifton Sous Vide Water Bath from Nisbets to having another chef in the kitchen. Despite experimenting with sous vide cooking in the past, Veale has only incorporated it into his menu in a serious way in the past year. And, he explains, it has transformed his back of house:
"Because of the slow, gentle cooking process, I can set it off at the start of the shift, and thanks to the exact control and consistent temperature, I know the food will be perfect for lunchtime service."
One item on the menu, a slow-poached duck egg with asparagus, pancetta and hollandaise sauce, lends itself perfectly to sous vide cooking.
"Sous vide ensures that the protein in the eggs is perfect in that the white is virtually translucent. When cooking eggs, I set the machine at 62.5Â°C and it does not fluctuate from this, even if I add additional quantity. I also use it for part-cooking veal rump before flash frying in the pan at the point of order. In doing so, you can be confident that the meat is cooked consistently throughout."
Food Innovation Solutions
0116 246 1900
Sous Vide Tools
0800 678 5001
The Hospitality Sourcerer