One of my latest and most exciting acquisitions, the Sous-Vide Supreme is the first water bath device designed specifically for the home cook. I have been experimenting with it for a few weeks now, using it to cook a number of dishes at home and for my Japanese Supper Club with really good results.
Pronounced "soo veed", sous-vide is the French term for "under vacuum" and refers to a method of cooking in vacuum-sealed plastic pouches at low temperatures for long periods of time.
The idea is to cook food at precisely the same temperature that it will be served so that it is perfectly cooked throughout. For example, medium-rare steak is about 55°C in the centre. In sous-vide cooking, the entire piece of meat is cooked at 55°C, for as long as it takes for the heat to slowly penetrate to the centre. The whole steak, from edge to edge, reaches 55°C and cannot overcook, because the water temperature does not go any higher. In more conventional cooking methods, the same steak will normally end up with a well done ring on the outside, a medium ring inside and a rare ring in its centre.
I have spent many an-hour probing meat, fish and other food wondering about their doneness, inspecting the juices of roast chickens, using my senses of smell and touch to ensure an appropriate internal temperature and hoping that the food I cook is indeed thoroughly cooked. This fundamental step for any cook is much reduced if not eliminated with sous-vide cooking.
In addition to the above benefits, one of the most important aspects of sous-vide cooking is that you don’t have to watch the time. Since there is little risk of overcooking, you can leave the food in the Sous Vide Supreme for a few hours at the desired temperature and it will not be over-cooked.
Slow cooking also allows for better integration of flavours and creates tender textures. When spices, herbs or marinades are vacuum-sealed with meat, fish or vegetables, the vacuum helps the flavours to penetrate deeply into the food. The food literally stews in its own juices: no air, no water, no evaporation, just total concentration of flavour.
Since sous-vide is essentially a very controlled and precise poach, most food cooked in this way has the appearance of being poached. So foods like shellfish, fish, eggs, and some skinless poultry can be served as they are, or straight from their pouches. Steaks and pork chops however are not traditionally poached and will require searing. Searing is important when cooking meat because of the Maillard Reaction (the browning of meat) as it adds considerable flavour to cooked meat. More about the Maillard Reaction here.
One drawback of sous-vide cooking is therefore the need to sear meat before serving. Other snags which you should be aware of before making a purchase are the need to buy a vacuum sealer (£99) and vacuum pouches, the fact that two dishes cannot be cooked simultaneously if they require different temperatures, and the lengthy cooking times which require forward planning.
So, if sous-vide is so successful as a method of cooking, why have we not been using it for years? In fact, this technique has been used for many years in professional kitchens, by the likes of Thomas Keller, Heston Blumenthal and Ferran Adria. It is only now that a domestic appliance (Sous Vide Supreme) is available that sous-vide cooking is accessible at home.
The machines come in two sizes - standard and demi. The standard version retails at £349 in John Lewis (£370 in Amazon) and the Sous-vide Vacuum Sealer will set you back £99.95 also from John Lewis.
I have been using my standard Sous-Vide Supreme device (SVS 10LS) to cook some of the dishes at my Japanese Supper Club for a number of weeks now and was very impressed by how easy it is to use and how consistently good the results were.
One of the dishes I made was Onsen Tamago (Japanese Hot-Spring Poached Egg). Onsens are popular throughout Japan as a family day out but in Kyushu Island, which has a great density of onsens, a whole cuisine has been created around cooking fish, vegetables and egg using the natural steam from the springs.
Jigoku-Mushi is the method of cooking food by geothermal steam which has been traditional in the region for over 400 years. It was in Kyushu Island that I first came across onsen tamago (reviewed here), and I was thrilled to be able to cook this dish at my Japanese Supper Club using my Sous-Vide Supreme.
The beauty of cooking eggs using the Sous-Vide Supreme is that rather than getting a runny yolk, the final result is luscious, creamy yolk like nothing I have experienced before! Compared with conventional egg poaching (a nightmare even for the most experienced cooks), with Sous-Vide Supreme, my poached eggs are perfectly cooked every time, even when I am catering for more than 20 people.
|Poached Egg vs Sous-Vide Egg|
To sous-vide an egg, set the water temperature to 64C and poach between 45 and 90 minutes. As the eggs have their own protective shell, they do not require to be vacuum packed.
|Sous-Vide egg has a creamy and luscious yolk like extra-thick double cream!|
|And traditionally poached egg.... in comparison.....|
|....has a runny yolk..... and is not nearly as exciting as the one on the right (Sous-Vide Egg)|
|Traditionally poached egg vs Sous-Vide egg|
|Tamago Onsen (Sous-Vide Duck Egg with Silken Tofu, Katsuoboshi Flakes and Ponzu Dressing)|