What Sous Vide Can Achieve, at a Glance
by Thomas Keller
Most foods can be cooked sous vide with great success, but some foods should not be cooked sous vide. The color of green vegetables—broccoli, asparagus, peas, etc.—is harmed by sous vide. Grains and cereals (rice and pasta, for example) do not benefit in any appreciable way from sous vide. But sous vide can be applied to the majority of food. Here's a rundown of some of sous vide's most important assets.
For Tender Cuts of Meat
- Sous vide allows us to achieve the exact internal temperature—for example, the perfect medium in a lamb loin, or the perfect medium-rare in a squab breast every time.
- With sous vide, we can get the same temperature throughout the entire cut, not just at the center.
For Tough Cuts of Meat
- Half the meats we cook are tough-from variety meats, such as heart, gizzard and tongue, to shank and shoulder cuts. All of these, without exception, benefit from sous vide techniques.
- We can cook tough cuts of meat at temperatures that are low enough that they don't dry out the meat (as braising does) but that are still hot enough to dissolve, over time, the connective tissue that makes the meat tough.
- We can cook medium-rare short ribs. We can cook a pot roast to medium-rare, yet cook it long enough so that it's meltingly tender and pink.
- Often we confit the tough cuts—for instance, duck legs, pork bellies and gizzards. In a traditional confit, the meat is submerged in a large quantity of rendered fat and cooked gently for hours, then cooled in that fat. With sous vide, we can achieve exactly the same results with considerably less fat; moreover, we're not using valuable oven space that, when we're confiting traditionally, must be kept at a very low temperature for a long time.
- Tough cuts can be brought to different consistencies as desired. For example, a pork belly might be cooked until it is falling-apart tender or just until it is tender but not falling apart, still firm enough to be sliced.
- Fish, perhaps more than any protein, has such a small window of doneness that it requires the most finesse on the part of the cook. Sous vide makes cooking fish easier and more consistent, especially in a busy kitchen.
- Because not high-heat flavors (the complex flavors from roasting or sauteing) will develop, fish cooked sous vide has a very pure flavor.
- Some fish, such as salmon, cooked sous vide at a low temperature develop a voluptuous texture that is impossible to achieve any other way.
- Fish we once poached in a court bouillon can now be cooked in a small amount of liquid with a small amount of aromatic vegetables, for a bigger and better flavor.
- Seafood such as lobster, octopus and squid can easily become tough when using high heat. The low heat of sous vide allows us to cook them through and keep them extraordinarily tender.
For Hard Root Vegetables
- All root vegetables can be cooked sous vide with excellent results in terms of texture, flavor and color. For example, potatoes cook through without their exterior overcooking, turnips cook through elegantly enhanced with a flavorful fat, and carrots remain vivid orange.
For Other Vegetables
- Some softer vegetables are excellent cooked sous vide—onion and fennel, for instance, become tender without overcooking or falling apart. All nongreen vegetables, from com and radishes to endive, can be efficiently and elegantly flavored in the sous vide bag.
- Fruits are perfectly and consistently cooked in the same way tender vegetables are. In addition, fruits, which are especially susceptible to rapid oxidation and discoloration, remain bright when cooked sous vide rather than becoming dull and brown.
- Marinating meats sous vide is neat and efficient.
- Compressing food sous vide can result in dramatic textures and brighter colors.
- Gently compressing food can maintain a desired shape, such as a roulade.
General Kitchen Issues
- Sous vide allows us to cook food before service and chill it or hold it so that it can be finished a la minute, at the last minute, with no compromise whatsoever of quality.
- Stove and oven space, valuable assets in busy, crowded kitchens, are freed up when one or more circulators are being used.
- Sous vide requires less "people power"—the cooks' time is not spent tending the pot, so they are free to concentrate on other work.
- Consistency: everything can be cooked to its optimal temperature and texture every time.
- Circulators are portable, allowing us to cook anywhere.
- Cooler space is efficiently used with food stored sous vide. When we seal food sous vide, we are in effect creating the perfect-size container, rather than storing, for example, 750 milliliters of custard base in a 1-liter container.
- Sealing food sous vide prevents damage from oxidation.
- Food sealed and cooked sous vide, then cooled and stored, has a dramatically increased shelf life. This is especially so with custard bases, which are in effect pasteurized by the cooking process and so keep for more than a week if well chilled.
- Sous vide allows us to pick up, or serve, the food efficiently.
Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide
- by Thomas Keller, Jonathan Benno, Corey Lee and Sebastien Rouxel
- with Susie Heller and Michael Ruhlman
- Artisan 2008
- Hardcover; $75.00; 304 pages; 200 Color Photographs
- ISBN-10: 1579653510
- ISBN-13: 987-1-57965-351-4
- Information provided by the publisher.
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This page created January 2009