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What do you think about sous vide?

Tue May 13, 2014 7:43 pm

Hope I picked the right section for my question. Tell me as bluntly as you like if this isn't an appropriate topic, and I will surely desist.

I'm interested in hearing opinions on foods cooked using this method - perhaps more accurately described as 'atmosphere excluded, precise low temperature cooking, predominantly used on proteins'.

For those unaware of the technique, 'sous vide' is French for 'under vacuum', though vacuum is actually almost insignificant as far as I can tell. Generally, food is sealed in plastic film and submerged in a water bath held at the temperature of targeted 'done-ness' - e.g. 130*F for medium rare steak. Searing, if required, is carried out briefly before and/or after the main process.

For the chefs, both pro and amateur: Qualitative views as well as (in)conveniences?
For the consumers: Do you know - or suspect - when you've eaten food prepared this way? Comments? Preferences for/against?

Re: What do you think about sous vide?

Tue May 13, 2014 11:53 pm

It allows us to do some new things, which is a humongous deal. With each additional technique I can use, the food I can put out can improve dramatically, depending of course on how well I combine those techniques. Sous vide has been generally easy for me in practice and somewhat versatile in terms of cook time. I like it a lot and I don't find it inconvenient. I know it can be off putting for some guests, but that's the case for any sort of food preparation.

I know one thing for sure. It makes the best egg, and eggs Benedict, I've ever eaten.

Re: What do you think about sous vide?

Wed May 14, 2014 1:53 pm

For me, as a home cook, sous vide does make my life easier when I am hosting a party. You can get a plate ready for a late guest quickly. It is easier to use sous vide when dealing with guests with particular protein they don't like.

Other than protein, I like to use them for harder vegetable that doesn't contain too much moisture. I also use them when I am making making garlic or chili confit. I used to use it for making stock in the past, because my wife didn't allowed me to have a pressure cooker (I bought one anyways awhile ago.)

Like Lepus mentioned, there are thing you can do with certain product, like eggs, to produce texture that is hard to do any other way. Sometime, I do find, when making chicken with sous vide, the flavour is almost too intense.

You can tell when it is used. I have had meals where they didn't do it right or chose the wrong product to do it with. The end product ended up with texture that was too wet & mushy and/or flavor that was off.

Regarding the vacuum, for protein, I find that marinade penetrate quicker and deeper with the sealing. I think it also help retain more moisture. I tested it with steak when I first got my chamber vacc. I think it is like squeezing out a sponge then letting it go in the liquid. When sealing veggies, you get a denser texture with some type of veggies, from the compression.

Re: What do you think about sous vide?

Thu May 15, 2014 5:20 am

I appreciate the technique and have used it in a pro kitchen. The local health dept is very concerned about temperatures and time involved in the process. As a result the documentation required is too cumbersome. We stopped doing it as a result.

Re: What do you think about sous vide?

Thu May 15, 2014 11:24 am

mckemaus had some good thoughts. About the potential intensity of the flavor with sous vide...I was attending a food event in Europe (lucky me...it was actually an accident) and a chef was doing a demo about the flavor differences between difference methods. He took the same ingredients (chicken breast, olive oil, lemon slices, salt, garlic, rosemary) and made both a saute, and a sous vide dish. Though he cut back on the rosemary and garlic and lemon slightly for the sous vide example, those flavorings came out almost too intense. A little goes a long way with this method, unless intensity is what you are aiming for. Overall, the method has lots to recommend it.

The original poster asked about preferences. From a consumer point of view, it's almost apples and oranges. Using the comparisons from the class, with the sous vide method, I missed the richness of the caramelization of the proteins and the texture of a saute, but I enjoyed the clarity of the tastes of the seasonings and the moisture of the protein. Go figure!

Re: What do you think about sous vide?

Fri May 16, 2014 12:56 am

Personally I like my food not to be exposed to heat and plastic. Less is always more for me. I do believe the genuine purpose of this method is sincere in it's application. It's not intended to make food any better or worse. The reason for utilizing such a method is that large quantities of proteins can be held at temperature and quickly brought to desired levels of cooking.

It's much easier expedite items at a consistent temperature, also waiting to bring meats up to temperature is no longer an issue if they are held prior to service. Basically as a tool it can make consistency more obtainable in terms of rare, medium rare, medium and well done without worrying about those crucial 30 seconds that make or break the desired cooking level.

For a prix menu full of proteins it makes sense, because again the brought to temp items can be rapidly cooked. As salty mentioned you can't simply leave stuff in suspension. You've got to be moving lots of product in this method.

Personally I like all my stuff cooked to order.

Re: What do you think about sous vide?

Sun May 18, 2014 5:14 pm

Thanks everyone for your responses!
Just as with J-knives, I am quite inexperienced in SV. As an engineer, and living in a country where it's not very safe to be on the roads or out at night, I seek to learn and expand my knowledge in arts that can be relatively easily be practiced at home. The www and vendors such as CKTG, Lee Valley, and yes, Amazon, make it a facile exercise to equip myself with all sorts of wonderful products and then plough on in almost any direction I desire.
Having recently acquired an Anova thermal circulator (I did knock up a home rig years ago, with a slow cooker and PID temperature controller, but it was too untidy for routine use), I am now enjoying the results of my first few experiments in SV.

I must say - it's remarkably easy to not screw up, though the meats I have produced so far have been different enough that I question whether I actually like them or not. I did a 5lb bottom round of beef for three days, pre and post seared, and it was certainly properly cooked, but the best use I can think of for it is as thinly sliced sandwich meat.
A pair of pork tenderloins - heated to maybe 138*F for five hours and seared afterwards - was succulent, moist and so evenly cooked as to seem unnatural. The sear had so little penetration that I am starting to wonder if I actually prefer my meat to be 'overdone on the outside'.
I did a pound or so of baby carrots with a little butter and salt and they were great - definitely more flavourful than the steamed version, but I'm going to need another circulator to be able to do veg as well as meats.

Lepus: Eggs were the first thing I tried, and I agree with you - though I want to learn how to deal with the thinner part of the white that seems to need a higher temperature than a custardy yolk to set properly.

mckemaus: I haven't tried chicken yet. Your observation on flavour intensity makes me want to try it soon! I'm saving up for a chamber vac at the moment; damn, those things are expensive!

Saltydog: I made sure to get a good general understanding of what was required to minimise pathogens and bacteria. It's not that hard to grasp, as I'm sure you know, but I can imagine the health inspectors being leary of the technique.

LaVieestBelle: Interesting. When I did the pork tenderloin, I added apple slices, thyme and allspice. The flavours were almost undetectable in the finished meat. I reserved and strained the liquid from the bag, and added it to the cooking water of some basmati rice with mushrooms and onions. Even though cooked using the absorption method - i.e no draining - the expected flavours were again absent. On the contrary, my bottom round rendered a sumptuously rich liquor.
Your second paragraph broadly mirrors my own thinking on the subject!

Umberto: While I respect and agree with your views on heat and plastic, as a child of the sixties I am beyond caring. The vehicle exhaust fumes and cigarettes I inhale daily most likely pose many orders of magnitude greater threat. As for your understanding of what SV is about, I rather feel you have 'lost the plot'.

Still hoping for more input on the subject if anyone else wants to chip in!

Re: What do you think about sous vide?

Sun May 18, 2014 6:30 pm

I let it slip that we didn't cook our duck breasts all the way through and he almost had a bird. Pun intended.

Re: What do you think about sous vide?

Sun May 18, 2014 9:23 pm

Sous vide cooked eggs, as you noted, have a different texture from traditional poached eggs. Not much to be done about that. Really, this is a good way to look at the whole process. I don't think a SV egg is inherently a good or bad thing, though I do prefer then personally. Just different. Combination cooking methods can make SV food more similar to traditional offerings, but it's always going to be at least slightly different.

That, to me, is exciting. It offer up a lot of neat options.

Re: What do you think about sous vide?

Thu May 29, 2014 9:38 am

I'm only a home cook, occasionally medium partys. I have played with SV a bit, and its a good tool to have IMHO. I have always liked the saying "If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem you see will be a nail"
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