The French Art of Sous Vide

steak sous vide

For our anniversary, my husband and I splurged on a top-of-the-line meal in a French restaurant. I had the beef short ribs, and the presentation was amazing, so beautiful I was almost too afraid to touch it. But the tenderness and juiciness of the meat just made me forget my name. I am a fairly good cook, and I just had to find out the secret behind those melt-in-your-mouth ribs. I asked our waiter and he went to ask the Chef, and he came back with the secret: sous vide cooking.
steak with red wine

The art of sous vide

Sous vide is a French word that literally means ‘under vacuum’. It was first described as a method in 1799, but it was only in the mid 1960’s when American and French engineers developed it into an industrial food preservation method. It became popular in the 1970’s when used by George Pralus for a restaurant in Roanne, France.

The most basic description of the method is:

  • Seal the ingredients in a food-grade plastic bag;
  • Place it in a water bath in a deep pot or in a cooker;
  • Target the temperature and use a thermometer to monitor your water bath;
  • Remove the bag when your bath has reached the desired temperature or time.

The cooking time is usually longer than traditional cooking, and can in fact go up to 48 hours for some foods. The temperature is lower than traditional cooking, around 55 – 60 degrees Celsius for meat items and higher for vegetables. This method of slow-cooking ensures that the food is thoroughly cooked, with the insides cooked, and the outside not overcooked.

Benefits of sous vide

  • Since the foods are packed in the vacuumed bag with the spices, the flavors are locked in so you don’t need too much seasoning as compared to traditional cooking;
  • The juices are locked in, which results to meat being juicy, and not dry;
  • Nutrients of the foods is also locked in;
  • The low temperature in the cooking prevents over-cooking;
  • It results to even cooking for both outside and inside of the meat, even when you have a thick slab since the whole meat is immersed in the same temperature of water;
  • For chicken, this method of cooking ensures the pathogens are killed, and the food is safe for consumption.

When I barbecue some ribs over the grill, the surface which touches the grill may have already turned black, meaning overcooked, but the inside may remain under-cooked. Keeping it over the grill for a long time also dries up the meat so I end up with overcooked, dry and zero-tasting ribs. This is not a problem with sous vide cooking, because the whole meat is submersed in water, and both inside and outside experience the same temperature.

With sous vide, my ribs are kept pink, juicy but thoroughly cooked. To give it a nice finish, I put it over the grill just to sear the outside for a different kind of texture.

Sous vide in restaurants

Restaurants cook more meat than in our homes. As expected, they have the best equipment to address their needs. For sous vide, they usually have:

  • Chamber Vacuum sealer;
  • Sous vide water bath.

sous vide devices

This equipment work on the processes of:

  1. Vacuum sealing the food in a plastic bag before putting it in the water bath;
  2. Putting the vacuum sealed food bag in the water bath.

However, although the word sous vide literally means ‘under vacuum’, the most important step in the process is the temperature control of the water bath.

In restaurants, using the sous vide water bath, the temperature is computer-controlled or pre-set. This gives the person in-charge much leeway to do all other things while his foods are being cooked sous vide style. When he has to cook over a grill, he has to keep close watch, but with sous vide, there is small margin of error because of the aid of technology.

Experts usually rely on sight and smell to know if the food is cooked, but with sous vide, the art employs science to get the perfect ribs done perfectly.

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