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Cooking “Under Pressure” – Sous Vide Cooking at Home

As a kid I recall getting corned beef and other deli meats that came vacuum packed in these plastic pouches, separated into individual portions.  The idea was to boil the packages in water until the meats were heated through, then used to make warm deli sandwiches.  We would primarily use them on camping trips, but sometimes I would get a hold of one at home and make it.  I always felt so pleased with myself when I was allowed to “cook” something on my own!

 

Well, fast forward to today and the old “boiling-vacuum-packages” routine has made a comeback, big time!  They’ve even given it a fancy French name and everything.  Now it is referred to as cooking “Sous Vide”, which means “under vacuum” in French.

 

Unlike merely reheating already cooked food, the main benefit of sous vide cooking is the improved texture and flavor of the food.  Since the water is not actually touching the food as it cooks, there is no loss in flavor or aroma as there would be in more conventional cooking techniques.  Also, since the food is under vacuum, the food cooks at a much lower temperature than is necessary at regular atmospheric pressures.  So this gives the food the chance to be fully cooked, while maintaining its cell structure, i.e. no more mushy vegetables and such.

 

The process is very forgiving as well.  Due to the lower temperatures involved, there is less of a chance of overcooking your food.  We all know that some foods, like delicate fish for example, are very sensitive to cooking times under normal conditions.  With sous vide there is much more leeway and, therefore, better success at cooking these challenging items, which in turn makes you a better cook!

 

Gourmet restaurants have been using this technique for some time.  Everyone from Thomas Keller to Paul Bocuse has sous vide cooking in their repertoire.  The famed English chef, Heston Blumenthal, went so far as to say that “sous vide cooking is the single greatest advancement in cooking technology in decades.”  And now we know why–better food, made with less effort!

 

There are ways of obtaining this kind of result at home, it just depends on how “hands-on” you would like to get.

 


The Hands-On Method

Sous Vide for the Home CookOne of the more hands-on ways of implementing this technique is to use your own vacuum system*, and then just boil the packages yourself.  You will have to do your own experimenting with the temperatures and times if you decide to use this method.  If I were to try this method I would definitely consult several books on the subject, like Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide by Thomas Keller, Sous Vide for the Home Cook by Douglas Baldwin, or Beginning Sous Vide: Low Temperature Recipes and Techniques for Getting Started at Home by Jason Logsdon.

*BTW, you should really use one of the higher quality vacuum sealers, like the FoodSaver, to get the best results.  Those manual units, like the Reynolds Handi-Vac or the FoodSaver Handheld, are pretty good for sealing food in general, but not for sous vide.  The reason for this is that the bags they typically use have a special valve built into them which might get compromised when put in a pot of boiling water.  On the other hand, if you just want to get your feet wet with the process, why not try using a Ziploc bag for your food and suck all the air out of it with a straw?

*Oh yes, and please use only food-grade, BPA-free plastic bags for this!

 

 

The Hands-Off Approach


Introducing the New SousVide Supreme!
Alternatively, if you want the more elegant, hands-off method, there is really only one option, the SousVide Supreme.  This tabletop kitchen appliance works in tandem with your own vacuum sealer (or you can get the SousVide brand of vacuum sealer from their website).  The difference with this unit is that the water bath is precisely calibrated and controlled so all you have to do is set it, and forget it, much like a slow cooker or a bread machine.  This way you can experience the quality of sous vide cooking without having to, literally, watch a pot of water boil.

Even though the SousVide Supreme is really an amazing machine for anyone’s kitchen, it is an expensive purchase, so it does pay to shop around.  Here are some places it is available:

Direct, from their website:  SousVide Supreme Exclusive Offer! 1 yr Subscription to Food & Wine on orders over $50!
From Amazon:  SousVide Supreme on Amazon.com
From Cooking.com:  SousVide Supreme on Cooking.com
From Sur La Table: SousVide Supreme on SurLaTable.com

 

More Reading on Cooking Sous Vide

 

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