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Cooking without oxygen for a tender texture and an intense flavour
For a real delicacy, the sous vide cooking method requires vacuum sealed plastic bags and a water bath with a low temperature.
Sous vide – also known as vacuum cooking – refers to a cooking process in which vacuum-packed food is cooked in a water bath at a consistent, low temperature. For this particular cooking method, in addition to a machine for vacuum sealing food in a plastic bag, you will need a thermometer in order to measure the temperature of the water during cooking. There are also professional sous vide cookers on the market that can be easily set to the desired temperature.
This cooking method is primarily used for meat and fish, but eggs, vegetables and even fruit can be prepared "sous vide". However, what you can’t do is assemble several ingredients into one vacuum bag for cooking, because each ingredient requires different temperatures and cooking times. Sous vide cooking is relatively laborious, but definitely worth the effort thanks to the intense aromas and delicate textures created from the hours to day-long cooking process.
The term “sous vide” comes from the French word meaning “under vacuum”. This style of cooking was developed in the 1970s and is mostly used in professional and gourmet kitchens. Unlike other methods that cook items at a low temperature, with sous vide, the temperatures do not have to remain exact, which makes it ideal for catering services.
Sous vide is a very vitamin-friendly method which maintains the structure of fish and leaves meat both juicy and tender. In addition to this, the food absorbs the flavour of whichever oils, spices and herbs it is cooked with. Marinades and sauces can also be prepared using this method but the liquid must be frozen beforehand in order to simplify the removal of air from the container.
When cooking sous vide, spices should be added to the bag sparingly – a pinch is enough. The aromas of herbs and spices are actually pressed into the food by the vacuum seal, therefore intensifying their flavour. When using garlic, it’s better to sauté it first rather than adding it raw. Meat tastes even more flavourful when quickly pan seared after sous vide-ing. This gives it a nice crust that sous vide can’t achieve. Important: fish should not be seared after cooking.
As sous vide is a low temperature cooking method, the water bath is heated to between 57 and 90 degrees, depending on the food. Regardless of whether you are preparing meat, fish or vegetables, with sous vide, the core temperature of the food will always correspond exactly to the temperature of the water bath, making overcooking impossible. The temperature level is set depending on what is being prepared sous vide and how thick it is. Sous vide cooking times are an important factor that determine the level of doneness, i.e. medium, well done, and so forth.
As an example: a rump steak weighing 200 g requires a cooking temperature of 58 degrees and should stay in the water bath for approximately 50 minutes. If you’re cooking chicken breast rather than beef, the temperature must be at least 66 degrees. Be particularly accurate here, because cooking poultry at too low a temperature can be problematic. By the right temperature, a 160 g piece of meat similarly needs about 50 minutes to cook.
A temperature between 57 and 62 degrees is sufficient for fish, and depending on its size, thickness, and what kind of fish it is, a cooking time of 20 minutes is suitable. Pike needs a different temperature and has a different cooking time than salmon, just as pork requires a different cooking time and temperature than beef. Furthermore, with meat, important factors include: which part of the animal is used, how old the animal was at the time of slaughter, and how the meat has aged.
Incidentally, vegetables need higher temperatures than meat and fish. For example, beets should cook for an hour at 90 degrees. As a rule of thumb, note that soft foods such as fish and meat require a shorter sous vide cooking time than solid foods such as lentils or root vegetables.
In one respect, sous vide is the art of finding the perfect cooking time for a specific food and then keeping it constant. The payoff is in the special flavours and delicate consistency that this cooking method achieves. While sous vide requires a lot of preparation and knowledge, it allows you to enjoy completely new taste experiences even with everyday foods. For example, strawberries require only 15 minutes at 65 degrees. And in sous vide, they retain their shape while transforming to a surprising jam like consistency at the same time.
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