Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Now I want a sous-vide setup!

What is sous-vide cooking? Here's what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:

...a method of cooking that is intended to maintain the integrity of ingredients by heating them for an extended period of time at relatively low temperatures. Food is cooked for a long time, sometimes well over 24 hours. But unlike a slow cooker, sous-vide cooking uses airtight plastic bags placed in hot water well below boiling point (Usually around 60°C = 140°F).

The method was developed by Georges Pralus in the mid-1970s for the Restaurant Troisgros (of Pierre and Michel Troigros) in Roanne, France. He discovered that food cooked in this way kept its original appearance, did not lose its nutrients and maintained its natural texture. The method is used in a number of top-end restaurants under Thomas Keller, Paul Bocuse, Joel Robuchon and Charlie Trotter and other chefs. Non-professional cooks are also beginning to use vacuum cooking.

Deadly botulinum bacteria can grow in food in the absence of oxygen: sous vide cooking must be performed under carefully controlled conditions to avoid botulism poisoning. To help with food safety and taste, relatively expensive water-bath machines are used to circulate precisely heated water; differences of even one degree can affect the finished product.
As the Wikipedia article relates, it was originally targeted at high-end restaurants. It has recently crept into the repetoire of many home cooks who are looking to emulate the fine dining experience. While I occasionally like to do that myself, it's not often enough to justify the investment. Or so I thought...

Enter this eGullet thread on "Quotidian Sous Vide", which explores the many everyday uses to which cooks are putting their sous vide technology. The chief advantage of sous vide is its careful temperature control - it's impossible for the food to overcook, since the goal is to equalize the temperature of the food and the water it's in. This fine control over temperature is what differentiates sous vide from it's less dignified and more well known cousin - ye old "Boil in a Bag."

Slkinsey is making his own lunchmeat:
Lately, I've been using my rig (Lauda digital recirculating water bath heater, 5 gallon stock pot, FoodSaver Professional III) to make lunchmeat for the week. I'll pick up a turkey or chicken breast, a pork loin, a brisket, beef roast, or whatever looks good and is on sale, vacuum bag it with salt and whatever other flavorings suit my fancy, cook it in the water bath as appropriate, toss the bag into an ice bath to cool down and then into the fridge. I usually do this on Sunday evenings, and on Monday morning I pull the bag out of the fridge, slice up the meat, and I have incredible sandwich meat for the rest of the week. This is not only a huge savings over buying sandwich meat at the deli counter, but there's just no way Boar's Head can ever compete with what I can make at home. What's nice also is that it's a complete snap to do sous vide -- easier than any other method, really.

Repeat after me: there's no room in your kitchen for another toy, there's no room in your kitchen for another toy.

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