Sous Vide: What You Should Know About this Restaurant-Style of Cooking Before Trying it at HomePOSTED 11.21.18
Food inside a vacuum sealed plastic bag, cooked at low temperature? What kind of witchcraft is this? The method is called sous vide, and it’s used quite often in restaurants, where a large amount of food will be served throughout the day and evening, and it would be otherwise impossible to prepare it as it’s ordered.
Here’s an example. A professional chef will tell you that a perfectly cooked chicken breast should have an internal temperature of 158 degrees Fahrenheit. Wait a minute! Why, then, does the USDA recommend that poultry be cooked to 165 degrees? That’s the beauty of sous vide. The USDA uses temperature guides that ensure safety based on conventional cooking methods. Sous vide chicken breasts will cook for hours, but never get above 158 degrees – and that longer cooking time does the same job as getting the internal temperature to the USDA’s recommended 165 degrees. Here’s what you need to know about sous vide.
Sous vide is growing in popularity outside the restaurant kitchen because it’s an easy and hands-off method of cooking – as long as you have the right equipment. That equipment used to be so expensive that only professional kitchens used it, but the basics have become affordable for the public.
Food as basically vacuum sealed in plastic bags, and then cooked in a bath of circulating water that’s kept at a precise temperature. What gives people pause are the low cooking temperatures.
Let’s go back to the chicken example. Cooking a batch of chicken breasts sous vide style would mean first vacuum sealing them along with your chosen seasoning, and then placing them in a large container of water that’s being kept at the constant and precise temperature of 158 degrees.
This method of cooking will take several hours for the chicken breast to be ready to eat – but at that time, it will be 158 degrees at the center, and at the edges. Once cooked, those chicken breasts can hang out in their water bath for the rest of the day and into the evening. They won’t cook any further because the water bath they’re in stays at 158 degrees.
Now you start to see why restaurants love this cooking style. Sous vide allows them to cook quantities of food to the perfect doneness, and then hold it that way until just moments before plating. If you’ve got a busy schedule, you could start your chicken breasts in the morning sous vide style and they’d be ready for you to plate many hours later that evening – perfectly cooked, beautifully seasoned, and never overdone.
Cooking in plastic?
If you’re not convinced because you’re concerned about the chemicals in plastic, you should know that the packaging recommended for sous vide cooking is food-grade high-density polyethylene, or low-density polyethylene, and polypropylene.
Sous vide cooking temperatures are always well below boiling point, and never as high as the temperatures sustained in microwave cooking. So, the possibility of chemicals leaching from the plastic and into your food is highly unlikely.
For safety, use sealable bags that are rated as “Microwave Safe” on the packaging. Many lower qualities will actually have “Not for microwave use” printed on their packaging. Sous vide cooking works best when the food is in a vacuum sealed bag, but many home cooks simply use zip-top bags with as much air removed as possible.
Try it yourself!
If you want to experiment with sous vide cooking without investing in all of the kitchen equipment, you can start with eggs. Think about it. They’re already in a sealed and waterproof container. You’ll at least need to have a way to heat and maintain a container of water at a precise temperature. For soft boiled eggs, that temperature is 145 degrees.
It’ll take about an hour before they’re ready, but the yolk will be perfectly soft boiled and 145 degrees. A quick ice bath prepares them for hanging out in the refrigerator for later use for up to five days. To get them ready, just warm them up sous vide style – back in the 145-degree water they go for about half an hour. The yolks won’t cook any further.
A restaurant’s top priority is to provide customers with delicious food that’s cooked with safety in mind. It’s one of the reasons why they prepare certain foods sous vide style. They abide by stringent safety precautions that are much easier to meet by using professional equipment.
Many restaurant surfaces, for example, must be protected with FDA-approved coatings. You might not need them at home, but they’re absolutely necessary at your favorite restaurant. We specialize in these protective coatings. Learn more about us.