I had a snarky comment at the top of my “Buy This” page about “no sous vide here” and Chef Ron Cooke called me on it during our interview at Querencia at Barton Creek. Sous vide is, he points out, a cooking method with great potential for institutions like his that need to provide a large customer base with meals of consistent quality. I realized I had to get rid of the attitude and try sous vide for myself.
The principle of sous vide cooking is that the product together with its seasonings is immersed in water heated to the temperature desired for the finished dish; if you want to cook chicken to 160 degrees you will put it in a 160 degree water bath and leave it in until the food is completely heated through. This might take an hour or less for a fish fillet, or many hours for a roast. You can affect the taste of your finished dish by adding spices to the food, and also by leaving it in the bath for longer than the minimum cooking time. And you might finish the prep after the food is cooked by searing it in a sauté pan or with a blowtorch; this is the method used for sous vide hamburgers.
Of course, food simply immersed in a water bath would lose much of its flavor to the water, so the prep is vacuum sealed before cooking. (Sous Vide is French for “vacuum”.) Thus the requirements for sous vide cooking are: some kind of a vacuum system, a cooking vessel, a way to heat the water, and a way to keep the temperature consistent. Being interested in doing all this on the cheap I settled on the ICA Kitchen SideKIC
and a set of Ziploc Vacuum Bags. You can also spend a few hundred dollars on a Sous Vide Supreme home cooking system (or many thousands on a professional sous vide cooker) or, at the other end of the spectrum, hack together a system similar to the SideKIC for under $100.
I took some nice fresh flounder filets and rubbed them with some good olive oil then added a couple sprigs of thyme, a couple of bay leaves, and some lemon zest. It didn’t look like enough for dinner so I made a second prep with tilapia, sesame oil and five spice powder. Both were cooked at 125 degrees for about 30 minutes, then plated. (The flounder had thrown off some liquid in cooking, which I reduced and poured on top.)
The tilapia was so-so, but the flounder was magnificent. The flavorings permeated the flesh and every bite tasted like thyme, bay leaf and lemon. This ability to amp up the flavorings is one of the things chefs like about sous vide. Another is that food can be cooked to precisely the temperature where it is just the way you want it—no more burned on the outside, undercooked in the middle. This is supposed to be especially effective with burgers, so that’s what I’ll try next. Chef Cooke, looks like I’m a sous vide convert.