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Sous Vide: Cooking Low & Slow by Pierre-Luc Moeys, owner of Oriole 9 in Woodstock

One of the more interesting—and controversial—developments in modern cooking has to be the growing popularity of sous vide (French for “under vacuum,” also known as Cryovacking). While sous vide refers to a technique for food storage, in the culinary sense it’s a French cooking method in which fresh ingredients are vacuum-sealed in airtight plastic bags, and cooked at unusually low temperatures (140° to 210°F) for extended periods of time, immersed in water. This way of cooking is almost braising, but no carmelization or maillot effect occurs.

The advantage is that the flavors have no way to escape as steam, sauce, or pan drippings, and the usual cellular breakdown that occurs at higher temperatures doesn’t happen, resulting in superior texture, as well as allowing the ingredients to hold the flavors in better. Vegetables hold their color better; less oil, butter, and salt are needed for enhancement. There are nutritional benefits all well; low temperatures mean less oxidization and more vitamins, which de-stabilize during high heat.

So if it’s so great, why isn’t everybody doing it? Well, big food producers and great chefs already do, but they use professional equipment and the highest code of hygiene. You see, there’s a downside to sous vide: botulism likes the lower heats and multiplies well in an anaerobic (oxygen-less) environment. Longer cooking times and proper cooling/reheating tend to kill bacteria effectively however, so with careful preparation and cleanliness sous vide makes an interesting option in your culinary palate.

We do recommend doing a little online research before proceeding, and taking basic precautions, using the freshest and cleanest available ingredients….and wash those hands!


The Basic Technique

First, it’s important to monitor the water temperature with reasonable accuracy. A food thermometer will be a necessity, and it’s not recommended to use an electric stove top. Adjust your burner heat to the target water temperature. (Sometimes it works to put the pot of water in your oven, and use the oven’s thermostat to maintain an even heat.) Then, place ingredients in sealable plastic bag, squeeze any air out, and seal as tightly as possible—no water should be allowed in. Submerge bag in water and…..wait. Do not attempt sous vide when in a hurry.

Some Easy Ones

Try this: get some fresh free-range chicken wings, pop them in a bag with a variety of spices: garlic, cumin, cayenne, paprika, whatever you like. Vacuum and seal bag, and submerge in 160°F water for 2 hours. Open bag and allow to cool. Barbeque briefly on a grill or hibachi for the most succulent wings ever.

Or this: take a well-cleaned cauliflower, chop a large tomato, and peel/chop a clove of garlic. Put in a bag, vacuum and seal, and submerge for 5 hours at 150°F. Better taste before salting…you probably won’t need it.

For The More Daring (apologies to vegetarians!)

Stuffed Veal Neck

what you need:

  • Veal neck, bone-in
  • 1 bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 cup grated Grana Padano cheese
  • 1 whole clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 bunch fresh oregano, rough chopped
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • butcher’s twine

De-bone the veal neck and split into two separate pieces. Feel over the meat for any bone shards and remove them, as well as any hard or very firm ligaments. Lightly pound out with a mallet to even out the thickness.

Mix the chopped parsley and oregano, garlic, Grana Padano, and olive oil. Season the mixture with salt and pepper, and spread across the surface of the veal. Roll into two roulades, and tie up with the twine.

Season the outside of the roulades, and sear in a rondeau (wide, shallow pot). After you get a nice brown crust, remove and put on a cooling rack in the refrigerator. When cooled down, “cryovac” your roulades, and cook sous vide at 70°C (160°F)….for 30 to 34 hours!

When ready, remove, slice, and serve. If you need to serve later, shock in an ice bath and chill. Reheat, and serve.


A Brief History Of Sous Vide

Though humanity has been cooking for millennia at low temperatures, the technique of sous vide was introduced by Chef George Paulus. In 1967 Paulus, from the famed restaurant Troisgros, was trying to figure out how to cook his foie gras without the loss of up to half its weight in the process. After experimenting with different times and temperatures of vacuum-sealed immersion, his foie gras only lost 5% of its weight, and…tasted better.

Meanwhile, Bruno Goussault was working on utilizing similar sous vide techniques, but on an industrial level. From a food safety perspective, sous vide is not without its dangers, but Goussault’s research has shown that with a careful handling and heating/cooling regimen, harmful bacteria can be eliminated. Nowadays this technique is used more frequently, notably in high end restaurants by Thomas Keller, Gordon Ramsey, Charlie Trotter and Ferran Adria.

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