Friday, April 11
Sous Vide, & Why You Don't Need to Try This at Home
Sous vide keeps cropping up on TV shows like Top Chef and Iron Chef as a cooking method. It may seem exotic and new, but in fact it's been around since the 70's.
Sous vide literally means, from the French, "under vacuum". The process, in a nut shell, involves vacuum packing raw food in plastic, then submerging the bags in a circulating, temperature-controlled water bath that brings food to temperature slowly.
Chefs like sous vide because it produces textures and flavor that can't be achieved using direct heat. According to Harold McGee, cooking at low temperature for long periods of time breaks down whatever you're cooking to produce tenderness without the usual side effects of high temperature cooking, most importantly, drying and changes in flavor. Some meats need to be cooked for over 24 hours "sous vide" to achieve this effect.
Low temperatures and long cooking times may seem like a party for germs, but since the ingredients are sealed in plastic under vacuum, aerobic bacteria can't grow. But anaerobic bacteria (botulism bacteria) can. So it's critical to maintain precise temperatures that kill them off.
The high risk of bacterial contamination means sous vide shouldn't be attempted at home without proper vacuum sealing equipment and a professional circulating, heated water bath. Let's face it, how many times do you come home from a hard day of work craving a sous vide foie gras?