Some mock it, some enjoy it, and some think it is soulless. But like anything in a chef’s arsenal it is really just a tool. I primarily use sous vide for two purposes.
- Controlling the cooking of proteins for large parties
- Controlling the texture of the things I cook in certain ways
We often talk about #1 but I find that #2 is a much more important aspect for me. When thinking of texture control I mostly think of two major things I work with. Meats and vegetables. (I’m actually not too much of a fan of sous vide for fish)
The longer you go the “softer” it becomes.
Meats are lined with a certain amount of fat and connective tissue. The meats with high connective tissue amounts are what we consider “tough”. Previously we would braise or slow cook these to break them down.
The now famous “48 Hour” technique for cooking ribs takes a tougher version of this and immerses it for a long period of time. This takes all that connective collagen toughness and breaks it down to gelatin. Hello break apart goodness!
However, this can be overdone. Put a steak that is lightly marbled and after more than three hours it doesn’t have the mouthfeel of meat anymore.
Sous vide is the unsung hero of my potatoes and veggies. I especially love it with fennel, potatoes, and radishes. Just like I love the adjustment that it has in meat I love sous vide of starchy vegetables. You can take that starch to the edge where it holds form but is pleasantly soft.
Try the next time you want potatoes in a salad. Just throw some small waxy ones in at 85C (no need for a bag, they’re pre-covered) and let them cook an hour or so. They cut well into slices, taste delicious, and keep a wonderful texture. Try a potato salad with sous vide potatoes. You’ll love it.
Just like the other types of cooking heat, wet and dry, sous vide is just a tool. Understanding it and using it to your advantage is important.