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What is sous vide cooking?

Sous vide cooking is a technique whereby vacuum packed food is cooked in a water bath at a constant, relatively low temperature for a long period of time. Sous vide is a French term which literally means 'under vacuum '. Sous vide equipment is ideal for preparing meat, fish, poultry, vegetables, fruit, desserts, oils and even alcoholic beverages.

In the video below, we explain in detail what sous vide cooking is all about.

History of sous vide cooking

The development of the sous vide cooking technique has been a major breakthrough in the field of cooking. As with any breakthrough, there is a good history behind it. The technique has been in use since 1970 and originated in France.

In the beginning, sous vide was only used to extend the shelf life of products. In 1974, two French chefs changed this. Pierre Troisgros, a 3-star chef from Roanne, wanted to prepare his foie gras in a different way because in the traditional preparation process up to 50 percent of the weight is lost. Together with colleague chef Georgess Pralus, he decided to come up with a solution.

They concluded by wrapping the foie gras in food safe plastic wrap, then cooking it at different temperatures. After a few attempts, they had found the right temperature and the result was a 5 per cent weight loss. From then on Pralus went through life as "the father of sous vide" or as he said himself "the sous vide pope".

From star kitchen to every kitchen

Pralus was the one who went to restaurants and introduced other chefs to the technique. Due to the developments in technology and the increase in the range of sous vide cooking technology, it is becoming increasingly accessible to purchase a sous vide appliance, especially for private use. A quality that was previously only achievable in a top restaurant can now be enjoyed at home in your kitchen.

Why sous vide cooking?

Sous vide cooking ensures that the maximum quality of each product is utilized in terms of texture, flavor and nutrients! For all the ins and outs of sous vide cooking and a comparison with traditional techniques, I'd like to refer you to this article, which covers it extensively.

Step by step sous vide cooking

In this piece I will explain you step by step how to prepare the perfect piece of meat, fish or poultry using the sous vide cooking technique. Fruit and vegetables are also covered. It's a standard process that has to be done every time.

Preparation for sous vide cooking

It is important to have the sous vide appliance and the sous vide container ready before you start cooking your food. This ensures that you can proceed directly to the sous vide preparation after prepping your food.

Fill the sous vide container with hot water. Please note that the water should be between the minimum and maximum amounts indicated on the sous vide appliance. This ensures that the sous vide appliance can optimally circulate the water through the container at a constant temperature.

Turn the sous vide appliance on and set the desired cooking time and temperature. The appliance will heat the water until this temperature is reached and gives a sound signal when this is the case.

sous vide cooking

Preparation for sous-vide cooking

Prepare the product according to the steps below. A tenderloin needs a different preparation than a salmon fillet. Therefore it is important that each product type is treated in the right way. To make this as clear as possible, we have made a step-by-step plan for each product type.

Meat

  1. Boning: this involves removing any bones from the meat. This is usually only the case when buying large unprocessed pieces of meat.
  2. Removal of membranes: remove the top layer of membranes from the product by cutting away the layer with a fillet knife, provided it is present.
  3. Paring: this is the process of removing the nerves and unwanted fat from the piece of meat.
  4. Portioning: cut the meat into the desired pieces. Not too small, the more it remains a whole, the better the juices are preserved.
  5. Drying: pat the product dry with kitchen paper.

Poultry

  1. Paring: cutting away excess meat, fat and nerve. Tip: do not throw this away, but use these parts to make a stock.
  2. Bridging: this is the binding of a poultry, only applicable for example for a whole chicken. This ensures that the shape of the product is maintained during preparation.
  3. Portioning: cut the meat into desired pieces.
  4. Drying: rinse briefly under the cold tap and dry with kitchen paper.

Fish

  1. Scales: removing the scales. Use a special scraper or the blunt side of a knife and work from the tail to the head.
  2. Debearding: this is the removal of the fins. A pair of fish-scissors or a sharp knife is needed. Again, counter-rotation for a firmer grip.
  3. Filleting: cut the fillet from the bone with a filleting knife.
  4. Deboning: remove the bones from the fillet with tweezers.
  5. Portioning: cut the fish into desired portions.
  6. Drying: rinse the fish under a cold tap and pat dry with kitchen paper.

Fruit

  1. Washing: wash the fruit under the cold tap.
  2. Peel: peel the fruit when desired for the recipe. Take care! Hard fruit turns brown quickly because it comes into contact with oxygen. You can prevent this by, for example, sprinkling the fruit with the juice of a citrus fruit.
  3. Portioning: cut the fruit as you see fit.
  • Soft fruit is very delicate. It is important to wash it first and then let it leak out before removing the crowns and/or stems. This is because the crowns/stems will otherwise suck too much water into the fruit.
  • Citrus and exotic fruits do not require any preparation other than washing and are often used raw in recipes.

Vegetable

  1. Wash the vegetables under the cold tap. Don't do this for too long, because vitamin C is water soluble and we don't want to lose vitamins.
  2. Peel the vegetables, if necessary.
  3. Cut the vegetables. Do not do this finer than necessary to prevent the loss of precious vitamins.

sous vide cooking carrot

Crustaceans

  1. Removing the scissors: remove the scissors with a twisting motion.
  2. Removing the head: grab the head with one hand and the body with the other. Then turn in the opposite direction and remove the head.
  3. Shell removal: gently squeeze the shell and break it open. Try to keep the flesh of the crustacean intact.
  4. Drying: rinse the crustacean under a cold tap and pat dry with kitchen paper.

Sous vide cooking langoustine

Tip: process the product smoothly so it does not get too hot, otherwise it may lose structure. 

Marinades for sous vide cooking

Many people wonder if they should marinate a product before cooking it sous vide. The answer depends on what is being cooked and what your desired outcome is.

In general, a marinade is used to flavour a product or to enhance the original taste. Marinades can be divided into a number of types. These are named and explained below.

Flavour marinades

  • Dry rub
    A mixture of dried herbs and spices. No liquid is added to this marinade. The salt in the rub ensures that the moisture is removed from the meat, so that the marinade itself becomes liquid. If sugar is added to the rub, it gives the product a nice caramelised crust when finished.
  • Marinade paste
    This is basically the same as a dry rub, except that a liquid product has been added. It is also called a wet rub. These marinades often contain oil.
  • Fresh herbs
    It is common to add flavor to a product just by adding some herb sprigs like rosemary, thyme, sage or oregano.

sous vide cooking marinade

Texture marinades

These are marinades that are added with the aim of making the meat even more tender. The acids and/or enzymes in these marinades start a process that changes the texture in such a way that the tenderness is improved.

These marinades are almost always in the form of a wet rub, because liquid is added to them. Well known additives are: vinegar, wine, fruit juice and beer.

There are a few reasons why it is not recommended to use marinades with such an additive for sous vide preparation:

  • First of all, it is not necessary. Due to the constant preparation at low temperature, the product is already brought to the desired doneness, which makes such a marinade superfluous.
  • Secondly, due to the vacuum packaging, no evaporation takes place during sous vide preparation. Liquid inside the bag cannot evaporate with the result that in marinades containing alcohol, the alcohol is not reduced.
  • Finally, like alcohol, marinades with a high acid content do not evaporate anything that will embitter and negatively affect the taste of the product.

What marinade?

I recommend using a marinade which is purely aimed at improving the taste of the product. It is important to let the marinade soak into the product for the best result. A vacuum device is ideal to speed up this process, where the traditional soaking can take hours.

Make sure the marinade is non-alcoholic and has a low acid content. If this is the case, cook the marinade first to reduce the alcohol and acidity. A good example is this recipe of the pear stew.

Airless packaging for sous vide cooking

There are four ways of air packaging food for sous vide cooking. In this blog we will discuss the four possibilities in detail. Here we will discuss the two most obvious methods, sous vide bags and vacuum bags.

  1. Sous vide bags

    First of all determine what size sous vide bag you need, depending on the size of the product and the quantity you want to prepare. The bags are available in two sizes: 20 x 30 centimetres and rolls of which you can determine the length yourself. Lay the bag flat and open it with your fingers so that the product can be easily placed inside. Then put the ingredient in the bag and add any herbs or spices. Also pay attention to hygiene.

    The herbs must be thoroughly cleaned under the lukewarm tap before adding them. Once everything is in the bag it is important to make it airtight, here is a handy trick for. Close the sous vide bag ¾ of the way at the top, then leave the bag in the preheated sous vide  The water pressure will force the remaining air out of the bag. When the sous vide bag is almost completely submerged, press the last part of the bag closed.Sous vide cooking bags

  2. Vacuum bag

    It is also possible to vacuum pack the food using a vacuum bag and a vacuum device. Open the vacuum bag and put the marinated product in the bag, add some oil, herbs or spices if necessary. Make sure that the food is at the bottom of the bag and that at the top, the ends of the bag are moisture-free are. Place the ends in the vacuum device, close it and press the button to remove the air from the vacuum bag. The bag can now be placed in the preheated water bath and the timer can be started.Sous vide cooking vacuum bag

Sous vide cooking

After you put the product in the sous vide container, you don't have to do anything until the timer goes off. This does not mean that nothing happens. When cooking a product a process takes place. This process can affect the texture and structure of the product.

With sous vide cooking this is not the case, because the product is cooked at its ideal core temperature. Because the water circulates at a constant temperature through the sous vide container and the product is vacuum packed, the structure is preserved.

Example

Take steak for example, a piece of meat that can be cooked in many ways. There is muscle tissue in the steak. If you heat this above a temperature of 60°C, the muscle tissue will coagulate. This leads to a grainy structure in the meat.

For preparing a nice pink steak, the core temperature of the sous vide device should be below 60 degrees. The steak is now only cooked and needs to be baked.

A Maillard reaction, creating a nice brown crust, is only possible at temperatures around 140ºc. Because there is a lot involved in preparing the perfect steak, we have written a manual that guides you every step of the way. It also describes the ways in which you can add this Maillard reaction to the steak.

Nutritional and flavouring substances

Because cooking takes place in a vacuum bag and at a low temperature, all the nutrients and flavours of the product are retained. In contrast to traditional cooking techniques, many important substances are lost. The traditional cooking of vegetables causes these substances to be 'broken'. Moreover, it is at the expense of texture, which makes vegetables limp.

Shelf life

One of the biggest benefits of sous vide cooking your product is the extended shelf life. Because of the vacuum, the product is packed with air, which counteracts the oxidation of the food. This slows down the 'ageing' of the product. The shelf life can be extended up to 5 times.

Sous vide cooking step

Finishing sous vide cooking

As soon as the timer goes off on your sous vide appliance, it's time to finish the product. The different ways of post-processing I will name and explain below.

  • Direct consumption

    You can choose not to process the product. Season with some salt and pepper and enjoy.
    Sous vide cooking dish

  • Baking

    Put a dash of oil in a pan and put it on high heat. Once the oil is hot, fry the product briefly on both sides, so that a nice crispy layer arises. Make sure you do not fry it too long to prevent the product from cooking even more. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

  • Burning down

    This is the ideal way to prepare a sous vide product. When the product comes out of the sous vide container it is already perfectly cooked. You want to prevent that the product is cooked even further with the finishing. This can be done by burning it with a kitchen torch.

    A kitchen torch can be brought to a very high temperature almost immediately, which offers the possibility to process the product shortly afterwards.

    1. Grab a kitchen torch and make sure it is set to an appropriate strength depending on what you want to burn off.
    2. Put the product, for example langoustines, down and hold the kitchen torch at 10-20cm distance.
    3. Burn until the product has the desired colour and serve immediately with the rest of the dish. The result is a perfectly cooked product with a nice burnt off taste.

    sous vide cooking burn off

  • Grilling

    This is one of my favorite ways of finishing because of the typical smoke flavor it creates. Make sure the grill pan or barbecue is hot before you put the product on it. After all, the intention is only to create a golden brown crust and not to cook the product further.

  • Re-cool

    Refrigeration is the process of cooling down a product quickly in order to prevent the growth of bacteria and to extend the shelf life. You do this when you have prepared food, but do not intend to consume it immediately. It is important that this process is carried out quickly.

    Fast means that the product must be cooled from 70 degrees to 3 degrees within 90 minutes. This contributes to both the food safety of the product and to ensuring its texture, taste and nutrients.

  • Regenerate

    Regenerating or reheating sous vide products can be done in different ways. Below are 2 of those ways highlighted:

  1. Method 1:
    Turn on the sous vide device and heat the vacuum packed products in the sous vide container to a temperature of +/- 50 degrees. The product has already been prepared sous vide and only needs to be warmed up, so this low temperature is sufficient. It depends on the product how long it needs to regenerate. The advantage of sous vide is that the product never becomes overcooked because of the constant low temperature.
  2. Method 2:
    Preheat the oven to 120 degrees. Remove the products from the vacuum packaging and place them in the preheated oven. It is important that the oven does not get too hot to prevent the products from overcooking. The advantage of the oven is that the product heats up quickly, but the disadvantage remains that the product overcooks more quickly.

All the possibilities of sous vide cooking

Now that you're familiar with the steps for sous vide cooking of meat, poultry and fish, it's time to discover what other possibilities a sous vide appliance has. For a clear overview of all the possibilities, you can visit our sous vide recipes. The appliance is also perfect for melting chocolate to make the most delicious chocolate strawberries.

Speaking of fruit, that is delicious to prepare sous vide. Something you should try. See the recipe for the pineapple. And what about gin-tonic, the well known drink with juniper berries. In this blog you will learn how to prepare your own gin and tonic sous vide!

Start sous vide cooking today

After all this information, you can't wait to get started. We are happy to help you get started. Get startedright away with the most impressive cooking technique using the sous vide packages. Or check out our extensive range of sous vide equipment here.