03 Feb 11 Now home cooks can try the sous vide method
There is a kitchen gadget that is pretty much guaranteed to produce meals of extraordinary quality. It will cook a tough beef joint such as brisket so it is tender and tasty while still medium-rare. It produces fish with a clean, pure flavour and perfect al dente texture.
Vegetables from the gizmo are fresh, juicy and bright in colour. Moreover, you can achieve these miracles without careful timing or fussing over the process. Five minutes one way or the other won’t make much difference. You just leave the machine to get on with it.
This miraculous method is called sous vide (French for “under pressure”). Essentially, it involves a tank of hot water that cooks vacuum-packed foods at a precise temperature. Even if you haven’t heard of it before, it is highly likely that you will have eaten sous vide food. It is so simple and reliable that many pubs use the technique for shrink-wrapped meals, often pre-prepared by commercial suppliers. Curiously, sous vide is also used by some of the world’s top chefs.
The innovator who discovered the possibilities of the technique is a culinary scientist called Bruno Goussault. As early as 1972, he was exploring its benefits for the Wimpy chain. “Sous vide ushers us into the realm of temperature control so far unprecedented,” he says. “It is likely to amaze us in the future as more chefs embrace it for their imaginative ends.” Indeed, sous vide is now an essential weapon in the culinary artillery of such stellar names as Ferran Adria, Joël Robuchon, Heston Blumenthal and Charlie Trotter. “Precision heating offers unprecedented control over texture and flavour,” explains Thomas Keller, chef/proprietor of Per Se in New York and the French Laundry in Napa Valley, in his book Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide.
But this culinary magic comes at a price. The US-made SousVide Supreme, described as “the first countertop water oven designed for the home kitchen”, costs £349 and requires a fair bit of space. It is much the same size as a microwave oven. You will also need a vacuum sealer (£99) from the same manufacturer. And you need plenty of time for cooking. Sous vide is the polar opposite of Jamie’s 30-minute meals. Forty-eight hours at 57C is recommended for brisket, belly pork takes 12 hours at 82C, while a boiled egg achieves perfection in a mere 60 minutes at 62.5C. To prevent the contraction of illnesses caused by anaerobic bacteria, such as botulism, which can multiply in air-free environments and survive low-temperature cooking, food should be fresh and cold when sealed and served soon after cooking.