Cooking meat is hard. At least it is for me, the girl with a perpetual fear of eating and/or serving meat that’s slimy and pink in the middle. When cooking meat on the stove top or grill, I stand over it like a micromanaging boss, constantly assessing the doneness. Once the meat appears that it might, just maybe, be cooked through, I’ll give it a few gentle thwacks with my spatula to test for meat solidity. If it’s not too jiggly, I cut one of the pieces in half to check for pinkness. More often than not, this process continues until all pieces of protein have been cut down into quarters and the exterior of the meat is slightly overdone. This is not an exact science, and as an anal Type A, I hate that. Long ago, I declared the oven as my preferred method for cooking whole pieces of protein. It’s not perfect, but with a meat thermometer and a steady oven temperature I can get the meat done to my liking most of the time.
The problem with the oven, as with other traditional cooking methods, is that the heat source blasts the food from the exterior. Even when executed well, these cooking methods leave a small window of time to reach your desired doneness, and by the time the center of the meat comes to temperature, the exterior is often overcooked. Sous-vide (pronounced soo-veed) is an innovative cooking method that eliminates all of this guesswork by utilizing a low-temperature water bath. French for “under vacuum,” the much buzzed about sous-vide cooking process starts with sealing fresh meats or produce in air-tight single-use food-grade plastic bags, which are then immersed in a water bath and cooked low and slow.
This process enables the heat to move evenly around the food, slowly cooking, as it brings the entire food item, outside and in, to a consistent temperature. Since the food is vacuum sealed in its bag, no juices, flavors, or nutrients are lost during the cooking process; the food is infused with its own natural juices and sugars as it cooks, resulting in a final product that’s juicy, tender, and evenly cooked throughout.
Water bath temperatures and total cooking times vary based on the type of food, thickness, and the level of doneness you seek. For example, a salmon filet might cook at 140°F for twenty minutes, a chicken breast at 143°F for sixty minutes, and a two-inch steak filet at 135°F for three hours.
While the harsh heat used in other cooking methods causes protein to constrict and seize up, the gentle sous-vide water bath does not. Thus, there’s no need to let the meat rest before slicing. Prior to eating meat cooked sous-vide, most people prefer to sear the protein in a skillet to caramelize the exterior surfaces. Alternatively, once cooked, the plastic packages can be refrigerated or frozen and eaten later.
Sous-vide machines have been used for many years in upscale restaurants and recently started making their way into fast-casual kitchens (even Chipotle cooks sous-vide!). The method of cooking eliminates the guess-work and potential for human error present when using traditional cooking methods. This means chefs no longer need the finger test to check steak doneness by comparing the texture of the filet to the fleshyness of their palms.
The cost of a good sous-vide machine can range from several hundred dollars to over a grand, leaving most home kitchens, including mine, sans sous-vide. But don’t fret if a sous-vide machine is not in your budget: tons of sous-vide-prepared meals–from lamb shanks to 72-hour spare ribs–are available for purchase online through Cuisine Solutions.
Have you cooked sous-vide before? Chances are you’ve eaten sous-vide meat without even knowing it!
This post was sponsored by CuisineSolutions.com. Check them out!