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Is Sous-Vide For You?

One of the major trends to hit the food world in the past few years has been the mainstream acceptance of sous-vide cooking techniques. Restaurant supply stores have been carrying sous vide equipment for some time--but from its popularization in molecular gastronomy circles, it’s become well-known enough now to be accessible even to home cooks, enough so that people from all circles of the cooking and foodie world have begun wondering whether it is worth it for them to pick up the sometimes-pricey tools of the trade. To answer that question, we’ll take a look at what sous-vide cooking is, how it works, and what the benefits are. Sous-vide (French for ‘under vacuum’) cooking at its most basic is simply a technique of placing an item to be cooked in a vacuum-sealed plastic or glass pouch or container, and cooking it in a water bath of a specific temperature. The technique was once reserved for professionals only, but as it has become more popular in the mainstream food media, products for home cooks have emerged and gradually become more affordable. Both aspects of sous-vide cooking are important: vacuum-sealing the food item into its container is just as vital as the water bath for achieving the desired result. It is not quite the same as poaching or pressure-cooking items, but it has some of the benefits of both. The first major benefit of sous-vide cooking is that it brings and keeps the item being cooked at a specific temperature and doneness. Exposure to direct heat sources means that whatever is cooked can much more easily end up overdone, resulting in waste, and the vacuum sealing means that the food remains fresher for a longer period of time. In addition to this basic benefit, sous-vide cooking allows foods to maintain the height of flavor and texture: the juices and aromatic ingredients that are sealed into the bag with the food have nowhere to go but into the food itself. The lack of overcooking risk also means that the texture of the finished item will remain consistent--no hardened areas or dried-out parts. By cooking an item to exactly the degree of doneness that it is best at--or cooking it slightly below that doneness and finishing the item over direct heat--chefs and home cooks alike can get the best possible result without having to fuss and worry about the items. In addition, sous-vide cooking allows for more flavorful finished dishes from sometimes bland ingredients, because the packet can be stuffed not just with--for example--chicken breast but also aromatic ingredients to infuse into the breast. Rosemary, lemon, thyme, tomatoes, garlic--whatever the chef desires--can be added into the bag or jar with the rest of the ingredients to be cooked, and the pressure from the vacuum seal means that there is more contact between the flavorings and the food, ensuring thorough penetration. There is nowhere for the aromatic compounds to go except for the target food itself. With those benefits in mind, it’s worth looking into sous-vide equipment from a restaurant supply store. While there are individual companies marketing both to home chefs and to professional settings, a well-stocked supply company will have a range of products available for any-size need. At the most basic, sous-vide cooking requires the pouches, bottles, or jars for the target food to be cooked in, a vacuum sealer, a temperature-safe container for the water, and some source of precision heat. While it’s possible, certainly, to maintain consistent heat on a cooktop, it’s much easier to use one of the many sous vide products that allow for circulation of water at precise temperatures. Once you’ve made the decision to incorporate sous-vide cooking into your repertoire, there are as many options available as there are ideas in your mind for how to use the equipment. All kinds of foods, from eggs to vegetables to proteins, can benefit from the sous-vide treatment; while grains are trickier to produce in this method, it is far from impossible--and the ability to infuse intense flavors into the finished dish is, of course, a major perk. Find a reputable restaurant supply store and take a look at what they have available, and discover the benefits that sous-vide cooking can give you.
2018-05-07 00:00:00
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