The Sous Vide Surge
Interest in sous vide—a technique in which food is vacuum-sealed in plastic bags and slow-cooked in precise water temperatures—continues to accelerate.
According to Dr. Bruno Goussault—the godfather of sous vide—the technique develops flavors and textures that “simply cannot be duplicated” using other cooking methods.
“Not by braising, roasting, sautéing, deep-frying, broiling, grilling, or poaching,” says Goussault, who began developing the sous-vide method in 1971 and has trained hundreds of chefs in the technique, including Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, and the late Charlie Trotter.
Goussault says meats and seafood are particularly well-suited for sous vide, as vacuum-sealing the food seizes its natural juices, thereby tenderizing the product, minimizing shrinkage, and producing deep, natural flavors sans the addition of herbs, spices, or seasonings. Best of all, Goussault says the sous-vide technique provides a repeatable result and removes frustrating guesswork from cooking, which he terms a godsend to professional chefs working in high-volume kitchens. As a result, chefs have more time to spend on side dishes and creative presentation, while also achieving labor savings and curtailing waste.
“Once a sous-vide recipe is perfected, it can be replicated over and over again because it is a very controlled technique,” says Goussault, the chief scientist at Cuisine Solutions, a premium-foods company that specializes in sous-vide cooking.
Sous vide’s benefits continue attracting new converts, says Philip Preston, president of PolyScience, a manufacturer of sous-vide equipment. Over the last decade, Preston says annual sales growth has approached 20 percent, and a “down” year for sales of PolyScience’s sous-vide equipment would be a 10 percent increase.
“The ability to bring precision into the kitchen is the real driving force here,” Preston says.
Acclaimed chef Jean Joho first learned the sous-vide technique more than 20 years ago. At Everest, Joho’s high-end Chicago eatery, he uses the technique with vegetables. At Brasserie JO in Boston, he applies the technique to seafood.
“When you learn how to apply the technique, you get consistency and efficiency, which are two results of great value in the professional kitchen,” Joho says.
Despite sous vide’s benefits, many remain on the sidelines, content to stick to mainstream preparation methods and shunning an investment in sous vide’s necessary tools—a thermal immersion circulator, a vessel and lid, a chamber vacuum sealer, food-grade plastic vacuum pouches, a thermometer, and a hypodermic temperature probe. Additionally, restaurants must be prepared to invest in the necessary training, which requires a solid understanding of microbiology.
“It takes extensive experience and expertise to find the perfect internal temperature and cooking time for dishes while not compromising safety,” Goussault says.
At Cuisine Solutions’ educational arm, the Culinary Research & Education Academy, Goussault and his team continue conducting new research on texture, packaging, temperature, and ingredients, while also training a growing legion of chefs from around the world on sous-vide preparatiion.