When I thought about reactivating Kochfreunde.com back then, one of my resolutions was to deal with more complex topics more intensively. That is, areas in which I have not yet formed a final opinion, techniques to which I have not yet had access, or products and devices that I have not yet used or processed. So there’s nothing more obvious than to start with a sous-vide thematic shear point, because there is new territory to be discovered throughout…
What exactly is “sous-vide”?
Sous-vide is the process of cooking products slowly at a low temperature in a vacuum package. Usually, a water bath with a stable temperature is used for this purpose.
When the scholars argue
Few topics currently drive and divide the culinary world as much as vacuum cooking at low temperature. Strict supporters argue with consistent deniers, some restaurants shine with excellent results and creative innovation, others use the vacuumed pouches for more efficient pre-production, aiming more for economic than culinary effects.
In two current books, which I read more or less in parallel, exactly the opposite is propagated: While Modernist Cuisine is filled with tips, basics and sous-vide recipes, Magnus Nilsson’s new Fäviken cookbook consistently, downright contemptuously rejects this method. Too little authentic, too smooth, too technical. Only direct heat is true heat, Nilsson writes. And the crazy thing is: both views make perfect sense to me from their respective perspectives.
A wide field. Reason enough to cover this topic in all due depth in the coming weeks, starting with the basics, the technology, a few words about the chemical and physical processes during cooking, the equipment, the safe way of working – and of course selected recipes and the resulting personal impressions and assessments. In addition, I hope for in-depth insights and outlooks from proven experts.
For my first steps, I have thankfully been provided with two units from fusionchef by Julabo, one of the leading manufacturers of professional sous-vide equipment. Of course, I will also go into more detail about the Pearl and Diamond fusion head. My setup is supplemented by an entry-level vacuum cleaner.
The sous-vide history
The method as practiced today was developed in France in the 1970s. Georges Pralus, chef at Troisgros, in Roanne, first used this form of preparation for foie gras. Primarily, however, to save costs or to cook the product with as little weight loss as possible. However, earlier records also go back to 1799, when Sir Benjamin Thompson (Count Rumford) cooked a piece of lamb at low temperature for three hours, but was not satisfied with the result.
Rather by chance, however, the cooking process continued throughout the night and gave a sensational result the next day, completely unexpected.
In his 1802 essay, Thompson already stated the following conclusion: The advantage that would result from an application of the late brilliant discoveries in Philosophical Chemistry, and other branches of Natural Philosophy and Mechanics, to the improvement of the Art of Cookery, are so evident, and so very important, that I cannot help flattering myself that we shall soon see some enlightened and liberalminded person of the profession take up the matter in earnest, and give it a thoroughly scientific investigation.
However, many other forms of indirect cooking can be found in much earlier records in almost every place in the world. So also in traditional European cuisine, for example, in the en papillote or al cartoccio techniques. In the Asian region, cooking in banana (and many other) leaves is proven and, above all, very gentle tradition. And very early civilizations used clay pots to slowly cook tough meat until soft.
Many of the old methods were based on experience and, of course, the constant transmission of recipes and methods. Today, moreover, a large fund of scientific superstructure is available to the interested cook. In this way, the relevant temperatures of the denaturation points of individual proteins can be achieved precisely to the second decimal place, thus enabling dishes and variations that were simply not feasible in the past. This does not always have to be good – but it is by no means always bad.
On the subject of sous-vide, the following articles have appeared on Kochfreunde.com so far:
Asparagus sous vide
Sous-vide: pork belly in 42 hours
Sous-vide: The three best cookbooks
Sous-vide: Rib eye
Sous-vide Fundamentals – the CREA Online Course
Sous-vide: The Onsen Egg
For more intensive insights into the basics I recommend the following links:
Cooking for Geeks (from page 333)
Harvard Science & Cooking: Sous-vide Cooking, a State of Matter
Medellitin, food blog focusing on modernist cuisine and sous-vide.
Category Sous-vide in the blog double sugar
A Practical Guide to Sous-vide Cooking by Douglas E. Baldwin.