Let me tell you a quick story about sous vide cooking.
If you watched the movie “Burnt” you’ll see how sous vide was introduce to the 2-Star Michelin old school chef, who somehow hates that style of cooking.
Well… that’s just movie.
Here’s the real deal…
One of the youngest cooking methods being used today by the best chefs and restaurants in the world would be Sous Vide.
French words that directly translate to under vacuum.
This cooking method first emerged in Europe in the 1970’s and is used to cook food in a tightly controlled temperature, preferably the temperature the food will be served at.
What happens is…
Ingredients are tossed inside a vacuum-sealed bag, placed in a water bath in a temperature controlled steam environment then chilled and quickly seared.
Since this method is non traditional and makes use of plastic bags or sealed containers,
Most people are afraid to adopt this preparation in their own homes…
Due to some misconceptions.
First, they think that Sous Vide is boiling food in a plastic bag
No. Sous Vide is not that.
Sous vide is cooking food in a water bath in temperature not exceeding boiling point. This heat usually ranges from 140°F to 184°F only.
And this temperature can remain the same for long hours or even days if needed until food is cooked.
This is done with the help of a specialized sous vide machine that is computer controlled for precise temperature control hence, allowing you to cook sous vide unattended.
The sealed bag also perfectly holds a humid environment that braises food slowly allowing it to preserve its natural flavor and to create a different texture.
Second, cooking in plastic is never safe
Different cooking methods always have disadvantages but in Sous Vide, only sealed pouches especially made for cooking are used.
This means that only plastic bags or pouches that are BPA and phthalate free are utilized for this method since these types of cooking pouches are found to be food and heat friendly.
And since the US Government has banned plastics containing BPA in 2012, you can be sure that what we have in the market is safe.
However, we must also be open that any cooking method is not always 100% advantageous.
Third, food cooked sous vide are prone to bacteria
Because of being cooked in low temperature?
Two key things when cooking sous vide are temperature and time.
When you get this perfectly, then food will be cooked the way you like and the way it was supposed to be cooked: clean and hygienic for consumption.
While it is true that bacteria are killed in high temperature, the low temperature inside a vacuum-sealed pouch allows for pasteurization of food.
Sous vide also requires that food gets chilled quickly at about 38°F before it can be seared because food becomes prone to bacteria only when it reaches the temperature danger zone which is 40°F to 140° F.
So, the quicker the food is chilled, the less likely it will allow certain bacteria to grow.
Fourth, it is expensive and it cannot cook food well
It is true that modern sous vide appliances today are expensive because of the critical and precise temperature control features they have BUT that does not mean that sous vide cannot be done at home.
Sous vide is perfect if you want to create delectable, tender, and flavorful food and be served with it at the right temperature with less kitchen involvement.
The technique to having evenly cooked and textured food is to cut them in small pieces and to lay them evenly rather than stacking them.
That way, the food, even tough cuts of meat, can reach the core temperature faster.
If you do not have the industrial tools being used and are available in the market, you can still try this by using a pot, stove, a digital thermometer, and resealable plastic bags.
Sous Vide Benefits
Aside that it is deemed useful and effective, there are also a couple of things that can convince you to make sous vide part of your kitchen routine.
This method allows you to prepare several dishes at the same time without you worrying about it being overcooked or dried out.
The computerized precise temperature controller will maintain low temperature as required by the recipe on hours on end.
You can also save more time by cooking in bulk and tossing in the water bath the like-and-like food that will require the same amount of temperature.
Some meat can also be left cooking overnight.
If you are a busy person or you live alone sous vide is perfect in pre cooking ingredients you might need.
In short, this method follows these steps: prepare, cook, chill, then reheat or sear, whatever works best for you.
So, instead of focusing too much on how much time is still left until it reaches the maximum temperature for you to take it out so food does not burn as the case in traditional cooking, you can leave your food braising unattended allowing you to prepare sauces and other side dishes or to attend to other important matters and still be served with a warm dish.
Because this also allows you to plan your food ahead of time, cooking them all together and packing them helps you economize money because aside from increased shelf life, packing food in serving sizes helps you lessen wastes as well.
The tools used for this method is specialized and can be adjusted according to precise recipe temperature requirements.
By being able to control the extent of the temperature food is exposed to and the length it is prepared, this will result in better tenderization and options of which proteins are reduced and retained.
This is because certain vitamins and minerals in food are heat sensitive and it depends on how food is prepared that some are kept and leached out.
Precise temperature also means texture control.
Since this kind of control cannot be achieved by other means of cooking, sous vide assures that connective tissues in meat are cooked well to turn into gelatin making it moist and tender and some food like salmon to reach a texture that is between sushi and medium rare when cooked at 144°F.
And because the water bath is at the same low temperature as the temperature source, there is less likely to be temperature gradient.
This is the process of balancing the rate of heat being transferred to food.
When we cook food, the amount of temperature received is different on the outer edges and in the inside, which means that sometimes it is, needed that food become exposed to higher temperature longer in order for the center to be cooked or tenderized.
Usage of oven or microwave also does not give an exact temperature control as temperature fluctuates by 25°.
As this happens, the result usually is an overcooked outer meat and just right inner meat.
Another good thing about this cooking technique is that it preserves the natural tastes of food so, a little seasoning is required.
The low temperature does not destroy the inner structure of the food and does not drain the juices in there.
In sous vide, fluctuations is only by 1° and the best sous vide tools at a lesser degree.
Using this technique assures that food is cooked evenly and over cooking is nearly impossible.
Is Sous Vide Healthy?
Now that we know it is safe to cook using BPA free bags and some misconceptions are already nullified, let’s go straight to the point.
Is it really healthy?
The straight answer is yes.
Pasteurization and Retention of Nutrients
It has been proven that cooking reduces food nutrients and that cancer-causing chemicals develop in high temperature and dry cooking techniques.
This is true in any cooking method.
Sous vide also reduces nutrients but it retains more of them compared to its other cooking method counterparts.
For instance, when broccoli was cooked sous vide, it only lost 3% of its folate unlike other techniques, which reduced its folate by 20%.
This is due to food being submerged in water bath at low temperature.
At this point, some heat sensitive vitamins and minerals are not totally forced out from food unlike when they are exposed to high temperature.
This high temperature breaks the cellular structure in food including the nutrients stored therein.
Moreover, high temperature causes water to evaporate and this causes water-soluble nutrients to go too. It’s not just the nutrients that are extracted but moist and flavor as well.
Even if food is cooked without reaching the boiling point, the way food is handled in sous vide makes the food we prepare sterile.
The lack of oxygen exposure and the sustained temperature makes pasteurization happen.
It is a process that kills pathogens that cause contamination of food that leads to food poisoning and some food borne illness that according to CDC kills 3000 Americans and hospitalizes over 100, 000 annually.
In fact, chicken cooked using this method can be served clean and safe cooked at 140°F instead of the required 160°F using other cooking techniques.
At this lower temperature, pathogens are already reduced to safe levels at the same time it maintains the chicken’s plumpness and moist.
In addition, most food requires temperature above 140°F in cooking which is very achievable in sous vide, the temperature perfect to kill any existing bacteria as per FDA requirement.
Cooking Safe Polyethylene Vacuum Packs
Since sous vide employs vacuum sealing, it means food are kept inside plastic bags.
In 2012, BPA containing bags have been banned due to their chemical leaching properties that affect food however; recent studies came out saying that even BPA free plastics can still somehow infuse chemicals in food.
This was negated by food gurus and sous vide cooking practitioners like Harold McGee and Harold Myhrvold who claim that for certain, there is no proof that polyethylene made plastic pouches are unsafe for cooking – which is the material used in sous vide packing.
Also, a study published by PPRC also do not find relevance of the transferring of certain Estrogenic chemicals from plastic wraps to boiling water or to food via Sous Vide.
The Sous Vide Health Benefits
The question is if it’s best to consume food sooner as nutrients deplete the moment we take it from the tree, and if cooking reduces these more why do we have to cook at all?
We cannot go as far as eating raw because first, cooking makes some nutrients more readily available.
For example, the phytochemicals present in tomatoes are better consumed when they are cooked and some parts of food that could be indigestible are broken down through cooking.
In line with this, sous vide can be considered a healthy alternative to processed food consumption by professionals or individuals who have less time to prepare better food choices.
As we get exposed to pollution and chemicals used in processed foods, our bodies tend to be prone to certain illnesses due to weakened immune defenses and the buildup of free radicals rid off our healthy cell molecule of enough electrons needed for us to be healthy.
Naturally, our body undergoes oxidation to metabolize oxygen intake.
This causes free radicals, which are also worsened by what we are being exposed to and what we, intake. Free radicals steal electrons from healthy molecules, which results in the destruction of our natural body structure like our DNA, which lead to various diseases.
The lost molecules are restored and these free radicals are destroyed when we have enough vitamins and minerals in the body.
Bad news is nutrients are lost the longer we do not consume them.
So we need a cooking technique that will maximize the nutrient absorption from our food, and sous vide surely minimizes nutrient loss.
First, this cooking technique requires less liquid that actually touches your food. When there is less liquid, the natural moisture and structure of any food is not degraded.
This means that stored nutrients are also kept. Second, this makes use of low temperature.
Some nutrients in food are either heat sensitive or water soluble which equates to them being lost as the liquid we use in cooking gets hotter.
They end up leaching into the liquid and goes directly up in the air as water vapor or directly down the drain as excess cooking fluid.
A study reported that cauliflower and green beans cooked in sous vide did not lose their ascorbic acid content even after fourteen days of storage.
In sous vide, this minimally happens.
Low temperature does not extract the natural juices and the natural nutrients that come with it out out of our food.
These nutrients must be absorbed by the body to take full advantage of what they do in order to boost our immune system and to fight free radicals that destroy our cellular structure.
Moreover, unlike dry cooking methods, sous vide does not encourage growth of cancer causing chemicals.
Real Food Consumption
Aside from this, you can also plan your meals ahead of time.
Since sous vide is a term for pre-cook-chill-then-reheat cooking method, it will give you the option to eat a real full meal instead of preservative-submerged processed food available everywhere.
We cannot blame ourselves for our hectic schedules but that does not give us the right to abuse our body by fueling it with unhealthy food.
Research shows that in 2004, about 65% of American adults are obese due to fast food consumption. That is roughly about 120 Million adults.
Fast Food has higher calories and consuming them gives us more than what we need in a day.
That includes high cholesterol and trans fat, a kind of artificial fat that helps preserve food that lead to cardiovascular diseases and liver failure.
Sous vide will help increase shelf life of the food you prepare in a healthier way: vacuum packing rids the food of oxygen that is needed by any microorganisms and bacteria to survive, it makes use of water instead of oil which means it entails less risky cholesterol and most especially you can be sure that your food intake is clean, sterile, natural, and pasteurized.
Sous Vide Effect on Food
Why do people who recently discovered sous vide decided to keep on using this method?
That is because this cooking technique has high reproducibility of prepared dishes.
This means that they get the same great results every time unlike in traditional cooking where you get a dish perfect today and a bit overcooked the next week.
Because food are not dried out in sous vide unlike in conventional cooking methods, the natural flavors of the food are preserved. Sometimes when these natural juices leach out to the pan, they evaporate.
The vacuum packaging prevents these moisture and flavors to escape allowing them to be permeated back into the food we cook.
So in sous vide, minimal seasoning is actually required.
One of the most frustrating things that can happen to you when you dine is to be excited about eating food and the moment you chew on it you realize that it’s too mushy or rubbery, or worse, it’s raw!
Why do food end up in these terrible conditions?
It is because of how they react to heat.
When we talk about consistency in texture, sous vide can give you that.
The low temperature that sous vide requires, which is usually at the same level with the food’s core, gives any food equal or even doneness.
For example, a steak that is cooked sous vide at 130°F came out tender and juicy unlike when it was cooked in an oven at the same temperature, about 40% of the steak got overcooked and sometimes in traditional cooking, seafood end up with a rubbery texture…
but in sous vide they always come out tender.
Some chefs also found out that eggs end up with custard like consistency at 149°F and fish can be cooked evenly until center with sous vide unlike when you fry it.
They end up with a little over cooked outside because the pan is about 322°F hotter compared to the fish’s original core temperature.
This goes the same with vegetables. They do not become mushy or denatured because they are cooked in low temperature quickly so their moisture is not extracted nor their vitamins.
Researches prove that sous vide cooking is safe and sterile and it will also provide for restaurant level dishes that are readily served warm and delectable at a cheaper price.
So if you are looking for alternative ways to eat healthy real food that is flavorful moist plump or tender but you don’t not want to be too involved in the kitchen;
And make great food – effortless…
It’s time to Try Sous Vide.
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Do Plastic Chemicals Leach into Food in Sous Vide Cooking? (Retrieved January 2016). Retrieved from http://pprc.org/index.php/2013/p2-rapid/do-plastic-chemicals-leach-into-food-from-sous-vide-sv-cooking/
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Photo Credit: Dinner & Drinks (Sous Vide) by star5112 via Flickr