Regular visitors will know that I am a great admirer of part-chef part-mad scientist Heston Blumenthal. His understanding of palate, along with questioning the status quo in kitchen techniques sheds new light on conventional wisdom. He, along with contemporaries Joël Robuchon, Thomas Keller among others have pushed one particular method to the forefront: sous-vide.

The phrase literally means “under vacuum” and refers to the process of bagging the ingredient in a vacuum-sealed pouch and leaving in a water bath at low temperatures for a few hours. For example a regular beef steak can be cooked medium-rare at 55° in about 2½ hours. It can be performed with meat, fish or vegetables. But why invest all this time? It has the advantage of intensifying flavours as they cook in their own juices. Furthermore, overcooking is nigh-on impossible as the temperature is maintained, ensuring a tender and desirable texture.

The concept has been bubbling around for quite a while in the trade, but has only come to the forefront in the last five years or so. It seemed that during the wonderful Hairy Bikers Tour of Great Britain every professional kitchen they visited were using a water bath of some description. I felt sure it couldn’t be long before a home model was available, and what do you know there’s now one on the way for about £300. I’m sure in about five years it’ll be old hat and come branded with Anthony Worral-Thompson’s face on for £20, but for now the price is a little out of my range. On the current series of Great British Menu almost every chef is doing boil-in-the-bag. I’m very interested in the process though, so am looking to recreate this at home. Is the fuss worth it?

I was particularly spurred on by EatSoup’s weekly mailout (well worth subscribing to!), highlighting the domestic gadget and it’s uses. There’s an interesting site over at which documents some techniques and other ways to try it out. As a newbie I’m intrigued by the slow cooker as the nearest thing I can retain at a low temperature. After some faffing I figured out that I can maintain a steady 55C on the “low” setting of my cheap-ass slow cooker. I haven’t cooked anything with this yet… but I definitely will. Soon.

Further reading:

An absurdly brilliant and comprehensive study of sous-vide

Heston demonstrates the home sous-vide machine

A French student’s journeys through sous-vide

Sous vide with a beer cooler (‘chilly bin’ in my house)

Raymond Blanc discusses his love for the technique

The Guardian’s Alex Renton tries out a home version


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