What if I told you, I could cook you a steak to the exact temperature you’d like, and I wouldn’t even have to keep an eye on it? Science fiction? More like non-fiction thanks to the invention of modern gastronomy. Cue: Low temperature cooking and sous vide techniques.
A lot of people have heard of sous vide cooking thanks to people like Dave Arnold and Wylie Dufresne, but low temperature cooking is a different technique. Sous vide literally translates to “under vacuum” and sucks the air out of the food and bag it’s placed in so you get an air-tight seal.
Chef Henrie was our mad scientist for the day, and he was demonstrating how sous vide changes the texture and flavor of produce. When he slipped some watermelon in a bag, and put it in the sous vide machine (which looks more like a cotton candy machine), it emerged as this glossy stick of fruit—one that looked like it had been ccoked a glacer, or rubbed with a sugary syrup.
And the taste? Well, the bite of the untouched watermelon had the consistency of Styrofoam, while the sous vide watermelon was intenser in flavor and denser in texture.
The perks of cooking things in air-tight bags are obvious: It lowers the risk of bacterial infection; extends the lifespan on produce; eliminates oxidation; cuts down on the mess of splattering grease if you were to use another cooking method like frying or sautéing; and it helps to keep you organized in the kitchen.
So what’s low temperature cooking? The art of cooking a product so that it’s final internal temperature is the same temperature as the warm water bath. And that’s made possible with a circulator. A neat tool that circulates hot air around the water to evenly cook your ingredients. You can cook sous vide proucts in low temperature, but you don’t need a sous vide machine to do so. You can tightly wrap whatever you feel like cooking—steak, vegetables, fruit—in plastic wrap or a plastic bag, and you’ll get the same effect.
Chefs have a lot of fun with this toy because you set the temperature you want your meat to cook to, and the machine does the work for you. Chef Henrie was talking about how he cooks fish using low temperature, but puts the fish in a bag with duck fat. That triggered the guys next to me let out a groan that didn’t seem appropriate for a kitchen.
When we finally started to pass around the steak, Tom and Vaugh, our two classmates with the biggest appetites, were like puppies begging at the dining room table. Their eyes followed that dish as it was passed from student to student.
TIP OF THE DAY: If using a sous vide machine, make sure all liquids you vacuum seal are cold. The pressure buildup in the machine makes liquid boil, so if your liquid isn’t ice cold, you could end up cooking your meat before you even submerge it in a hot water bath during low temperature cooking.