Although I’ve been cooking Sous Vide for over 10 years, I jumped at the chance to attend a CREA-sponsored class led by Bruno Goussault, the Chief Scientist at Cuisine Solutions, Inc. After all, how often do you get a chance to learn directly from the man often referred to as the “Father of Sous Vide Cooking”?
In my case, the CREA (Culinary Research & Education Academy www.lecrea.com ) hosted by Kendall College in November ranks right up there with Bruno’s workshop I attended about 8 years ago alongside Wylie Dufresne and his team from wd~50 and Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s staff from his eponymous award-winning restaurant, Jean-Georges. I hope you get the idea that this was a big deal.
Bruno provided a wide array of thought provoking ideas. I’d like to share a couple of those takeaways in hopes that they will help and inspire you to further explore Sous Vide cooking and its many benefits.
To get started, it’s important to know that Bruno isn’t the kind of guy that let’s you take anything for granted. Instead, he challenges each student to think through all of the culinary ideas they’ve been carrying around and forces you to firm up those that haven’t fully gelled. No detail or idea is apparently too small or fundamental in his quest for culinary perfection.
For example, Bruno’s notion that we cook to “modify the functional properties of food” may seem incredibly obvious, but how many of us have actually thought it through? As we moved through the three-day program, that definition provided direction when evaluating how best to prepare a wide variety of ingredients that are seldom uniform.
We learned, for example, that game can be relatively hard to cook compared to domestic animals because of its elevated lactic acid levels created by physical activity. Consequently, Bruno suggests that we always separate the rabbits we want to eat from ones of the opposite sex at least one week prior to slaughter to eliminate the physical activity they are known to engage in. The more sedate rabbits will taste better than those that were active.
Similarly, not all beef is the same. The cooking times of American versus European beef is a good case-in-point. More specifically, European beef often requires longer cooking times because it is usually slaughtered older and because the US animals have been subjected to practices that increase growth rates and fat content.
Focusing on fish, Bruno suggests that the product should always be salted before cooking to block the unattractive release of albumin through osmotic pressure.
When Bruno prepares vegetables, he always uses an extended vacuum hold to draw air from inside their dense structures. He then adds some fat to absorb aromatics and flavor and cooks at 83C, safely below the 85C where he claims pectin becomes active. In the class we cooked all vegetables for 3 hours. He chills vegetables then re-heats them, even if serving soon after cooking, to retain the aromatic qualities.
Regardless of whether he’s cooking meat, fish or vegetables, Bruno chills the products by first subjecting them to ambient temperatures for 5 minutes, then to an ambient bath for 5 minutes, and finally to an ice bath. For meat and fish he theorizes the process allows re-absorption of fats and gelatin that would not occur if you go directly to an ice bath. In the case of vegetables, he believes that when you open a hot vacuum sealed bag you allow the “perfume” of the product to escape. By cooling the product and reheating to a moderate serving temperature such as 56C, you alternatively retain the aromatics.
Bruno notes that adding ascorbic acid as an antioxidant can help vegetables, especially artichokes, retain their color. Adding lemon will release ascorbic acid, but he warns against squeezing to avoid releasing citric acid. He suggests adding fructose or balsamic to fix the color of beets and other vegetables.
In all of our cooking we used probes to determine actual core temperatures. I personally have a love/hate relationship with probing, but it is the best method to truly understand core temperature. I was pleased that when I compared our PolyScience Sous Vide Toolbox iPhone/iPad application, our predicted temperatures agreed with the probes. Unfortunately you can’t tell that to a health department inspector.
Bruno typically prefers what he calls “Step” Sous Vide Cooking. This is different from the way I have utilized the Sous Vide technique in which I generally have my bath within 1 degree of the desired core temperature. Instead, Bruno will start the cooking process in an 83C bath for a short period (typically 3-5 minutes) and then move the food to a bath set closer to desired core temperature.
I see some advantages to this “Step” approach. First, you kill surface bacteria. Additionally you create some textural variations that can make some foods such as cod or sea bass more varied and interesting.
The list goes on and will be the basis of future postings.
If you have the opportunity to attend one of Bruno’s classes you will leave with a much better understanding of how to cook Sous Vide with great results and safety.