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.
Our good friend Alex Talbot of Ideas in Food was recently in town doing some workshops and a collaboration dinner with Phillip Foss of El Ideas. One of the classes was focused entirely on sous vide. Alex and Phillip were kind enough to let me drop by to snap some pictures and take a few notes.
I was fortunate enough to arrive just as some delicious gluten-free cookies and chocolate cake were emerging from the oven as part of the morning’s gluten-free baking class. After some intensive “taste testing”, it was time to get the 300 series vacuum chamber set up. This was the first one to ever have left PolyScience and we wanted to make sure that all of the settings were ready for class. The guests started to trickle in and we began.
Alex said that when he and his wife Aki first started cooking sous vide, he refused to sear the exterior of the meat, not wanting to compromise doneness. As they pressed on, they explored numerous techniques including pre and post sears, blow torches, frying, pre and post seasoning and brining. As of late, I’ve become a big fan of cryo-frying myself. This is where meat that has been cooking sous vide takes a short dip in a bath of liquid nitrogen, followed by a slightly longer dip in a deep fryer. The result is a uniform sear with virtually no over cook. I shared my thoughts on this with the class and Alex had a great idea that produces a comparable result. He and Aki have had great success with frying chilled-sous vide meat until they’ve developed a nice crust, and then warming it through in a low temperature oven or C-Vap.
One of the things that they’ve taken a stance on is salting prior to sous vide cooking; they’ve found that salting meat prior to cooking tends to cure the meat as it cooks which can dry the meat out and lead to unpleasant textures. In lieu of seasoning meat directly with salt prior to cooking, Aki and Alex have turned to brining. It serves as not only as an opportunity to season, but also to add flavor and moisture. A quick brine is also beneficial for fish and seafood as it rinses the exterior and denatures albumen. Personally, if I am going to cook an serve, I don’t mind seasoning before cooking. If I’m going to cook, chill, and reheat, then I won’t season in advance unless I’m brining.
As a result of their trials, Alex and Aki have come to approach sous vide with a “low, medium, high” setup. 55°-57°C (131°-134°F) works well for meats and fish. It is also a great temperature for breaking down collagen over day-long cooks. 72°C (161.6°F) works well for eggs and 83°-84°C (181.4°-183.2°F) for most fruits and vegetables. This approach sounded incredibly strange to me at first, but after some thought it makes quite a bit of sense, especially in terms of efficiency. Also, this approach lends itself well as a benchmark to use when you aren’t exactly sure what time and temperature you want to cook at.
I’ve always cooked my vegetables and fruit at 85°C (185°F) or higher because pectin breaks down at 85°C (185°F). In the workshop, 84°C (183.2°F) was a revelation. To illustrate this, Pink Lady apples were cooked whole at 84°C for about an hour. The result was a smooth, supple, and purely flavored apple that all the while maintained the crispness of a fresh apple. I was floored.
Sous vide is an empowering tool when combined with other techniques. Once you understand the fundamentals of cooking such as temperature, seasoning, tasting, and how to sear, sous vide will take your cooking to the next level. Alex and Aki take a very unique approach to sous vide cooking – definitely one worth exploring. I’ve been cooking sous vide since 2006 and I can tell you that I walked out of El Ideas brimming with new ideas…
Make sure to follow Alex and Aki along through their website www.ideasinfood.com and pick up their books: Great Recipes and Why They Work and Maximum Flavor.
You can visit Phillip’s Michelin starred restaurant, El Ideas, here: http://elideas.com.