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Top Tips for Sous Vide Cooking

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Learn to love sous vide cooking

Do you love eating fish, but are never too happy about cooking it?

Do you love slow cooked duck, but have never tried cooking it at home?

Or do you like to experiment with new tastes and flavours?

If any of these sound like you, have you ever tried cooking sous vide? This method of cooking is not just something chefs use, it is great for cooking everyday, whatever style of food you like. Add one to your wish list.

I just checked when we got our first sous vide – it was 7 years ago. At that time, there were not many affordable options available, so my husband built his own! Whilst he definitely had fun doing that, I am not going to suggest you go down that route. After a year or so, we took the plunge and bought a ‘proper’ one.

Sous Vide Supreme

Sous Vide Supreme

We use our Sous Vide Supreme machine at least twice a week. One of my favourite dishes is duck – see the recipe below.

The sous vide machine

Today there’s a great choice of sous vide machines. But, essentially they all work in the same way. You fill your sous vide machine up with water and pre-heat to a set temperature. (There are machines that come without the water container, you simply put the machine into the container you have already).

Vacuum packing sweet potato for the sous vide

Vacuum packing sweet potato

Vacuum packing

You vacuum pack the food you want to cook. This step is essential. Standard vacuum pack machines are available from about £42. Specially ribbed bags made of thick plastic are used.  Buying the bags on a roll is most cost effective as you can tailor the bag exactly to the size of  what you’re cooking. If you are scrupulously careful, you can wash the bags in the dishwasher and reuse them.

Mackerel Cooked Sous vide

Mackerel Cooked Sous vide

Why the food tastes great

It seems that chefs are divided, old school Pierre Kaufmann says that sous vide cooking is stupid. He appears to connect using sous vide with lack of skills. However, renowned chef Heston Blumenthal said that “Sous vide cooking is the single greatest advancement in cooking technology for decades.”

Purely and simply, when food is cooked sous vide, all the flavour and moisture is retained. Use the best ingredients you can and you’ll be very pleased with the result.

Of course, since moisture is the key, there are foods that won’t taste great. Anything that needs to be crisp should be made differently.

How it differs at home

Many chefs use sous vide cooking as one part of the process of creating the dish. They may cook at a low temperature for a relatively short length of time, then brown the meat just before serving. At home, you’re more likely to make a separate sauce, take the meat or fish out of the bag, add the juices to the sauce, heat together and it’s done! I’ve discovered that chefs are often happy to share tips on how they cook sous vide – just ask!

Top Tips

Choose your sous vide machine to fit

We leave our sous vide machine out at all times but it could be rather large for some kitchens at 11 litres, Andrew James make one at half that size for an affordable price.

An alternative is to purchase a stick version like the Joule from Chef Steps which will take up very little space. It’s apparently the smallest and most intelligent sous vide available.

Check the temperature and the time

Cooking food at the right temperature and for the right length of time is essential. We generally cook fish at 60ºC for 30 minutes. However, we cook duck legs at 70ºC for 24 hours. You will find that temperature suggestions vary. There are two excellent guides from Sousvide Tools and Chef Steps:

Sousvide Tools downloadable temperature guide

Chef Steps online temperature guide.

Cooking in a sauce is tricky

Whilst there are ways and special bags to cook the food in sauces, it is tricky. When you vacuum pack the food before cooking and you’ve too much liquid it gets sucked up and any hope of sealing the bag is gone – it won’t seal if it’s wet. It’s simply easier to cook your sauce separately at least until you are experienced. You can upgrade to a vacuum pack machine that can cope with liquids. 

Don’t mix ingredients

Vegetables, meat and fish all cook at different temperatures. Vegetables for example needed to be cooked at least 80ºC. So cook the main part of the dish in the sous vide machine.

Be ready to cool down or heat up

Once your food is cooked, if you’re not going to eat it straight away, put the unopened pack in ice cold water to cool down the place in the fridge. Equally, make sure the food is piping hot when you eat it.

Be patient (and organised)

Some cuts of meat can take days to cook at low temperatures so you definitely need to think ahead and be comfortable with leaving the machine on for that time when you’re not likely to be around. It will be fine! It is totally safe and uses very little electricity.

What can I make in the sous vide machine?

You might be surprised what works well in the sous vide machine

Gently make Glogg (Swedish mulled wine) – no vacuum sealer required.

Swedish Rice Pudding

Swedish Rice Pudding

Cook comforting Risgrynsgröt (rice pudding) or pumpkin custards

Pumpkin custard - pumpkin pie without the crust

Pumpkin custard – pumpkin pie without the crust

or Infuse Vodka

Recipe: Duck Legs with Red Onion Cider Sauce and Apple Crisps

If you love the flavour of confit duck without the excessive amount of fat, cooking sous vide is definitely for you. If you make it in advance and cool the duck, it’s very easy to remove any excess fat. You will be bowled over by the result.  Apple crisps make a great addition, but you can leave them out

Duck with Red Onion Cider Sauce and Apple Crisps

This recipe gives you the incredible flavour of confit duck but is cooked sous vide. I used Thatcher's cider for this dish. Seek out a cider that is not too sweet if you need to use an alternative. 
Course Main Course
Cuisine British
Keyword duck, sous vide, sousvide
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Sousvide 1 day
Total Time 1 hour
Servings 2
Author breadbakerdanielle

Ingredients

  • 2 duck legs
  • 200 gr red onion
  • 500 ml Thatchers Redstreak cider or similar
  • 1 tbs olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 star anise
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 2 dessert apples optional
  • walnut oil
  • 50 gr butter

Instructions

  • Pre heat your sous vide machine to 70ºC
  • Season the duck legs with a pinch of salt and pepper, rubbing it into the skin. You'll brown the skin once it is cooked. Vacuum seal the duck legs in one bag. 
  • Place the duck legs into the sous vide machine and ensure they are under the water. Cook for 24 hours. Check once or twice during the cooking time to ensure they are still below the water.
  • The sauce can be made at any time during the 24 hour cooking time. 
    Chop the onions
  • In a heavy bottomed pan, add 1 - 2 tbs of oil. Heat gently then add the onions. Cover with a lid and cook slowly until really soft. This will take at least 10 minutes. Check occasionally to ensure the mixture is not burning
  • Crush the cardamom pods. Easiest way is to place a cooking knife on top and hit the knife with your hand. 
  • Add the star anise, cardamom pods and garlic to the pan. Add half the bottle of cider (250 ml) and allow to cook slowly. The sauce should be just bubbling. 
    Are you and Old Rascal or more of a Redstreak or Rose drinker?
  • After about 10 minutes, remove the garlic, star anise and cardamom pods and add the rest of the cider. Cook for a further 10 minutes. At this point the sauce will be quite thick. You can add more water for a more runny sauce. 
  • Test for seasoning and add salt or pepper to taste. Set aside. Cool and place in fridge if not using immediately
  • The apple crisps can be made at any time during the 24 hour cooking time. 
    Preheat the oven to 175ºC. Wash and slice the apples very thinly (it helps to leave the skin on) and place in water to avoid browning whilst you cut the rest. 
    Thin apple slices ready for the oven
  • Remove the cores from each slice retaining as much of the shape as possible. Brush with walnut oil on both sides and place on a tray topped with baking parchment to avoid sticking. 
  • Place in the oven and cook until lightly golden. This will very much depend on your oven - at least 30 minutes. Keep an eye on them as they will suddenly start to burn. 
  • Cool then store in airtight container until required. The slices are not as crisp as a potato crisp
  • Prepare any accompaniments to the duck such as potatoes or vegetables. 
  • Finish the duck. 
    Take the duck out of the sous vide machine. If you are not ready to serve the duck dunk it in cold water in the bag and store in the fridge. The benefit of this is that any fat will set and make it easier to remove. 
  • When you are ready, gently heat the butter in a frying pan and brown the duck skin. Ensure the meat is hot right through and golden brown. Meanwhile, add any juices from the bag to your sauce and reheat. Re check the seasoning. 
  • Serve the sauce to the side of the duck and add the apple crisps. 

Many thanks to Caroline von Schmalensee of Edinburgh Foody for the pictures of her sous vide dishes.

Duck in Cider Sauce cooked sous vide
Duck in Cider Sauce cooked sous vide

Recipe: White fish with rose wine sauce, cooked sous vide

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