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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
Cook comforting Risgrynsgröt (rice pudding) or pumpkin custards
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
- 2 duck legs
- 200 grams red onion
- 500 millilitres Thatchers Redstreak cider or similar
- 1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 star anise
- 4 cardamom pods
- 2 dessert apples optional
- walnut oil
- 50 grams butter
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.