Sous Vide Cooking for Commercial Kitchens

Sous Vide Cooking for Commercial Kitchens

The sous vide (literally translated “under vacuum”) method of cooking started in the 1970s and has been gradually gaining acceptance ever since. It’s now rare to find a top-grade kitchen that doesn’t use the method to some degree or other.

It’s not hard to see why: sous vide cooking gives chefs better control and precision while preserving taste, flavour and texture into the bargain.

What is Sous Vide Cooking?

Cooking sous vide involves vacuum-sealing sealing the food in a plastic pouch. Then you immerse the sealed food in a water bath set at a precise temperature and for a precise time until it’s cooked to your specifications.

There are three factors at play here that separates sous vide cooking from other cooking methods.

First, the food is hermetically sealed, so nothing gets in and nothing gets out, locking in and concentrating the flavours.

Second, the food cooks at temperatures much lower than those of conventional cooking, breaking down the muscle fibres without squeezing out the juices.

 Third and finally, a long cooking time ensures that the inside is properly cooked to exactly the desired temperature and doneness – and no further.

A steak, for example, is cooked to the exact temperature that muscle fibres break, around 130°F, which is also the temperature at which significant bacteria die, provided the cooking time is long enough. Cooked this way the steak is tender, retains all its juices and red colour and is ready for a quick searing to give the exterior a tan.

Vegetables too benefit from being cooked at temperatures below boiling point. As the cell walls don’t burst they stay crisp and firm.

Vacuum sealed food for sous vide cooking

Why should restaurants be using sous vide cooking?

For those used to the routine of grilling, roasting and sautéing, the idea of sous vide cooking may need a little getting used to, and the advantages claimed for it can begin to sound a little like a TV infomercial.

But these advantages are real and compelling:

For a start, using this method you’re never going to burn your food, or even over-cook it. If you put a steak, for example, in a bath set at 140°, it won’t ever go past that temperature.

You don’t have to constantly monitor the degree of doneness; you can set the time and temperature, then walk away to get on with other tasks.

Flavour is completely preserved. The food marinates and cooks in its own juices and added seasoning: nothing is lost in the cooking process. Foods retain their colour, all their vitamins and trace elements.

A traditionally cooked steak loses up to 40% of its volume due to moisture loss. With sous vide all the moisture is retained, so cooking losses are eliminated

Consistent tenderness: meat cooked at conventional temperatures causes the connective tissue surrounding the muscle fibres to tighten, squeezing the fibres causing water loss, which in turn causes the meat to toughen. With sous vide cooking even the cheaper cuts like tri-tip or chuck, become tender.

It reduces spoilage and waste, cuttings down on expenses.

Reduced labour costs and improved flexibility: Once staff are trained, sous vide cooking is remarkably straightforward. Cooking can be done on any day of the week and at any time of day.

Energy efficient: Sous vide equipment uses only a fraction of the energy compared to conventional techniques for the same menu item.

Sous vide cooked foods

What equipment is needed start commercial sous vide cooking?

To go the sous vide route you’ll need a way to vacuum seal your food and a container for water that can be kept at a very precise temperature.

Vacuum Sealers

The vacuum sealer removes air – or more crucially, oxygen – from the bag and seals it tightly. This makes the bags totally waterproof so you don’t have to worry about water seeping in and diluting or ruining food.

You will also need a supply of the appropriate plastic bags. Bags made from industry standard BPA-free polystyrene is recommended.

There are three basic types of vacuum sealers: chamber, external and trigger. To find out more about them and decide which one would best suit you see our Vacuum Sealer Buyer Guide.

Immersion Circulator

An immersion circulator is a device that you insert into a water container of any description. It heats the water to a precise temperature, keeps the water circulating and holds it there for a pre-set length of time.

Sous Vide Cooker

Larger volumes may call for the use of a sous vide cooker, which is a stand-alone unit that combines the functions of the immersion circulator with an insulated water container.

Immersion circulator or sous vide cooker? Both options offer varying volume capacities and levels of sophistication. As with all kitchen equipment, you’ll have to look at your budget, menu and volume before selecting the best unit for your operation.

Vacuum sealer, immersion circulator, insulated tank and sous vide cooker

The Sous Vide Method

The basic method is quite simple:

· Prepare ingredients and additional flavours - seasonings, spices, butter, flavoured oil, marinade, fresh herbs, infused spirits.

· Place in the plastic pouch and vacuum seal. Place into the water bath system and set the cooking time and temperature. Choosing the right time and temperature settings is simplified by referring to sous vide cooking charts and tables supplied by the equipment manufacturer or from other reputable sources.

· Once removed from the water the cooked food can be cooled and refrigerated for later use. Or the food is removed from the pouch, patted dry and then seared in a pan, under the broiler or on the grill, to get that tasty and attractive caramelized surface.

Recommended cooking times for sinewy cuts like beef shanks or oxtail can run into days rather than hours.

What types of food can be prepared using sous vide?

Protein is the obvious candidate here: overcooking a steak or slab of halibut wastes time and money. But eggs, vegetables and even fruits are all  successfully cooked the sous vide way.

The field is wide open to experimentation, limited only by your imagination.

Written by Charles Bruce-Thompson

Various foods vacuum sealed