What is Sous Vide Cooking?
Most people have never heard of “sous vide,” or have only just heard about it recently. But it was actually invented in the 1970s (and some even credit older iterations of the technique to chefs more than 200 years ago). Sous Vide is a method of cooking which has become more popular recently, thanks to its adoption by top chefs as an important and revolutionary method of cooking.
Although it was developed over 40 years ago, it has taken some time for the state of the technology to improve to the point where it can be used practically in busy commercial, and home kitchens. Now that it’s viable for serious use, the high quality of results have made it popular among top chefs and home gourmets alike.
The term “sous vide” is French, and literally means “under vacuum.” This name is used because part of the process includes packaging the food in vacuum sealed plastic bags, without air. In spite of this, the vacuum packing is not the most important part of the process! The key point is actually the temperature control – sous vide depends on cooking foods at a carefully controlled temperature (most machines allow you to control the tempurature by one-half a degree or less) over a long period of time.
In order to get the best results, this requires computer controlled heating, so that the temperature is steady all the way through the cooking process. In the 1970s, the state of computer technology made this method impractical for most applications, but today it is a trivial challenge from a technical point of view. Indeed, as you can see in our comprehensive review of the most popular sous vide machines, there are many great choices available.
Sous vide was developed with one goal in mind – to produce the most delicious, tasty food as simply as possible! It is backed by some serious food science – proteins that are heated slowly are able to transform into more elastic forms, which are tender instead of tough. Vegetables which are heated slowly retain much of their rich flavor, which would otherwise be boiled or steamed away. Overall, sous vide cooking results in food that is more flavorful and tender, which are qualities which we all enjoy in fine dining.
Tangible Health Benefits of Sous Vide Cooking
In addition to the epicurean values of sous vide cooking, there are some very important health benefits of sous vide cooking that you will be delighted to learn about.
Nutrients are Preserved
We all know that certain foods are rich in high quality nutrients that can give you more energy, boost your immune system and help you to avoid disease. But unfortunately, the methods we use to cook these foods can actually spoil, destroy, or greatly reduce the numbers of these nutrients.
During the normal process of high temperature cooking, certain nutrients in the food (both organic and mineral) are damaged or lost. For instance, delicate essential fats are damaged and rendered useless by the aggressive action of high temperatures in conventional cooking methods.
At the same time, water soluble nutrients (such as vitamins and minerals) are typically lost at high temperatures through evaporation and as juices leave the food. This includes anti-oxidants, which are essential for maintaining a healthy immune system and help to prevent diseases including cancer.
This process of nutrient depletion under high temperature happens in meats and also in vegetables.
In addition, the cellular structure of vegetables suffer damage during the process of high temperature cooking which can lead to the loss of nutrients stored within these structures. This is why raw food advocates tell you not to cook anything. While, we don’t go that far, if we are going to cook our veggies, we prefer sous vide.
When food is cooked the sous vide way, these harmful changes are very much reduced (because they are caused by high temperatures). Also, juices have nowhere to run – they are trapped inside a bag! This is really good news for us, because it means that the food keeps more of its healthy and essential nutrients.
No Need for Added Oil
No butter or oil was used to sous vide this pork roast, and look how succulent it is:
With the harsh temperatures used in conventional cooking, oils are necessary to protect the food from the searing, burning effect of the hot metal surfaces. While the oil does protect the food from burning, it can be very unhealthy for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, adding cooking grade oil to food increases the cholesterol and calories in the food.
Secondly, as oil is raised to high temperatures, the molecular structure of the fatty acids begin to break down (this process is called denaturing). Oils which have been denatured through high temperatures are rich in radicals, substances which are highly reactive and can attack the tissues of your body, and cause mutations within your cells – increasing the risk of illness.
Therefore, eliminating unnecessary oils from the cooking process is very beneficial from a health point of view.
With sous vide cooking, you do not need to use cooking oil – the food is suspended inside a bag, and never comes into contact with a hot surface unless you decide to sear it after it has cooked. So eliminating the oil from the process is actually one of the health benefits of sous vide cooking!
Preparing Healthier Meals In Advance Using Sous Vide
There is no denying the fact that healthier food takes more time and effort to prepare than unhealthy food. Unfortunately, we have a well established food industry which specializes in preparing food that is made for convenience and flavor, but which neglects health.
If you are cooking in a rush, the probability is higher that you will make less healthy food choices.
On the other hand, sous vide cooking requires food be prepared in advance. This allows you to plan your meal carefully, selecting high quality ingredients and preparing a delicious meal that will be good for you.
These chicken breasts were sealed and are ready to be cooked at a moments notice.
Not only can you go straight from frozen to cooking with sous vide. But you can also sous vide pre-cook food then simply heat it up and serve at a later time. This provides you the benefits of sous vide cooking, without the typical sous vide time. Simply pull the cooked bag out of your fridge heat it up and serve. That easy!
For some of you, the idea of low temperature cooking will set off alarm bells. We are taught that high temperatures are necessary to keep food healthy, and that low temperatures will encourage the growth of microbes and bacteria that can cause serious illness. This is true, when applied to conventional cooking methods.
Sous vide cooking is fundamentally different to conventional techniques, and this changes the rules where food safety and bacterial growth are concerned.
With sous vide, you will be cooking food for a long period of time, inside a vacuum sealed bag. As the food is inside a vacuum, it lacks the oxygen that many toxic bacteria require to survive.
In addition, it is standard to sterilize food before sealing it inside the bag and refrigerating it. As the food is in a sealed sterile environment, it is not possible to become contaminated by bacteria or particles from the environment.
As a final step in many sous vide recipes, meat is briefly raised to a high temperature to encourage searing. This is done to increase the flavors in the meat, but it also has the benefit of killing any bacteria on the meat. Moreover, most recipes call for a cooking temperature above 140 degrees Fahrenheit which is within the safe food handling range per FDA standards.
The sous vide system of cooking is trusted in many top restaurants all over the world, where the safety standards are frequently reviewed by government inspection. It has a long record as a safe and healthy method of preparing food.
In fact, you may have already eaten sous vide food without realizing it!
With sous vide, you really do get the best of both worlds. You no longer need to decide between taste and health, as this method results in food that is more tasty and more healthy!