Sous Vide: Fine Tuning Taste and Texture

The Sous Vide cooking methods offer chefs unique control over the seasoning and texture of food.  Long low cooking temperatures allow herbs, spices, marinades and other seasonings to infuse in every part of the meal.  Just as the water bath evenly distributes the heat, the long cooking times lets your seasonings saturate into every bite.

Less spice and seasoning is required because none of the flavor can evaporate away.  It is sealed in to cook with your meal.  Flavors become amplified and can overpower a dish if a “normal” amount is used.  But with the concept that less yields more, experience and personal tastes will let you know when you have it right.

Seasoning with aromatics presents other issues.  Normally carrots, onions, celery and peppers may be added to enhance a meal.  Sous Vide low temperature cooking never reaches the required temperature to break down and soften the starches in their cells.  Much of the fragrance and subtle tastes these items normally add are never created.

Common salt raises some other issues.  Normal cooking techniques calls for the salting of meat prior to cooking.  The salt penetrates into the meal and tenderizes.  Sous Vide throws this practice for a loop, for pre-salting meat produces a dense, pickled texture to the final product.  The long, low temperature process cures the food rather than cooking it.  To retain a tender and flavorful meal, salt afterwards.  The long slow cooking in the water bath naturally tenderizes.

Dry rubs are delicious when used on meat that is grilled, roasted or broiled.  As the meats’ moisture is evaporating away, the rub’s spices are reacting and enhancing the aroma and flavor.

A dry rub reacts differently in Sous Vide cooking.  Moisture is trapped inside of the meat by the vacuum cooking bags.  It cannot go anywhere and the dry rub never gets a chance to seep into the meal.  The spices and seasonings stay on the surface.  Instead of filling a kitchen with delicious smells, the spices are the left in the bag.

Oils and butters are used in traditional cooking.  Seeing butter slowly melt from the top of a golden brown turkey breast is awe inspiring.  Adding butter and oil to food before Sous Vide cooking will yield the opposite effect.  The natural flavors of the meal will be diluted.  The food’s flavor will be trapped in the butter rather than the taste of the butter being added to the meat.

Beef, pork and poultry are perfect candidates for brining.  Sous Vide cooking alone will produce a tender result for each, but more juice and flavor can be achieved easily.  Prior to cooking, use a brine and the final Sous Vide results will be succulent and tender, well worth the preparation and effort.

Brining dissolves some of the support structure of the muscle fibers.  This allows the beef, pork or poultry to absorb up to 25% of its weight in water.  This is where the aromatic seasonings can be used effectively.  Carrots, onions, celery and peppers added during the brining stage will produced an amazing seasoned product in the final stage.  Dry rubs and spice seasonings added during the brining will supercharge their normal effects.  Sous Vide cooking will sealed every flavor in.

Many recipes utilize wine and other alcohol containing products.  In traditional cooking, the high temperatures burn away the alcohol content.  Low cooking temperatures do not.  That is not a good thing.

The long low heat and the sealed cooking bag will not allow the alcohol to evaporate and a strong metallic taste develops.  To use recipes that ask for wine, beer, spirits or liqueurs, first the heat the contents in an open pan.  The alcohol vapors will escape and when cooled the sauce can be added to the uncooked meal.  The flavor of the seasonings will be intact if not enhanced.

Smoking has been around forever but is gaining new popularity.  To effectively add a smoke flavor to Sous Vide cooked meat, smoke the raw cut prior to sealing and immersion.  The long slow cooking process will enhance the smoke taste.  Placing a finished piece of meat in the smoker afterwards will take longer for the smoke to penetrate.  Overcooking might become an issue.

Experience is the key to learning the ways of Sous Vide cooking.  Control is the variable for through slight modifications in preparation tremendous results can follow.

Now that you’re well-versed in Sous Vide cooking, it’s time to buy sousvide machine!

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