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 food. 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 is more, experience and personal tastes will let you know when you have it just 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.
What about Sous Vide Dry Rubs?
Dry rubs, as opposed to marinades, are simply spice mixtures that are rubbed on to our steak, chicken, fish, or whatever else we might be throwing in our Sous Vide.
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.
Something I want to note, is that a dry rub reacts differently in Sous Vide cooking. Moisture is trapped inside of the meat by the sous vide 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.
Should I season before or after the Sous Vide?
As mentioned above, because it is easy to overpower your food with flavor in the sous vide bag, I actually recommend seasoning your foods after the sous vide, but before searing. I will typically dry my food off, and then add my spices or dry rub, and give it a nice sear to lock that flavor in.
However, I want note that in the case of liquid smoke I will add that to the bag prior to searing.
How about Oils and Butters?
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.
Don’t Sleep on Brining
A brine, is essentially treating your food with salt ahead of cooking it.
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 have sealed every flavor in.
Is wine good for the Sous Vide?
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.
Sous Viding with Liquid Smoke
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.
I would recommend using liquid smoke on something like our Best Sous Vide Brisket Recipe
Experience and experimentation 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. Remember to have fun!