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Sous Vide: Recipes, Techniques & Equipment (Part 1)

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One key issue with sous vide is that alcohol will not evaporate.  In normal braising with wine, the alcohol in the wine quickly boils away.  The boiling point of alcohol is 78.5C or 173.3F.  So if you braise at a simmer (between 190F and 212F), the alcohol will certainly boil off, especially over a long cooking time.

Nathan I was away and have just seen your post. Thank you so much. I am kicking myself that I did not realize the alcohol could be a problem. I will definitely omit the wine next time.

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You can also handle it by using a high temperature of water (boiling or near boiling) which brings the package up to temperature much more rapidly. For that method, you really need a temperature probe in the center of the meat so you can cook to an exact number.

Timing is done by experience, or the accurate way is to get a very good laboratory style digital thermometer to check the core temperature.  This can even be done through a vacuum bag.

OK, this may be a dumb question, but how do you take the core temperature of something that is inside a vacuum-pack bag? Do you stick a thermometer in the food before you seal it? Do you pierce the bag with a remote probe and cover the opening with an adhesive-tape "bandage" before sealing?

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I have actually done that with a small digital thermometer. It is not too easy to read through the bag but it can be done.

Ruth

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This is a fascinating and informative topic hat somehow I missed until now. I was just in Spain and it seemed as if everything from veal leg to pigeon to roast suckling pig to eggs were cooked with this technique. Unfortunately I had to miss a sous vide demonstration from Joan Roca himself because of a GI bug I caught (hopefully not from having eaten something cooked this way). The results were uniformly magnificent.

I do actually have some health related concerns, though. While the lack of oxygen may inhibit many forms of bacteria, it could actually enhance the growth of anaerobic forms like those responsible for botulism. How is this combated in the kitchens that employ this method? Secondly, does anyone know the science enough to be certain that there isn't leakage of plastic into the food? If there is, there may or may not be short or long-term related health effects.

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I'm always careful to bring the temperature up quickly and maintain it throughout the cooking. I've been using a large pot of water held in a low oven - haven't found a water bath yet. I start out with the water somewhat hotter than the target since the food will cool it down. I use a digital thermometer with a remote probe in the water. I also start out with the oven at a higher temperature (~300°) and set the temperature alarm on the thermometer to my target temperature. When the alarm goes off I drop the oven to it's lowest setting and start timing the cooking from that point.

If the food isn't being served immediately I cool it rapidly in an ice bath and refrigerate. I'm a bit wary of the super-long cooking times, especially at the lowest temperatures. I don't think that any of us are too keen on botulinum toxins. :shock:

As for the plastic issue, the bags I use appear to be something like polyethylene. They don't have a chemical smell and don't seem to off-gas anything nasty. Maybe I should be more paranoid about this, but if the bags are sold as food-grade and boil-able I figure they're probably safe.

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As for the plastic issue, the bags I use appear to be something like polyethylene. They don't have a chemical smell and don't seem to off-gas anything nasty. Maybe I should be more paranoid about this, but if the bags are sold as food-grade and boil-able I figure they're probably safe.

And they probably are. I just wonder though that since this is relatively new technology what the science behind it is. For example are there any plastic molecules leaching through or are the quantities just deemed to be at a safe level? If the latter, I'm not really sure how "a safe level" would have been determined since the use of this technique hasn't been around long enough or been extensive enough (this appears to be changing) to get a sense as to what long-term health effects might be. In reality, chances are it is less of a risk than microwaving foods in plastic containers, but then health concerns about that are relatively new. Personally I love what the technique can do and I don't eat from it often enough at this point that I'm overly concerned. Even if there is some risk, the qualities of the final product are good enough that I think the benefits are worth the risk. Nevertheless I am curious.

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OK, this may be a dumb question, but how do you take the core temperature of something that is inside a vacuum-pack bag? Do you stick a thermometer in the food before you seal it? Do you pierce the bag with a remote probe and cover the opening with an adhesive-tape "bandage" before sealing?

It may have been in another thread, but the chef from Cru, Shea Gallante, was quoted as using weather stripping in the seal of the bag that way you put a digital thermometer, the ones with the long wire, pretty thin needle into through the weather stripping, then seal the bag.

If the latter, I'm not really sure how "a safe level" would have been determined since the use of this technique hasn't been around long enough or been extensive enough (this appears to be changing) to get a sense as to what long-term health effects might be.

I have not yet found any literature on the net yet pertaining to measured results of plastic leaching, and because the technology is new what long term effects there are, but because they are "considered food grade bags" and the lower temperature method I would think that it is a safe method of cooking. What I am assuming is that through higher temperatures there would be more of a release of plastics, granted this is an assumption.

I do actually have some health related concerns, though. While the lack of oxygen may inhibit many forms of bacteria, it could actually enhance the growth of anaerobic forms like those responsible for botulism. How is this combated in the kitchens that employ this method?

If I recall sanitation correctly, these forms of anaerobic growth takes a few hours to develop, now with menu items that are cooked on a daily basis, this is from my own experience and procedures, they are packed sous vide and kept refrigerated until it is time to poach them at service. With long cooked items, there is a little bit more potential for growth, if not handled correctly, but if you keep it out of the temperature danger zone, even those few degrees, you will be alright.

As with all thing in the kitchen it always comes down to proper handling of the ingredients and maintaining good sanitation, no matter what the cooking method.

IMO there is a little bit of a leap of faith with using this cooking method, because it is so different than what we have all grown up with or have been trained in cooking. As you said earlier, the results are incredible, when done correctly.

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Sous vide has been used in Europe for over 20 years without major food safety problems. So, it is hardly a "new technology". It is new to most high end chefs, especially in the US, but it is not new overall. Literally TONS of food is made and eaten this way every day in Europe.

Like anything else, you need to follow procedures properly, but it is not as bad as it may seem.

Note that there are two different ways to do sous vide. You can cook and then store the food for an extended time period before reheating. This is done when you want to have a central kitchen serve multiple facilities, or for situations like airline catering. In this case the food is cooked in the vacuum bag, then chilled, and held cold until being reheated immediately prior to serving. This is basically similar to the process of canning - but with somewhat lower temperatures. Generally speaking, sous vide food meant to be held and reheated is cooked above 60C / 140F which is above the typical food safety danger zone. It is then refrigerated, which helps supress anaerobic bacteria.

The other way to do sous vide is cook and then immediately plate and serve. In this case the reason to do it is to get the benefit of the unique aspects of sous vide on the food - just as you fry or roast to get certain effects, you can sous vide. In this "immediate" or "direct" sous vide style, you may cook food to a core temperature that is below 60C / 140F - for eample, I do most fish to 45C/113F, and do beef to 54C/130F (rare to medium rare). But those are the same temperatures that I would cook rare to medium rare in conventional cooking, and the amount of time that the food spends in the food safety danger zone is not necessarly that much longer than in conventional cooking.

I have not heard of any plastic leaching problem. But you should be aware that virtually all meat in the US spends some time in a cryovac bag, which is basically a large thick sous vide bag.

So, I don't think that this is any more unsafe than a lot of other things we routinely do in cooking...

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I do actually have some health related concerns, though. While the lack of oxygen may inhibit many forms of bacteria, it could actually enhance the growth of anaerobic forms like those responsible for botulism. How is this combated in the kitchens that employ this method? Secondly, does anyone know the science enough to be certain that there isn't leakage of plastic into the food? If there is, there may or may not be short or long-term related health effects.

So do I. A good part of the Roca Vacio book is about sanitation and inhibiting the bacteria. There are strident rules for preventing bacterial growth in the book that must be followed or anyone who is cooking sous-vide below the danger area is asking for trouble. Not to get hysterical about it, but one must be careful.

City health depts. in both NYC and Chicago are being pro-active in clamping down on sous-vide in restaurants with proteins now that it has become a trend (unless they can prove that correct cooling down and sanitation). One cannot just seal and cook at a low temperature without thinking through the prcedure but also garner an understanding of the bacterial nature of these products. That is the single most important aspect of the Vacio book.

I have some restaurant friends who are doing rack of lambs at 120F for 3-4 hours and that is asking for trouble if some sort of sanitation and draconian cooling methods are not employed.

As a friend of mine, a biology professor at Stanford told me, "if you wanted to grow alot of some really harmful bacteria, seal it in a bag with no oxygen and keep it in a low temp water bath for a long time."

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Nathan and David, thank you for well-thought and written replies. This is a truly fascinating technique. I can say that I have eaten truly stunning products of it, yet concerns remain. I will add that I am not so much of a conservative here that I will not eat more of it in the future. I most certainly will do so despite the risks that there may or may not be with the technique. I will, however, continue to play devil's advocate here.

Sous vide has been used in Europe for over 20 years without major food safety problems.  So, it is hardly a "new technology".  It is new to most high end chefs, especially in the US, but it is not new overall.  Literally TONS of food is made and eaten this way every day in Europe.

The overall experience of twenty years may be sufficient to conclude that when done properly this technique is not a big short term risk, but it says nothing about long-term risks. This will probably be difficult to impossible to assess.

In this "immediate" or "direct" sous vide style, you may cook food to a core temperature that is below 60C / 140F  - for eample, I do most fish to 45C/113F, and do beef to 54C/130F (rare to medium rare).  But those are the same temperatures that I would cook rare to medium rare in conventional cooking, and the amount of time that the food spends in the food safety danger zone is not necessarly that much longer than in conventional cooking.

I have some restaurant friends who are doing rack of lambs at 120F for 3-4 hours and that is asking for trouble if some sort of sanitation and draconian cooling methods are not employed.

As a friend of mine, a biology professor at Stanford told me, "if you wanted to grow alot of some really harmful bacteria, seal it in a bag with no oxygen and keep it in a low temp water bath for a long time."

One thing that is different about sous vide from more traditional techniques is the ambient temperature of the cooking medium. My understanding is that if cooking to a temperature of 115F with sous vide the cooking medium (water or steam) is kept at 115F. The temperature for conventional cooking is always over the danger zone. With the exception of previously processed foods like hamburger, most potential contamination is on the exterior of the meat and therefore subject to much higher temperatures, thereby significantly reducing the potential for contamination. With processed foods like hamburger this is obviously not the case thus the recommendations for more thorough cooking.

I have not heard of any plastic leaching problem.  But you should be aware that virtually all meat in the US spends some time in a cryovac bag, which is basically a large thick sous vide bag.

This is true, but at even lower temperatures than with sous vide.

So, I don't think that this is any more unsafe than a lot of other things we routinely do in cooking...

I would agree that this appears to be true at least with processed foods. It also doesn't matter how food is cooked if it is contaminated after cooking.

I very much hope that the technique is safe and is used wisely and appropriately with good technique since the results are so wonderful. I would very much hate to see the more puritanical components of the US Food Safety hierarchy come down on this like they have on raw milk cheeses. Personally I believe that everything has risk and that some risks are more worth taking than others. I still like Vioxx and Bextra for example :laugh:

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Nathanm wrote...Sous vide has been used in Europe for over 20 years without major food safety problems.  So, it is hardly a "new technology".  It is new to most high end chefs, especially in the US, but it is not new overall.  Literally TONS of food is made and eaten this way every day in Europe.

Nervous nellie I am not...I completely agree with Nathanm with regard to larger commercial food service/packing concerns about sous-vide/cryovac for long term storage. It has been around for a long time, and well researched. They have been controlled by various governments to protect the safety of citizens i.e. supermarket freezers, larger scale institutions, etc.

My concern was the home cook or restaurant chef buying a food saver and preparing food that suggests "putting a leg of lamb out on the sidewalk for a couple of hours on a hot day" with predictable results. :laugh:

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Wonderful thread, and I'm glad someone brought to light the idea of anaerobic bacteria and how they can survive without oxygen. I won't argue the point of how sous vide has been safely used in Europe for the last 20 years, but those of us in professional kitchens here in the U.S. need to manage/document food safety very well to successfully handle inquiries from the health department. Knowing how aerobic bacteria can become anaerobic (aka spores) and what you're doing to diminish their threat will help meet that inquiry.

They are expensive to buy new, but fortunately, you can get them on Ebay pretty cheaply - like $200 to $300. 

I've been up on Ebay and I'm seeing most small countertop models (2 quarts) selling in the neighborhood of $40. I have this 'buyer beware' anxiety when it comes to Ebay. Am I looking at the right ones? These are analog, not digital.

Thanks again for a very informative thread on this topic.

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Knowing how aerobic bacteria can become anaerobic (aka spores) and what you're doing to diminish their threat will help meet that inquiry.

Can't be said better.

The best recommendation for "Vacio" by Juan Roca is the sanitation procedures described in the book. I continue to hear stories about City Helath Depts. picking up on the increase of this technique and it is just a matter of time before it will affect all of us in the profession.

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I've been up on Ebay and I'm seeing most small countertop models (2 quarts) selling in the neighborhood of $40. I have this 'buyer beware' anxiety when it comes to Ebay. Am I looking at the right ones? These are analog, not digital. 

Thanks again for a very informative thread on this topic.

Really nice,

I have a couple of the models that are on eBay and they work great. i did not buy them on eBay though. they are cool...

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I do chicken breasts Sous Vide in a water bath at 141F for 30 min to an hour, until the core temperature is 141F.    This is typical of SV - you cook with the external temperature at the same temperature as you want the core.

I used this as a guide when I cooked chicken breasts tonight. I sealed them in a FoodSaver bag with a blob of concentrated chicken stock. I brought the water in my 6 quart pot to near boiling, then cooled it with ice cubes to around 145F (using two digital probe thermometers, JIC). In went the two bags and I maintained the temperature right around 140 with just the little, single flame, simmer burner, for about 40 minutes (waiting for the veg to finish).

I made a bechamel that I flavored with parsley and thyme, sherry, and the chicken jus whipped in just before serving. Other than agreeing that the bechamel wasn't exactly the right sauce, the chicken was delicious. Very chickeny. It was also served with a roasted mix of vegetables (onions, brussels sprouts, celery, grape tomatoes, and potato).

gallery_2_4_1104885607.jpg

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Sounds perfect Rachel. What exactly is a "blog" of concentrated chicken stock?. I generally freeze mine to prevent the Foodsaver from sucking out the liquid. Do you have a better way?

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Oops, I meant blob. :blush: About 2-3 Tbs per bag of two small breasts each. Editing my previous post.

It was VERY jelled stock. That didn't get pulled up the FS bag as much as the water clinging to the chicken breasts. I have FS Pro II, with adjustable sealing bar. So I set it to 5 (highest temp) which is the setting to use if you are worried aabout liquid ruining the seal. It also has a seal override, so when you see that most of the air is sucked you can initiate the heat seal. That is what I did. There was a very small amount of air in the bags, about the volume of a teaspoon or two of water. But that wasn't apparent until the bags were submerged in the water. The chicken breasts were below that level so it didn't seem to interfere with the cooking.

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I would have like to have seen a picture of the breast, before saucing. :blink:

really.

Were they sans the skin?

Were the bags completely submerged?

How did you know they were completely cooked after 40 minutes.

woodburner

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Yes, sans skin. Boneless skinless breasts. I was just looking for something new to do with them, so I tried this method. They pretty much looked like poached chicken breast. They were very smooth and white. However, the taste was extra chickeny because it was encased in the concentrated chicken jus. I did cut into a piece before serving, just to make sure it was cooked through. I had also poked at it with my finger tip before cutting the bag and if felt cooked.

Sorry, too late to take a plain picture. All eaten!

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QUOTE

Nathanm wrote...Sous vide has been used in Europe for over 20 years without major food safety problems. So, it is hardly a "new technology". It is new to most high end chefs, especially in the US, but it is not new overall. Literally TONS of food is made and eaten this way every day in Europe.

_______________________________________________________________________

It's not that new to high end Chefs in France. I didn't learn it in culinary school in France. I first learned the method on the job. I prefer it for duck confit and certain fish preparations.

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How long do you cook duck confit sous vide and at what temperature? Are the results markedly different from the traditional confit?

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There is a duck confit thread on egullet where we have been discussing sous vide duck confit recently - look there for details. But the short answer is 82C / 180F for 10-12 hours.

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There's a very informative thread on duck confit that's still active here. The results are superior. Also less shrinkage, more succulent, more concentrated "duck" flavors...

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FYI - I just started a thread on laboratory water baths for sous vide. Also quite a bit of information on food safety.

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I just had the strangest memory of David Burke putting a piece of tuna into a dishwasher on a tv show - this was wrapped tightly in saran wrap. I know this isn't exactly a precision temperature controlled environment, but is this meant to approximate sous vide for the home cook? Has anybody here tried this, maybe with a vacuum sealed bag?

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