When meats and vegetables are cooked in a sous-vide bath, as many are at The Chemist in Myrtle Beach, they reach levels of moistness and tenderness that can only be achieved through precise scientific controls.

Here’s how sous-vide works:

Food is encased in vacuum-sealed plastic bags along with seasonings. The sous-vide machine has water circulating in a bath that stays at a precisely controlled temperature. The chef normally sets the temperature anywhere from 131-165F, depending on the meat cut. The packets are left to cook in this bath for many hours.

The theory behind sous-vide (French for “under vacuum”) cooking has been around for about 200 years, but it wasn’t until the 1960s when the method was widely used in industrial food packaging. It took another decade before restaurant chefs started experimenting with sous-vide, and it has just been in the past few years that chefs have a choice of affordable sous-vide oscillating circulation machines.

At The Chemist, Executive Chef Sean C. Thomas says his Polyscience immersion circulator is accurate to between 2/8 and 2/10 of a degree, and machines that cost $2,500 a year ago are now much more affordable at about $700.

“It always creates a perfect environment to cook in,” he said. “Therefore, 131 degrees is 131 degrees for two hours, four hours or six hours. It stays at that temperature.”

Some meat cuts are ideally suited to cooking in a sous-vide bath. At The Chemist, they include lamb chops, short rib, Cornish hens and ground beef roulades.

“Lamb loin is problematic in that it gets easily overcooked,” Chef Thomas said, “and blood isn’t rendered out of the meat and cooked. With the sous-vide process, it offers you a “forgivance,” or variance, of time so the lamb chop is going to be perfect for an hour, four hours or six hours. The fat doesn’t render down completely, but it melts into the meat. It just oscillates for hours with the seasoning.

“Our short rib we leave in the bath for about 36 hours, and we split the process into two days. Our Cornish hens – it’s a great application for fowl. It gives us the opportunity to not dry out food and cook it completely.”

Many vegetables respond well to sous-vide cooking. For example, carrots that are slow-cooked in this way retain their shape and firmness but are deliciously moist and thoroughly cooked.

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