Sous vide cooking: sucking all the sensation out of food preparation?

 

Some weeks ago I acquired a SousVide Supreme, a bit of kit that promises “perfectly cooked meals … at the push of a button”. Until recently, cooking sous vide was the preserve of the restaurant, a buzzword for food geeks cooing over pinkish beef and a nifty means of guaranteeing a restaurant’s consistency.

Not any more. Sales of home sous vide gadgets are on the rise and this elegant, simple-to-use piece of equipment (available in John Lewis for a mere £359) will help you to achieve restaurant-quality dishes in your own kitchen. At least, that’s the theory – and, up to a point, it does hold water, insofar as it is very simple to use and does look rather swish.

Those in favour of sous vide seem to be drawn by several factors. The first is reliability: water temperature can be controlled so precisely that “perfect” results are almost guaranteed. This means that your steak, for example will be cooked to an even pinkness throughout. Perhaps even more persuasive, though, is the fact that you can forget all about it: stick your food in, disappear for a few hours, and come back to a bath of succulent whatever.

Yet all the people I spoke to (pro sous-viders, mind) reckoned they used their machines once every couple of weeks. Odd, given it costs the thick end of £400 and makes flawless dinners, that they wouldn’t use it more often. Why is this? Well, whatever people may say, this method of cooking is not without hassle. To cook some pig cheeks, as I did, you marinate them, drain them, brown them, get out your vacuum-packing machine (another £93) and a bag, package the meat, warm the water bath to the desired temperature, cook the cheeks for a few hours, remember you need a sauce, make said sauce, remove the meat, add to the sauce, et voila! You have a dish that’s as easy as … er … braising pig cheeks (except not as easy and with oddly mushy meat).

Another issue is that it doesn’t work with everything. Fish, most seem to find, comes out with a deeply unpleasant texture. Game, I’m told, can become livery and bitter, while scrambled eggs … well, enough said.

You can’t do any of this with sous vide. Your lump of protein/handful of carrots/half-dozen eggs sit, arms folded, in their sterile bag and their sterile bath for anything up to 72-hours (15-minute meals this ain’t) until all sorts of miraculous things happen to them and they’re just perfect. No touching, smelling, tasting, listening, looking, or engaging with the food is required. Science has got your back. Sous vide has taken all the guesswork out of cooking. It has also sucked out its soul.

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