Article By Chris Dunn
There’s nothing better than the aroma of roasting meat, garlic, onions, and herbs wafting around the kitchen rafters–right?
But what if you used a cooking method that captured all those delectable smells and gently basted the food with them as it cooks? Then, you could have your aroma and eat it, too.
Bruno Goussault, one of the scientists who developed the sous vide cooking method, which is French for “under vacuum,” contends that when flavor is in the air, it is no longer in the food; but if you hermetically seal food in a plastic bag under vacuum, and then gently cook it in a controlled temperature water bath for an extended period of time, all the aroma, flavor, and texture is preserved and delivered to the plate.
Furthermore, sous vide provides more nutrition (because the vitamins don’t leach out during the cooking process); it uses less energy than traditional cooking methods (about the same energy as a 60-watt light bulb); and it requires less additives, such as salt and fat, because the pressure created by the sous vide method actually forces flavor and juices into, rather than out of, the food.
Sous vide first appeared in the late 1960s when French and American engineers developed food-safe plastic films in which foods could be vacuum packed and heated at pasteurizing temperatures for the purpose of extending their shelf life.
The food industry quickly embraced the idea. If you’ve ever traveled by plane, train, or cruise ship, been in the military, attended the Super Bowl, or had the braised pork at Chipotle Mexican Grill, you’ve had food that was prepared sous vide.
Ironically, it didn’t make much of a splash (except in its own water baths) until the last 10 years, when a number of high-profile chefs began experimenting with it. Thomas Keller of the renowned French Laundry has even written a book on the subject.
Amanda Hesser, writing for the New York Times, says, “At Charlie Trotters in Chicago, the intense heat and scrape of pans against the stove is giving way to an almost placid atmosphere, the barely audible hum of water baths that run 24 hours a day.”
Restaurants in San Antonio are also beginning to explore the possibilities of this cooking method. Chef Scott Cohen uses it at both Brasserie Pavil and Watermark Grill, while Jeffrey Balfour has used it Citrus in the Valencia Hotel.
Executive chef Jason Dady and chef de cuisine Robbie Nowlin of the Lodge Restaurant of Castle Hills recently hosted “A Study in Sous Vide,” which mixed both sous vide and traditionally prepared ingredients for a memorable multi-course dinner.
The first course was Sous Vide Maine Lobster Tail with Butternut Squash, Roasted Cauliflower, Black Garlic Coulis and Vanilla Potato “Maxim.” Unlike the often-stringy quality of a boiled lobster, the sous vide version had the tender texture and pearlescence of Japanese ama-ebi (sweet shrimp). Its subtle flavor was nicely contrasted by the earthy tartness of a black garlic coulis and a brushstroke of tart sour cherry glaze. Garnishing the lobster was a perfect little flower of overlapping, crispy potato discs. I could have eaten a bowlful of them.
Next was Sous Vide Baby Beet Salad with Organic Arugula, Red Radish, Goat Cheese Mousse and Garlic Chips. The rich, fluffy goat cheese played nicely against the sweet and sour red, gold, and striped baby beets, whose colors and flavors were brightened and intensified by the cooking method.
The third dish was The Whole Damn Rabbit, a roulade containing a rabbit tenderloin and a farce (forcemeat) made from everything else (sans ears) wrapped in a house made prosciutto. The delicate white meat tenderloin was exceptionally moist. Sauteed mushrooms, endive braised in citrus, and a light, slightly sweet jus lié (thickened meat juices) made from white wine and rabbit stock made this my favorite dish of the evening.
The Sous Vide Beef Tenderloin with Bone Marrow-Yukon Gold Agnolotti, Globe Carrots, Turnips and Sauce Bordelaise underscored the unique attributes of sous vide. Because of the low and slow cooking method, the tenderloin was beyond fork tender and a uniform rosy color. Its insubstantial texture was contrasted nicely by the crunch of the Celtic sea salt garnish. The pearl shaped, parisienne cut turnips and the mini ravioli (agnolotti) showcased the kitchen’s time intensive dedication to detail.
Time will tell if sous vide can make the transition from the professional to the home kitchen. But one thing for sure, the quiet hum of its recirculating water baths is creating quite a buzz.
(Photos: Nicholas Mistry)