Another Master Chef series comes to an end and this year the contestants provided us with yet more amazing food. Most dishes had something cooked sous vide (pronounced “soo-veed” & means “under vacuum”). You put ingredients into a bag which has all the air sucked out to form the vacuum and then placed into a hot water bath to cook at very low temperatures.
Food cooked at these precise temperatures, sometimes for many hours makes even the cheapest cuts of meat come out succulent (but will require a quick flash fry), vegetables are vibrant and perfectly cooked. These are perfect for restaurants, but could this equipment start finding its way into our homes??
I researched into what equipment is required to Sous Vide at home. You can buy stand alone water baths or units that you can put into any suitable container i.e. large pan. Both will do the job of controlling the water temperature, you will also need a vacuum sealer. I know if you have a built in steamer oven these will do the same job, but are extremely expensive to install.
I found just two brands vying for the domestic chef market – SousVide Supreme (& Demi) and a local(ish) manufacturer CliftonFoodRange. The SousVide kits range from £349 to £449 (these also include the vacuum sealer). The Clifton 8 litre water bath is considerably more at £589 and without a vacuum sealer.. But both look very industrial and could do with a makeover!
Also during my research I found this ingenious YouTube clip that shows how to cook duck breasts Sous Vide without any of the above kit. So out came my cast iron casserole, thermometer and two duck breasts. I first experimented to see if I could hold the temperature at a steady 135f. After lots of adjustments and finally having to sit the casserole on my wok stand above the burner, I found I could keep it within range.
So in went the duck breasts encased in a sealable freezer bag, exactly as shown in the video and then the fun began trying to keep it at 135f. I was turning up the burner and then having to add cold water to drop the temperature. After the recommended hour out they came and I was surprised to see that they looked exactly like in the video. I then pan fried them for 5 minutes and the skin was amazing but the actual meat didn’t seem that different to cooking it in a conventional oven.
Was it all worth the effort and did it fire me up to look into purchasing a water bath??? The main hurdle is the current designs of the water baths, one is black and the other is chrome with a orange handle, maybe great for commercial kitchens, but there is no way my wife would agree to one of those on the work surface!! I do cook a lot at home, but I’m not totally sure they would improve the ingredients I do cook. I’m sure if we ate a lot of meat they would be a bonus, but we don’t. I do cook a lot of fish and really don’t like the texture of fish cooked sous vide, so I guess I will stick with my conventional way of cooking and investigate outside wood ovens instead – now there’s a plan!!!
Here is my duck breast served with my Sloe Jelly Sauce…