Let’s Talk Food: Sous vide cooking

More and more restaurants are using sous vide to cook. There are still many of you out there who, when you hear sous vide, have no idea what it is, including my husband, Jim.

Sous vide cooking began in the early 1970s when a French biochemist and microbiologist who loved to cook, Bruno Goussault, realized he could make an inexpensive cut of beef tender simply by cooking it at a very low temperature.


Vacuum packing food was already around for several decades. The process was first credited to Hills Bros. Coffee Company early in the twentieth century. In the 1940s Cryovac used plastic to shrink wrap turkey for freezing. This process of removing all the air from the bag made the frozen foods last longer and help to slow down freezer burns. Then in the 1960s , hams and sausages were being vacuum packed for preservation in Europe. A little while later the foods were cooked in the sealed bags to, in effect, pasteurize the foods.

In 1972, Jacques Borel who ran Wimpy’s, a European fast-food chain, asked Goussalt to figure out a way to make inexpensive cuts of beef tender and juicy.

Michelin three-star chef, Jean Troisgros, was also trying to improve his costs and when cooking foie gras the traditional method, he watched the huge quantity of fat melting away. He wondered if there was a way to cook foie gras with less fat loss. A local charcutier, Georges Pralus wrapped the liver in several layers of plastic wrap and cooked it in hot, but not boiling water. This process opened the doors for sous vide cooking as the fat in the foie gras was retained.

American chefs like Thomas Keller of French Laundry and Per Se trained their chefs to use sous vide. One of his chefs from French Laundry, Corey Lee, had to say this about sous vide cooking:

“I was uncomfortable with sous vide at first, though I didn’t realize why. It was an interesting addition to our cooking repertoire but I didn’t have the knowledge to evaluate it completely. Sous vide is different from roasting, braising, sauteing, poaching and other types of cooking: it doesn’t require you to use your senses the way traditional cooking techniques do. When you seal someithg in a bag and put it in water, you’re not smelling it as it cooks, or tasting it, or listening to the sizzle as it roasts or sautes. Cooking is one of the few things in life that requires the use of all your senses. It should please all your senses as well. A technique that took most of those things away was strange for me and this is one the main criticisms. But as I worked with it, I began to realize it wasn’t really giving up the use of my senses as a cook.”

Our son Dean swears that sous vide is the best way to cook pork loin, as that cut is so lean and has the tendency to be overcooked and become dry and chalky.It also works well for chicken breast, another meat, that if overcooked or cooked improperly, can become dry.

I love J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, who used to work at Cook’s Illustrated and is now with the New York Times. His mind, similar to my son’s Dean, is all about food and science.

Regarding sous vide cooking, Kenji claims that the secret to the moistest, juiciest chicken is temperature control.

For very soft and juicy chicken breast, the temperature needs to be at 140 degrees and cook for 1.5 to 4 hours.

For tender and juicy, served cold, the temperature needs to be at 150 degrees for 1 to 4 hours.

His instructions for one bone-in, skin-on chicken breast is as follows:

Sous vide chicken breast

One bone-in, skin-on chicken breast

Salt and pepper

Fresh herbs (optional)

1 tablespoon vegetable, canola or rice bran oil

Preheat the sous vide to the desired final temperature in a water bath to cover up the line on the machine. (It needs enough water to swirl the water around). Allow the water bath to come to temperature before adding your chicken.

Season the bone-in, skin-on chicken breast generously with salt and pepper.

To bag the breast, start by folding the top of the vacuum-seal or zipper-lock bag back over itself to form a hem. This will prevent the chicken juices from getting on the edges of the bag which would interfere with the seal or provide vestors for contamination.

Slide the chicken breast into the bag along with any aromatics such as fresh herbs or lemon slice (if using).

Unfold the edge before closing the bag.

Seal the bag either using a vacuum sealer or, if using a zipper-lock bag, by using the water displacement method.

To seal the bag using the water displacement method, slowly lower your bagged chicken into a pot of water, letting the pressure of the water press air out through the top of the bag. Once most of the air is out of the bag, carefully seal the bag just above the waterline.

Drop the bag in the water bath, making sure not to block the intake or output sections of your sous vide. If properly sealed, the chicken should sink. Cook for 1-4 hours, depending on how you want your chicken breast.

Since there is no heat applied to the surface of the chicken, you may want to remove it from the bag and sear it quickly in a pan with hot oil to brown the outside of the breast.

Foodie Bites

Today is Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday. Did you get your fill of malasada yet? Hope you get to have some great Creole and Cajun food today.


The Hawaii Community College’s Culinary program’s Bamboo Hale is open next week, Tuesday till Friday, with an Asian Menu as well as the foods of the Philippines. Call 934-2591 for reservations.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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