Stories from the Lab: Sous Vide: So Good!

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Sous vide! Sous vide! Sous vide! My new favorite phrase! If you’re a culinary science fanatic like me, you probably already know what this means and what it does. If you’re not familiar with this technique, don’t panic. I’ll explain everything, and more. For those who don’t know me, I’m Majestic, a current bachelor’s culinary science student. This is my first blog article in the new semester. For this one, in the Advanced Concepts in Precision Temperature Cooking class, Chef JJ Lui assisted us with our dishes.

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OK, so what exactly is sous vide, you ask? It’s a French term that means “under vacuum.” The CIA defines sous vide as the process of a food product that is vacuum-sealed in a virtually impervious-to-air plastic bag and cooked for a relatively long period of time at a precise low temperature. Putting the food in these plastic bags and vacuum-packing it removes the air.  Sauces, marinades, herbs, and other spices are often accompanied with the sous vided food product for additional flavors and aromas.

Cooking the food in water after it has been vacuum-packed is where the fireworks happen! Water cooking methods are often superior to other cooking methods. Water transfer of thermal energy is 23 times greater than air transfer. This sous vide technique can make food more tender and flavorful if done properly.

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Sous vide is not a new concept, however. For decades, chefs have been vacuum-packaging and vaccuum-poaching. This concept gained even more momentum from Dr. Bruno Goussault in 1971 with Cuisine Solutions. Present-day, world-famous chefs—including Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud—rely heavily on the method for restaurant service preparations.

Now that you understand what sous vide is, let me explain what we did with it in lab class. Each team station had a different food to sous vide. Some of the foods being sous vided were eggs, butternut squash, short ribs, and even ice cream. My partner and I were on Team 6, so we were in charge of cooking poached pears and rice pudding.

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Our first step was to set up the sous vide machines by attaching the sous vide circulators to water bath containers. Each sous vide machine has different settings. The ones we used were from PolyScience and Anova, with the latter even having a built-in Bluetooth setting! I set the machines to the temperature needed, which was 200 degree F (93.3 degrees C) for the rice pudding and 176 degrees F (80 degrees C) for the pears.

Here’s how we did it:

Rice Pudding:

250 ml milk

40 ml heavy cream

15 g butter

15 g sugar

Zest 1/8 tsp lemon

1/8 tsp nutmeg

1/8 tsp cinnamon

100 g Carnaroli rice

4 ml vanilla extract

Poached Pears:

4 Bartlett pears, peeled

250 g water

250 g sugar

7 g vanilla extract

After we prepared the ingredients, we started cooking. For the rice pudding, I combined all the ingredients together in a vacuum-sealable bag. I then took the bag to the Cryovac machine to seal. After the bag was sealed with all the ingredients inside, I placed it in the water bath. I used the same method for the poached pears. The rice pudding took about 1 hour and 30 minutes. The poached pears took about 30 minutes.

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My classmates loved the pears. My partner and I received so many positive comments about the taste—they kept coming back for seconds! Once the rice pudding was done in the water bath, we added 392 grams of heavy cream, 2 grams of sugar, and one egg yolk. We then cooked down some of the remaining liquid on low heat in a pot. The class couldn’t wait to taste this too!

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I came to appreciate the power of sous vide. I wasn’t too familiar with the process before this, but now I’m absolutely in love with sous viding. It legit can do anything and everything! Items can be perfectly cooked via sous vide. No more overcooking! No more dry products or moisture loss! The constant temperature of the water bath is more accurate, which provides more consistent results.

Impressed yet? Try it out! It definitely can help you achieve professional chef-quality dishes that will be mouthwatering. See you next time for another inside look at my culinary science labs.

By: Majestic Bryant-Lewis

Majestic Lewis-Bryant