The advantages of sous vide technology versus its disadvantages make process a viable candidate for producing foodservice options to supermarkets and convenience stores. While there will be an initial investment necessary from the vendor and the retailer, the technology lends itself to these foodservice channels.
“The technique was perfected in about 1980, so it’s still a little bit in its infancy in this country,” says Michel Coatrieux, chef instructor at Kendall College in Chicago. It’s a feasible technique that is very popular in Europe, he adds. In its most basic definition, sous vide simply means to cook product that has been vacuum sealed in a bag in hot water.
Advantages and Disadvantages
The sous vide style of preparation contains many inherent advantages. The first advantage of sous vide relates to cooking temperature. Producers have the ability to apply very precise temperatures with sous vide. The ability to control the core temperature the product needs to hit, and the fact that the bag is sealed, allow for maximum moisture retention. “Because we use some lower temperatures, there is a better yield,” Coatrieux says. “Cooking at the lower temperature allows for the protein to cook without shrinkage of the fiber. If the fiber does not shrink, then it will hold the water better which gives you a better yield.”
For food manufacturers that serve customers a considerable distance from the production facility, or that serve through a distributor, sous vide provides great shelf life after the product has been cooked. “For example, I can cook a steak or fish today,” Coatrieux says, “and the shelf life for the fish will be three weeks and for the meat, four weeks.” Food cooked using sous vide technology reaches the perfect doneness through the ability to control temperature and because it’s sealed in a bag there is no cross-contamination. “When we reach the core temperature of the product then the bacteria starts to decrease,” Coatrieux says. “So it kills the bacteria as you cook it, giving it the longer shelf life.”
Sous vide technology does come with one inherent disadvantage. With the lower cooking temperature comes a longer cook time. “When I cook a steak the traditional way, pan sear it, it will take me about eight to 12 minutes,” Coatrieux says. “If I want to cook it in a bag sous vide, at a lower temperature, it will take me about 30 to 45 minutes.” For facilities under strict time constraints, sous vide technology might not make the most sense, but if time is not of the utmost importance it can be a feasible method, Coatrieux adds.
Flavor and Volume
The sous vide method not provides facilities with pinpoint accuracy on cooking temperatures and a longer shelf life for products, but it also locks in flavor. “There is no change in taste or flavor,” Coatrieux says. “The steak that I cook today, I can serve it to you next week or in 10 days. If you eat it at the same temperature at which I cooked it, it will be exactly the same flavor. Everything will be the same.”
In the US, sous vide is predominantly used in restaurant settings. However, it is starting to be used on much larger scales. A company in Virginia, Cuisine Solution, has begun to use the technology on a very large scale. “They do enough volume that they can send their product to the army,” Coatrieux says. If a customer wants a large supply of fresh product, sous vide allows mass production. “You can freeze it, send it into the field, re-warm it in hot water and you’ve got fresh product,” Coatrieux says. “Almost anywhere you want. The only thing you need at that point is hot water.”