There was a time when mainstream foodservice operators would turn away at the merest mention of sous vide, such was its association with the fine dining restaurant elite. But this most precise of cooking methods is finally becoming inclusive to the entire industry. FEJ explores what’s changed…
Restaurants and caterers functioning at the higher end of the market are still among the most fervent users of sous vide, but it is also now a firm part of the wider industry’s vernacular, with fast food chains and casual dining operators among those to realise its benefits.
The promise of down-to-the-degree control in the kitchen to deliver perfectly tender and flavourful food is one of the chief reasons it has been embraced by some of the more unconventional sectors of the market.
And with combi oven brands such as Rational adding sous vide programs as options to their multifunctional equipment, awareness of the term has skyrocketed across the industry.
“With the increased availability of affordable and easy-to-use sous vide cooking equipment, sous vide is becoming increasingly popular across different foodservice sectors, allowing chefs to cook a wide variety of foods,” says Mark Hogan, commercial director at FEM.
“Sous vide is commonly used for cooking steak, chicken, pork or salmon. However, you can also prepare fruit and veg, rice or quinoa, and poach or soft boil eggs.”
Typically with sous vide, food is sealed in a vacuum bag and placed into a water bath, which is then kept at an accurate temperature by a water circulation system. For something so simple to use, it can deliver outstanding results.
“If done right, food is cooked evenly and it’s possible to produce deliciously succulent meats which retain their juices, aroma and texture,” notes John Macmillan, appliances buyer at Buffalo.
“Many foods can be cooked sous vide, including shellfish, vegetables and even eggs, making them incredibly versatile for chefs and caterers who need a consistent, quality taste in their dishes. Because of this, professional kitchens are best suited to sous vide cooking, but they are also easily adoptable for catering operations looking to present a more premium food service.”
Experts note that one of the main reasons multi-site operators are beginning to utilise sous vide is that it can guarantee excellent results with consistency of product across all restaurants within a group. There are also considerable savings to be made as pre-preparation of food leads to accurate portion control, resulting in minimum food wastage.
Many foods can be cooked sous vide, including shellfish, vegetables and even eggs, making them incredibly versatile for chefs and caterers who need a consistent, quality taste in their dishes”
Additionally, sous vide aids batch cooking, increases holding time and achieves greater yield than conventional cooking.
“Being able to pre-cook food using the water bath and then regenerate in the bath is a big plus for the sous vide cooking method,” says Melvin Dickson, managing director of Clifton Food Range. “We see many outdoor event catering companies using the baths for banqueting such as weddings,” he adds.
Clifton Food Range’s 56-litre water bath is ideal for high-volume applications and, at a cost of £0.28 over a total of 12 hours when set and maintained at 60°C — based on its 2020 electricity tariff rate — it is incredibly economical to run.
Dickson identifies the casual dining and fast casual sectors as rapidly expanding markets for the business, along with food halls. They can benefit enormously from sous vide systems, with pre-cooked food ‘on hold’ so that high quality dishes can be repeated rapidly to a large number of visiting customers simultaneously.
“Another area that is anticipated to grow and reap the benefits of sous vide is food delivery central kitchens, sometimes referred to as ghost kitchens,” suggests Dickson. “These are located where there is likely to be high demand for delivered food. Advanced preparation of pre-cooked high quality food speeds up delivery time leading to customer satisfaction. From the operator’s standpoint, accurate portion control, reduced food wastage and greater yield all lead to improved margin.”
New developments in sous vide cooking continue to ensure that the category moves along at the same pace as other traditional methods of cooking food in a commercial kitchen.
Sous Vide Tools continues to develop smarter technology, such as its iVide range of circulators that are compatible with apps for better recording and logging data, and its ‘My Chef’ iSensor vacuum packer.
“The iSensor vacuum packer represent a revolution in the world of vacuum packing, combining ease of use with the best results while saving both time and energy,” insists chef director Chris Holland.
Accurate portion control, reduced food wastage and greater yield all lead to improved margin”
“Key features include iVac smart sensor technology that automatically selects the optimum vacuum for each product type. The iVac detects the size, quantity and food type, and whether that food is liquid or porous, which means it requires no supervision and therefore optimises the cycle time.”
FEM, meanwhile, has recently launched a sous vide immersion circulator from Hamilton Beach Commercial.
“This water jet circulator attaches to the side of a water bath and continuously moves the heated water for uniform cooking,” explains Mark Hogan. “Heating up to 95°C, the 1.2kw pump keeps up to 30 litres of water at an even, consistent temperature. The easy-to-read display and touchpad controls, audible alerts and auto-shutoff give operators added cooking control.”
Advocates of sous vide cooking insist the method offers a streamlined approach to food preparation, while promising improved menu results in the form of vibrant colours, enhanced flavours and textures. Opportunities to use secondary or cheaper cuts which are enhanced through the sous vide process can bring down the cost per portion on a menu while adding a new dimension to a dish.
“An example of this would be using vegetable trimmings or stalks to create flavoursome dishes such as kimchi by cooking them sous vide,” says Sous Vide Tools’ Chris Holland. “Using less premium cuts of meat and cooking them sous vide can provide high quality results in terms of flavour and texture while increasing GP.”
There is certainly a compelling argument for introducing sous vide to any kitchen environment, it would seem. Clifton’s Dickson concludes: “Sous vide equipment will rapidly become an indispensable component in the food preparation and service routine of the professional kitchen.”
Why sous vide?
1. Better taste: Flavours are enhanced as food marinates in its own juices. Leftover juices can often be used to make delicious sauces, too.
2. Minimal supervision: Once the machine is set up, it almost does everything itself — simply set the temperature and go.
3. No overcooking: Sous vide machines are so precise, it’s almost impossible to overcook food.
4. Healthier: Water soluble minerals don’t get leached into the pot, so nutrients are preserved — even more so than steaming.
5. Consistent results: Even entry-level machines are programmable, meaning you can set them to produce the same results, time after time.