Bruno Goussault started the sous vide master class at The Flemish Primitives 2011 by arguing that precise temperature or right temperature cooking is a better term than low temperature cooking. It’s really about knowing at which temperature the desired change takes place (or even better: knowing which time-temperature combinations will yield the desired results – this is a topic I will come back to soon).
Recounting the early days of sous vide, Bruno Goussault explained how he was once asked about how to produce prepare tender meat from a though cut. He was aware of a science paper on a slow cooking technique from USA (anyone know which paper this was?). It utilized a water bath, but the water washed away the juices. To avoid this Bruno wrapped the meat in cling film. A roast beef cooked at 58 °C turned out tender with a nice pink color. Then a friend working with plastics suggested that he should look into polyethylene (PE) bags in combination with a sous vide machine (boil-in-bag had already been around for some time apparently). Interestingly Bruno mentioned that during a recent Bocuse d’Or competition in USA where Bruno trained the American team, they replaced the plastic with a “skin” made from shrimps. Maybe we will see more “edible” skins used in sous vide in the future?
Bruno then went on to talk about the vacuuming process and how time/pressure profiles should be adjusted to respect the shape and properties of the product, in particular when working with fish. A challenge with vegetables is the enzymatic release of ethylene, causing the bags to inflate (resulting in a poor heat conduction). The advice for vegetables and potatoes: use maximuum vacuum. But if you use the same setting for poultry the bones will turn out black because you extract bone marrow through the bones. Thus the vacuum should be sufficient to extract air from the bones, but not so high that the marrow is extracted.
Vacuum packing turns out to be a great way to impregnate food with flavors. As an example Sang-Hoon Degeimbre prepared oysters impregnated with champagne, cooked for 5 min at 83 °C and served with kiwi extract and an oyster leaf, Mertensia maritimia (Thanks Arielle!).
When working with vegetables it is always the chlorophyll which causes problems (not the red/orange carotenes or the red/blue/purple anthocyans). This is due to the loss of the central magnesium ion. The easiest way to prevent this is by raising the pH. This can be done with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), but gives an awful taste according to Bruno (and personally I would add that bicarbonate easily gives a mushy texture as well). A more advanced way to preserve the bright green color would be to add some other alkalizing/buffering agent such as sodium triphosphate (aka as sodium polyphosphate) or sodium hexametaphosphate (if you’re really interested, check out the paper Effect of pH on chlorophyll degradation and colour loss in blanched green peas for instance). And while we’re discussing color: a side effect of the vacuum packaging of vegetables is that the air cells collaps, thereby reducing the diffraction of light which results in a darker and more intense green color.
In restaurants sous vide is often used in a cook-chill-reheat fashion. For such a setup Bruno argued that it is vital to cool the meat or fish stepwise to allow a readsorption of the exudated juices (which also dissolve/carry away spices and Maillard products on the surface). If plunged directly into ice water fat and gelatin can cause the juices to gel, thereby effectively preventing a readsorption of the liquid. By taking the temperature down in a more controlled way the water holding capacity of fish/meat is improved and a portion of the exudated juice will be readsorbed (together with the flavors from the surface). A suggested stepwise cooling protocol for fish could be as follows: 10 min at room temperature, 10 min in cold water followed by 2 h in ice water. And it’s even possible to elaborate further on this – Bruno mentioned that he had developed a 4 step SV procedure followed by a 3 step chilling for Joel Robuchon. To me this also suggests that meat which is inteded for immediate serving should also rest a couple of minutes in the presence of the exudated juices. Would be interesting to know more about which factors influence this readsorption actually (maybe an interesting topic of a masters/PhD project?).
When preparing fish it is recommended to allow the fish to soak in a 5% brine for 10 min (Bruno lived for 3 years in Stavanger in Norway, and learnt this from a Norwegian chef during his stay – unfortunately he could not remember his name). This increases the osmotic pressure in the cells and prevents albumin from escaping (think of baked salmon with lot’s of white albumin leaking out) according to Bruno. After brining the recommended cooking times for a fish filet is then 1-3 min at 83 °C for pasteurization followed by 5 min at 58 °C for finishing.
The many recommended temperature settings for meats and fish can be a challenge in a restaurant setting with a limited number of water baths. Bruno’s simplified approach was therefore to have three water baths at the following temperatures:
- 58 °C (and in any case below 62 °C): At 56 °C albumin is sill runny, at 58 °C it begins to whiten (and the overall color of meat is actually a result of seeing the red meat color through a white “fog” of albumin covering the muscle fibres. This temperature is recommended for fish and meat that is to be served red.
- 66 °C (in any case below 68 °C): The water holding capacity of the muscle tissue is dramatically reduced when heated above 68 °C. A temperature of 66 °C is therefore appropriate to retain the juiciness of meat. This temperature is recommended for poultry and well done meat.
- 83 °C (in any case below 85 °C): This temperature is suitable for vegetables as they need a temperature above 80 °C to be properly cooked, but at 85 °C pectin begins to hydrolyze so it’s important to stay below that temperature. This temperature is also suitable for a quick pasteurization of the surface of fish and meat.
HYDROLYSIS OF CONNECTIVE TISSUE
The hydrolysis of connective tissue was also briefly mentioned. For a though cut of meat such as shoulder or top blade 4 h at 100 °C are needed to break down the connective tissue. At 66 °C the same process takes 76 h, and further lowering the temperature to 56 °C will require a full 120 h for the similar break down of the connective tissue. But in return the low temperature gives a meat with a very nice color. Interestingly, Bruno mentioned that due to different aging practices a similar cut in the USA typically would only require 72h at 56 °C to reach the same tenderness! So the time/temperature combinations should only be used as rough guides.
Other tips & tricks:
- Rabbit and game are difficult to cook sous vide: sugar/glycogen in the muscles is converted into lactic acid which inhibits the cooking process (does anyone have more background information on this?)
- The boling point of water at 10 mbar is 6.9 °C. This is the reason why everything you plan to vacuum pack at this temperature should be cooled to below 6 °C, otherwise the liquid will start to boil in the vacuum.
- Regardless of what is cooked Bruno recommended a quick dip into a 83 °C water bath for pasteurization.
- It is better to generate Maillard flavors before sous vide cooking: the flavors will dissolve in the exudated meat juices and then be readsorbed by applying a proper stepwise cooling. If desired a short browning can be applied after sous vide cooking for crisping of the surface.
At the end of the session I got to chat a little with Bruno. He said that he was very happy about the wide spread use of sous vide, but also emphasized that it is a technique that can amplify mistakes as well as successes. -Many chefs don’t respect the temperature recommendations! I visited a chef who cooked meat at 54 °C and it smelled terrible, Bruno told me. The different bacterias can greatly influence the flavor of the resulting product if care is not taken to eliminate them. I asked Bruno about low temperature/long time combinations, but he said that chefs generally are not patient enough. They already complain that they don’t have time for the long sous vide preparations. Bruno does a lot of sous vide consulting for chefs and restaurants (in France/Europe through CREA founded by him in 1991 and in the US as a consultant for Cuisine solutions), but does not have big hopes for sous vide in home cooking: – No, it’s a gadget! Sous vide works best for cook & chill in a restaurant setting.
(RAW) MEAT JUS
In the last part of the master class the German chef Thomas Bühner (La Vie, Osnabrück) demonstrated the preparation of meat jus (i.e. the natural juice given of by meat when heated). Ground meat was vacuumed and cooked for 2.5 h at 56 °C. The meat juice was then collected using a chinois and further concentrated using a rotary evaporator operated at 120 mbar and a water bath temperature of 40-50 °C (important to keep the water below the temperature of the sous vide water bath in order to retain the raw meat flavor). Compared to a conventional cleared stock the reddish meat jus is opaque. The meat jus is devoid of Maillard flavors due to the low temperature used, and this ensures a raw and bloody taste. The taste was interesting I would say, but perhaps not very delicious on it’s own … But I’m curious how it’s actually incorporated in his restaurant.
Thomas Bühner also demonstrated vacuum infusion using the Gastrovac. Potatoes were pierced/scorched, submerged in the truffle jus and then placed in the vacuum of the gastrovac. Thomas then repeatedly let air into the Gastrovac to allow cells to collapse and improve the impregnation.