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My Flirtation with Sous Vide

I've been curious what all of the hubbub is about and keep getting email offers and propaganda from Sous Vide Supreme. A few months ago I finally got around to replacing my very ancient "Seal-A-Meal" (that seals but doesn't vacuum) with a Food Saver (that does both), so all I was lacking was a circulation pump or a Sous Vide Supreme or...?

Several here have talked about alternatives to temperature maintenance that range from slow cookers to jerry-rigged thermostats with electric roaster ovens. I prefer a simpler approach, so I put a good sized saucepan with a triple layer bottom on the slowest burner on my ceramic cook top, set it on low, let it heat for an hour, then monitored its temperature with an instant read thermometer for another hour. It was a steady 162F.

So then I went on the web and did more reading from people who have tried sous vide without an immersion pump. One article that caught my attention (I regret I didn't bookmark it!) was by a guy who attended a demo by Heston Blumenthal of sous vide cooking of chicken breasts. The writer said it was the most fantastic chicken he had ever eaten! So he went home and cooked up some home made method of temperature maintenance, I don't remember if he had a real "sous vide" vacuum food sealer or another method, but he cooked himself a chicken breast with no seasoning whatsoever, then seasoned it after cooking and said it was the greatest chicken he had ever cooked in his entire life! So I figured, "Why not?"

I thawed an IQF skinless boneless chicken breast and sealed it in a fresh vacuum bag and tossed that puppy in my 162F "water bath in a sauce pan." I was surprised that the chicken did not drop the water temperature much, so no need for a long recovery time. At just under two hours I took it out and punctured it with the instant read thermometer. 161F. All of the salmonella bugs (if there were any) were dead! And now I could taste first hand the chicken this guy said was the greatest chicken he had ever cooked in his life.

Well, poor baby! He must be a really bad cook. Not that the chicken was bad, mind you. It just wasn't close to the ball park I would call "Great." The texture was different than "normal" cooked chicken breast. It was very similar, in fact, to the Oscar Mayer round white meat chicken lunch meat you get in the deli section. Except this obviously wasn't assembled from bits and pieces. It was all one uniform piece. In fact, the flavor was very similar to Oscar Mayer's lunch box chicken, and why not? In effect, it cooked in its own juices, which intensified the chickeny flavor of the white meat. Even seasoned with salt and pepper, it was very Oscar Mayerish. So I sliced it against the grain and made a rather nice chicken sandwich. But hey, next time I want a chicken sandwich, I'll just pop open a pack of Oscar Mayer. It doesn't take two hours to do that!

Is my sous vide life over? I'm thinking! I'm thinking! I've looked at several pictures on the web of sous vide roasts of beef. Rib roast and other roasts. To be honest with you, I don't think that's my cup of tea. Or bullion, in this case. I rather like my standing ribs of beef almost red in the very center, then pinking out toward the sides. I've been eating roast beef like that for well over 70 years now, and homogenized milk is one thing, but homogenized roast beef is something else entirely! So by association, I would probably not flip out over a sous vide steak that is charred after homogenization. But people say the texture is phenomenal, so I MIGHT give that a try. Had I fallen in love with the chicken, I was really thinking, hey, why not pop for a Sous Vide Supreme and be done with it? But at this point I'm not entirely certain it would not end up in the garage keeping company with my very expensive pasta machine. There is room for it in that big old card board box. But I could probably find something more sensible to do with the money. Fresh truffles anyone?

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  1. Caroline, I would suggest that you season the chicken prior to sealing it in the bag, and when the chicken is ready I would put it on the grill for some char.

    Chicken is basicly bland so I would try to add some taste

    4 Replies
    1. re: rich in stl

      hmmmm... My point is that chicken seasoned and cooked in a pan or on a grill or in a wok tastes perfectly fine to me, and even when I pack butter and morels under the skin and roast it, it STILL doesn't take two hours! In my Trivection oven I can roast a hen to perfection, crispy skin and all, in a half hour or less. Two hours? I *MIGHT* try sous vide one more time, but at this point in time I'm leaning toward the conclusion that it's about as exciting as a skinless hot dog with too much filler. No snap, and when you bite into it, the dog and the bun have the same texture. Unless the bun is nuked and chewy, which can be a bonus. So it's looking like sous vide is not an exciting way to cook things FOR ME.

      Maybe next week I'll pick up a dewar of liquid nitrogen. Or maybe liquid helium, if I really want to get a chill on! '-)

      1. re: Caroline1

        First off, I don't think you need 2 hours for a chicken breast. I think for something that small, 45 minutes is fine.

        Half of the benefit of sous vide is to get it cooked perfectly with no fuss and don't have to worry about overcooking. I think this is generally more beneficial for steaks or lamb that you want cooked a perfect medium rare from edge to edge rather than a piece of chicken which is cooked through. Using the pan on stove top at 162 degrees will definitely limit your range of uses to see if its worth it.

        I've been tinkering around with my le creuset dutch oven on the smallest burner and the lowest flame and I think i can keep the water around 130 degrees range. i haven't cooked anything yet but did it out of curiosity so my next step is like you, try to cook something on it. When I have a chance, I'm going to try a strip steak and then finish it by searing. A few degrees in either direction shouldn't matter too much with steak, so i'm not concerned about slight fluctuations.

        1. re: ESNY

          I have but one question: How much food have you eaten that was actually cooked sou vide, and who did the cooking? I ask because restaurant experiences are flavored by a lot more than what a chef does with food in the kitchen. Ambience, wine, presentation, companions, the occasion and any hype ahead of time are ALL seasonings in restaurant food. '-)

          1. re: Caroline1

            I have eaten a lot but all in restaurant settings. I have never tried it myself, so I can't tell you whether I would gain or discern any benefit to trying it myself.

            One thing about sous vide cooking, is it generally does give you a much different texture than more traditional methods and that in an of itself may be a bit offputting. But everything I tried has been perfectly cooked edge to edge, had great texture. As best I can remember, everything seared after to give it a nice crust and to add texture.

            I'm more interested in it at home for a relatively no-fuss way to cook steak, duck breast, etc. I have a tiny NYC kitchen, no grill, no counter space but I could get high quality meat from a great local butcher. If I can get a perfectly cooked steak (or lamb chop or duck breast) without smoking out my apartment, without worrying about timing (Esp as I have a 4 month old who seems to decide he wants to be held every time I start cooking everything).

            It certainly isn't the ultimate replacement but it just another method to cook and will give you something different. If you have a chicken breast, you can pan fry it, bake it, grill it, deep fry it, poach it, cook it sous vide. Each will have a different taste, different texture, some you may like, some you won't.

    2. Hi Caroline,

      I don't have any interest in sous vide at all but it did occur to me that folks who do might want to experiment with fish that's frozen on the boat, sealed in that heavy plastic. What you get at Trader Joe's. Seems like it would work. Of course then you'd end up with cooked-with-no-seasoning fish. Yawn...

      Come to think of it, there are boneless-skinless chicken breasts packed by Foster Farms that are also sealed in really heavy plastic.

      Might save the bagging-sealing step.

      JMHO

      Lucy

      4 Replies
      1. re: I used to know how to cook...

        Thanks, Lucy. The problem is there is plastic and then there is plastic. My chicken breast was IQF but I'm not sure whether it was Foster Farms or another brand. The bags that I resealed it in are specifically designed for sous vide cooking. Just because plastic is heavy there is no guarantee it is safe for cooking, though it may be safe to use for freezing food.

        I didn't mind the bagging/sealing step. I just wasn't all that blown away by the texture, which is what everyone else seems to rave about. I'm such a Phillistine! '-)

        1. re: Caroline1

          The America's Test Kitchen people agree with you. On their radio show last Saturday they answered a listener question about sous vide, expressing their opinion that there are numerous ways to cook equally flavorful meats without the time and special equipment, and they specifically pointed out that sous vide creates a mushy texture. I think you can listen to the show via their website.

          1. re: greygarious

            Thanks. I'll check it out. But I won't join if a subscription is required! '-)

            1. re: greygarious

              "and they specifically pointed out that sous vide creates a mushy texture."
              _____
              That's not true. It creates a mushy texture when you want to create a mushy texture. Low temp salmon and 48 hour short ribs are not the only applications for SV, despite what its detractors imply. There's nothing about cooking something sealed in a water bath that necessitates any particular texture.

        2. Caroline, 161 is not a particularly good temperature to showcase the textural possibilities of sous vide with chicken.

          For boneless skin-on breasts, try 137 f. I know that sounds low. Trust me - it doesn't seem raw. Feel free to season the meat if that's what you prefer (i always season my chicken with more than salt, but I sometimes like the effect of pork cooked simply with salt and a bit of sugar). Cook an 1.5 inch thick breast at 137 for about 1.5 hours. Take it out of the water and let it cool (you can even refrigerate and finish later). Dry the chicken off and sear in very hot oil. Sauce (or not) as you see fit. The texture will be far more tender and juicy.

          For dark meat, the above temp is way too low, and the meat would register as raw. Confit is one of my favorite sous vide applications for legs (though I see no reason you can't do it with thighs as well). Cure the chicken with salt (garlic and herbs if you want, too) overnight, wipe off, put in a bag along with a quarter cup or so of schmaltz or lard or duck fat or olive oil. Cook at 175 for 6-12 hours.
          For thighs, I also like cooking them at about 150 for several hours, then pressing them under weights in the fridge for a few hours more, before searing or grilling to finish. The meat is luscious and juicy, but dense.

          One of the beauties of sous vide is you can get different effects by altering the temperature just a few degrees - breast meat cooked to 137 is different than cooked to 141, which is waaaaaay different than cooked to 162. No offense, but trying one preparation at one temperature is not enough to know what you're missing or have any real familiarity with what the technique can accomplish.

          By the way, an academic point of interest: you can mimic red-in-the-middle, pink on the outside effect that you like in roasts using sous vide as well. You simply cook at a hotter temperature and take the meat out before it's cooked through uniformly, just like traditional methods.

          9 Replies
          1. re: cowboyardee

            Shows what web research will do for ya! I chose cooking the chicken at and to that temperature because the web advice/recipe I used was, as I wrote above, by a guy (chef, IIRC) who had attended an intimate demonstration where Heston Blumenthall, whom I admire very much, had sous vie'd a chicken in a 160F bath to an internal temp of 160F with no seasoning at all until after it was cooked. The writer RAVED about it. So my thinking was, "Straight forward and simple and the best possible results. I can do that!"

            But as the French say, one man's fish is another man's poison. Or is it poisson? Anyway, I've spent sixty plus years honing my traditional cooking skills, so now I'm questioning whether sous vide is a cooking method I NEED to add to my repertoir? I am exploring my resistance to change in another venu where long suffering people are reading me whine about the confusion of Windows 7 and my new 64 bit computer. Now I'm beginning (through this one little experiment) to think of sous vide as crock pot cooking with bells and whistles. I might add that I do not now, nor have I ever owned a crock pot. Not that there's anything wrong with them. I just do my slow cooking in a braising pan in the oven! '-)

            1. re: Caroline1

              "so now I'm questioning whether sous vide is a cooking method I NEED to add to my repertoir?"
              _________
              Of course it isn't. You could go the rest of your life cooking absolutely delicious food without ever cooking sous vide again. Thing is, I could say the same thing about grilling and it would also be true.

              "Now I'm beginning (through this one little experiment) to think of sous vide as crock pot cooking with bells and whistles."
              ________
              A lot of the blogs and home-cooking sources treat it as such. You can tell - whenever someone is really raving about a piece of meat cooked sous vide without any other methods (not seared, etc). Often, they're not very good cooks who were just impressed that SV helped them avoid over cooking. But I don't think that view is accurate.

              Really, SV is a more precise way of cooking. As you noted in your OP, there is a bit of an effect where it intensifies the natural flavors of your food. It also does allow you to pull off some 'tricks' that you might or might not like (low temp braised meats, low-temp but pasteurized chicken and pork, the 'perfect' egg, confit in minimal oil, etc). But if your home cooking tends to be pretty simple, then those tricks are about all it does.

              If your home cooking is a bit more elaborate, sous vide allows you greater precision in all sorts of recipes. Most of the time I cook SV, I use it in combination to mimic another cooking technique. You wouldn't know much of my SV-cooked food had ever seen a water bath. It frees up a burner or oven for a while and (VERY importantly) front loads your kitchen work towards prep, requiring very little work to finish a high quality component right when you're busiest. That is why restaurants use it, and that is why I use it.

              You can take it or leave it. I just don't want you thinking that cooking a chicken (a whole one? Not broken down? That's not a good idea) to >160 F was all there was to the technique.

              1. re: cowboyardee

                WHERE, in God's name, did you pick up the idea that I cooked a whole chicken sous vide? I have stated at least twice that it was a skinless boneless IQF chicken breast. I removed it from a large bag with a total of 8 pounds of IQF breasts and vacuum sealed it in a pouch all by itself with no seasonings because that was the methodology that the chef/writer witnessed and tasted from Heston Blumenthal, and it is what he duplicated at home and went on to say it was the greatest chicken he had ever eaten or cooked in his entire life. Okay, given that information, it seemed like a reasonable way for me to check out whether there is as much to sous vide as many people claim.

                I cannot believe that you can dump some chicken pieces OR cubes of beef and ALL of the traditional ingredients that go into a coq au vin or a beouf Bourguignon, seal them all in a vacuum bag as best you can, drop them in a hot bath and come out the other end, no matter how long or short the bath time, tasting anything close to the original traditionally prepared dish.

                I am fully aware that you can get some luscious flavors by sealing something in a bag with spices and herbs and cooking it. I've been cooking en papillote for at least half a century. I have a very old recipe given to me by a chef in Germany that slow roasts venison in cranberries, morels and apple wine at 180F for 24 hours. It is incredible! I would NOT want to sous vide that recipe simply because it would not allow evaporation, and thereby a concentration and refinment of flavors.

                There are herbs and spices that loose a great deal of their flavor, or their flavor is changed for the bad, when they are cooked too long. I'm not interested in the mess that would result from opening up a sous vide pouch to add something to it and then facing the mess and hassle of resealing the pouch before returning it to the water bath. I do agree that good cooks can come up with approximations of classic dishes using sous vide methods, but I question what is being "saved" overall to only gain an approximation? But I do see and agree with your point that sous vide is a wonderful way to confit. But my personal confit days are over.

                I think sous vide for the home is in a stage similar to the early days of microwave cooking. Back then, if you couldn't microwave something, it wasn't worth cooking. My then-mother-in-law sent me a ridiculously expensive Corningware pan for broiling steaks in the microwave. The directions said to heat the broiling pan in the microwave on high for twenty minutes, then remove said pan from the oven and add the steaks. I did it once. My god, the smoke! I put it on the shelf in the garage and left it there when we moved. I find much the same spirit is with us today regarding sous vide cooking. I am confident it has a place, but I am NOT confident it has a place in MY kitchen!

                And with this, I will leave further discussion to others. '-)

                1. re: Caroline1

                  "WHERE, in God's name, did you pick up the idea that I cooked a whole chicken sous vide?"
                  ____
                  I misread this sentence: "had sous vie'd a chicken in a 160F bath to an internal temp of 160F with no seasoning at all until after it was cooked." You had clearly stated what you did elsewhere. If I had stopped to think about it at the time, my mistake would have been obvious to me. Apologies.

                  "I cannot believe that you can dump... the traditional ingredients that go into a coq au vin or a beouf Bourguignon... in a vacuum bag... drop them in a hot bath and come out the other end... tasting anything close to the original traditionally prepared dish."
                  _________
                  You could mimic the traditional recipes very well by reducing the liquid afterward (or even more precisely, by bringing the ingredients up to temp for a couple hours, opening the bag, reducing the liquid, and then resealing the bag with the reduced liquid re-added to the meat for the remainder of the cooking time). Alcohol in sous vide is problematic in the first place, so reducing early is a good bet. But you wouldn't just do that for no reason. You would do it because you want a specific textural effect in the meat, or maybe because you have to store portions for a long time and want to maintain high quality. There's nothing wrong with just making these recipes traditionally.

                  "There are herbs and spices that loose a great deal of their flavor... when they are cooked too long. I'm not interested in the mess that would result from opening up a sous vide pouch to add something to it and then... resealing the pouch before returning it to the water bath."
                  ______
                  I can't think of any reason to reseal a bag and return it to a bath once, say, basil or cilantro are added. Just finish on the stove top. Like I said, there are very few sous vide preparations that are best presented straight from the bag.

                  "I do agree that good cooks can come up with approximations of classic dishes using sous vide methods, but I question what is being "saved" overall to only gain an approximation?"
                  _____
                  Great cooks don't just come up with approximations of traditional dishes using SV. They come up with improvements - with textures and distinct flavors that you could not produce with traditional means. You're welcome to disagree but Mr. Blumenthal and Mr. Keller (among others) have done some impressive work in this area. Like I said, it's a more precise way to cook. Most of the 'limitations' you're pointing out are simply failure to think your way around the problem. You're right though that it's not necessarily an easier way to cook. It shouldn't be sold as such.

                  "I think sous vide for the home is in a stage similar to the early days of microwave cooking. Back then, if you couldn't microwave something, it wasn't worth cooking."
                  ____
                  It's a fundamentally and radically different technique, with almost the exact opposite strengths and weakness - microwave cooking is quick, convenient, and offers little control, whereas SV is often more labor and time intensive than traditional methods but offers the cook extreme control. As such, I don't find them very comparable at all.

                  1. re: cowboyardee

                    In the last bit, I think Caroline is referring to a perceived social pressure to revere, adopt, and master particular cookery techniques. Despite having a couple of serious food friends who are into sous vide cookery, I can't say that I've noticed in the prevailing home cooking culture a strong push to drop everything and learn it.

                    Of course, I'm familiar primarily with what goes on in the two metro areas where I spend the bulk of my time, so who knows? Maybe there is a 60C wave washing over the D/FW area that will eventually reach those of us west of the 100th meridian.

                    1. re: hohokam

                      Frankly, I feel that it's at least as trendy among foodies to talk trash about how useless SV is than it is to adopt it. See various threads right here on CH.
                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/768513
                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/769672

                      I don't see SV as having much real value to the average home cook. Sure there are a few cool tricks that home cooks might like, but the equipment is still too expensive and the knowledge to specialized to justify that. I see it as having enormous value to professionals, competitive cooks (I got into SV for use in competitions) and dedicated cooking hobbyists.

                      1. re: hohokam

                        "I can't say that I've noticed in the prevailing home cooking culture a strong push to drop everything and learn it."
                        I agree. I think you might find outside of food people (and viewers of cooking shows), there are a lot of people who have never heard of sous vide or if they have, have no idea what it is.

                2. re: cowboyardee

                  Ditto, what he said.

                  I recommend reading Douglas Baldwin's "A Practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking" (Google it). It's a very accessible guide to getting started and will point you to the times and temperatures needed to produce the results you want for chicken breasts and steak. If you pick something that doesn't have a long cooking time to do your testing, it won't be very inconvenient to adjust the temperature of your water bath on your stove top down to 140° or below by occasionally adding some cold water and/or raising your pot off the heat source.

                  Luckily, my electric stovetop would hold a constant 140° and so I was able to test-drive a chicken breast (and some steaks) at that temperature before getting a dedicated sous-vide system that would allow me to easily cook at even lower temperatures. The results I got at 140° were excellent -- uniformly juicy, fully cooked, amazingly smooth textured chicken breasts, for example -- and this convinced me that the benefits would be increased with the ability to maintain even lower temperatures. And they have been. Being able to cook up in advance several days' meals and then to just pull the perfectly-done meat out of the fridge and finish it off just before serving it is very convenient.

                3. One of the benefits of sous-vide cooking is that fewer vitamins and nutrients are lost from this method of cooking than others. Vitamins aren't leached out through braising or steaming nor are they destroyed by direct flame and high heat. Just another argument to cooking sous-vide.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: breadfan

                    What? Like sous vide preserves 100% of the nutrients and all other cooking methods only preserve 20%? I know. I am given to hyperbole, but I suspect the loss from traditional cooking methods is affordable. But hey, that's just my opinion. Plus I take vitamins! '-)

                    Maybe if I cooked fresh foie gras every night I'd be a lot more interested in sous vide's ability to preserve the precooked weight.

                  2. Here is something that is interesting. Homemade sous vide. http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/04/co...
                    He did a demo with Heston Blumenthal, it maybe the same one you mentioned http://www.seriouseats.com/2009/10/un...

                    1. I work in a restaurant where sous vide cooking is used all the time. The reasons we use it there are:

                      1 - Predictability in level of doneness.
                      2 - The ability to cook large amounts of meat and hold it cooked before dinner service.
                      3 - Substantially less waste.
                      4 - Superior texture cooking tough and/or fatty cuts of meat (ie; pork bellies, ribs, etc).

                      All the meat is seared on a super hot surface right before being served. I think for the home cook doing chicken breasts isn't going to give you much of a sense of the advantages of sous vide as will a fatty or tough cut of pork or beef will. If you enjoy pork, get a pork belly and cut it into pieces about the size of cigarette pack, season them, seal them and cook for 24 hours at 160 and be prepared for the most amazing taste and texture you've ever had. The meat is flavorful and the fat is pure luxury with the texture of mousse.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Den

                        Thanks, Den. I will probably give the pork a try. My favorite Chinese recipe for pork belly is dongpo rou, and it's rather like a coq au van. There's not much can be done to improve on it. But I do love pork, so I think I'll play around with those possibilities, and the 160F is what my stove is comfy with! We may have a winner.

                        1. re: Den

                          This.

                          As a home cook #1 and #4 are key. Also, as a slight mod to #2 it's a convenience thing. Take Caroline's chicken breast example, I can throw a couple of breasts into the foodsaver bag, set the SV to 145F until we're about ready to eat it, and then sear it off real quick. No muss, no fuss.

                        2. Most of my cooking adventures with the SVS have been positive, some wildly so. You only get the "mushy" factor if you leave food in too long. I'm currently experimenting with tough cuts of meat. The learning curve is steep, but once you've got, you've got it forever.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: pikawicca

                            I've found that marinating in buttermilk has some of the similar effects of SV....

                            1. re: alexdifeo

                              Can't imagine that marinating a beef eye round in buttermilk is going to accomplish much. Cooking one sous vide does.

                          2. I've had both pork and boneless beef ribs cooked by the sous vide method in a restaurant---- that it was stated on the menu. Both were delicious but I think that searing it is critical for taste. I have heard of using a blow torch to accomplish this.

                            I think you may eat more of it than you realize.

                            http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/14/mag...

                            I have been to steak house chains that were "out of medium rare steaks". I thought at the time, they must be pre cooked.

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: wekick

                              That's an interesting article. I think there is some confusion about the term "sous vide." In the strictest sense it simply means vacuum sealed in shrink wrap of some sort, usually cryovac bags. But in American jargon, it has (often as not) come to mean COOKED in cryovac vacuumed bags. In the stricter sense of vacuum sealed, I do do a lot of sous vide. It's fantastic for marinating! My only regret is that there are no home machines for increased pressure such as the article talks about Thomas Keller using to increase the density of watermelon.

                              When it comes to cooking in cryovac bags in a water bath, I find a lot of contradictory information. On the one hand, we are told that the great advantage for restaurants is that they can hold large quantities of individual servings at a controlled temperature for long periods of time with no danger of overcooking. Yet I've also been told that cooking my chicken breast, for example, for two hours is overcooking it and results in a mushy texture. That's contradictory information. My conclusion is that there aren't enough people with a lot of experience across the board in using this cooking process for there to be much of a consensus when it comes to accurate information. And since it is not a short cut cooking method, it also takes a lot of time for a home cook to accrue enough experience to check these things out for himself/herself. Hence, confusion reigns.

                              But the vacuum part is great fun!

                              1. re: Caroline1

                                "We are told that the great advantage for restaurants is that they can hold large quantities of individual servings at a controlled temperature for long periods of time with no danger of overcooking.Yet I've also been told that cooking my chicken breast, for example, for two hours is overcooking it and results in a mushy texture."
                                _______
                                Both are correct - in your case, the problem, again, was temperature. You could easily have held chicken white meat for 2 hours or longer at a lower temperature. Problem with 160+ deg F is you're getting up towards braising temperature where you increase the rate at which connective tissues and other fibers within the meat break down. And as you probably know, chicken breast meat is not very good braised - it gets sorta grainy and doesn't have enough gelatin to make up for it. Try 1.5 hours at 140 F. Then try 3 hours at the same temp. You'll find little difference in the meat (and it will be much better than breast meat cooked to 160 for 2 hours), though if you start pushing it much longer than that you could still wind up with the same problem to a lesser extent.

                                Practically speaking, you can hold most cuts of meat much longer sous vide than you could using other methods. But still not indefinitely. And temperature matters.

                                1. re: cowboyardee

                                  cowboy, i must say, you are a VERY patient educator! i don't know if caroline1 ever grokked what you were trying to teach her, but, a year after you did all this explaining, I found this thread and learned a great deal from your posts. So THANK YOU much! I have been enthralled with the sous vide items i have had out in restaurants lately and it seems i may be on the road to becoming a sous vider! thnx again.

                                    1. re: cowboyardee

                                      For opinionatedchef's benefit, yes, I "grokked" what cowboy wrote and appreciated it very much. But obviously, I failed to express my appreciation at that time, so much belatedly, I would like to do that now. Thank you, cowboyardee! My great wish, when it comes to sous vide, is that EVERYONE who writes "how to" stuff on the internet was as knowledgeable as cowboyardee. So I am continuing to learn about sous vide cooking. #1 is: Don't believe everything you read on the web. But then, why should sous vide cooking be any different than, say, the evening news? The second most important thing I've learned so far is that temperature matters! Two or three degrees (not to mention more than that) can make or break a dish. At least in my kitchen. The quest continues...

                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                        Hi caroline. This was the 'caroline and cowboy' thread i was referring to in my 'grokked' post. I was so surprised as i looked through the other threads on sous vide- to find that you changed your original stance and became a sous vider. Good for you! and what great luck to be able to learn from the generous (and articulate) likes of Mr.Patience himself, eh?!

                                        1. re: opinionatedchef

                                          Thanks, but I don't remember ever being anti-sous vide, so the "changed your stance" comment is a bit puzzling. One of the things I've learned in my lifetime about cooking is not to be the first kid on the block to jump in and embrace a "new wave" blindly. You can really get burned that way. I have what some would consider a really wonderful automatic pasta machine (quite expensive; around $300.00 nearly 30 years ago) sitting in a card board box in my garage becoming an antique. Before I bought it, it would have helped a lot to determine whether I even LIKE fresh pasta? I do not! When blenders were new to the home market, well, let's put it like this: I fell for a premium price 16 speed blender. I do as much or more with my current two speed blender and do it better. I've seen it with microwaves, food processors, mixers, toaster ovens... The list seems endless. So if I seemed "wary," that's accurate. If I seemed against sous vide cooking, that's wrong. But I have learned that I cannot trust every expert who spins a web on the internet. It's new ground. I'm trying to find my way. And I still have not tried a sous vide egg custard. I can't imagine it coming out looking all lovely and delicious looking when the best I can expect from cooking it in a shapeless plastic bag floating in water is a "blob." So what do I do to make it attractive for service? Dice? Slice and use a cookie cutter? Mush it up and put it in a cream chantilly? There are some things in sous vide cooking that are a challenge. I'm slowly finding my way and (hopefully) what works best for me. Thanks for your comments! '-)

                                2. re: Caroline1

                                  "On the one hand, we are told that the great advantage for restaurants is that they can hold large quantities of individual servings at a controlled temperature for long periods of time with no danger of overcooking. Yet I've also been told that cooking my chicken breast, for example, for two hours is overcooking it and results in a mushy texture."

                                  Actually, there's no inherent contradiction there, unless one assumes that "long" equals "infinitely long" and that cooking temperature is irrelevant.

                              2. <Wading carefully into discussion>

                                Yikes! Well comments notwithstanding, I do love cooking sous vide myself. I found that chicken breast in particular, for me, is normally a pretty bland and dry cut that I do not enjoy at all. Sous vide made it palatable and even enjoyable. YMMV as always.

                                From there I've branched out into the 48 hour short ribs, various steaks and roasts, turkey legs, and of course the quest for the perfect soft boiled egg (in shell, 146.5 deg F for me). But OP, if you didn't find it to your liking then best of luck with your next food adventure! :o)

                                1. I thought about starting a new thread, then I thought it's easier to just add an update to this one, so here goes! Except, I'm getting the idea that my writing isn't always coming across the way I intend it to because at least a couple of people think I'm fairly negative about all of this. I'm not. REALLY, I'm not! Sooooo, that said...

                                  The big change for me is that I did NOT like what stove-top sous vide was doing to my electric bill. YUCK! And also OUCH! That was the biggest problem, but on the reality side of sous vide cooking, I had to ask myself just how much I expected to be able to accomplish with this cooking technique in which *constant* and a variety of *low* temperatures are the key? I did find that the larger the stock pot, the more steady the temperature and the less temperature drop when I added food. But I still had at least a couple of degrees flex, either way, and a VERY narrow temperature range. It was impossible to set it for 143F for eggs, much less 139F for medium rare steaks. All I could do was set the heat to "Low" and hope for the best. Wherever the heat topped out and settled, that was the temperature of the day. It was strictly "Johnny One Note" cooking. And my web searches found damn few sous vide recipes that called for my narrow temperature range. So I now have this stainless steel "presence" on my kitchen counter top sporting the name, "Sous Vide Supreme." It cooks in Fahrenheit unless I want to go all European, and then it will cook in Celsius. It holds the temperature very close to "on the spot" with a variance of about one tenth of a degree. The one peculiarity with the SVS is that you have to hold the "ON" button down for about five seconds or so before it actually kicks in and turns on. Naturally, I tried to turn it on without reading the owner's manual when it first arrived and concluded I would have to ship it back because it didn't work. Read the directions, Stupid! They say it's a "safety feature." I'm not convinced. But I am sure it's an anti-arthritis feature I would gladly give up! '-)

                                  Turns out I do adore sous vide beef! And to that end, a new shipment of dry aged grass fed Charolais beef from North Carolina arrived this morning, and my god, is it GORGEOUS beef! A shoulder roast is now thawing slowly in the refrigerator and will probably go into the water bath day after tomorrow. Medium rare, then I plan to give it a crust in a 550F convection oven, let it rest, then feast! I can hardly wait! (Patience, Caroline, patience!) While I am extremely pleased with the texture and flavor of sous vide beef, I have yet to find a post-bath searing method that really turns me on. I've tried pan searing and torch searing and oven searing. They all work, but they don't quite deliver. And I'm talking steaks here. The super hot convection oven works great with roasts! A little herb butter smeared on them can make your heart sing! But for steaks, I'm not quite there yet so I'm giving serious thought to a small hibachi for a real charcoal finish. The next challenge will be finding a source for REAL charcoal! I'm hoping to find something a little cheaper than that $25 a kilo Japanese magic charcoal. That would really up the price of a steak!

                                  I haven't done much more with chicken than when I wrote the original post above. Primary problem is that I'm just about chickened out. I would probably (I hope) enjoy a really good free range organic chicken, but I just cannot bring myself to pay fifteen or more dollars for a *chicken*, and the city has a ban on raising my own poultry within the city limit. When I do cook chicken, it's most often for stir fry, and then I velvet it, and you certainly can't velvet chicken sous vide! But maybe I'll play with chicken some more on down the road. But before then, I do have ducks and a goose in the freezer (and quail) so who needs chicken?

                                  But fruit of the chicken! I'm there! I ADORE sous vide eggs! Most especially served atop a nice mushroom risotto! Simply over-the-top delicious, and pity the poor soul who has never tasted it. It's seduction on a plate!

                                  There are some things I want to try but haven't tried because I can't figure out what to do with them after they come out of the water oven. Most specifically I'm talking about custards and egg dishes where the egg comes out of its shell. I have actually gone so far as to mix a small amount of custard and put it in a bag with the idea of putting it in the water bath. Well, I DID put it in the water bath. And I took it right back out and made French toast with it. I just couldn't bring myself to allow those poor eggs to cook into an amorphous blob!

                                  But don't think I've given up! Obviously what is called for is a CHAMBER vacuum sealer! Have you seen the price for those puppies? Thousands. Not hundreds. Thousands! But it seems to me there must be a way around it. It just calls for a little ingenuity. So to that end, I am experimenting with sealing ramekins of water in a cryovac bag without sucking any of the water out of the ramekin. I'm ALMOST there. Well, actually, I AM there. But with only one size container. A ramekin, a plastic lid from a pasta storage canister that just happens to fit the ramekin perfectly; fill the ramekin with water, set the lid atop it, slide into a vacuum bag and vacuum and seal. Every drop of water stays in the ramekin!!! I tried it first with disposable coffee lids. Too soft. The vacuum pressure collapsed them and sucked out some of the water. The trick is to find something to fit over the container that is strong enough to keep the vacuum pressure from sucking the bag down into the ramekin and then sucking out the liquid. For a larger size dish -- small to medium sized casserole? -- I'm thinking maybe a baker's cooling rack over it would work if I can find one small enough to fit inside my largest sous vide bags. When I get this all figured out, THEN it will be time to find out whether I will adore sous vide custards as much as I love sous vide eggs in the shell. Who knows what else will work in a water bathed casserole? hmmmmmm.... Would there be any flavor/texture advantage to a sous vide moussaka?

                                  My freezer is now populated with a few bags of sous vide "seasonings." Home made chicken stock frozen in ice cube trays. Frozen cubes of a tomato base sauce that can be persuaded in any ethnic direction with a few more spices and herbs when added to the cryovac prior to sealing. Next week, assuming "life" doesn't interrupt my plans, I'll be making demi glace and giving it the ice cube tray treatment too. I would welcome a true blast chiller that could turn liquid solid in about ten seconds flat. No, I don't want a couple of Dewars of liquid gases sitting around my kitchen. But if I had something that gave me that ability, then I would be able to make sauces with wine or booze in them, cook them down to mellow out the alcohol, turn them solid and vacuum them in with whatever I wanted them to marry. Coq au vin? See? I might even sous vide a chicken again!

                                  It's an interesting adventure.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                    I really like this thread. But I just found it - so I am anyway replying.
                                    Sous vide is a bit like the first PC's. Why do you need a PC to write a letter, when you have a typewriter?
                                    Yes - it is a new generation. We are in the 21st century!
                                    Fact is also, that with different temperatures, with inclusion or omission of liquids or fats in the bag, different "finishes" (torching, grilling, pan frying or keep it "naturell" you will have different results.
                                    The initial chicken at 160F (which supposed to be around 72ºC] was far too high. I am usually cooking chicken at 63 to 66ºC and if panfried, even dark chicken meat is perfect!

                                    The flavor is so intense - it is great. However I prefer skin on chicken, which taste far better.

                                    Honestly - I am not a big fan of sous vide fish [but I am anyway not a big fan of cooked fish]. And yes - egg yolks are amazing [however I pass on the eggwhites].