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Sous-Vide: Tricks of the Trade
November 2006

While cooking sous-vide creates decidedly delicious results, no food is delicious enough to warrant a bad case of botulism. Proper training and equipment are essential prerequisites for attempting to cook anything sous-vide. Most of today’s chefs who use the technique have undergone expensive training that takes days to complete and many have also learned from other more experienced chefs.

Chef Mark Hellyar of Blue Duck Tavern in Washington DC cautions untrained cooks to steer clear of even attempting sous-vide. Instead, precook the desired food using conventional method, then vacuum in Cryovac, and reheat in water when ready to use. This isn’t really an alternative to sous-vide and you’ll lose its slow-and low-cooked benefits, like unparalleled moisture and texture. But, the food will last longer under a vacuum seal than it would with traditional cooking methods, and it’s undeniably convenient to have braised short ribs at the ready.

For those who are ready to experiment with sous-vide, these tips will help.

Cook the food long enough. While this can be a subjective measurement, the point is, when in doubt, cook it longer.

Cool the food long enough. This is done gradually. Remove the food from hot water bath and store at room temperature until its internal temperature stops rising, then place in an ice bath. Hold the food chilled until ready to reheat and serve.

Vacuum the food when it’s chilled, otherwise the vacuuming process will begin to cook the food.

Brines, salts and alcohol help reduce the risk of bacteria formation; they’re also great flavor conductors.

Follow a method. Don’t be haphazard or cavalier with sous-vide innovations.

Do your homework. Read everything you can on the subject and then read some more.

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