Rachel, the self-confessed Luddite within the Sous Chef team, tries her hand at sous vide cooking, and realises that it’s maybe not so tricky after all.

I grew up in a house with a temperamental aga. The kind where you lean your bottom against the oven door to guess the temperature, and estimate cooking times on whether your bottom cheek is scolding hot, or gently toasty.

It’s hard to change such deeply-ingrained habits. I went on to fail my chemistry GCSE – largely because my experiments mirrored the sort of cooking I’d grown up around. A dash of iodine, a sprinkle of magnesium powder and a hand hovered over the Bunsen burner to guess the temperature of the flame. I showed a far larger reliance on a supposed (and ultimately mistaken) ‘flair’ than on weighing scales, thermometers and dosing spatulas.

Needless to say, little has changed. I’m not big on following recipes. I still don’t know how to work my oven timer. And I’m far more likely to prod a sponge to check if it’s cooked than clinically insert a probe thermometer.

So when I encountered sous vide, I wasn’t immediately convinced. Sure, Heston predicted that the technique of sealing food in a vacuum bag and cooking it in a temperature-controlled water bath “has the potential to be the biggest change in domestic kitchens since the microwave”. But being the kind of Luddite who also thought that “the internet will never catch on”, I wasn’t going to roll over and agree.

There are lots of arguments for sous vide though. Accuracy, consistency, even cooking and fillet-textured brisket. So, all things considered, I was willing to give it a go.

The equipment
I used a sous vide supreme, which is one of the first sous vide machines designed for home use, rather than restaurants. It’s not the prettiest of machines – but as square, metallic boxes go, it wasn’t too offensive either.

The best part is the ‘control panel’ on the front. As someone who gets annoyed with over-complicated car dashboards, and confused by anything more hi-tech than a Nokia 5210, I was pleasantly surprised. There is one set of arrows pointing up and down for higher and lower water temperature. Another set of arrows points up and down for a longer or shorter cooking period. And apart from that, there’s a big ‘start’ button. Not so tricky after all.

The process
After preparing the food in the simplest way possible – brining the salmon, and rubbing the venison in a little oil – it’s simply put inside a vacuum bag. The mouth of the bag is placed in the mouth of a Sous Vide Supreme vacuum sealer, and the ‘vacuum seal’ button sucks out all of the air, and heat seals the bag to prevent any water getting inside once it’s submerged.

Filling the Sous Vide machine from a hot tap means that it comes up to temperature quickly. If it’s too hot then a jug of cold water cools it quicker than the machine. Though the name ‘sous vide machine’ may sound intimidating, it really isn’t much trickier than running a bath. The panel on the front shows the water temperature creeping 0.5°C closer to the desired heat. A ping alerts you that it’s at the right temperature, and ready to go.

There are two extra apparatus that come with the Sous Vide Supreme – one grid which sits on the bottom of the water bath, to stop the food from coming into contact with the hotter base of the chamber, and cooking quicker than intended. The other apparatus is a toast-rack-like contraption which means that several salmon fillets or beef steaks can be slotted in vertically, to stop them piling on top of each other, and cooking unevenly.

After cooking, the bag should be removed from the water bath and cut open. If planning to make a jus, pour the juices into a jug and set aside.

Two Starter Recipes

Recipe: Sous Vide Sunday Lunch
Serves 4

The prospect of using sous vide for Sunday lunches sounded too good to be true. Really large cuts can even be started on a Saturday night, meaning that you wake up to a wonderfully tender joint on a Sunday morning.

For smaller cuts (such as the venison steaks used in this recipe), one hour is the perfect amount of time to put on the roasties, mix a Bloody Mary and peruse the Sunday papers. The best part is that once the cooking is over, the result is a lusciously red, moist joint of meat, rather than the dreaded greyness of an overdone Sunday roast.

Ingredients
200g venison fillet per person
Drizzle of vegetable oil
Salt
Pepper
20g butter
50ml red wine

  1. Fill the sous vide machine with warm water from the tap, and set it to 56°C.
  2. Lightly coat the venison in oil, season with salt and pepper and vacuum-seal inside a large pouch.
  3. Place the venison in the sous vide machine at 56°C for 1 hour.
  4. Take out the meat, and strain the juices through a piece of muslin into a jug.
  5. Heat a little butter and oil in a frying pan, and sear all sides of the venison to get golden-brown colours on the outside. Set aside to rest.
  6. Deglaze the pan with a splash of red wine, and then add the meat juices, for a rich, dark jus to serve with the venison.

Recipe: Sous Vide Salmon Scandinavian-style
Serves 4

There are many different ways of cooking salmon sous vide. The higher the temperature of the water, the closer the fish is to being conventionally-cooked.  If a salmon fillet is put in a water bath at 65°C for five minutes, then the outside will be gently-cooked, with a lightly-done centre. Cooking the salmon for a longer time at a 40°C means that it has a more even, lightly-cooked texture throughout. There’s no right or wrong. It’s simply a matter of preference.

The other thing worth noting with salmon is that it gives off a white protein called albumen as it cooks, which can discolour the fish – a pity when using deep pink Alaskan salmon. By brining the fish in a salt solution first, it draws out the albumen and retains the pure, rich colours.

4x100g Alaskan salmon fillets (this ensures a deep red colour)
For the brine
1.5kg water
150g salt
50g sugar

4 sprigs of thyme
Black pepper
20ml vegetable oil

For serving
Crème fraiche
Chervil
Red onion and cucumber pickle – see below for recipe.
(Dissolve 25g sugar into 100ml white wine vinegar. Add one thinly-sliced onion, and ¼ thinly-sliced cucumber).

  1. Dissolve the salt and sugar in the water to create the brine, and then chill to 5°C.
  2. Place the salmon fillets in the chilled brine for ½ hour.
  3. Fill the sous vide machine with warm water from the tap, and set the temperature to 40°C.
  4. Rub the fillets in a little oil and put them in a sous vide vacuum bag with a little black pepper and a sprig of thyme. Cook them in the water bath for 45 minutes.
  5. Remove, and present the fillets on individual wood boards with a blob of crème fraiche, chervil garnish, and spoon of red onion and cucumber pickle.