“Sous vide” is a fancy French phrase meaning “under vacuum,” and it’s a cooking technique that the Culinary Vegetable Institute’s Executive Chef, Jamie Simpson, employs almost daily in his kitchen. The sous vide technique begins by vacuum sealing all the ingredients into packets (think space bags for food). Once everything is snug and tight, the sealed packets cook in a low-temperature circulating water bath, slowly and evenly, until the contents reach perfect doneness.

Here, you can watch a video about his sous vide method, followed by questions asked by The Chef’s Garden about Chef Jamie’s seminal process in his kitchen.

TCG:    Can you cook a whole meal sous vide?

JS:        Absolutely. Airplanes do it every day. Everything behind the deli counter at a grocery store is sous vide in the plastic it’s stored in. Bacon. Anything that comes in a vacuum bag is cooked sous vide.

TCG:    How is the sous vide method better than steaming or braising?

JS:        Steaming and braising each happen in a high moisture environment and these techniques aren’t as accurate as sous vide. The advantage to cooking in an immersion circulator is that you don’t need the same amount of liquid. To braise, you need a pot full of liquid to cover the contents. In a vacuum bag, you only need a spoonful.

TCG:    How do know what time/temp to use?

JS:        By the speed at which collagen breaks down. The range is huge. I can cook a short rib that eats like a ribeye, or one that eats like a pot roast. The equipment is basically a crock pot. That’s all it is, with a more accurate thermostat.

TCG:    What happens to the food when it’s done?

JS:        I never serve straight out of the bag. I cook it sous vide to the desired internal temperature and then finish it. I can put it in the deep fryer, sear, broil, grill. You can sous vide a whole lamb rack, then pop it into the fryer. It gives it an even sear all the way around.

TCG:    What else can you cook sous vide?

JS:        You can cook leafy greens because, in the vacuum bag, with no air, there is no oxygen to cause oxidation. So, the greens maintain their vibrant color. You can poach an egg at a temperature where the white cooks, but the yolk stays liquid. I’ve used it for tempering sauce, making a sabayon (an egg-yolk-based sauce), which is typically cooked over a double boiler. But with sous vide you know the exact temperature and it won’t overcook.

TCG:    Anything else you can do using the sous vide technique?

JS:        You can make desserts, custard bases, you can temper chocolate. You can make cake – not in a vacuum bag, but in a jar or something, and it puffs up. Same with brioche.

Intrigued? We invite you to browse the Culinary Vegetable Institute’s upcoming calendar of events and register for the one(s) that capture your attention!