The combination of supreme tenderness and flavour is what makes sous vide cooking so popular in fine-dining establishments. The sous vide method of cooking uses temperature-controlled water baths to cook ingredients – usually meat or vegetables – vacuum packed in plastic bags.
Unlike baking, this method prevents the food from drying out and seals in flavours that are lost during poaching or steaming.
Cooking over a long period can help break down sinewy muscles in cuts of meat and also allow different flavours sealed in the bags - for example meat and garlic - to really blend.
French chef Nicolas Poelaert first came across the sous vide method while working with legendary chef Michel Bras. Bras used sous vide to make foie gras and frequently for cooking meat.
Poelaert recalls Bras explaining the advantages of sous vide to him like this: "Imagine you are a piece of meat that is thrown into an oven at 180C degrees. It's hot in here! And all the juice comes out of you." By contrast, sous vide is like a nice, warm bath. "Much more enjoyable".
Buying sous vide equipment for your kitchen, however, can set you back hundreds, even thousands of dollars.
Brooks chef Poelaert says you can achieve similar results with a zip-lock sandwich bag, a bucket of water and a digital thermometer. He first tried this cheat's method at a cooking demonstration, and while you cannot cook ingredients for as long as you would with proper equipment, he says, the results are impressive.
"At Brooks we use sous vide to showcase particular ingredients at their best," Poelaert says. Working out which ingredients are best suited to sous vide and the best temperatures to cook at has been a process of trial and error.
For example, Poelaert has found squid cooked at 72 degrees will be slightly chewier than squid cooked at 79 degrees.
“[Sous vide] is perfect for rockling and for monkfish, but we do not sous vide for barramundi because barramundi is at its best when it is pan-fried,” Poelaert says. Rockling on the other hand, has a tendency to dry out when pan-fried. "Rockling also has a very subtle flavour and because sous vide removes nearly all the air around the fish, the flavour stays in the fish."
If trying this method of cooking at home for the first time Poelaert recommends beginning with something simple like potato, beetroot or a piece of chicken or salmon. (See tips at bottom of story).
Cheat's sous vide chicken with marjoram and butter dressing
Food-grade zip-lock sandwich bag
Clean bucket filled with cold water
Pot of water (for cooking) heated to 65 - 65.5 degrees
Cooking thermometer (to ensure water remains at constant temperature of 65 degrees)
1 chicken crown, wishbone removed (the breast portion or top half of the chicken with skin and wing still intact).
Two tablespoons (about 40-50 grams) of butter
Few sprigs marjoram (or other herb such as rosemary or thyme)
1. Place the bucket of water on a table or bench. Place your chicken crown (or meat or vegetables) in the zip-lock bag, but don't close the bag.
2. Place the bag into the bucket of water and submerge until the water is just below the zip-lock (make sure no water enters the bag). This will remove most of the air from the bag, similar to a vacuum. Add garlic and or herbs if you wish. (You could try rubbing the chicken with garlic, or making a garlic butter and rubbing the chicken or spreading it under the skin.)
3. Zip the bag shut. For added protection, use a food clip to make sure the bag is sealed tightly.
4. Place the sealed bag in the pot of water and cook at 65 - 65.5 degrees for one hour and 20 minutes.
5. Remove the bag. You know the chicken is cooked when you can no longer see any pink juices or blood.
6. Heat some vegetable oil in a pan over a moderate to high heat.
7. Cut the chicken crown in half lengthways, cutting through breast bone.
8. Place chicken, skin down, in the pan. Add some sprigs of marjoram. Add two tablespoons of butter to the pan and use the melted butter to dress the chicken while frying.
9. Pan-fry the chicken in the butter for 6-8 minutes each side until the skin is nice and crispy. The chicken is ready once the butter has begun to brown.
10. Serve with your choice of vegetables or salad. Dress the chicken with any remaining butter and herb pan juices.
Nic Poelaert's guide to other ingredients (cheat's method)
Chicken legs: 65 degrees for 40 minutes.
Salmon: 150g portion at 60 degree for 10-12 minutes. If cooking two pieces, place them in separate plastic bags.
Pork fillet: Nic Poelaert recommends cooking a pork fillet in a similar way to the chicken crown. Cook a 250g fillet at about 65 degrees for 45 minutes, then pan-fry to crisp.
If you would like to “sous vide” your chicken and then serve at a later point you can cool the cooked and sealed chicken in a bucket of ice-water for 45-60 minutes. It can then be refrigerated for 1-2 days before being reheated. Re-heat by pan-frying to get the skin crispy (as directed above) and then placing the chicken into a hot oven (about 170C) for 8-10 minutes to heat through.
Note: Video shows Nic Poelaert placing cooked chicken into the oven. This step is only required if you are reheating chicken that has been prepared sous vide earlier, then cooled down rapidly to re-heat and serve at a later point.