Ever since French chef George Pralus first found a way to reduce fois gras waste by cooking in plastic in 1974, many chefs have been using vacuumed plastic as a way of conserving flavor, reducing waste and enhancing flavor. Over the next thirty years, chefs began expanding the use of this method, especially for tender foods, such as lobster, to reduce moisture loss. What began as a specialized water bath method reserved for higher-end restaurants, became, at a lesser level, a popular method all the way to the home cook with the less complex food-saver machines.
Concern about plastics and the way they interact with the human body began raising concerns about sous vide. BPA, a chemical found in many plastics, which has been shown to disrupt hormone activity, can leech into fatty foods such as meats, cheeses and fish. Professional sous vide plastics are BPA free and do not seem to pose a threat to humans. However, the less expensive food storage models may have BPA.
As recently as 2006, the New York City Health Department and Mental Hygiene put in place a set of guidelines for sous vide. Vacuumed foods had to be thrown out immediately and, if discovered, the offender would be charged $300 per offense. It represented, according to the New York Times, “the first time a city agency had singled out a technique and how chefs use it”.
As the debate over plastics continues, the concern over sous vide cooking temperatures is getting attention as well. In 2013, the Food Standards Agency in the United Kingdom conducted a study with the Institute for Food Research Standards to explore sous vide cooking temperatures, typically ranging from 42 degrees to 70 degrees celsius, where bacterial death of e.coli and salmonella occur at 55 degrees to 60 degree celsius. The study recommended further exploration.
We sat down with L’Ecole Culinaire Program Director and Chef Darren Zesch and asked him what he thought about this cooking method. “I had the finest guinea hen in Italy where the chef added herbs and cooked it sous vide. The texture and flavor was unsurpassed. Cooking sous vide offers many benefits in terms of the retention of valuable nutrients and the even cooking of meats. An immersion circulator is needed to ensure consistent convection temperatures. In order to prepare sous vide, an HACCP plan is required.”
As a chef, do you use sous vide methods in your cooking? What do you think?