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Sous vide is a French style of cooking developed by George Pralus in the 1970s. The term, (pronounced "sue veed"), translates to "under vacuum." Sous vide is a method of slow cooking food in vacuum sealed bags placed in warm water at low temperature. Foods cooked in the sous vide style tend to retain more shape and flavor than do foods cooked in slow cookers because of the absence of oxygen and the less than boiling water temperatures used.
Sous vide, as a cooking style, does have its drawbacks. Lack of oxygen and low temperatures can actually cause significant food poisoning and grow nasty bacteria like botulism. To avoid this undesirable result, chefs have an array of water bath machines that help keep the water circulating around the bagged food.
The first sous vide cooking was applied to making foie gras, goose or duck liver pate. When Pralus attempted the cooking style, he and other chefs like him, soon found the end result was better and tastier than traditionally prepared foie gras. Little fat was lost, translating to greater flavor, and greater color in the end product.
Another advantage to sous vide is the relative ease of preparation. Ordinarily, when a person orders food at a restaurant, it has to then be prepared. By using the sous vide method wait time is reduced and more customers can be served. Not only is sous vide cooking popular in many of the four and five star high end restaurants in the world, but it has proven to be a great way to prepare better tasting food for airplanes, cruise ships and for room service in hotels.
Any type of banquet that requires extensive preparation can now be less chaotic right prior to serving because food is already cooked to order, and merely needs to be served. Unlike food that is cooked in advance and reheated, sous vide meals are fresher tasting and have not had time to oxidize and lose flavor. Even the US Armed Forces uses a variant of sous vide in their Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) for soldiers on the go.
Several sous vide styles of cooking are available to consumers from supermarkets. These include the boil in bag forms of food that have been popular for a number or years, and new cooking bags that can be used to hold flavor in while you make your pot roast or a flavorful chicken dish. Yet not all chefs are fans of sous vide.
There are limitations to the kinds of things you can cook via sous vide. First, you can’t crisp things, and a roast chicken cooked sous vide will not have the crispy skin so many people enjoy. It’s best suited for foods that would traditionally be poached or stewed. Second, some chefs claim they miss one the things they love most about cooking, the aroma of food. Because sous vide foods are sealed, you don’t get that delightful come hither smell that results from cooking things in a more open style. For many, though, the convenience and ability to produce large amounts of food may outweigh these small drawbacks, and the cooking method continues to increase in popularity.