If you are a fan of cooking shows or follow any famous chefs on Instagram, there’s a good chance you’ve come across the sous vide cooking method.
Until comparatively recently, a professional kitchen was the only place where you could find all the equipment necessary to knock out meals using this technique, but that has changed. These days you can buy immersion circulators, special containers with fitted lids and an entire pantry shelf full of accessories if you want to give it a try at home.
But what exactly is sous vide cooking and is it a healthy way to prepare food?
What is Sous Vide?
Sous vide (pronounced ‘Sue Veed), like many culinary terms, comes from the French language. It means ‘under vacuum’, which might seem strange at first, but makes sense once you start to look at the cooking process in detail.
To cook sous vide, you take the food that you want to prepare – for example, a steak – and place it in a plastic bag. You then remove all the air from that bag so that the steak is in a vacuum (hence the ‘under vacuum’ bit). Next you put your bagged steak into a water bath at a precisely controlled temperature and leave it to cook slowly for an extended period of time.
It is this last part that makes the sous vide method so different from other forms of cooking.
Unlike ‘boil-in-the-bag’ meals, where you toss your pre-prepared meal into a pot and let it bubble furiously away until heated through, sous vide is all about accurate temperatures and timings. The method involves using a piece of kit called an immersion circulator. This device allows you to heat a container of water to a very precise temperature and then to keep it at that temperature for a long period of time.
The technique is sometimes called low temperature, long time cooking as this is what gives it its unique results.
Why Sous Vide?
The bottomline is that if you do it right, you get incredibly succulent, flavoursome cuts of meat, fish and vegetables with a superior texture.
The development of immersion circulators etc that have been designed specifically for the home cook means that you can produce restaurant quality meals from your own humble kitchen.
And for a foodie, that a big attraction.
See here if you’d like to read more about the pluses of cooking this way.
So is Sous Vide Healthy?
Let’s answer this by starting with the main health concern that people have expressed relating to sous vide cooking.
The big issue is the plastic bags necessary for the vacuum cooking part. There has been worries that toxins from the plastic encasing the food as it cooks may leach into the food.
The obvious way to ensure that this doesn’t happen is to use the correct type of BPA-free, food safe vacuum sealer bags. This may mean investing in a proper vacuum sealer, if you decide to continue with this cooking technique.
See here if you’d like to read more about vacuum sealers and their many uses.
So let’s take a quick run through of some of the possible heath benefits of adopting the sous vide method:
Retains Vitamins and Minerals
The key to sous vide cooking is the vacuum sealed bag. This bag holds all the nutrients in the food.
No goodness is ‘washed away’ as it is in processes like boiling food.
Also, the low temperatures used mean that less of the good stuff evaporates away. Nor is food damaged by high temperatures.
No Charring or Burning
I’m the first to admit that I’m quite happy with a bit of a char on a chop or a wedge of sweet potato. However, I’m also aware that there is evidence that some cooking methods can increase the risk of carcinogens in our diet.
The sous vide method carries no such risks.
Uses Less Fat/Oil
With this technique, you are cooking your steak or carrots via a precisely heated water bath and so little, or even no, added oil is necessary – less you want it specifically for flavour.
Remember also that a lot of fat is used purely to lubricate frying pans etc so that food doesn’t stick to them. This is totally unnecessary with sous vide.
If you do want to ‘colour’ your steak by searing it in a pan once it comes out of its water bath, you can do so with a tiny amount of oil.
Can Reduce Salt
Keeping the food sealed in a bag means that more of the flavour is ‘locked’ in and this, in return, means that you don’t have to work as hard to enhance the flavour of meals. Therefore, you should be able to cut the amount of salt (and other seasonings) that you use.
Can Improve Food Safety
As long as you stick to the correct keeping times and temperatures and providing your equipment – especially your immersion circulator – is accurate and of reliable quality, you should produce meals which consistently meet food hygiene standards.
In contrast, roasting or frying can often give you food that looks perfect on the outside, but which is raw, or not cooked through properly in the centre.
Talking all of these factors into account, we feel that sous vide cooking is a healthy way to prepare meals at home, as long as you follow the advised cooking times and temperatures and have the proper equipment.