Meat the expert: under pressure

Heston Blumenthal once declared that sous vide was the single greatest advancement in cooking technology in decades!

A French innovation that translates as under vacuum, in its simplest form, sous vide involves sealing ingredients (usually protein) in water-tight vacuum-sealed bags and then cooking immersed in a water bath. Often seen as a more bourgeoise technique, sous vide cookery is actually one of the most adaptable ways of cooking protein.

A long and slow method of cookery, by setting the water bath to a constant and exact temperature, the product cannot go above this point, but connective tissue can break down, turning tough collagen into beautiful sweet and sticky gelatin.

It’s a brilliant cooking method that brings consistency to roasts, steaks, poultry, joints and braises – as well as perfect for cooking tougher cuts of meat and meat on the bone. A steak that is first cooked sous vide can be perfectly medium rare and only needs a few minutes on the grill before it’s ready for the plate. The yield is excellent as not one drop of cooking juices is cooked away, keeping the flavour in the bag. These juices can be poured off and reduced for sauces and gravies.

Buying meat products that have already been cooked sous vide also makes great sense for the bottom line. While the cost on the invoice might be slightly higher than starting with the raw product, the off-invoice savings will more than make up this difference. To begin with, all the long slow cooking is done by the manufacturer saving you on energy outgoings. Then there is the labour. The trimming, boning, seasoning and cooking have all been done for you. All you have to do is slice open the bag and go from there. And because the food has been cooked in a sealed bag, it has a long shelf life when refrigerated.

I’m a big fan of Australian brand Naturalaz. They’re industry pioneers of sous vide meat and they guarantee tender, moist and succulent products. Their carvery range is incredibly popular with chefs serving larger numbers in pubs, clubs and residential facilities – where customers love those traditional flavours and values of a roast. This selection of roasts has been cooked sous vide and they’re all ready for reheating at 180°C before being carved and sauced.

The beef is the bold-flavoured blade that has been deboned and cooked slowly for succulence and tenderness. The carvery lamb is a boned and rolled hind leg, and the carvery pork is cooked perfectly with the skin ready for salting and scoring to make the best golden crackling. Some chefs cut the portion from the deboned joint to order then flash the meat in the pan or under the grill to reheat and brown and send to the table.

Ribs also do well being cooked sous vide. The low slow heat turns the tough connective tissue into beautifully soft, tender, lip-smacking sticky flesh while preventing the intramuscular fat from rendering out. They are also a blank canvas that works with everything from American BBQ to Mexican-inspired dishes. For an extra smoky tang, paint with sticky sauces that brown beautifully over the grill.

The pork range also includes tender and succulent full-plate ribs, American split ribs, pork riblets and ready-to-roast pork belly. The ribs are ready for a quick brush of your favourite BBQ or hoi sin sauce before a quick blast of heat, before sending out with golden fries. The belly has been trimmed, cooked to tender perfection and is ready for the oven or grill. It’s ideal for roasts with apple sauce – or into a crunchy roll with cucumber, pickled carrot and coriander for a house-made banh mi.

There’s one particular cut of lamb for which sous vide could have been invented – the humble shank. A strong muscle on the bone, the long and gentle cooking method transforms the flesh, resulting in a delicious melt-in-the-mouth texture. Cut open the bag and finish in a tomato and red wine sauce – or break apart the juicy flesh and fold through a ragu and serve with a broad pasta, like pappardelle.

Sous vide is undeniably versatile. When I am out and about talking to customers, I’m consistently impressed by the diverse array of dishes crafted – particularly from the range of ready-made products. The convenience, portion control, flavour, tenderness and ease of use all mean there is an application for sous vide cookery and cooked products in almost every kind of hospitality outlet.


Tom Cooper

Bidfood meat expert

Read the recipe here.

As seen in winter 2024

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