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What Is Sous Vide- A Brief History

The term “sous vide” may only recently have become popular with home cooks, but it has a history that spans back a couple of hundred years. The process evolved over time with a few prominent names that brought sous vide cooking to its present state. Here we will take a look at these individuals and how they contributed to the history of sous vide.

Benjamin Thompson

Taking it back to its earliest days in the year 1799, the sous vide cooking approach was somewhat of a discovery made accidently. If anything, some view it as an absolute fluke that later became one of the finest ways of cooking meat and other foods to perfection.

The man responsible for this accident was a physicist named Benjamin Thompson who often engaged in experiments about the transfer of heat. It was during one of these experiments that Thompson was trying to roast meat in a machine that he had engineered to dry potatoes.

He placed a shoulder of meat in his machine and left it for a couple of hours. When things didn’t work out as planned, Thompson gave up and left the meat for the maids to handle. The maids then left the meat overnight in the machine with plans to cook it the next day.

However, when they came back the next day, they found the meat fully done in the machine. But not only was the meat thoroughly cooked, it was also nice and tender and full of flavor. In fact, the result was quite similar to what sous vide cooking today delivers. The only difference is that Thompson’s method used air to transfer the heat while sous vide cooking uses water.

Georges Pralus

Thompson’s discovery may well have started the wheels spinning for sous vide cooking, but it wasn’t until much later that the idea actually took off as an effective cooking technique. To be exact, it was a little over 150 years later that attention revived in this cooking technique and the art of sous vide cooking was perfected.

In 1974, Georges Pralus was a chef at the popular Troisgros Restaurant in France. The issue at hand was to find a more effective way to prepare foie gras which would lose about 50% of its weight when cooked through traditional methods.

Here Pralus experimented with foie gras wrapped up in plastic and discovered that when cooked this way, the meat only lost 5% of its weight. The idea was to expel any trapped air and cook it in a water bath which is pretty much what sous vide cooking today offers.

This is seen by many as the real birth of the sous vide cooking and Pralus is hailed as its pioneer.

Bruno Goussalt

While Pralus was busy perfecting his method in France, Bruno Gousaalt brought science into the mix. Goussalt was a chief scientist for a US foods company and carried out research to develop guidelines for sous vide cooking. His works centered on determining cooking times and temperatures for different foods.

With a culinary rivalry going on for some time, the two finally collaborated in 1980. From thereon, Pralus and Goussalt worked together to make sous vide cooking comply with French food safety standards so the method could be used professionally.

Goussalt’s efforts also proved that cooking beef sous vide style extended its shelf life to 60 days. This was a huge accomplishment as it now made it possible to use this cooking technique on an industrial scale.

Taking It Forward

From the time the two pioneers collaborated, sous vide cooking was primarily practiced by a handful of professional chefs. Another reason for this was that the sous vide equipment available was only for commercial kitchens. The method was kept under wraps as it was considered a somewhat strange and even dangerous method of cooking.

It remained almost unheard of outside restaurant kitchens until books on the subject started coming out. Of these, Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide by Chef Thomas Keller gained attention in 2008. This was quickly followed by another publication that made an impression in 2011.

The book was called Modernist Cuisine by Nathan Myhrvold who wrote about the methods and theories about sous vide cooking. He also include recipes in his book which triggered significant interest. This also motivated many home cooks to try the recipes for themselves.

This is actually the point in history where sous vide cooking took off in a big way. Not only were home foodies interested in this innovative way of cooking, but celebrity chefs like Blumenthal and Adria also became proponents of sous vide cooking.

The Final Furlong

Today sous vide cooking has become an integral part of many home kitchens. The fact that sous vide cooking devices and appliances are now available at affordable prices helps greatly.

The practice of sous vide cooking now offers home cooks the benefit of cooking healthy meals at a specific and consistent temperature. Perhaps one of the biggest reasons for its growing popularity is that this technique takes the guesswork out of the whole process yet delivers perfectly cooked meals every time.

Initially the method was used for cooking meats, but is now quite versatile and used to prepare a variety of foods. Even though foods like steak, fish and pork still remain popular, you can also use sous vide to prepare perfectly done vegetables.

In fact, the technique has evolved so much that many people also prepare items like cakes and custard using this method. The trick is to use canning jars instead of vacuum bags.

At its most basic, you can use a cooking container to fill out the water bath and freezer grade Ziploc bags to place the food item in. But if you are more devoted to sous vide cooking, you can go with vacuum sealers, special sous vide cookers, immersion circulators and a host of other accessories.

You budget may be your only limitation but you are guaranteed perfect results every time.

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