Have We Entered the Era of Sous Vide?

Professor Plastics

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Salmon in olive oil

If So, Plastics Make it Possible

We keep hearing about it. Celebrity chefs are embracing it. The New York Times has written multiple articles about it. Even Starbucks has joined the trend.

It’s sous vide.

But just what the heck is it? For those of you not yet versed in the magic of sous vide, let Professor Plastics briefly explain.

Simply put, the sous vide cooking method heats foods “under vacuum” (yup, it’s French) in a water bath at much lower temperatures than normal cooking requires. No browning, no boiling, no burning. And little possibility of overcooking.

The results can be sublime. Meltingly tender short ribs. Perfectly flaky fish infused with herbs. Veggies transformed into mouthwatering… well, you get the idea.

And being Professor Plastics, here’s my favorite part: plastics help make sous vide possible. Before immersing your chuck roast or spring vegetable medley into the water bath, you simply insert it into a plastic vacuum bag or zipper bag to remove most air and prevent contact with the water. Then the sous vide device (typically) attaches to the inside of your cooking pot and gently heats the water, usually to the mid 100 degrees Fahrenheit range, for a specified period of time.

This unique method can create a New York strip that’s perfectly medium rare throughout, not just the inside, or a fall-apart tender chicken breast that retains much of its natural juices. And if you really crave the flavor of searing, just flip your sous vide-prepared food on a hot pan or grill and serve.

The plastics used are recognized as food grade by the FDA, and the water never gets close to boiling temperatures. Of course, proper food handling is just as important as always.

And now sous vide is trending in everyday kitchens. No longer sold exclusively to restaurants, sous vide devices have become more affordable, leading many amateur cooks to experiment at home. Including yours truly.

In addition to helping me prepare impeccable meals after work, there’s sort of a “slow cooker” option for many types of foods. As a busy professor, I love that I can start a dish before leaving for campus and come home to a perfectly cooked meal.

I sort of feel like I’ve joined the ranks of all those celebrity chefs using sous vide…

But I’m not going to quit my day job.