Sous vide, which is French for under vacuum, is an innovative cooking technique mastered in the early 1970s. Food is vacuum sealed in a specially designed pouch, slow cooked in water at low temperatures until fully cooked and then flash frozen or refrigerated. High-end restaurants often use sous vide to cook food consistently to the exact level of doneness.

According to Springdale, Arkansas-based Tyson Foods’ 2019 “Trendtellers” report, sous vide is one of the hottest food trends in the nation. The technique is gaining traction in the heat-and-eat retail sector, as it allows for restaurant-quality meat and poultry to be served at home with minimal effort.

Earlier this year, Wayne Farms, Oakwood, Georgia, had a limited-edition offering of Naked Truth Premium Chicken at select Sam’s Club stores. Each individually wrapped, fully cooked 5-oz. chicken breast featured authentic grill marks and sous vide preparation, making it simple to finish in a microwave, conventional oven or sauté on a cook top without drying out. The all-natural product contains no artificial ingredients, preservatives, nitrates, nitrites or gluten.

Chef Maxwell Fluck, culinary manager, OSI, Aurora, Illinois

“This product provides more than just an amazing culinary experience. It also offers responsibility, transparency, and all of the features that premium chicken products should offer,” said Tom Bell, Wayne Farms vice president and general manager of prepared foods.

Butcher’s Sous Vide Chicken from Roli Roti, Oakland, California, is seasoned all-white meat chicken breast sous vide cooked in its own juices over several hours. The unique process results in white meat that is perfectly cooked edge to edge and succulent and juicy, according to the company. The chicken comes in three varieties: Chile Limon, Lemon Pepper and Salt & Pepper. Low in fat and high in protein, Butcher’s Sous Vide Chicken is keto, Whole30 and paleo friendly.

“We are extremely proud to debut the Roli Roti Salad Chicken because there is nothing like it on the market,” said Thomas Odermatt, founder of Roli Roti. “We are committed to creating products that include only clean ingredients, and that deliver on taste and convenience. The Salad Chicken has only a handful of ingredients and no preservatives.”

MEAT+POULTRY spoke with Chef Maxwell Fluck, culinary manager, OSI, Aurora, Illinois, to learn more about this increasingly popular meat and poultry cooking process.

MEAT+POULTRY: Sous vide has really started gaining traction in the packaged meat and poultry meals sector. What is driving this growth?

Chef Maxwell Fluck: More and more food companies and their customers are looking deeper into the animal for additional cuts to use for their products. The industry is finding better ways to maximize the entire animal carcass, which results in more useable product and less waste. Sous vide preparation is an ideal cooking method to get the most out of such cuts of meat.

MEAT+POULTRY: What are other advantages of cooking meat and poultry sous vide?

Fluck: Product quality, consistency, shelf life and authenticity of flavor are among the benefits of sous vide, in addition to another important factor, which is food safety. The sous vide method can be much safer than traditional cooking methods. The meat is vacuum sealed in a bag then gently cooked. The cooking process helps increase shelf life because it eliminates pathogens and microorganisms that may have been present in the raw state, which could cause spoilage. Doing this minimizes the chance for any type of contamination because the product is not further handled after cooking or exposed to the environment until opened by the end user. After cooking, all bags are chilled or frozen at the proper temperature.

As far as product quality, the sous vide method also retains product moisture, which improves eating quality and provides better flavor, texture and appearance. The product is very consistent because this calibrated process utilizes specific time and temperature settings to create a controlled environment. With an oven, fryer or flame roaster, you can have inconsistent yields, colors and cooking temperatures. The products that are cooked “low and slow” via sous vide retain a consistent texture, color and flavor. This method can also increase protein yield up 15 percent.

Another thing about the sous vide process is that while the products are being cooked, chilled and held for distribution, they are marinating and basting in their own juices. This helps drive those flavors deeper and deeper into the muscles. The process is a little like making chili. It’s a well-accepted statement that chili always tastes better the second day than it does the first day. This is due to the spices and flavors being able to equilibrate and marry together, giving the consumer a much fuller and mature flavor.

MEAT+POULTRY: What investments does a meat and poultry processor need to make to produce sous vide products?

Fluck: An investment would certainly be required to obtain the proper equipment and packaging to produce sous vide items. How large an investment depends upon the volume the processor expects to run through its facility. 

MEAT+POULTRY: Does sous vide technology allow for elimination of preservatives? 

Fluck: The sous vide process can help reduce the amount of preservatives that would be used in some other preparation methods. It is hard to say that it would eliminate the need for any preservatives. It would all depend on the desired shelf life.

There is always an opportunity to include additional ingredients as safety measures or shelf life extenders. The challenge with adding some of these ingredients is determining how they will affect the final product’s texture and flavor. Sometimes adding a vinegar-based ingredient can cause the final product’s texture to deteriorate as it is held in the bag, which is due to the pH. These added ingredients can be useful aids, but they can also change the product in an undesirable way. The beauty of sous vide is that such ingredients may not be necessary at all.

MEAT+POULTRY: What meat and poultry products are best suited for sous vide technology and why?

Fluck: The types of products that benefit the most from the sous vide method would be the same cuts that would be put into a crock pot or braised. These are the kind of cuts that can be very tough and need to be cooked with low heat for a long period of time.