Bruno Goussault, PhD, chief scientist at Cuisine Solutions, Sterling, Va., began developing the sous vide method of cooking in 1971. The director of meat purchasing for Jacque Borel’s restaurants asked Goussault for a way to cook roast beef from the hard muscles of the beef carcass. They wanted a method to retain the juices and tenderness without the use of a traditional cooking oven.

The question of how to do this presented Goussault with certain obstacles. However, those obstacles created the avenue for implementing a new approach to cooking roast beef.

“Since we didn’t have an oven, we had to use hot water from an immersion circulator as the heat transfer fluid and make use of the device’s ability to regulate the water temperature to the nearest degree,” Goussault said. “Then we had to protect the muscle from the aggression of the hot water with a flexible and waterproof conditioning, a sort of skin or plastic wrap completely adhering to the muscle.”

The development of the new process started with coloring the roast properly and then figuring out the proper temperatures for the organoleptic and microbiological requirements of the product.

“These temperatures should work on the texture,” Goussault said. “A roast must be firm on the periphery and tender at heart, it must be juicy, it must be rare or pink at heart and finally it must meet the requirements of safety and have a good capacity for preservation, which is to say a shelf life of several weeks. Thus, we have achieved the ideal program for cooking a roast.”

Restaurant applications

Using the sous vide method to cook to precise temperatures has allowed restaurants to modify their processes altogether, specifically by changing the setup. Sous vide now makes it possible for restaurants to shift from a ready-to-reheat mindset to a concept of culinary bases for assembly cooking.

“Sous vide cooking at the right temperature improves the gustatory quality and the shelf life of the products and has made it possible to diversify the product line of restaurants,” Goussault said. “Chefs can develop multiple dishes from simple culinary bases by learning to work with already cooked products.”

Just as sous vide affected change in the restaurant industry, the restaurant industry has influenced sous vide’s development.

“The technique of sous vide cooking at precise temperature has favored the emergence of technically better mastered products,” Goussault said. “Depending on consumers’ expectations, the chef will first define the ideal cooking temperature to create the right texture, one that will allow him to retain water for the best juiciness, and one that will give the most suitable color.”

Process improvements include chefs establishing core cooking temperatures, ambient temperatures along with the time/temperature for each cooking phase. Specifically in the case of hard muscles requiring tenderization such as beef eye of rounds and beef shoulder clods, the time/temperature combination of the last cooking phase will decide overall tenderness. The foodservice industry has influenced sous vide in other ways, as well.

“Catering has shaped the sous vide cooking method by adapting the technique to the evolution of products, by creating suitable equipment, by organizing the stages of processing to improve the functional composition of the products,” Goussault added.

Large scale

The sous vide concepts at the restaurant level and the processor level differ only slightly with the standout differences being volume, cook times and applications, and often have interactions in their processes.

Provisur and its subsidiaries Lutetia and Hoegger offer multiple equipment options for sous vide cooking. Hoegger offers several lines for sous vide with its customers being exclusively processing plants while Lutetia does offer sous vide machines for restaurants.

“Our customers deliver especially to foodservice because it’s already pre-cooked, and they can just warm it,” said Anja Edelmann, department leader of CookChill for Provisur, Flawil, Switzerland.

Frédéric Cecilia, director of sales, Lutetia, for chambers and injectors for North and South America and South of Europe said Lutetia not only has restaurant customers, but that those customers use their machines for more.

“Not only that, they can sell the product to the foodservice like Walmart, IGA in Canada or whatever, but they also have the same product for their restaurant,” Cecilia said.

Large-scale machines for use at the plant level come with a large number of attributes not available on the smaller scale batch machines typically seen at the restaurant level. The Lutetia machines for example, offer many methods of cooking with the sous vide concept in mind.

“The chamber has many options,” Cecilia said. “We can dry cook, we can cook product with a steam injection, we can smoke. So, in function of which application we will have to work, we can adapt the chamber with the correct option.”

Cecilia also noted the growing popularity of sous vide cooking at the processing level citing that currently one out of every five chambers Provisur sells in North America is used for sous vide products. The versatility and scale of the machines contribute to the growth of the process.

“We have a customer not too far away from Chicago that runs 18 ovens just for pasteurization and sous vide products,” Cecilia said. “They have many kinds of products such as pork, beef, chicken or turkey. So, they have a big range of products.”

Overall, whether a batch process at the restaurant level or a conveyor fed automated sous vide line in a plant, the processes are related. The plant and foodservice outlet relate to one another through the sous vide process of cooking meat in a superior and high-quality way.

“Very often there is a strong interaction between what you do at the factory and what you do at the restaurant,” said François Deumier, PhD, R&D Centre manager for Lutetia, Europe and Asia. “For example, when you cook some ribs, the cooking time is a bit longer to get the right texture. So, in the factory you pre-cook using the sous vide technology, and in the restaurant you do only the final cooking of the product.”

Changes coming

One of the biggest changes currently in the meat processing industry is customer and consumer demand for products that consider the impact on the planet. Goussault states this as the biggest development in sous vide. Companies will develop new packaging for the sous vide cooking method that considers biosourcing and biodegradability.

“The other developments will be in terms of cooking equipment,” Goussault said. “And finally, sous vide will continue to revolutionize catering as it has enabled restaurants to better meet the demand at the time of a pandemic.”

On the plant level, automation reigns as the No. 1 goal for sous vide processes and equipment.

“The world slowly goes to the continuous system more and more and gets automated,” Edelmann said. “That’s of course a trend we have to consider. Of course, we try to further develop our system to get out the weaknesses and see how we can combine different machines from our company. But we’re not ready to tell you yet how we’re going to do that in the future.”