December 11, 2020

Simplify Holiday Cooking With Sous Vide

Thanksgiving has passed, but the holiday cooking season stretches all the way to the end of the year. What appliances are part of your holiday repertoire? Are you partial to holiday baking workhorses like your range and stand mixer, or are you looking to your slow cooker to warm up some holiday cheer after a trying year?

A sous vide immersion circulator might not be traditionally associated with the holidays, but it can make your time in the kitchen much easier this holiday season by giving you another cooking option. That can be a game-changer if you are in charge of preparing a big meal for Christmas, Hanukkah, or another celebration.

“You cook so many things at the holidays, and most homes only have one oven,” says Gerard Bertholon a chef and chief strategy officer for Cuisine Solutions, which supplies ready-to-cook sous vide foods to restaurants and major retailers. Sous vide was once found primarily in restaurants and is still somewhat niche in homes. However, those who want to try their hand at a simple method of cooking that has been called “foolproof,” now have a variety of choices of portable appliances, and sous vide is even offered as a feature on high-end ranges.

While sous vide is most often associated with cooking meats, it is a great options for vegetables, and there are plenty at a typical holiday meal. Since foods are cooked in vacuum-sealed bags, you can cook multiple vegetables at once in the same pot.

“Vegetable sous vide is amazing,” Bertholon says. “If you take a big enough pan or container, you can have five or six vegetables cooking. The vegetables have so much flavor when you cook them in water.

Vegetable cooking tips

The holidays can take your kitchen by storm, even if you are keeping things low-key this year. The sous vide cooker can make your life simpler. Instead of shuffling dishes to and from the range and oven, you could several at once in the same pot. Bertholon has some advice for home cooks who want to do just that.

“Make [the vegetables] really cold,” he says. “If they’re hot, they don’t vacuum seal as well. Peel them, clean them, keep them in your fridge for a couple of hours before you vacuum seal them. You’ll get a better vacuum.”

If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, you can use the water displacement method when cooking sous vide. The temperature at which you set your sous vide appliance will vary depending on the vegetable, but many can be cooked at 180-185 degrees Fahrenheit.

Give those veggies some character, too. “You need some kind of fat,” Bertholon says. “It will add flavor. Nine out of 10 times, we put fat in. Also put .7 to 1 percent of sodium or salt. That means if you have 2.2 pounds of carrots, you put 7-10 grams of salt in.”

Vacuum to freeze: You do not have to cook your foods immediately after vacuum sealing them. Vacuum-sealed meats are ideal for freezing, Bertholon says. “There is no air, no oxidation. Since it is completely sealed, you are going to preserve all of the flavors. You can freeze it in advance.” He recommends freezing it as fast as possible to minimize crystallization.

The unique nature of 2020 likely means that some who were used to contributing a bottle of wine, a pie or dish of mashed potatoes to the holiday meal might be putting the whole thing together themselves. Bertholon, who grew up in Lyon, France (which has long carried the informal title of the World Capital of Gastronomy) and has been cooking since his grandmother gave him his first lessons as a young boy, recommends you run your kitchen like a “military organization.” That means writing a menu, organizing all of your ingredients, and keeping a schedule.

“What do you need to cook first? What are you serving, and what is the shelf life?” Some dishes, like mashed potatoes, may keep better. Delicate dishes like salads should be prepared the day of the meal.

If you prepared foods in advance, write down what time you will begin reheating it and how long it will take. Start with the dishes that will take the longest to reheat. “If your turkey will take an hour, and the next dish takes 45 minutes, put the second dish in 15 minutes later. Plan to have everything ready at the same time.”

“You have to write it down. Don’t wing it. The more you put in advance, the less stress you have.