Sous-vide - is this the next must-have appliance for your kitchen?

Salmon in the Sous Vide

Salmon in the Sous Vide - Credit: Archant

Sous-vide machines are set to be as commonplace in the kitchen as a microwave. Emma Mayoh gets a masterclass from a chef at a Claughton company who are leading the way

Chris explains the process of Sous Vide to Emma Mayoh

Chris explains the process of Sous Vide to Emma Mayoh - Credit: Archant

When chef Chris Holland first wanted to introduce sous-vide machines to the kitchens at the prestigious Alderley Edge Hotel, his colleagues thought he had spent too much time over a hob. His peers at the respected establishment, where he was head chef, weren’t convinced by this new “boil in the bag” method of cooking.

He said: ‘They honestly thought I’d gone mad and they took some persuading. It was only as they started to see the kind of results you could get that they came around to the idea.

‘But it took a long time to get it right. I was experimenting for at least a year before I dare put a plate in front of a guest. At that time, it really wasn’t very well known. I was able to find a little bit of information on the internet but most of it was trial and error. It was good fun.’

Fast forward more than a decade later and the water bath machines are in the kitchens of top chefs including Heston Blumenthal and Jamie Oliver. It has become a common method for them to create fabulous food that diners have come to expect. Almost anything can be made, even a boiled egg.

Chris Holland

Chris Holland - Credit: Archant

Chris is now development chef for one of the market leaders in this technology, SousVide Tools in Claughton. The company was set up four years ago by couple Alex Shannon and Vickie Hawley. Together, with Chris’ assistance, they work with top chefs from around the country including from Gordon Ramsey’s restaurants as well as from Aiden Byrne’s Manchester House and several other Living Ventures restaurants. They have also supplied top restaurant and catering events in the country, including Obsession at Northcote.

Alex said: ‘We had sent a lot of sous-vide machines down to Nigel Haworth for the event because some of the chefs had requested them. It was a massive success and the next day we got a call from Nigel asking us if we could send a lot more.

‘It was fantastic. Apparently Ken Hom wanted our details because he really wanted one.’

A sous-vide is a machine which cooks food at a low, constant temperature. The food is vacuum sealed in an airtight plastic bag and then placed into the water bath where it is cooked for longer than normal times. The method means all of the flavour is locked in and the food is evenly cooked. So your sous-vide broccoli keeps all of its vitamins – boiling removes more than 60 per cent – and your steak is cooked to the temperature that breaks down tendons and fat leaving it tender and juicy. A sous-vide also creates more intense flavours and offers a much healthier way of cooking.

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Until now the machines have been reserved for professional kitchens as well as for work in science laboratories. But now they are becoming more commonplace in domestic kitchens.

Alex said: ‘At first people like Heston and chefs like Chris were doing it behind closed doors. But then as people became more and more food conscious, sous-vide started to be opened up as a domestic product.

‘People wanted to be able to create the dishes they had eaten in restaurants at home, at their own dinner parties. Sous-vide is a great way to do that.’

I was lucky enough to have a masterclass in sous-vide. In the short time I was there, with the talented chef’s expert guidance, I was able to make salmon infused with elderflower and fennel, rib-eye steak and a pineapple dessert. By the end of it I was producing quality food, with little stress, as well as reaching for my credit card.

‘That’s what is so great about it,’ said Chris. ‘It is a very consistent way of cooking. Once you have learned how to use the machine properly you can make some really fantastic dishes.

‘Once you have become more confident you can get really creative and experiment with flavours. You can even supercharge your vegetables. You can make carrots more carroty by cooking them in a good quality carrot juice. They taste amazing. People are more interested in food and they want better quality food at home. This is a great way to cook and is always consistent.’

Chris has trained hundreds of people in sous-vide and now runs courses for members of the public, as well as professional chefs. He is based in SousVide Tools’ development kitchen, next to their office in Claughton. There they have all of the latest sous-vide equipment, including a state-of-the-art oven with sous-vide function. At the moment they cost big money but the price of sous-vide machines are starting to come down – Vickie and Alex sell a small one for £250.

The couple are now gearing up for a surge in demand as sous-vide machines become more a part of the everyday household.

Alex, from Garstang, said: ‘This technique really is becoming a more normal part of cooking. Places like Waitrose and Marks & Spencer are starting to put sous-vide cooking times on their ready meals.

‘We really want to be ahead of the game with this and really feel that we are. We can offer people the chance to learn how to do it with a fantastic chef like Chris. These are very exciting times for us.’