Inside Indigos kitchen,chef Pankaj Bhingarde wraps pieces of marinated chicken breasts in cling film before placing them in air-tight plastic bags. He then sucks out the air with a straw and vacuum-seals them. After attaching a digital thermometer to a water bath,he immerses the bags in it. The idea is to maintain the temperature inside the tub, says the chef before sauntering off to finish other tasks in the kitchen. The chicken,meanwhile,will cook for about an hour in the water bath at 64 degrees.
The result? A perfectly cooked piece of meat succulent and flavourful,which melts in the mouth. The chef will use it to prepare 64 Degrees Truffle Chicken,where it will be served on a bed of garlic custard and sautéed seasonal vegetables such as baby carrots,onions,radish and asparagus with mushroom jus. The texture of any meat or vegetable cooked by this process,called sous vide,is superior as it helps retain the ingredients nutrition and accentuates its flavours, says Bhingarde,the sous chef at Indigo,which has been employing this method for over a year now. Sous vide also promises greater shelf life as food cooked through this method stays fit for consumption (when refrigerated) for seven to 45 days.
Sous vide French for under vacuum is a technique where food is cooked in air-tight plastic bags in hot water baths with the temperature maintained below boiling point. French chefs may have perfected this technique in the early 60s,but it wasnt popular in other European kitchens till the 90s. While other slow cooking methods such as braising (combination of roasting and steaming) and poaching (combination of steaming and blanching) have always been around,sous vide is a fairly new entrant in Mumbais restaurants.
Though any kind of meat,vegetables and fruits can be cooked using this method,the range of temperature and time of cooking varies. For example,Prafull Srivastava,executive sous chef,The Lalit,Mumbai,plans to bring back two dishes a lamb shoulder preparation called Lamb 2 Ways and their Ceaser Salad with chunks of sous vide chicken tikka and slow cooked egg at the hotels Trendz restaurant. We cook the lamb for close to 24 hours before adding it to the dish, Srivastava explains.
The pork belly served at Indigo is sous vide for about 72 hours before it reaches your table. Chefs,therefore,sous vide the pork twice in a week and refrigerate it to be used later. Vegetables take lesser time to cook,so the same process can be wrapped up in under 40 minutes. As complex as sous vide may seem,Bhingarde vouches for its easy-to-use qualities. Even if you forget to check on the meat for a couple of hours,it wont harm the dish, he adds.
However,the equipment for this process can be expensive,a fact that has so far limited Juliano Rodrigues,executive chef at Out Of The Blue,to use the technique only on request. I do my sous vide with the help of existing equipment,since the equipment costs up to Rs 2 lakh, says Rodrigues. The challenge is to keep the temperature below 65 degrees, he adds.
In order to cope with these challenges,Palladium Hotels executive sous chef Rahul Kaushik is in the process of training his assistants to master the sous vide style of cooking before the hotel begins operations in full swing.
Due to the growing popularity of television shows such as MasterChef and Top Chef,many American homes took to sous vide cooking using amateur equipment. But will sous vide work in Indian homes too? Sous vide is best suited to European cooking,as the use of the fire element is minimal, says Srivastava.