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There’s some confusion in the marketplace surrounding the technique of quick chilling after sous vide cooking. Is it necessary? Is it helpful? When and where would it be important to do? And how do you do it?
The technique of quick-chilling foods cooked in a water bath, such as the SousVide Supreme, really helps to leverage the time of the busy restaurant chef or home cook. The cook-chill-reheat technique has been a secret of commercial kitchens and caterers for decades, allowing them to prepare batches of food for large crowds of diners ahead of time.
The technique works well for busy home cooks trying to feed a family, too. It’s actually quite easy to do, though you do want to be careful, as with all cooking methods, not to allow food to sit for more than an hour or two outside the food safety zone--i.e., temperatures above 40F/4C and below 130F/54C.
Fill the SousVide Supreme with vacuum-sealed pouches of foods that will all cook at the same temperature—for instance, if you are planning to cook a batch of Brussels’ sprouts at 182F/83C, throw in a pouch of carrots, a pouch of beets, and a pouch of butternut squash at the same time, since they can all cook at the same temperature nicely. If you are cooking two chicken breasts at 146F/63.5C, cook four or even six. If you are cooking steaks, medium rare at 134F/56C, drop in a pouch of lamb chops and a pouch of pork chops as well.
When the pouches have finished cooking, pull them from the water bath and submerge them—fully covered—in an ice water bath that is at least one-half ice. Leave them in the ice water to chill for 30 minutes to an hour. (Pouches of food thicker than an inch or two will take a bit longer.)
Once chilled to refrigerator temperature, you can remove the pouches from the ice water, dry them well, label them with the food contained and the date you put them into storage, either refrigerating the sealed pouches of cooked food for as long as 4 days or freezing the sealed pouches for up to a year. Note: If any air has accumulated in the pouch (which can sometimes occur with vegetables) to best preserve quality, you should repackage the food in a new, vacuum-sealable pouch, removing as much air as possible, before storing in the refrigerator or freezer.
When ready to use the foods, put the sealed pouches (frozen or refrigerated) into a water bath at the desired serving temperature for at least 30 minutes (from thawed) or up to one hour (from frozen). If reheating multiple foods together in the water bath that were originally cooked at different temperatures, set the SousVide Supreme at the lowest of these various cooking temperatures. (For instance, if reheating steak cooked at 134F/56C with beets cooked at 182F/83C, set the water bath to 134F/56C, so that the beets will rewarm, but you will not overcook the meat.) Conversely you can set the SousVideSupreme to 180 to reheat the vegetables, let the meat come to room temperature on the countertop, and reheat the meat with just a sear in the skillet, on the grill or grill pan, or with a kitchen torch.
Cooking a whole meal (especially when entertaining) usually means cooking various sorts of dishes at different temperatures that in the end you’ll reheat and serve in one meal. When that’s the case, you’ll want to quick chill each pouch of food after it’s been sous vide cooked, so that you can refrigerate it for reheating later to serve the meal. Putting a pouch directly from the water oven into the refrigerator can cause problems from a food safety perspective by potentially keeping the food in the danger zone for too long, allowing the growth of food-borne microbes. It can also heat up the interior of the refrigerator, putting other foods within at risk.
Follow the same steps as outlined above: put the pouch(es) into an ice-water bath that is at least one-half ice and leave them long enough to bring the food down to near refrigerator temperature (at least 40F/4C). Then dry the pouch, label with contents and date, and refrigerate for up to 4 days. You’ll be able to reheat the pouches all together at the lowest temperature of the foods you’ve cooked separately and then proceed with your finishing and plating steps.
Quick chilling is especially useful before finishing meat, poultry, game, and even seafood dishes in which you’re accustomed to having a caramelized sear. Food at cooking temperature that’s put directly into the hot skillet, under the broiler on high, or hit with a torch can more easily overcook in the finishing step, turning your perfect medium rare rib-eye something more toward medium.
Bring the temperature down by putting the pouch into an ice-water bath for 10 to 15 minutes to cool the surface and give you a little more leeway to get that nicely caramelized exterior without overcooking the interior. The chill step also stops carryover cooking and improves the final texture of fish and seafood.
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