Review – Sous Vide Supreme
The trend for using so-called ‘molecular’ techniques in cooking and cocktails has been around for a time now, and indeed one could argue that some of these foams, airs, and spherified what-nots are in fact becoming a little passé and are on the decline in the trendy stakes. Often spoken about as part of this style of food/drink production is the sous-vide, although it really shouldn’t be for of these so-called ‘modern’ techniques it is the one that poses the greatest chance of becoming a staple technique in professional and home kitchens. In fact, it isn’t all that modern at all; really it’s just a twist on the idea of bain marie cooking.
The Sous Vide Supreme range comes in a large pro version and the ‘Demi’ which fits much more neatly in the home kitchen whilst still being plenty large enough to still have a few things on the go at the same time. Essentially it’s a water bath which will keep the water within at the temperature you tell it to via the handy little buttons on the front. Aside from the timer function there are no other settings to master, perfectly simple. Along with it comes a vacuum sealer; just pop whatever it is you are sous-viding into one of the heat-sealing bags, clamp it into the sealer and hey presto you have something ready for cooking. Handily, the sealer also has the option of dealing without using the vacuum. This is all but essential when liquids are involved as the vacuum has a nasty habit of sucking the liquid out of the bag! The alternative being to use zip lock bags and the Archimedes principle.
Whereas in culinary use, sous-vide cooking is often used to reduce the cooking temperature compared with other techniques, this is not always the case with ingredients for cocktail use. The infusion of flavours into a spirit for example (think making sloe gin) usually takes place at room temperature over a relatively long period of time. The sous-vide allows the time taken to be reduced significantly by increasing the temperature, but also by controlling it to below the level where the alcohol would evaporate and sugars would be caramelised. One of my favourite infusions for example is fig and blanco tequila. At room temperature, it can take a couple of weeks to get a decent intensity of fig flavours into the tequila, whereas overnight in the sous-vide at 50C resulted in an infusion that hit the spot without the wait.
In other situations it is not the reduced time that is the appeal of sous-vide, but the lower temperature that can be used. Fruits and herbs offer a myriad of opportunities in cocktail making, but achieving an intensity of flavour in the final drink can be troublesome. If used in their neat form and simply shaken with the other ingredients as the cocktail is mixed, the results can be unreliable and are highly dependent upon the fruit/herb being used. Very aromatic herbs such as mint are frequently used in cocktails for they readily impart the flavours and aromas. Other less intense flavours such as the woodier herbs and more delicate fruits can be more difficult. The ability to carefully control the cooking temperature using the sous-vide opens up many more possibilities as the heat can be high enough to draw the flavours out, but still low enough so as not to change the flavours of the ingredient. By adding the required ingredient to some sugar syrup in a sous-vide bag, a few hours of cooking will produce a delightfully fresh-tasting syrup that can then simply be strained and used in cocktails. Try some kiwi fruit or lemongrass to use in place of regular sugar syrup in a Daiquiri.
Spirits have been aged in wooden barrels for hundreds of years, and it has become quite the fashion in recent years to use the same technique to age whole cocktails. From Negronis to Pina Coladas, there isn’t much that hasn’t been tried. The problem is, not all cocktails benefit from the imparting of woody flavours as inevitably happens when a barrel is used. What is desirable sometimes however is improved integration of flavours than can be achieved by the fresh combining of ingredients. Although not strictly ‘ageing’ cocktails, cooking a pre-batched cocktail in the sous-vide can result in some surprisingly different flavours after just a few hours. Negroni’s work very well, with an overnight cooking at 50C resulting in a cocktail that when stirred briefly with ice tastes as though the ingredients are much more at one with each other than when freshly prepared. Be warned though, this technique doesn’t work with citrus juices!
Whilst a sous-vide machine could hardly be considered an essential piece of apparatus for cocktail making, it does have some genuine uses that make it a tempting proposition for the enthusiastic home cocktail maker. The Sous Vide Supreme Demi that I checked out offered everything that would be expected, in a good-looking and compact design.
Figgy Tequila Collins
50ml Fig-infused blanco tequila, 25ml Lime Juice, 10ml Agave Syrup, Soda Water.
Infuse a dozen chopped semi-dried figs in 250ml blanco tequila, sous-vide at 50C overnight then allow to cool and strain. Shake tequila, lime and agave syrup briefly with ice and strain over ice into a highball glass. Top with soda and garnish with a slice of fig.
Cinema Highball (adapted from a recipe by Don Lee)
2oz Popcorn-infused buttered rum, 4.5oz Coca Cola.
Create the popcorn-infused rum by adding a handful of freshly popped popcorn and 50g clarified butter to 250ml quality white rum. Seal in a sous-vide bag and sous-vide for 6hrs at 55C. Strain the contents into a plastic container and place in the freezer for an hour to solidify the butter, then remove. Build the drink over ice in a highball glass and garnish with a good movie.
2oz Bourbon/Rye Whiskey, 1oz Sweet Vermouth, 0.25oz Orange Curacao, 2 dash Bitters.
Add ingredients to bag and seal. Sous vide overnight at 40C. Allow to cool then stir with ice and strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
The Sous Vide Supreme Demi was provided on loan for the purpose of this article.