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I've been cooking Sous Vide 2-3 times a week for about 10 months now, and I absolutely love it. The control of temperature and time makes for some really interesting possibilities. But, one of the touted benefits of the method is better imparting of flavors during the cooking process, and I'm not getting this at all.

I'm not using a vacuum sealer in my process, instead I'm submerging an open bag in water and letting the partial pressure get all the air out before closing it up. Is this the reason I'm not noticing the additional flavor? Do the muscles in the meat need to be stretched by the vacuum? If that is the case, is a home vacuum sealer sufficient for that? I somehow doubt that a vacuum sealer gets much more negative pressure on the meat than my method. Do I need a chamber vacuum to get the effect?

Or am I just not using the right ingredients in my recipes?

What am I doing wrong? I love my Sous Vide Supreme, but I feel like I'm missing out on a piece of the experience.

Edit: I tried looking for some of the recipes that I haven't had luck with last night, but because everything is mostly google searches, I couldn't really come up with anything concrete. However some things that haven't really added that extra flavor are: Olive oil, butter, bacon fat, rosemary, thyme, and garlic. Not all at the same time, but in different combinations. A lot of my initial reading was careful to point out that you shouldn't use too much seasoning as the tastes would be much stronger than you were used to. I'm not getting that at all.

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Can you give an example of a recipe that didn't work out as you hoped? –  David Norman Jul 22 '10 at 22:19
    
I'm new to stack exchange. Is the appropriate way to do that to edit my initial question? That's what I've done. –  yossarian Jul 23 '10 at 13:42
    
Are you adding fats and flavourings together or just the flavourings? The fats are need to 'carry' the flavourings. –  Ian Turner Jul 23 '10 at 13:57
    
I've done both together. –  yossarian Jul 24 '10 at 17:39
    
One way to think about this isn't that the flavors are concentrated (i.e. reducing a stock concentrates the flavor by reducing the water content) but it makes more flavor available to the meat as it cooks since it's in constant contact (preferably under pressure) in the bag while it cooks at a precise temp. –  Brendan Jan 29 '13 at 20:51
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8 Answers 8

Sous vide not only keeps the proteins (main component) at a lower temperature, but also the spices/oils/flavorings. Heat helps release the taste and aroma of all the ingredients, and the sous vide might not be hot enough to do that.

So, while it kind of kills the simplicity, you could always sautee the seasonings in oil before adding them to the sous vide bag (not until cooler though). Or just keep them separate and recombine for serving. Sous vide itself (not the vacuum part) is mainly for maintaining/achieving a controlled internal temperature, and skilled cooks don't only sous vide a dish; they might sous vide and then finish under a broiler for texture, or with a torch. If the sauce isn't working inside the bag, make it work outside the bag.

Alternately, put the ingredients in the bag the day before, and let them marinate overnight in the fridge. The vacuum action is essentially just a speeded up marinade, so this should do the same.

Also, make sure you're using enough (but not too much) SALT.

Finally, call the Sous Vide Supreme company. They know their product's capabilities and limitations and might have some good recommendations.

Just my guesses.

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It doesn't take too high a temperature, though. I pre-cooked some sweet potatoes at 150F to develop sugar, along with some crushed/ground spices, and they were incredibly fragrant just from that, even before roasting the potatoes. –  Jefromi Feb 24 at 20:07
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up vote 3 down vote accepted

I posed this question to Dave Arnold over at Cooking Issues, as mentioned by Peter V, and he had an answer for me.

Typically, the vacuum will give more flavor penetration than a ziploc. The ziploc, however, will help flavor in the sense that it prevents the loss of volatiles. A home vacuum can help with infusion in the sense of accelerating the penetration of marinades, but isn’t so good at infusion in the sense of rapid pickling and the like –that requires the real machine.

Sounds like a chamber sealer > home vacuum sealer > ziploc bag. I guess I need to invest in another gadget to get the effect (I'll add it to the already rather long gadget list).

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I would recommend adding the savory back to your dishes that sous vide cannot impart upon your food. Depending on the course, you could broil, braise, torch, add MSG, etc.

Don't forget that salt = flavor, too!

The method you use to bag your meats bears little difference in the amount of flavor added (see other FoodSaver vs zip-lock arguments). The home vaccuum sealer will not impose a significant "negative" pressure on the food inside the bag, as the contents retain the atmospheric pressure applied on the surfaces of the bag regardless of how much gas volume is removed. Dipping your ziplock in water works the same way, but under an insignificantly higher pressure (by a few inch-lbs, depending on how deep in water bag is) while removing the gas contents of the bag. The FoodSaver is easier to use and with less mess when using oils in my opinion; I have used both methods.

A commercial food service vaccuum sealer is a different beast altogether, but not something available to the average consumer due to cost (>$1000), but has the potential to draw out a significant amount of the oxygen from the bag compared to a home sealer thereby preventing the oxidation of volatile organics, i.e. flavor, and will imbue more flavor for the same amount of seasoning with less time than what the home cook is capable.

Keep in mind the company Zip-Lock does not recommend sous vide in their bags since they do not have documentation of preventative leaching above 50C (extra cost to the company to test, not necessarily a real fear to have). FoodSaver has performed these tests on their bags, but are more expensive to buy.

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Use more concentrated flavours, that will help. And yes, you need to vac-seal; this draws some of your flavouring compounds right into the meat.

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This is not necessarily true. For instance, read: cookingissues.com/primers/sous-vide/… –  Peter V Jul 22 '10 at 18:42
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The French Culinary Institute Blog has a great (unfinished) primer on Sous Vide cooking. I would recommend it, including this link: http://www.cookingissues.com/primers/sous-vide/part-ii-low-temperature-cooking-without-a-vacuum/ which is on sous vide cooking using ziploc bags and no vacuum seal.

Upshot: Go for it, the author does most of his sous vide minus vacuum cooking at this point.

Regarding flavor: I don't have enough information or experience to help you solve your problem. I'd suggest you update with a sample recipe you're making and what you want out of it -- then some more experienced sous vide folks can comment on what you've got going on.

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Thanks, I read through that a while ago, but had kind of forgotten about it. I've asked the question there too. –  yossarian Jul 23 '10 at 14:04
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Yes, if you're used to the browned flavors of high-heat cooking, sous vide will be strangely bland. You can get those flavors back two ways. Either you can sear the meat first, then seal it and finish cooking sous vide, or you can cook sous vide then let it rest long enough to cool by 30 degrees or so (or all the way to fridge temperature), then finish by high-heat cooking.

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I have been browning meat (but not fish), so that's not really what I'm getting at. Although, I agree, it's essential for beef / pork. Rather my issue is that additional ingredients do not impart strong flavors to the meat as is suggested in the literature. –  yossarian Jul 23 '10 at 13:49
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I was also expecting more flavor concentration from sous-vide than what I'm experiencing. Not a problem per say, just that I had to readjust my expectations.

Maybe part of the claims are inflated by positive thinking? I'd be curious to have see scientific measurements done...

PS: I am using a cheap vacuum sealer (FoodSaver)

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Are you using any type of vacuum or are you using the water displacement method? Maybe if it's the former, you could try the two side by side and see what you think. –  yossarian Aug 6 '10 at 13:11
    
Oh, I should have mentioned that. Answer updated. –  Marc-André Lafortune Aug 6 '10 at 15:49
    
I think you may be misled in the idea of the flavor being concentrated, you are losing less flavor, moisture, volatiles but in order for flavors to be concentrated you need to reduce the amount of water available (think of reducing a stock). SV doesn't do that obviously. –  Brendan Jan 29 '13 at 20:49
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I will talk only about beef only. I too see the results of loss of flavor in cooking beef sous vide. I also I know longer but into the advertised fact that vacuum sealing beef "sucks" in flavor. I think it sucks flavor out and when cook under pressure it prevents flavor penetration all together and once the protien is cooked it will not suck anything back in when the pressure of the bag is released. I have tried chamber tumblers and they dont work as advertised either. Tumbling the meat in a rock tumbler will produce better results in my experience as vacuum chamber tumblers. I consistently have more success at marinating beef in a glass dish or ziplock. I have been cooking sous vide for about 3 years. I find that cooking quality steaks on a grill has better flavor then a sous vide one. Use the sous vide cooker for tough cuts of beef and plan to add some kinda sauce when served. I have had success at marinating beef and then using the Archimedes principal to sous vide cook but I won't say it's better than a grilled.

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