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mix, pack and vac
vaccing foods for sous–vide and general storage

If you are interested in learning more about sous–vide cooking we will be doing another sous–vide cooking course in the July to November 2011 COOKS’S CLUB courses! To Receive advance notice for classes PLEASE CLICK HERE

Whilst the Spanish chef Ferran Adrià and his restaurant ElBulli closely followed by the charismatic Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck fame have been mainly accredited with the fashion of sous–vide cooking the technique started so long ago and neither can legitimately be accredited by the press for perfecting the technique. Ferran Adrià was born in 1962 and Heston Blumenthal who is just slightly younger in 1966. American chef Thomas Keller of The French Laundry fame was born in 1955 and whilst he has resisted much of the silliness of molecular cuisine it hasn’t stopped him from introducing modern cooking techniques or taking the more successful elements contemporary cooking and making them his own. Keller further with typical generosity laid down everything that he and his team had learned about sous–vide technique and published it for all to use in his excellent and easy to follow book Under Pressure.

The food vac machine has been part of the commercial kitchen since the 70s and the vast banquets operations in the USA have long used sous–vide as a reliable method to mass–produce high quality food. The technique allows for advance preparation without compromising the freshness or quality of the product by providing a longer shelf life and the cooking method known as sous–vide allows for the delivery of a consistent product of a very high standard to many thousands of guests. The sophistication of the kitchen extends set up figures to hundreds of thousands of dollars but when properly executed the method eliminated the inconsistencies that are often found in conventional cooking for massed numbers.

The home cook is of course not looking at a vac machine for any of these reasons, and yet the demand for the home vac machine has become so common that even in food businesses located in traditionally ethnic suburbs that might be focused on traditional cooking methods the domestic machines are for sale. Clearly the vac machine is not merely the domain of the chef. We purchased our first domestic vac machine (Sunbeam) more than two years ago and in that time have cruelly punished it, demanding much more than we had any right to do. Having experience with commercial vac machines in restaurants and hotels, the shortcomings between the commercial and domestic version were obvious. The inability to adjust the strength of the vac meant that vaccing liquid was tricky and sometimes almost impossible. We developed many ways of tricking the domestic vac into submission. Like for instance bagging stock and refrigerating it until it jellied and then bagging it. The end result was we didn’t flood the vac channel with liquid and instead of a dubious vacuum pack we had an excellent result. Best of all, it allowed up to keep stock in the fridge and take it whenever we needed it; no thawing no microwaving we could carefully split the pack take what we needed, return the reduced amount to the same bag and revac. The new Sunbeam domestic vac machine is a brilliant advancement in the domestic vac machine market. Several strength of vac options, a removable drip tray for cleaning purposes and a simple locking system. The old version, the last of that stock can be purchased just about everywhere at the moment for around $100 and we purchased the new model at Harvey Normal City Cross store where the best price was $250, $50 less than anywhere else. The ’can do a deal’ attitude of their staff was refreshing.

The fact that a vac machine uses plastic is of course an environmental issue. We have long used the plastic clips from Ikea to clamp plastic bags of dried herbs and nuts however, despite how handy they are and environmentally friendly they do not retain flavour or freshness in the same way that vaccing does. We have purchased several of the reusable vac boxes made by the Sunbeam group and love them for storing plucked herbs and leaves. Even plucked herbs like mint and basil that blacken when crushed stay in good condition for 24 hours. Line the bottom of the boxes with a double layer of damp paper towel. Remove the little round rubber release valve before putting them in the dishwasher because they vanish. We are now down to a single stopper, which is very annoying.

We keep all of our nuts in the fridge, take what we need, cut the bag back and revac or reseal depending on the type of nut. We vac roasted and crushed reseal untreated nuts. Crushed roasted peanuts, refreshed for a couple of seconds on an oven or microwave means that Thai salad is perfectly finished with a minimum of fuss. Having a vac machine means we can buy a slab or rump, portion it, roll it through olive oil, salt and pepper and vac it. It might mean we take a single portion or several depending on how many there are to feed and then the bag is revacced and returned to the fridge. No thawing, no loss of juice no detrimental affect on the product. What we have learned never to do is to put our hands in the vac pack and remove food and reseal it. Hygiene is paramount in vaccing and sous–vide cooking.

The documentation that comes with both the old and new Sunbeam vac machine and other brands we have looked at in stores and in friend’s homes are totally devoid of really concise information about packing and storing and shelf life and the dangers that can be encountered with poor hygiene, inconsistent refrigeration temperatures. The machines are brilliant, the concept incredibly useful but the health risks without proper care are blatantly obvious.

There is an excellent book that we reviewed almost 18 months ago Sous–Vide and every chef should own one, but it is equally as important for the home cook to fully understand the food safety aspects of vaccing food. We strongly urge you to buy or share with a friend or friends. The book has concise information about packing and storing, expected shelf life and what core temperatures should be maintained. The book also covers cooking most foods by the sous–vide method and carefully explains the rapid chill process that is critical to the length of shelf life of cooked vacced foods. The book is available in Adelaide from Ecotel on Gouger Street. It is expensive but the point is one really needs to understand temperature, packing and handling and storage life before embarking on bringing the vac machine into your every day life. Get the gist of all of this and you’ll probably never look back.

the people behind Galaxy Guidesfood editor and publisher
Ann Oliver

champagne editor
Kaaren Palmer


Jan Bowman
Political comentator, briliant photographer…farmers’s market obsessed…Brisbane based.

Olivia Stratton Makris
Masters of Gastronomy, NYC, Spain and constant assistance and editorial suggestion…Adelaide based.

Michael Martin…Northern America 2016.Photographic assistance Kym Martin…Adelaide based.

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copyright © text, recipes and images Ann Oliver & Kaaren Palmer 2016.