Custom Meat Processing, Sous Vide Style: Part One

A Deceptively Simple Way for Casual Dining Segments to Trend Upscale

Pommes frites. Mirepoix. En papillote. Whether one refers to deep-fried potato sticks, roughly chopped vegetables, or cooking in parchment paper, cooking simply sounds sexier in French. The term “sous vide” is no exception. Sous vide, which literally translates to “under vacuum” in French, is the process of cooking vacuum-wrapped food — in particular, protein items — in a water bath low and slow.

Repeatable Results Add Value to Every Order

Chef Georges Pralus of Restaurant Troigros in Roanne, France, developed the sous vide technique in the 1970s. The owners of the famed French restaurant wanted to improve yield management and moisture retention when cooking foie gras.

Chef Pralus discovered that cooking the product in an airtight bag slowly in water, at a lower temperature than normally used for cooking, preserved moisture, fat content, texture, and appearance — and improved the yield by more than 20 percent.

Although consumers generally associate sous vide with high-end restaurants, the value-added benefits are made-to-order for family dining, bar and grill, fast casual and casual dining segments — allowing chefs better planning and time management in the kitchen:

  • Leaner value protein cuts turn out as tender, and more flavorful, than more expensive cuts or grades, providing much-needed flexibility in current protein markets.
  • The sealed bag retains nutrients, texture, and flavor, improving the taste and aroma of retail meat cuts.
  • Precise control over low final cooking temperature prevents overcooking of meat and poultry products, such as flank steaks and turkey breasts, which typically dry out easily.
  • Fully cooked protein can be served immediately after cooking without resting to seal in juices.
  • Center-of-the plate items can be held at specified temperatures for extended periods without affecting quality, which is ideal for orders with multiple items and cooking times.
  • Perfectly cooked, servable protein portions can be consistently replicated every time.

Sous vide style meat products are now very prevalent in the protein processor arena, with even fast-casual segments adopting the trend. Mintel market research reported in 2012 that “more concepts, including Subway and burger chains, are using slowly cooked protein as a way to add variety, value, and better health to menus.”*

Packaged Protein Solutions Eliminate Back-of-the-House Prep

Wholesale meat suppliers like Bridgeview, Ill.-based Stampede Meat make it easy and inexpensive for development chefs at restaurant chains to incorporate the sous vide style of cooking into their menus. The innovative protein solutions processor specializes in custom-made, center-of-the-plate beef, pork, and chicken products that include a full line of sous vide items.

“Most of our fully cooked protein portions are sous vide products, which help food service customers maximize their product yields for menu item profitability on vendor-supported items,” said Ron Jolicoeur, Corporate Executive Chef at Stampede Meat. Stampede’s sous vide solutions offer additional value-added benefits to the corporate kitchen:

  • Ease of use
  • Portion control
  • Fast-reheat ticket items
  • Single-item SKU with multiple applications in various day parts
  • 100% edible product
  • Quick and easy meals in minutes with minimal prep time and waste

“The majority of the prep work for a successful sous vide item has already been completed by Stampede in a custom recipe built collaboratively with our customers before packaging,” Chef Jolicoeur explained. That prep work includes trimming, browning, flavoring, bagging, and vacuum sealing. Completing the process is simple for the back-of-the-house chef:

  1. Immerse the vacuum-packed product into a 140°F–180°F water bath, depending on the cut.
  2. Slow cook to a specified determined internal finished temperature.

Sous vide style protein products from companies like Stampede Meat make the upscale method deceptively simple for a great many restaurant customers. They offer chain restaurant chefs a hands-off way improve cooking quality, increase profitability, minimize labor — and consistently repeat the process over and over again.

This is the first in a series of articles about sous vide cooking for casual restaurant market segments.

By Jennifer Moore