Sous vide, now the rage among many ambitious chefs, is not for every cook. The term is French for “under vacuum”; it sounds much nicer than “vacuum packed” and more euphonious than “boil-in bag” or “Cryovac”—the food-grade plastic that has become a generic label for both the process and the bags in which food is vacuum sealed, cooked, chilled, and reheated. Everything that “Cryovac” implies turns many cooks completely off sous vide. A thick plastic barrier comes between you and the food you’re cooking. It looks ugly, like something from a cut-rate super‑ market bin or, worse, a laboratory refrigerator. You can’t touch, smell, or stir what you’re cooking. When a piece of meat or chicken—which is what many chefs primarily use the sous vide method to cook—comes out of the bag, it looks like a rubber item from a joke shop.
For decades frozen-food manufacturers, airline meal services, and caterers have put entire meals in bags. So have harried homemakers, using vacuum-sealing machines like the ones advertised on late-night TV shows. Their motives are similar: extended storage that saves time and space, and good flavor results. High-end restaurants have long bought fancy entrée components in vacuum pouches, which allow chefs to offer a range of dishes their own kitchens are incapable of producing (meals just as good as first-class airplane food, in a restaurant!). In recent years cooking techniques and technology have been considerably refined (Cuisine Solutions, in Alexandria, Virginia, is the national leader), and today much first-class airline food is in fact prepared in vacuum-packed bags. Hotels and banquet halls rely on them. In France sous vide is a part of everyday life for discriminating shoppers, who buy haute cuisine meals from gleaming white-tiled frozen-food markets, and don’t hesitate to serve them at elegant parties.