The complicated inverse relationship between time and flavor in quick service has spurred a number of kitchen innovations — like the conveyor-belt oven or new freezing techniques — that have been perfected over the years. With an audience of hungry customers who are low on time, but still toting high expectations, prep staff is having to work harder than ever to make their QSR chains stand out today.
Like most procurement and counter-delivered solutions in the fast food industry, for every true innovation, there's a host of pretenders to the throne, particularly when new and exciting trends emerge. Sous vide is one of those breakout game-changers, but restaurant managers must be wary. If you’re not getting the real deal, you risk falling short on both sides of the counter.
Flavorful Cooking Takes Time
Time is one of the best seasonings a kitchen has at its disposal. It factors into slow-roasted meats, dry-aged steaks, simmered stews and so much more. A customer can tell right away if your "low and slow" barbecue was zapped in the microwave or if your roast swapped adequate oven time for a higher temperature and hoped for the best. In fact, according to a Consumer Reports poll on fast food complaints, more than half of the of respondents indicated that their food did not look or taste the way the menu portrayed it.
Opting for authentic sous vide will give your dishes the flavorful hours they need before they arrive in-house, allowing you to deliver authentic time-seasoned flavor without eating into your limited kitchen space and time. Think of it as time-travel for food — a moist, delicious, fall-off-the-bone kind of time travel that your customers will crave.
Preserving the Best Flavors
Sealing in flavor is not a new concept in the kitchen, but it’s typically the realm of marinated ingredients or seared steaks. A busy QSR (or even fast casual) kitchen is forever pressed for time, and the effort required to seal in flavor simply isn't available. Prepared sous vide dishes aren't simply bagged and heated back up, they're cooked in their bags first, allowing all the spices, juices and flavor to circulate properly, and then frozen or preserved for a final transformation in your kitchen. A quick reheat on the stove top or griddle is all you need to finish the dish with flavors intact. Compare that, advises industry company Calvetti Culinary Creations, to methods that bill themselves as sous vide style. These imitators typically use harsh steam that decimates delicate flavors or uninspired raw ingredients in boil-in-a-bag cooking — methods that don't save you enough time to make up for the drastic loss of flavor.
The Consistency You Need
The more steps required for preparing an in-house dish, the higher the likelihood there will be differences between servings: too much pepper one night, too little salt the next. Any variation in kitchen staff — a natural reality due to rotating shifts — can mean a variation in food and, thus, in consumer experiences. Sous vide also allows you, as Modernist Cuisine explains, to perfect and standardize each dish, with no concerns over scorching or undercooking due to minutely-controlled time and heat. Additionally, important budget considerations like portion control are incredibly easy when each meal is already measured out within its own preparation bag. Less employee training is required — especially for brands that opt for heat-and-serve sous vide options — less hardware within the kitchen to clean and prep, less wasted ingredients from off-cuts and spoiled produce. Simply put, using true sous vide in your kitchen helps eliminate an impressive range of profit-denting variables.
If you're on the fence about trying sous vide in your own kitchen, consider this: in a 2016 Statista trend-spotting poll given to professional chefs, 46% of them marked sous vide as an up-and-coming hot kitchen trend. Industry pros are not only aware of the possibilities of this cooking method, they're embracing it — and it's only going to become more popular. Get ahead of the trend and lock down your sous vide suppliers for your supply chain now. If you drag your feet, you may find yourself waiting in line to get the pre-prepped dishes that your customer base is clamoring for from your distributors.