American appetites today are driven by two desires that are frequently at odds with one another: we want food that is more healthful and nutritious. But, we also want meals that are delicious and indulgent. Upwards of 40 percent of American consumers say that they are more likely to eat at a restaurant that features healthy alternatives on the menu, even if they don't wind up eating a healthy meal once they get there. Though swayed by the availability of healthy options, most diners won’t end up ordering the heart-smart or other healthy-label dish—largely because they want their meals out to feel like a treat. By adding some sous vide recipes to your menu, you can give consumers the chance to enjoy entrees that are both healthy and indulgent.
What Do Consumers Want When They Ask for "Healthy" Foods?
The definition of "healthy" is continually changing in consumers' minds. In the nineties, it meant low fat. Carbs became the enemy in the early 2000s. Now, consumers are more likely to look for options like locally-grown produce, organic items and meats raised without antibiotics. There's a desire for purity in foods, and many people feel that preservatives, hormones and antibiotics fed to animals are damaging to their health. A Technomic survey released late last year found that two out of five respondents were concerned about additives in their food. When looking at food choices, rather than simply being told that a dish is a healthier choice, diners want a more transparent approach where specific features are mentioned, like the fact that a dish is preservative- or antibiotic-free.
When looking at options for your sous vide entrees, choose heritage, sustainable or otherwise ethically-raised meats as the center of a dish. Because sous vide involves long and slow cooking, you also have the opportunity to serve tougher, less used cuts. Think of a long cooked brisket from grass fed cows or shanks from humanely raised lamb. This allows you to offer premium choices like organic and pastured meat while continuing to keep your costs down.
How Does Sous Vide Fit in?
With sous vide cookery, ingredients are sealed in vacuum bags, then submerged in a water bath for an extended time to create a perfectly cooked dish.
With a delicate protein like salmon, sous vide gently cooks the light flesh to the perfect slightly rare results that give the best mouthfeel. In sturdier meats, sous vide temperatures slowly dissolve the gelatin in the tissues, leaving you with a meat that is tender, juicy and flavorful. Aromatics added before sealing the cooking bags can permeate the dish, offering flavor that can't be beat by traditional cooking methods.
For sides, consider hearty vegetables like root vegetables. Carrots become a sweet indulgence when slow-cooked in a sous vide bath and then finished by caramelizing them in a pan. Other root vegetables, like beets, daikon and turnips are also great candidates. This allows you to offer fresh, local produce even in the cooler months. Customers will appreciate the lower number of food miles, plus the chance to enjoy a side that is healthy to eat while feeling deliciously sinful.
As a chef or restaurant owner, you need to balance pleasurable meals with customer demands. When courting a clientele that desires healthy but indulgent meals, sous vide can be your secret weapon. Deploy these recipes to give your customers delicious flavors and a tender and luxurious mouthfeel in a recipe that's healthy, as well. They'll add your dish to their favorite restaurant meals and come back often to enjoy it again.