When to Season for Sous Vide

In the General Sous Vide Questions Forum
I have some questions about when to salt food when it comes to sous vide, specifically why you would want to season *before* bagging.

It seems like one of the benefits of sous vide is that I could spend Sunday preparing a bevvy of dishes to last the week. Toss all the ingredients I want in a bag, seal, then plop in the water on the day I want to eat it. Or I could even freeze the prepared meal for longer storage.

My concern would be that if I were to salt food on Sunday, that within a few days I'd almost end up curing it (not always desirable). So it seems to make sense to only season after the cooking is complete (which runs counter to what we're taught about more traditional methods). Or am I wrong about the "curing" aspect?

Even with shorter periods between sealing and cooking, why would I pre-season at all? Wouldn't the salt just leach moisture out of the food?

Is there any reason at all I would WANT to pre-season?

Thanks!


7 Replies So Far

A very good question dancole42, in general we now recommend salting after you have cooked the food, unless it is cooked right away (or frozen) and cooked for a short amount of time. Here's some more information about salting and sous vide: Sous Vide and Salt. That said, the difference tends to be not extreme, unless you had heavily salted it and bagged it days ahead of time.
I'm not sure that the amount of salt normally used for taste is sufficient to be considered curing unless you like your food really salty. (Personally, I also consider it to be 'salting' rather than 'curing', which I take to mean include nitrites/nitrates, but that's a different issue.) Also when we brine meat we do it to increase the moistness, so I'm not sure where this all leads us.
The link above addresses both those issues. The Ideas in Food people and French Culinary Institute both found that pre-salting, especially during long cooking times or cook chill would affect the texture and taste. Like I said, it's minor but still something to keep in mind.
I salt after cooking, purely for convenience. Hunks of meat come vacuum packed from my butcher, so it's just easy to plonk them straight in the water bath and worry about seasoning later. Works fine.
I have been down this road. Cuts of meat like filet mignon (beef tenderloin) can be salted before sous vide and still be juicy after. But other cuts that arent as tender end up dry when salting before sous vide. What i have found is that pre searing without salt adds a somewhat savory flavor from the char and also keeps the moisture in while it cooks. Ive noticed less liquid loss vs only post searing. So what i suggest is to pre sear and post sear and add your herbs and salt right before plating. Just be careful as to not over cook when you sear.The hotter your skillet is, the less time it takes to get a nice crust and the less it will cook the inside of the meat.
Like others have done, I have experimented and researched enough to come to a hard decision. I never salt before sealing unless I'll be eating the protein within about 3 hours. Any longer than that, and I consistently get drier meat with a denser texture. I even make all my rubs without salt now, so I can bag a few briskets or baby backs without worrying about it.

I usually add salt after patting the meat dry, right before searing it (and usually also right before eating :-).

I'm not sure if others would agree, but I'm pretty much convinced that most veggies are exempt from this no-pre-salting rule. I haven't noticed any problems with veggie taste or texture, even after months in the freezer.
Here is a little trick for you. Get yourself a slap of salt, say 12" square by 2" thick. Heat it up in the oven or grill outside to about 600F. Sear you meat/seafood/poulty on the salt slap. Wonderful way to sear you SV! The slaps are available from Amazon


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