Sous Vide & Clifton Food Range Water Baths: Is this the future of the ready meal?
January 2008: Interview with Neil Nugent – ASDA Brand Chef and Food Selector – who has introduced a range of sous vide style dishes into ASDA stores.
- Q) What prompted you to introduce a range of sous vide style dishes into ASDA stores?
- A) Our intention is to markedly improve the flavour of the conventional ready meal. All ready meals contain elements that are cooked separately and constructed later into the actual meal. This means that many of the flavours are lost, and the components do not produce a ‘marriage’ of flavours.
When the meal components are all cooked together in the bag, there is no loss of flavour from any ingredient and the significant level of improvement in flavour means it resembles a home cooked meal.
- Q) Was this as a result of the gaining in popularity of the sous vide style of cooking at restaurant level?
- A) No, it was to look at the trend of cooking various food items at the correct temperatures to achieve full protein retention.
- Q) Is ASDA the only supermarket in this country using this method for ready meal development?
- A) As far as we are aware, we are the only supermarket in the UK pursuing this at the moment.
- Q) What about in Europe?
- A) In mainland Europe there is a big trend towards this style of cooking and for engaging top names to endorse or provide signature dishes. This is very much the case in Belgium and – of course – France.
- Q) How are the baths used in the development process?
- A) The baths are used to study the results of cooking various meats at different temperatures. We then provide the recipe data to the manufacturer of the ready meal who has to provide factory samples for comparison with our intended results.
- Q) Did you know which cuts of meat and which dishes it would be best to target first?
- A) We knew that particular cuts of meat would give better results than others. If the meat is too lean for example, the flavour will be less enhanced than with cuts like chuck or feather. A small amount of fat really improves the flavour and the tenderness comes from the collagen and connective tissue breaking down slowly. Using the baths has confirmed our research and enabled us to produce really fantastic results.
- Q) Was it easy to use the baths for the micro sale development before upscaling for production trials?
- A) Yes it was. All our current sous vide meals were developed here in the kitchen in Leeds. Development is an ongoing process and there are some exciting dishes about to be launched.
- Q) Presumably this gave you exact control over the creation of the dishes?
- A) Working this way means I can directly control the end product. It puts me in charge of the process and I can prove to those producers who may have been sceptical at first that this technology really works and gives amazing results.
- Q) What methods would you have used if you did not have access to the baths?
- A) There is no way I could have developed the sous vide range without the Clifton Food Range water baths. They have opened exciting doors for us and are changing the way we sell and what we present.
- Q) How has the sous vide range been performing in terms of sales – are they increasing?
- A) They are performing very well with sales across the entire range growing rapidly. Our number one best seller in the Extra Special ready meal range is the lamb shank. There are not enough lamb shanks in the UK to satisfy ASDA’s demand and we run out weekly across all stores.
- Q) Has customer feedback about the sous vide range been encouraging?
- A) Customers love the results of the technology used to develop this range because the food is cooked at controlled levels giving tender and flavoursome results. This is why we are seeing the sales of this range expanding.
- Q) Is there scope to start emphasising the nutritional benefits of cooking in this manner and extending this to another range of ‘healthy option’ style dishes?
- A) Our number one priority is to be focussed on healthy eating, and we always reduce the fat and salt contents as much as possible. In our sous vide range all the flavours are captured entirely and the nutritional value of meals cooked in this manner is very high. Our nutritional data is printed on the side of all packs. We are working hard to provide the public with a nutritionally well-balanced ready meal.