The French term “(salmon), chaud-froid” literally means “(salmon) hot-cold,” but it is at least half idiomatic.  It actually refers to a large class of prepared foods, which are always be served cold. Chaud-froid is never served “chaud,” always “froid.” Those huge platters that they arrange on the midnight cruise ship buffet on cruise ships include chaud-froid, especially if the dish is sauced with cream in some form.  These creations always come from the Gardemanger department, which specializes in cold foods.

The use of the word “chaud” (hot) may refer to the notion that the items are derived from other items that are or were served hot. It may also suggest that the items, and the particular sauces, LOOK like they might be served hot–but they’re not.  I’m sure a lot of purists and excellent French speakers will take issue with my interpretation, but be that as it may.  This Salmon, prepared Sous Vide, is being served cold, even though it LOOKS kinda like it could be hot, cantaloupe slices notwithstanding.

Sous Vide Salmon, straight ahead

Processing fish Sous Vide utilizes a different philosophy than for other proteins.  There is no collagen in fin fish, so tenderization is never necessary.  Fish takes on a cooked appearance at a much lower temperature than other proteins, and pasteurization is not usually an intended function of the model.  Sous Vide fish is safe, of course, because it is not vulnerable to the same pathogens as land dwelling creatures.  Properly prepared, cured salmon, lox, gravlax, and sushi and sashimi are all safe, even though they are not cooked.

I am always careful not to expose raw fish to raw meat, whether utilizing Sous Vide to process or not.  This has always been a standard practice in restaurants, just to avoid flavor contamination.  It is an important safety measure as well.

Salmon Chaud?  or Salmon Froid?

The model for processing fin fish is really quite simple.  If I plan on serving it cold, it can be cooked as low as 107F, and, depending on its thickness, rarely more than an hour.  It is then promptly shocked, chilled, and served “same day.”

If my plan is to process Sous Vide, and then serve hot, and/or “seared,” the bath temperature ranges from that same 107F to 127F.  Above 127F, the fish will develop a thin film of albumin, which is harmless, and easily removed with a clean, moist towel.

Beyond that, it is safe to prepare fish at as high a temperature as you like, and a lot of people like.  I know people that insist on using 165F as their standard, and they’re fully entitled to that preference.  It’s safe.  Nothing else matters, really.

Wait!  I’m not done yet!

There are other models, too.  One of the earliest Sous Vide methods, especially applicable to the restaurant environment, calls for simply pouring boiling water over the bagged fish, and letting it rest in the water until it hits 140F (the water). Actually, what this means is, you pour in the boiling water, and your fish will be done in 10 minutes, and fine for service for quite a while longer, to accommodate the ebb and flow of restaurant service.

Sous Vide Salmon

  • This salmon was “poached” in a Ziploc Quart bag, 127Fx30 minutes.  There is a potato chip below it, along with fresh cold asparagus.  I do not cook asparagus Sous Vide, because it emits a gas that, if not allowed to escape, will darken the vegetable.

Sous Vide Salmon

  • To the right of the fish is a tomato remoulade sauce, drizzled with balsamic syrup, and on the left is a minted pesto aioli. The white sauce is whipped cream with a dash of fresh horseradish, sprinkled with a little ground pepper.

Sous Vide Salmon

  • The cantaloupe lends a vibrant, sweet accent to the overall dish, along with the balsamic syrup.  There is actually a faint bitterness to asparagus, which complements the horseradish.  If the dish is served promptly, the potato chip will still be crisp.