What is Sous Vide?
Would you like to spend less time slaving over the stove and yet prepare the most nutritious and delicious meals of your life? It sounds like a fairy tale, but with the sous vide cooking method, you–yes, you–can achieve all of these kitchen goals and more.
“Sous vide” is a French term, but that doesn’t mean that this cooking method is reserved for professional chefs in fancy French restaurants. The term simply means “under vacuum.” In sous vide cooking, ingredients are placed in a plastic bag, and the air is removed from the bag–hence the “under vacuum” name. Then, the bag of food is placed in a water bath that is held at a precise temperature with a precision cooker until the food is fully cooked.
I’ve owned a precision cooker for a few years now and am always confronted with the same question: ‘What is sous vide?‘, ‘How does it work?‘, ‘Is sous vide cooking easy?‘. With sous vide cooking at home becoming more popular, I’ve decided to write this all purpose guide. Sit down, grab yourself a drink and see what sous vide cooking can do for you.
Why Use Sous Vide?
Remember that time when you wanted a medium-rare steak, but you left it on the grill a few minutes too long and ended up with a medium-well one instead? With sous vide cooking, disappointment is be a thing of the past. Pop the sealed steak into 130-degree water, and you’ll have a perfectly medium-rare steak in an hour.
Foods placed in a sous vide cooker can remain there until you are ready to eat. You won’t have to worry about removing them from the heat before they are overdone. If you are not yet ready to sit down to your meal, just leave the food in the water bath. The water will hold the exact temperature of the ingredients while you prepare a salad, pour drinks, or set the table.
Cooking sous vide does not require heating cuts of meat past their ideal temperature zone in order to pasteurize them. Instead, with this method of cooking, you can kill bacteria by holding the meat at a lower temperature for a precise length of time. Because the meat is not overcooked, it retains its tender texture and its flavorful juices.
With traditional cooking methods, the outside of the food will get more done than the inside. Using sous vide, your food will be cooked the same way the whole way through. The sous vide method won’t give you a char on the outside of your food, but that’s easy to remedy. After cooking, just pop it in a pan to add the sear. You can even accomplish this step with a blowtorch. This simple step will give you both a traditional sear and a perfectly cooked dish. This benefit alone is the best answer to the question “what is sous vide cooking”.
Since you have precision control of the temperature of your sous vide water, you can rest assured that your food will be held at just the right heat to kill pathogens. As a general rule of thumb, when using lower temperatures, you will have to cook the food for longer than you do when cooking at higher temperatures. Don’t worry: The science of this has already been done for you. There are plenty of handy charts out there that let you know what time and temperature to use for various foods.
When cooking sous vide, foods rest in their own juices. This keeps the flavor in the food, which results in a rich, authentic flavor with every bite. This delicious effect is especially pronounced when cooking vegetables.
Just as the flavor stays in the food, so do the vitamins. In traditional cooking, the nutritious vitamins have a tendency to leach out before you consume them. With sous vide cooking, since the nutrients stay in the dish, every bite is more beneficial for your body.
Sous vide cooking doesn’t require you to babysit the dish. You can set it and walk away, which frees you up to prepare the rest of your meal, tackle other chores around the house, or squeeze in a few minutes of relaxation.
What is sous vide cooking? A quick start-to-finish guide
Sous vide cooking requires four basic steps. Whether you are a kitchen novice or a cooking master, these steps are easy to learn and put into practice.
1. Preheat the Water
Sous vide can be done in a special water bath appliance, or you can use a pot that you already own. You will need to use an immersion circulator such as the Anova Culinary Precision Cooker or the Chefsteps Joule. These are sous vide machines that are designed for the home chef and clip onto any standard pot. Turn on your precision cooker and preheat the water to the temperature specified by your recipe. We have our favorite sous vide equipment as well as recipes listed on our site.
2. Prepare the Food
I always start by adding seasonings to the bag. For meats, you can keep it simple with salt, pepper, a little bit of oil or butter, and aromatics. For in-depth recipes, check out our sous vide recipes page. The food needs to be enclosed in a vacuum-sealed food-safe bag. There are several ways to go about this:
• Use a Vacuum Food Sealer: There are food-sealing appliances on the market for home use that do a good job of removing all of the air from the package.
• Water Immersion method: With this method, you use a standard zip-top bag and lower it into the water while the bag is still open. The water pressure will force air out of the bag. When the zipper seal is just above the water line, zip the bag shut.
3. Let the Water Bath Do Its Work
Add the sealed food package to the heated water bath. This will lower the water temperature, so wait for it to get back up to its target temperature. The cooking time starts once the water is up to temperature again. Leave the food in the water bath for the required time to cook the food and destroy pathogens. Recipes designed for sous-vide cooking will indicate the temperature and cooking time window to use, so it is recommended to use recipes as a beginner sous vide chef. For dishes for which you don’t have a recipe, sous vide cooking charts can provide handy guidelines.
4. Finish off the Dish with a Blast of Heat
The final step is optional. To give your dish a nice crust and a more traditional appearance, give it a quick sear before serving it. This can be done on the stovetop, under the broiler, on the grill, or with a kitchen blowtorch. Then, season the food to your liking.
Finally, dig in and enjoy the flavorful, nutritious, and tender meal that you have created.