What is Sous Vide?
Sous vide is a French term that means under a vacuum. When sous viding, you utilize bags that have the air removed to create a vacuum like seal. The sous vide device heats and circulates water to a specific temperature and then maintains that temperature. There is no direct contact with heat and no metal surfaces for the food to touch. Sous vide is not boiling the meat.
Why sous vide? In short, the benefits save you time, there are great results 100% of the time with little additional work. Who doesn’t want that?
It takes away the anxiety of catching food at the perfect time to have a great result. It literally solves the number one problem for a cook, doneness. If you want to cook your food at 130 degrees you will set the sous vide to 130 in the water bath.
Over cooking is a thing of the past if sous vide is done correctly. And I’m here to help.
Sous Vide 101
How to use the circulator:
I’m a huge fan of kitchen gear that’s easy to use. The Anova circulators have a very friendly user interface (more below on why it’s my recommended circulator). Whether you want to use an app or buttons you can control immersion circulators to achieve your food goals that make it plug and play.
On the side of the circulator, you will notice a min and max water line. It’s important to keep the water level between these lines. The min will ensure you have enough water for the cooker to work effectively while the max line will keep water from any electrical components. The goal is to fill between the lines while allowing enough room for the water to expand once you add your meat.
What to use to hold the water:
I have a basin, but you could certainly use a pot or any container that can withstand heated water. If you plan to be the occasional sous vide cook than a pot will suffice. Once you have experienced the simplicity of sous vide, I have no doubt you will want to get a vessel that will be more long term. Basins come in many sizes and are fairly inexpensive. I use a 12qt container but any vessel that will provide enough room for the water to circulate around the food will work.
Filling the basin/container:
Fill with hot water so you will have less time to wait and the circulator will achieve the desired temperature more quickly. To speed up the process, you can add water from a tea kettle.
Protect your surface! Most of us don’t have restaurant quality stainless steel countertops that can take a beating, so you will want to cover your surface. I use a dish drying mat. It’s an affordable solution that provides enough thickness to protect the counter and is also non-slip. No worrying about the basin sliding anywhere while I’m prepping.
How to seal:
There are two methods to sealing:
- Water displacement. Take a large Ziploc freezer bag with your food inside and slowly submerge it into your heated water. Use tongs if the water is too hot. This allows the air to be pushed out. NOTE: Use freezer bags not flimsy sandwich bags. You want to make sure the food is submerged while the top of the bag remains above the water and can rest on the edge of the basin. If the bag floats you will need to try again – this means there is too much air in the bag. If there is too much air, the water won’t circulate and your food won’t be cooked properly. I also recommend securing the Ziploc bag to the edge of your basin with a binder clip to keep the Ziploc from accidently going under.
- Vacuum Seal. Alternatively, you can use a vacuum sealer. It gives you a tight seal on the food, however it can distort the shape and doesn’t allow for additional oils that will keep the food from sticking. This is less of a problem with more rigid proteins such as steak but could be damaging to seafoods. Keeping the food from sticking will help to give you a beautifully polished finished product.
Tip: You can also marinate your meats in the bag so that the flavor will be infused until the very end. If marinades aren’t for you, you can infuse oils and herbs directly. A spring of rosemary and a pad of butter works well to add extra flavor to steak. Subsequently garnishing with fresh herbs after can provide a savory flare.
Preferred temperatures for proteins:
- Fish: 122-124
- Steak: 129-145
- Chicken breast: 149
- Chicken thighs: 165
- Eggs: 146
Suggested cooking times:
Beef, Lamb, Pork, Veal:
- One hour for thickness less than 1.5 inches
- Two hours for thickness 1.5-2 inches
Shrimp and fish:
- 20 minutes for thickness up to one inch
- 25 minutes for 1-1.5 inches thickness
- 45 minutes
Now what? You set a timer and wait!
A Brief Sous Vide History Lesson
Sous vide cooking has been used in the restaurant industry for decades but wasn’t available to the home cook until fairly recently – about 15 years ago. As technology has improved and more companies saw this method of cooking as an opportunity, immersion circulators have emerged in all shapes, sizes and price points. The huge bulking machines that required an entire counter have withered down to a cylinder that can fit into a kitchen drawer. #win
- The Anova features multiple options for your sous-vide including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities so whether you want to cook on the go or manage your food from the couch you have options.
- The Anova has a large area for the water to stay within which means once you begin longer cooking times you have a larger margin of error for water evaporation.
- They also have great recipes and how-to’s so that you can experiment and stretch your culinary muscles with confidence.
Sous Vide FAQ
Can you over cook with sous vide?
- Yes, but it’s harder to do. While you have the flexibility of cooking at a specific temperature, you can over cook your food by holding it at that temperature for too long. I will go into a little more detail later but having a steak cook an extra hour will produce a much different result than allowing the steak to cook for an extra three or more hours. A sous vide is not the same as a crock pot.
What happens if I leave in the meat for too long?
- Longer cooking times for proteins that aren’t suitable will continue to tenderize the meat but will sacrifice the juiciness of the meat. On the flip side, the meat will cook in its juices making it more challenging to get a perfect sear. To counter this there are two options depending on the amount of time available prior to serving.
What’s the key to understanding the length of time needed?
- When cooking sous vide the length of time has more to do with thickness than any other measure. The greater the thickness for your protein the longer it will need to cook. As you will see below having a steak that is one inch thick will require less cooking time than a prime rib roast that is six or more inches thick.
How do I ensure a good sear once it’s been sous vided?
- Patting the meat dry after taking it out of the sous vide bag will be helpful. Using multiple layers of paper towels to absorb moisture will give your protein enough surface to caramelize and add more flavor. Alternatively, you can pat dry and place in the refrigerator for about ten minutes to lower the external temperature and continue to air dry. Once the meat has cooled and the moisture has evaporated you will be ready to sear in your skillet.
When is sous-vide bad?
- Sous vide cooking that is done for too long or at the wrong temperature can change the texture of the food as well as alter the composition and flavor. More broadly, not every cooking method is for everyone. Experiment and find what works best for you.
Are ziploc bags safe for sous vide?
- Yes, while you can invest in a vacuum sealer a large Ziploc bags work just fine for sous vide. Utilizing a water displacement method, the bag will form a seal around the meat.
Does the food need to rest?
- Because sous-vide cooks at the same temperature from edge to edge there is no need to rest for redistribution of juices due to a gradient effect of cooking. The only area that will change is the outside layer due to searing..
Is it worth buying a sous vide?
- You will find it useful in freeing up your time to create a perfect steak and other items. New sous vide models have made it more affordable than ever to have restaurant quality food at home.
Is it safe to sous vide for 24 hours?
- Yes and no. You should not sous vide at a temperature less than 140 degrees because the food will spend too much time in the “danger zone”. However, it is possible to cook meat at a higher temperature for 24 hours and still achieve an excellent result.
Is sous vide the same as boiling?
- No, the water never reaches boiling temperatures.
Cooking for pleasure is really the only way to cook. If you have difficulties when it comes to finding the enjoyment and entertainment value of cooking, perhaps it’s time you bring some fun back into your kitchen by trying something new.