Sous Vide 101: The Basics
Posted by : Alex Mills /
Sous vide. Maybe you've heard of it? Or not. Or maybe you've heard of someone raving about it but didn't quite get it?
We are here to help.
Sous vide is a French term for "under vacuum". It refers to a method of cooking where you add food to a food-safe plastic bag, vacuum seal it and remove all the air. Some stop there and call it good, as vacuum sealing food in a plastic bag can change the texture of certain foods, especially softer fruits that don't require heat to be edible.
But most often, sous vide refers to the process of taking that vacuum sealed food and cooking it in a water bath that is held at a very precise, lower temperature. A sous vide immersion circulator (sometimes called a precision cooker) is the device that heats and circulates the water, holding it at that precise temperature for a set amount of time.
On the surface, it's a funny way to cook food. But it solves some significant problems that chefs - the professional and the at-home kinds - deal with all the time.
Evenly, perfectly cooked food, edge-to-edge.
When you cook food using sous vide, the water bath slowly brings the entire piece of food to the exact same, precisely determined and controlled temperature. One of the problems with cooking food traditionally is that you have to use a heat source tuned to a much higher temperature than you want the food to ultimately be.
This means that food gets cooked on the outside, but not the inside if you don't cook it long enough, or the entire piece gets overcooked if you leave it on too long. The result for you is that you have to babysit the cooking process, spending time you don't have poking your food in confusion, wondering if you've reached or passed that three-minute-long window of perfection.
With sous vide, if you want a medium rare steak, you set your machine to the temperature that will yield medium rare results, eliminating the guess work. And then you can leave it to do it's thing, without worrying that you're overcooking your meat. Your food will never reach a temperature higher than that of the water bath.
At the end, add a quick pan-sear in a pan as hot as you can get it, one minute on each side, and you've got a steak better than any you've had at a restaurant. Perfectly cooked, edge-to-edge.
But do I need a vacuum sealer?
Good question... and no you don't! Many sous vide enthusiasts eventually buy one for convenience, but it isn't necessary at all!
Professional cooks do vacuum seal their food, but for at-home cooking, you can use a different method to remove the air from a simple, zipped plastic freezer-stye bag. Zipped plastic bags are heat-safe at lower sous-vide-appropriate temperatures and are safe to use for this application. So just season your food, place it in a bag, add a glug or two of cooking oil and seal the bag ALMOST all the way, leaving about an inch open.
As you begin to submerge the bag in the water bath, it naturally pushes the air out of the bag through the opening you leave. Once the air has been removed, you can finish sealing the bag and continue on with your cooking.
I'm not used to this process... What's the step-by-step I need to know?
Take the stress out of cooking.
Have you ever cooked for a dinner party? You have a beautiful menu planned, some of your favorite people coming over. You get started with all your dishes, juggling each one to make sure they are all hot at the same time for the start of dinner - no easy task! The doorbell rings and your guests start to arrive.
You answer the door and rush back to the kitchen, encouraging your friends to make themselves at home and preparing them a quick glass of red wine. This happens a few more times, all within a few minutes of each other. 20 minutes left until dinner and everything is on schedule when...
One of your guests spills their wine! You rush out to blot up the mark, and a couple friends offer to help so you can tend to dinner. You make sure they're taken care of and get back to the kitchen.
But, in the 10 minutes while you were welcoming your guests, and getting everything ready, and cleaning up the wine... your tri-tip is now headed into medium well territory, missing the buttery medium rare you were shooting for.
With sous vide it's different. Because you never bring your water bath above the final temperature you want your food to be, your food doesn't overcook. So, this scenario never happens again. You can easily let your meat cook for another few minutes with no stress. Now you have time to welcome your guests, or time to pick up the house before family dinner, or time to relax and unwind over a glass of wine. Which you could never do before because you were busy babysitting your food.
What about food safety?
Wait, can I make sure I'm handling the raw meat safely? What about cooking in plastic? And aren't there bacterias that do really well without oxygen... like in a vacuum sealed environment?
We found a great write-up for these questions here that should address any food safety concerns! But generally speaking, cooking sous vide is very safe with a couple simple, easy precautions.
We hope this little run down has answered some questions you may have about this innovative cooking method. If you have any further questions about the process, feel free to shoot us a question using our handy contact form! We'll get back to you ASAP.
And... enjoy your new favorite cooking method!
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