When it comes to cooking, everyone has their preferences. You have people who will eat anything that they come across, but there are also picky eaters who will refuse to eat a certain type of food due to the taste or texture. The same can be said about cooking, as everyone has their own style of preparing food.
From grilling to braising to broiling to roasting, there are so many different kinds of ways that you can prepare a meal that it can at times get overwhelming. We are often asked what the best way to cook is, and that honestly depends on what you will be cooking.
Today, we are going to be covering a more versatile form of cooking that is known as sous vide. You may have heard of it, or you may not have, but don't worry, as we'll be taking a look at the things you need to know about sous vide, including how it's done and why it is so effective.
What Is Sous Vide?
The concept of sous vide takes slow cooking and marries it to boiling, with an added touch of vacuum sealing, which may sound complex, but it is quite straightforward. You add your ingredients and marinade to a vacuum sealed bag before submerging it in water that is not yet boiling.
We’ll be taking a look at the recommended temperatures for sous vide later on in this guide, but the most common ones tend to be in the range of 130 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Let’s take a look at where the term comes from before we dive deeper into the process of sous vide.
Why Is It Called Sous Vide?
So where does the name of this cooking practice originate? This practice started off with French chefs in the 1970s who discovered a better way to cook Foie Gras without losing any of the moisture. It is for this reason that the term sous vide is French, meaning "under vacuum."
As you can imagine, this form of cooking is so-named because the ingredients have to be placed in a vacuum sealed bag before they are immersed in the water. While the practice still carries its French name, it is now practiced in gourmet restaurants across the globe.
How Do You Cook With A Sous Vide Machine
Many people are of the mistaken belief that using a sous vide machine is a challenge, but it is one of the simplest ways to cook. First off, you have to place the ingredients (including your marinade) into the vacuum sealed bag before sealing it off. The next step is getting your water to the right temperature.
Clip your sous vide appliance to the side of a pot that is filled with enough water to submerge your vacuum bag and then let the water reach the needed temperature. Once your machine notifies you that the temperature is correct, you can immerse the food in it and set the timer to the desired length.
Once you take the vacuum sealed bag out of the water bath, you have a few options available, depending on what you are making. If you are cooking a steak, for example, you will want to sear it on a pan or grill momentarily to give it some more flavor, but other foods can be eaten right away.
Different recipes will have varying cooking times and temperatures, and we’ll be taking a look at some recommendations further down, so don’t worry if you’re new to this. That just about sums up how you cook with one of these appliances, however, as there isn’t much more to it.
Vacuum Sealing The Food
The vacuum seal is a huge part of sous vide (so much so that it is featured in the name), but you may be wondering why exactly it is there in the first place. This section will discuss what vacuum sealing does, how it’s better than no vacuum seal, and why you need the right bags to seal in the flavor.
What Does The Vacuum Do?
Since sous vide uses hot water to cook your food, you would essentially be boiling things if it weren’t for the vacuum sealed bags. These bags work to hold in the flavor and the moisture of your food which would otherwise get lost to the surrounding water, which is common in boiled meat.
There is a reason that most would prefer to roast or grill their food, as it will end up losing much less of its flavor than if it were surrounded by water. Another plus to the vacuum sealed bags that you cook sous vide food in is the ability to retain the marinade without it being absorbed by the water.
Importance Of Good Vacuum Bags
Another thing to consider is the quality of the bags that you are using to seal your food in the first place, as that can end up making or breaking your meal. If you are cooking sous vide and the bag suddenly opens and allows water in, everything will be ruined in the span of a few seconds.
Since sous vide cooking can take hours, you will find that poor vacuum bags can undo hours worth of progress, and may result in a sudden shift to takeout for dinner. Of course, your dinner ending up ruined isn't the only thing that you should be concerned about.
When the bag is compromised, food will end up in the water, and it will swirl around, eventually getting caught in your sous vide appliance, necessitating a cleanup. You won't end up saving too much money when you decide to get poor-quality vacuum bags, and it is certainly not worth the risk.
Using The Right Water Bath
We are often asked whether there is a difference in the water that you use to cook sous vide, and you will find that it doesn’t make a difference the vast majority of the time. As long as you are not using salt water or something equally outrageous, you won’t have too many problems to deal with.
When it comes to the water temperature, you don’t have to worry about whether it is hot or cold, as it will end up reaching the required level regardless. Keep in mind that your food will not come in direct contact with the water, so it doesn’t matter if you use tap water or filtered water to cook sous vide.
Immersion Circulator Vs. Water Oven
There are two primary varieties of sous vide appliance that you can purchase for use at home, and the best one will depend on your needs and your budget. You will find that the water oven is more similar to the kind of sous vide that you would find in high-end restaurants, as they are larger and more capable, but also much pricier.
An immersion circulator is the more common type of sous vide that is used at home, as it will be much more convenient and more importantly, more affordable. If you are only looking to spend around 100 dollars on your sous vide, then an immersion circulator will likely be your best option.
Benefits And Drawbacks Of Sous Vide Cooking
There are both pros and cons to cooking sous vide, but the benefits tend to outweigh the downsides. However, you know better than anyone how you like to cook, so take a look and see whether it’s right for you:
The best part about sous vide cooking is that it traps in all of the flavor and the moisture in your food ensuring that it remains as juicy as it was before it was cooked. This is quite the accomplishment in the cooking world, and it is the reason for this form of cooking’s immense popularity.
Another benefit of cooking like this is that you won't have to spend as much time in the kitchen, as most of the cooking will be done automatically, over the course of hours. If you live a busy life, but you still want to be able to enjoy meals that are both delicious and healthy, then sous vide is a valid solution.
There are also a few downsides to sous vide cooking, but they are usually nothing major. First off, sous vide has a smaller margin of error because the temperature is so low, meaning that mistakes can result in bacteria remaining in your food. You will also find that sous vide cooking takes longer (even if you don’t have to be right in front of it).
Cooking Times And Temperatures Based On Food
This will likely be the most information-dense part of this article, and with good reason. The vast majority of the questions we get from our readers consist of inquiries regarding the cooking time and temperature of food in sous vide. It is for this reason that we have compiled this section.
We'll be taking a look at several different kinds of food and seeing how long they have to be cooked and at what temperature so that you can be sure that they are both safe and delicious. When it comes to meat, the temperature is mostly a matter of safety, but with vegetables, it is usually up to taste and texture.
The first kind of food that we'll be covering in our sous vide cooking guide is steak, as that is the most different from traditional grilling or pan frying. When you cook steak sous vide, you retain all of the delicious juices that would otherwise end up in the pan, wasted.
These temperatures and cooking times will also apply to other red meat such as veal, lamb, and even game. To ensure that the food is safe, you will want to cook it at 134 degrees Fahrenheit for a length of at least one hour if it is one inch thick or at least three hours if it is two inches thick, with an upper limit of four and six hours, respectively.
When cooking chicken in your sous vide, you will have to be a little more careful, as they are more likely to carry bacteria than red meat. It is for this reason that all poultry is typically cooked at a higher temperature than red meat, and it will usually take longer than a comparable amount.
Chicken and turkey should always be cooked at 146 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, ensuring that all of the potentially harmful bacteria have been done away with. You will usually want to cook chicken for around four hours in your sous vide, though larger cuts will often take up to six hours.
There are many ways that you can prepare eggs in your sous vide, and many people aren't aware that it's even possible. The first option you have is to soft boil your eggs by setting the temperature to around 166 and then cooking your egg for 15 minutes, giving you a perfectly runny yolk with a solid white.
If you are hoping to hard boil your eggs, set the temperature to 160 degrees instead and cook them for 45 minutes, and you will find that they are ideal. The best part about cooking eggs in sous vide is that it takes a lot of the guesswork out of cooking, so you won't have to worry about replicating the result.
When it comes to cooking vegetables in your sous vide, you won't have to worry quite as much about the temperature, as there are no harmful bacteria to kill off. Of course, you still need to get the cooking time and temperature right to ensure that your vegetable doesn't come out half-cooked.
Root vegetables are tougher so they will usually need to be cooked longer, for around 2.5 hours at 183 degrees F. All other vegetables can be prepared in a much shorter time at the same temperature. The average cooking time for softer vegetables is between 45 minutes and 1.5 hours, though the upper limit is rarely used.
Is Sous Vide Cooking Safe?
We often see this question asked by people who are new to sous vide cooking, and there is nothing wrong with asking it, as it is an entirely valid concern. Since sous vide cooking is at a much lower temperature than other forms, it only makes sense that you would be more vulnerable to food illnesses.
Luckily, you will find that sous vide cooking is entirely safe as long as you follow all of the directions and you do things properly. There are two major concerns when it comes to the safety of sous vide cooking, the first of them being the plastic exposure, and the second being the bacteria.
When you boil something in plastic, it only makes sense to wonder if anything is leaching into your food, but most of the time, you don’t have to worry. This is the case for sous vide cooking, as the vacuum bags that are used to seal your food are made of the best quality plastic available.
All vacuum bags will be BPA free so you won’t have to deal with toxins, and they aren’t exposed to hot enough water to melt. Aside from that, there are absolutely no risks to be associated with the plastic bags that are used to seal in your food while you cook with a sous vide machine.
Another major concern with sous vide cooking is that you may have to deal with bacteria that wouldn’t otherwise be left behind by another cooking method, and we can’t say much to refute this. It is indeed more likely that you will encounter bacteria while cooking, but only if you do something wrong.
As long as you follow the temperature and cooking time guidelines properly, there should never be any bacteria left in your food. Also, remember to only place your food in the water once it reaches the required temperature so that you don't end up giving the bacteria time to multiply before the cooking process even begins.
Can You Sous Vide Frozen Foods?
This is another question that we are frequently asked, and the answer may just surprise you. One would imagine that cooking sous vide from a frozen state would be quite convenient, but is it possible in the first place? In the case of meat, it is actually possible, and some will say that it is preferable.
Cooking your meat sous vide from a frozen state means that it will be less likely to contaminate other surfaces in your kitchen, making the process safer overall. Keep in mind that cooking from frozen will result in a flavor that is a little more diluted because of the additional water that is released.
After Cooking The Food Is It Possible To Add A Crust?
We are also asked if it is possible to do a little something extra with your food once it has been cooked sous vide, and it is not only possible but encouraged that you do so. When deciding whether you need to keep cooking your food after it comes out, you have to consider the flavor that you want.
If you eat something straight out of sous vide, you will get nothing but the pure flavor of the food that you are cooking, which may be preferable at times. If you decide to grill your food afterward, you will be diminishing the natural flavor slightly, but you will gain that delicious searing along the exterior.
The most common method that is used to add flavor to sous vide foods is a grill, as that will provide that additional charring that is lacking in the sous vide. While grilling does take away some of the juices of the meat or the vegetables that you are cooking, the added flavor is worth the exchange.
Keep in mind that you won’t have to sear the food for very long, so it is recommended that you stick to a high temperature and keep the cooking time low. In fact, we recommend that you grill your food by eye to ensure that it doesn’t end up getting too dark and losing too much of the juice.
The next option you have to add flavor to your sous vide food is a torch, as that gives you a little more control over the searing than the grill. Keep in mind that you should use a cooking torch so that you don’t end up imparting an unpleasant gas-like flavor to your food, as that would ruin all of your work.
Since a torch is more directional and it focuses on a smaller part of the food at once, some will argue that your meal will retain more moisture than otherwise. In the end, the choice is mostly one of personal preference, as both of these options will get the job done and improve the quality of your food.
Is It Possible To Make A DIY Sous Vide Machine?
DIY sous vide is much easier than you would imagine, as all it requires is a big cooking pot, a ziplock bag, a thermometer, and a reasonably accurate stovetop. An induction cooktop would be the ideal option, as that would allow you to control the temperature of the water to the degree.
All you have to do is add your food and marinade to the bag, check the temperature of the water to ensure that it is constant, and then submerge the bottom half of the ziplock until the air escapes.
As the bag goes deeper into the water, the air will be displaced by it, and you will have a DIY vacuum seal. Seal the bag and proceed as you would with a sous vide appliance. As you can see, it takes some extra work, but making your own sous vide is not much of a challenge.
We hope that this article has opened your eyes about sous vide cooking, and we wouldn't blame you if you want to give it a try. We would recommend that you check out our buying guide to the best sous vide appliances of the year or any of our product reviews. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.