You may have read it on a menu, heard about it from a friend or seen it advertised on TV. Sous Vide cooking is no longer a gimmicky, hip, experimental foodie thing. It’s now a full-fledged, mainstream, everyday cooking technique you should know something about.
Pronounced [Soo – Veed] and translated from French to “under vacuum,” Sous Vide is simply (but not so simply) the process of sealing food in a vacuum pouch then immersing it in a warm- to hot-water bath (under controlled temperatures) to slowly cook the food to perfection.
To be clear, the food never touches the water. It’s protected within the sealed plastic pouch. The genius of this method is that the food is never exposed to a temperature greater than you want it to be when it’s finished.
Let me explain.
Whether you sauté, grill, sear, broil, deep fry, or roast, there’s no getting around the fact that you’re exposing your foods to temperatures far in excess of that needed to cook it to a doneness. For example, to cook a steak to a medium-rare temperature of 140 F, you’ll likely sear, grill or broil it at an actual temperature of anywhere from 450 F to 750 F. And since most meats are loaded with water, the usual cooking methods for meats tend to toughen and dry them out, leaving you with a less juicy, less flavorful meal.
Sous Vide is different in two major ways.
First, the product never has to be exposed to a temperature any greater than you’d like it to be when finished. This results in an edge-to-edge uniform doneness.
Second, and perhaps most importantly, the food doesn’t lose any of its moisture or flavor. Since it’s vacuum-packed, it has nowhere to go. It stays right where you want—in the food.
Sous Vide cooking works for just about everything, including fish, shellfish, poultry, beef, vegetables, and even eggs and dairy dishes.
Of course, to take advantage of Sous Vide cooking, you have to buy a Sous Vide machine, which basically heats and circulates water to whatever temperature you choose. And, it’s precise. It also has a built-in thermostat to regulate and hold your water from temperatures as low as 90 F to almost simmering. A temperature of between 135 F to 160 F is most common.
Residential Sous Vide cookers typically look like a thick wand that you immerse in your pot of water and clip to the pot’s edge. The controls are all above the water line and have digital readouts, allowing you to precisely adjust and monitor the water’s temperature as your products cook.
All this precision comes at a price of around $200, but most people who own one will tell you it’s WELL worth the investment and will change the way you cook many dishes.
Besides the Sous Vide cooker, you’ll also need to purchase a vacuum sealer with bags to hold your food. Many people already own one that they’ve used to preserve foods for their fridge or freezer, but if you don’t, you can purchase them nearly anywhere. Costs range from $99 to $149 or so.
If this sounds like something you’d like to try, every Sous Vide machine comes with a tutorial and some simple recipes. And there are PLENTY more on line, including YouTube videos you can watch.
Investment in Time
If there’s any downside to Sous Vide cooking, it’s that it takes more time to reap its benefits. Obviously, a chicken breast cooked at 400 F takes much less time (about 10 minutes) than one cooked at 150 F (about 1 hour), but the results are VASTLY different. You’ll find a Sous Vide cooked chicken breast to be enormously juicy and flavorful, but perhaps the biggest difference is just how tender it is.
It cuts like butter.
If you want your chicken, steak or chop to have a brown, crispy skin or crust, you’re not out of luck. All you have to do once your food has been Sous Vide cooked is to open the pouch and sear the exterior of the food for a moment in hot oil or on the grill. As a matter of fact, many top chefs specialize in Sous Vide cooked then seared/grilled steaks.
My personal Sous Vide machine is an Anova, which also has a smartphone app (as do many) that not only has recipes but also allows you to control the machine remotely. It will also give you the exact temperature of the water and the time remaining until your food is ready. Pretty neat!
While you can find Sous Vide cookers at William Sonoma and Sur Le Table, I think you’ll find it worthwhile to check prices online since shipping is usually free. This upcoming holiday season, it may be JUST the gift for the chef in your life.
If you’d like to see a Sous Vide cooker in action, check out one of these YouTube links: