If you ever thought about cooking Sous Vide, and wanted to revolutionize the way to cook, this guide is for you! In it you’ll find the basics of cooking Sous Vide to produce reliably tender and succulent meats better than restaurant quality.
We use it in our dishes all the time, especially around the holidays for a few reasons:
- It frees up your oven for side dishes
- Meat stays at the optimal temperature and impeccably tender until you need it. Way less stressful than conventional cooking.
- “Set it and forget it”: once the meat is seasoned and vacuumed, you can place it in the water bath and let it do its thing. It doesnt need your attention every few minutes.
What is it
Sous Vide means “under a vacuum” , referring to the cooking process by which foods are first vacuum sealed and then cooked in a temperature controlled water bath. Its the appliance to have this year for home cooks, but restaurants have been using the cooking technique for decades to produce consistent proteins and vegetables.
The Science and Process
To understand the technique you need a few ground rules:
- Food takes longer to cook in lower temperatures.
- Lower, gradual temperatures do not disturb the liquids within the meat fibers as much as high heat- so less liquid is lost and the meat retains its juices better.
- Gradual cooking at low temperatures means proteins remain in the optimal temperature zone longer. (Ie: a chicken can be cooking for hours without becoming tough and overcooked)
Sous Vide works by an immersion circulator (fancy name for the tower apparatus) that has a thermometer, heater, and circulating elements in it. The wand is put into the water, which creates a heated water current to keep an even temperature in the container (much like a convection oven keeps an even temperature in the oven).
Once the water bath is at the target temperature, the thermometer maintains the water at that temperature. The water only serves as a conduit for the temperature, which hits the proteins in their bags from all directions, ensuring even cooking.
Health and Safety
There are 3 main issues of concern people have with Sous Vide cooking:
Lower Cooking temperatures
- The FDA recommends cooking chicken at an internal temperature of 165 degrees F for 15 seconds minimum. This is to ensure 99.99999% of salmonella gets killed. However, Salmonella starts dying much sooner than that in the cooking process, at 130 degrees F. It just takes several hours to cook.
- Long story short: Salmonella, like most bacteria in food, does not die at the same time. That’s why in conventional cooking you need to reach 165 degrees F for 15 seconds minimum. As heat penetrates the protein from the outside to the center, bacteria will start dying gradually in that relationship- from the outside in. With Sous Vide, the bacteria die because the internal temperature reaches 130 degrees F and stays there for several hours, making food safe without ruining quality.
Cooking in Plastic
- Another concern is cooking in plastic. The solution here is to use plastic that is BPA free and PVC (polyvinyl chloride) free. The plastics designed for Sous Vide cooking are safe to cook in. Here is a helpful link from Modernist Cuisine explaining cooking in plastic .
Growth of Anaerobic Bacteria
- The best way to prevent C. Botullism in anaerobic environments, like vacuum sealed foods is to not let it sit for long periods of time. Once the food is cooked and removed from the sous vide water bath, its best to be served or refrigerated immediately. If you will eat it a few days later, freeze it.
I love the Anova Sous Vide tower, I got mine for Christmas last year and it quickly became the best tool in my kitchen. This model has built in Wifi capabilities and pairs with the Anova app which you can control on your smartphone.
It makes cooking ahead easier and you get notifications when the cooking process is complete. This is the best example of your food literally talking to you.
The Water Bath
One thing you have to be vary careful when Sous Vide-ing is what kind of container you are filling up with water. If you have a metal pot big enough it works fine, but if you are using non-sturdy plastic, you’re in for trouble. As the water in the sous vide gets hot, flimsy plastic expands and warps, which can lead to spills and ruined food, countertops, electronics, security deposits etc.
This Rubbermaid container is sturdy as hell and will not fail you. Plus it makes a nice container for the sous vide tower when not in use.
Another plus of the Rubbermaid container, this lid specifically designed for the Sous Vide! I actually discovered this when researching for the article and is now in my Amazon shopping cart.
Besides the geeky joy of having a lid specifically designed for the container, it has another benefit- it prevents evaporation. During the Sous Vide process, water gradually evaporates, causing loss of heat and water volume which makes your sous vide work harder to make up for it. This lid takes care of 2 problems at once. It keeps the water in and helps maintain the target temperature.
Foodsaver has been instrumental in the sous vide process and it’s almost as important as the Sous Vide tower itself. I love this model because it has the compartment to put the bag rolls and makes custom length bags faster than the base models. (It really does make your life easier).
For home use, the 11″ rolls are all you are going to need. They are designed to fit the vacuum sealer and are BPA and PVC free of contaminants, making them ideal for cooking food in. The rolls work by forming a seal whenever heat and pressure is applied to both sheets of plastic.
NOTE: This isnt crucial to the Sous Vide Process, as you can sear and develop a crust in the oven under broil setting or in a pan or bbq. However, it is commonly used so I’m including it in the guide.
The blowtorch and gas work to quickly sear specific areas of the meat. It is very useful to sear areas that are difficult to reach with conventional equipment. To do that you have to carefully “paint” the meat with the fire as it develops its crust. I prefer Bernzomatic MAP / PRO as it heats to approximately 1900 degrees F and does not transfer any gas flavors onto the meat.
Flame temperature in air is 3,730 degrees Fahrenheit.