Sous Vide for All
If you’ve been paying attention to food trends lately, you’ve very likely heard of sous vide, even if you’re not completely sure what it is. Like the great magic pot craze of 2016, Amazon featured an Anova sous vide in their Prime Day bargains this year, and what was until now a fringe trend among serious carnivores and food enthusiasts has merged into the mainstream. If you’re new to sous vide and need some tips or if you’re considering purchasing one, here is a general overview of the product and its uses.
Sous Vide (soo-veed) actually doesn’t mean what you mean when you say it. It means under vacuum, as in, the way you pack the food before you cook it with this method. The tool you use to cook that food is actually called an immersion circulator, so you’d say “I’m cooking this delicious steak sous vide”, not “I’m cooking this delicious steak in the sous vide”. But I digress. Why are people going crazy for sous vide cooking? And should you jump on the bandwagon?
The premise behind sous vide is actually really simple. In traditional cooking methods, say, dry heat (baking, roasting, broiling, frying, searing) or moist heat (boiling, braising, poaching, simmering), the goal is to get the center of the food cooked to the temperature that you want it. You want a steak cooked medium rare? That’s generally considered the range between 130-135 degrees Fahrenheit. To achieve that temperature, you need to cook the outside at a much higher temperature- 350-500 degrees in an oven or skillet, let’s say, or even hotter if you’re grilling it on your barbeque. That results in two things:
1. The center of your meat is perfectly cooked while all the outer edges are completely overcooked. Ever notice a gradient of color from the outside (greyish) to the inside (pink)? That.
2. You have cooked your meat at a high enough temperature to trigger the flavor bomb of cooking: the Maillard Reaction, otherwise known as browning.
So, you have a perfectly browned, crusty steak, but the interior temp results may vary. And while that is totally fine for some, I prefer to have more control over my food. Here’s how sous vide works, comparatively.
Season your food (or even add a marinade or sauce) and place it in the bag you’ll be cooking in. You can invest in a vacuum sealer or just use Ziplock bags. (Brand name seems to leak less, but you can experiment with that on your own).
To vacuum seal with a zip top bag, place the item in the bag, then keep the zip top open and lower the bag into the water. Allow the water to press the bag closed, and lower it in until right below the zipper, so all the air is now pressed out. Zip the top and remove the bag from the water bath.
Set the water to the temperature that you want your food to be, and then place the bag back in the water. Cook it for a predetermined time, then remove from bag, pat dry, and sear over very high heat for a very short time. (If cooking non-meat items sous vide, you might need to skip the sear.) You’ll result in a steak that is perfectly cooked, edge to edge, with no color gradient. The sear should take less time and be less crispy than traditional cooking methods. Overdo the sear, and you basically ruin all your hard work, but many cooks agree that the superior texture of the food is worth inferior texture of the crust.
So how do you know if sous vide is right for you?
Well, here’s how you know if it isn’t. If you prefer your meat well done, or your favorite part about a steak is the crust, don’t waste your time. If you need dinner on the table quick and can’t plan ahead, save yourself the heartache of buying one and watching it collect dust. But, if you can plan ahead, if you like to try traditional cuts of meat in new ways, or if you enjoy precise results in your cooking, give it a go. You might get hooked!
In this series, we’ll discuss the concept behind choosing the right times and temps in sous vide cooking for a range of different items. You can rely on recipes here or in many of the other useful resources online (or on the app your immersion circulator probably comes with), but hopefully you can develop the skills to learn how to experiment and come up with recipes on your own. Stay tuned for the ultimate sous vide temp and time guide that will have you cooking like a chef in no time.