Sous vide (soo-veed) is a French term that literally translates into “under vacuum,” and I am using to describe a technique of cooking food to the exact temperature that it will be served, using vacuum sealed packets and precision low temperature cooking.
The technique is dead simple:
- Season– Choose your own seasoning, rubs, or sauces for whatever you’re cooking.
- Seal– Seal the food in a bag.
- Soak – Set your water bath to the exact temperature you want, and cook the food packet for the required time.
- Sear– When the food is done, take it out of the packet, and sear for maximum flavor.
Why Sous Vide?
Because it promises consistently great meals, every single time. Because it has the power to turn someone who can’t boil water into a masterful chef. Because it makes you feel like one part mad scientist and two parts cutting edge foodie. Because it’s damn simple to make perfect meals every time. Because it’s easier than using a crock pot.
That’s right. I said it.
Sous vide is especially well known for turning out perfectly cooked, moist and tender meats, but can also be used to maintain the bright, vibrant flavors of vegetables, and turn fruits into delectable desserts.
The sous vide method yields results that are nearly impossible to achieve by traditional means. Let’s say you were to cook a steak medium rare. Using conventional methods, you might cook the meat at 400F until the core temperature reaches 131F. This creates a bullseye of temperature zones – from medium rare in the middle to charred on the outside. If you were to cook the same steak at a steady 131F, and sear it at the very end. This way you’ve accomplished a steak that is the perfect temperature throughout the entire thickness, with a perfect crispy Maillard crust.
Even better, since you’re cooking your foods at a constant temperature, it never runs the risk of overcooking. So if you need an extra ten minutes to get the rest of dinner ready, you’re not going to ruin the meal! In fact, with many foods, you can leave them in for an extra hour or two without much discernible difference. How convenient is that?
Isn’t sous vide expensive?
Sous vide circulators are coming down in price every day it seems. What were once high end machines available only to fancy restaurants and those in the business, are now available to the home cook in a variety of forms. With the uprising of Kickstarter-funded devices like Sansaire, Nomiku, and Anova, and the growing repository of home hack how-tos, you could get yourself set up for as little as $50.
I opted for the circulator + vacuum sealer set up, which could set you back around $280, but if you’ve already got a manual crock pot or rice cooker (and don’t feel like setting up your own immersion heater/circulator rig), you could add a DorkFood controller for a cool $99, grab some Ziplocs, and be on your way. Still too steep? Find out how an insulated cooler and hot water can do the trick for free.
Isn’t cooking in plastic dangerous?
While it’s true that you’d never cook with plastic at high temperatures, most plastic wraps, zip-lock bags, freezer bags, and Sous Vide bags are free of phthalates and BPA, making them ideal for sous vide cooking. See more here and here.