An introductory guide to sous vide cooking

What is sous vide?

Sous vide means “under vacuum” in French. It’s a cooking method by sealing food in a bag, then cooking in a water bath for a long time to a very precise temperature. 

This technique is known for being a precise and consistent way to evenly cook your food, although it may take longer time than the traditional grilling or pan-searing method. 

Video

What to Cook First

The most common question I get about sous vide is “What should I cook first?”. I decided to put together a detailed answer to that question, you can view it at Ask Jason: What Should I Sous Vide First?.

Now you should be all set to get started with sous vide cooking! Have questions or comments about getting started with sous vide? Let Me Know on Facebook or in the comments below!

20. Simple Sous Vide Rib Eye Steak Recipe with Basil Garlic Compound Butter

While the steak cooks for an hour, you’ll have time to prepare dessert for a romantic date night.

Get the recipe

My Experience Cooking Sous Vide

As I've said, this whole idea of cooking sous vide has been a slow process for me. It took some time, patience, and trial and error before I started seeing the role that sous vide might play in my day-to-day cooking.

The universal advice for first-time sous vide users is to cook a steak. "Sous vide steak is life-changing," I heard again and again. I heeded this advice and took my Joule for its first spin with a thick porterhouse. I cooked it for an hour to a nice medium-rare. I removed it from the plastic bag and gave it a good sear in my cast iron pan on the stovetop. There was much anticipation among those hovering nearby with plates in hand.

Tasting it, my husband and I both thought it was… fine. Not extraordinary. Not bad. Just…a solidly good steak. Certainly not so much better than our regular stovetop steaks that I needed a special tool to cook it.

Undeterred, I carried on. I made bacon. I made halibut. I made potatoes.

Time and temperature to sous vide cook vegetables

Most vegetables can be sous vide cooked at 183°F (84°C) or higher. Root vegetables usually requires higher temperature than green vegetables. The higher the temperature, the faster they cook. While it only takes 10 minutes to cook asparagus at 180°F (82°C), you’ll need to cook beets for 3 hours at 185°F (85°C).

10. SOUS VIDE CHICKEN CAESAR SALAD

Usually, the chicken in a chicken Caesar is a bit of an afterthought. But thanks to the sous vide, which keeps it tender and juicy, the protein is the star of the show.

Get the recipe

Recipes to Try First

Also, check out this post on How to Use Your New Immersion Circulator.

What’s the best water cooker for sous vide? 

There are two main varieties of sous vide machines: a water oven and a circulator. Water ovens, such as the SousVide Supreme Demi, control the whole process but can be quite bulky.

For the home chef, I recommend a circulator. They are much smaller (similar in size to an immersion blender) and more manageable to store, and you can just clip it on to a pot you already have.

The Anova Precision Cooker nano is under $100 and compact, so it’s an easy gadget to keep in the kitchen, and probably worth it to never have to stress about if your chicken is fully cooked. It is also bluetooth enabled so you can keep an eye on it and control it it from any room in your house. The Joule is also popular circulator option.

Sous Vide Food Safety

Whenever we look at new cooking methods, we naturally wonder about any inherent risks. Is sous vide safe?

Yes, it is, but please keep a few best practices in mind. Here are a couple of things to know before you start cooking sous vide.

Steering Clear of the Temperature Danger Zone

Food scientists refer to the “danger zone” as a temperature range between 40° and 140°F. The longer your food sits in this range, the greater the potential for harmful bacteria to thrive. To stay safe, the lowest recommended temperature for cooking sous vide is 130°F. But wait—isn’t 130°F still within the danger zone? That brings us to the other variable in the food safety equation: time. 

The Importance of Time

With sous vide, we compensate for the lower temperature by increasing the cooking time. Clostridium perfringens, the most common food pathogen, does not multiply above 126°F. The most worrisome pathogens, however—Salmonella species, Listeria monocytogenes, and the pathogenic strains of Escherichia coli—take hours to kill at 126°F. Sous vide takes the all-important combination of time and temperature into account.

For example, the FDA recommends 165°F as the minimum internal cooking temp for chicken. When you cook chicken sous vide between 140° and 150°F, the internal temperature of the bird will never reach 165°F. How can that be safe? you might well ask. The answer is time.

As soon as the center of a chicken reaches 165°F, 100% of Salmonella is killed immediately. At 160°F, it takes 14 seconds to kill the bacteria. At 155°F, it takes 50 seconds. Drop the temperature to 150°F, and the pathogen dies off in three minutes. So by adding time, the lower temperatures still take out the bad guys, and the result is mind-blowingly moist and tender chicken.

* This guide is also available in PDF version. Enter your info below to get access instantly.

Free BundleAll YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT  SOUS VIDE COOKING  Get instant access to my Complete Guide to Sous Vide Cooking (backed by science) for beginners and enthusiasts, plus two sous vide time & temperature sheets for quick and easy reference. All free.

The Nice-to-Have Gear

Okay, these things aren’t technically required, but they’ll make your sous vide adventure easier and more pleasant. (Although it’s already pretty darned easy!) 

Sous vide container: This is simply a rectangular, transparent polycarbonate bin that’s heat-resistant and food-safe. Cambro is one of the most popular brands, and their containers are perfect for sous vide cooking. They come in different sizes. If you’re cooking a whole turkey or a full rack of ribs, your largest traditional cooking pot won’t do the job; you’ll need something bigger and wider.

Some immersion circulator manufacturers such as Anova also sell sous vide containers specifically designed to work with their sous vide machine. Many include a lid and can accommodate optional racks that fit inside them, which are handy when you want to cook multiple bags of food at the same time. They keep the bags from floating, holding them in place and allowing the water to circulate evenly around them.

Sous vide silicone lid: A lid over your sous vide vessel prevents the water from evaporating, which is especially helpful with long cooking times. If you’re using one of your traditional pots for sous vide, you can’t use its own cover because the immersion circulator is in the way. You could use plastic wrap, but a sous vide silicone lid is specifically designed for the task and does a better job.

Reusable sous vide bags: These will be either plastic or silicone. I personally use sous vide bags kit, which comes with reusable sous vide bags (with air valve) in different sizes, a hand pump, and a few sealing clips. It’s practical, affordable, and provides better results.

Vacuum sealer and vacuum sealer bags: You can manage just fine without these for most foods, but a sous vide bag with all the air removed allows the contents to cook most efficiently and evenly. You’ll need vacuum sealer bags for the job.

Small jars: Sous vide is a brilliant way to make crème brûlée, yogurt, soufflés, or those egg bites you’ve become addicted to, thanks to Starbucks. Small Mason-style canning jars are perfect single-serving containers for these delights, and they’re readily available on Amazon.

Before placing glass jars in your sous vide water bath, twist the lids until they are “fingertip tight”—closed just tightly enough that you can still open them with your fingertips. How to accomplish this? Put the lid on the jar, then twist to tighten it using just your fingertips. When you first feel resistance, give the lid a single twist in the opposite direction, then one more in the original direction to tighten it. 

Hand torch: I listed a skillet as a must-have for searing; you can also sear meat in the oven or on the grill. A hand torch, though, provides higher heat, so you can sear the surface of your dishes even more quickly with no worries about overcooking the inside.

What kind of equipment do I need to sous vide? 

In order to sous vide, you need a sous vide machine. You can buy an entire contraption that fills with water or you can just buy a circulator that you add to your own pot that will heat the water and maintain the proper temperature (see below for my recommendations). You will also need sous vide-safe bags to cook in. Since Stasher bags are made of pure platinum, food-grade silicone (and therefore completely plastic-free and reusable), I’d say this is your best bet. 

The process involves filling your pot with water, set the sous vide machine, add in the bag with the protein, and let it do its thing. You can choose to sear the protein after removing it from the sous vide, if desired (particularly for meat).

Why should I cook sous vide?

Sous vide cooking utilizes precise temperature control with circulation to produce results that you can’t achieve through any other cooking technique. The reason–when using traditional methods of cooking, you don’t have control over heat and temperature. Consequently, it’s very difficult and time consuming to consistently cook great food. Food ends up overcooked on the outside, with only a small portion in the center that is cooked to the temperature you want. Food loses flavor, overcooks easily, and ends up with a dry, chewy texture.

With precise temperature control in the kitchen, sous vide provides the following benefits:

Consistency. Because you cook your food to a precise temperature for a precise amount of time, you can expect very consistent results.

Taste. Food cooks in its juices. This ensures that the food is moist, juicy and tender.

Waste reduction. Traditionally prepared food dries out and results in waste. For example, on average, traditionally cooked steak loses up to 40% of its volume due to drying out. Steak cooked via precision cooking, loses none of its volume.

Flexibility. Traditional cooking can require your constant attention. Precision cooking brings food to an exact temperature and holds it. There is no worry about overcooking.

How does it work?

Like all matter, food consists of molecules. Cooking food (no matter what method you use) changes the molecules in the foodstuff by using heat, as the molecules will change according to the temperature. Different types of food need a different temperature to be cooked, and different temperatures can produce a different texture, flavor and juiciness for the same food.

If you have ever used a meat thermometer to cook meat, you know that beef is medium rare at 55C/131F. However if you roast a large piece of beef in the oven at say 180C/355F until the center reaches 55C/131F, then at that point in time the outside will be close to 180C/355F. When you take the meat out of the oven, you have to let it ‘rest’ until the temperature evens out throughout all of the meat (so the temperature is the same from outside to center). The temperature in the center will increase above 55C/131F, causing the meat to be overcooked. You can avoid this by taking the meat out earlier (for instance when the center is 45C/112F), but then it’s hard to arrive at exactly 55C/131F and in any case the outside layer of the meat will be overcooked. With sous-vide, you can cook a large piece of beef at exactly 55C/131F so it will be perfectly medium-rare throughout!

You can think of sous-vide cooking having two phases:

  1. The entire piece of food will heat up to the temperature of the water bath, from outside to center. This takes from 10 minutes to 4 hours or more, depending on the size of the piece of food and the initial temperature. Very tender foods are ready to be eaten as soon as they have the same temperature throughout.
  2. As soon as the temperature is reached, the food very very slowly becomes more and more ‘cooked’ and thus tender. For fish this happens very quickly, but for most other foods there is a pretty long period of time in which the texture of the food is perfect or nearly so. If you leave food cooking sous-vide too long, the texture will break down and become unpleasantly soft.

New to Sous Vide?

I’d like to invite you to join my FREE Sous Vide Quick Start email course. It will help you make perfect meats, master searing, and discover the sous vide times and temperatures you need to make everyday food amazing…and impress your friends and family. Join Now! Follow On Facebook

Community QA

Search
Add New Question Ask a Question 200 characters left Include your email address to get a message when this question is answered. Submit

Advertisement

How do I get set up for my first sous vide cook?

Getting set up with your first sous vide cook is easy with Anova:

1. Simply clip the Anova’s Sous Vide Cooker to a pot or container and fill with water above the minimum fill line on the stainless steel Anova sleeve. (#anovafoodnerd tip: use hot water to cut down on preheating time!)

2. Season your food and place it in the bag. Drop the bag in the water bath and clip it to the side of the pot.

3. Choose what you’re cooking from our collection of recipes and sous vide guides, then press start on the screen of your cooker or in the Anova App.

Tags