Sous vide (pronounced soo–veed) is a French term, meaning under vacuum. Somehow, way under the radar, the sous vide culinary technique, which entails vacuum-sealed food that is immersed in a water bath and cooked at an exact and consistent temperature, has exploded and become the food of the hour. If you don’t prepare sous vide meat, for instance, you’re just not keeping up with the times.
Sous Vide: Slow and Easy
Sous vide cooking is extremely simple and foolproof; even better, the method produces great results with minimal effort. This technique is not right for anyone who likes instant gratification; rather, it involves cooking food for longer periods of time at a lower temperature, similar to cooking with a crockpot, but… different. The precision allows you to cook food to perfection, while at the same time eliminating concerns about overcooking, drying out, burning, or undercooking.
The key to the sous vide method of cooking is maintaining a water bath at a steady temperature for a long enough time to cook the food. Although there are two ways to reach the best results with sous vide cooking – using a sous vide oven (also called a sous vide cooker) or using an immersion circulator – we’re going to focus on the latter, as it’s a less hefty investment. With both methods, we cook food at a consistent temperature, vacuum seal the food before cooking, and then immerse the sealed food in hot water. Sous vide immersion machines allow you to set your preferred temperature before cooking, so you can do something else while the water does the work. When you return, a perfectly cooked piece of meat awaits you.
The History of Sous Vide
In the mid–1970s, French Chef Georges Pralus, introduced sous vide cooking to the world, but it is only recently that the method became popularized and adopted by amateur chefs everywhere. However, way before that, Benjamin Thompson, a physicist who specialized in experiments on the transfer of heat, inadvertently discovered the method in 1799, when he tried to create a machine for drying potatoes and, instead, found a way to cook mutton overnight. In Thompson’s words, the meat was, “Not merely eatable, but perfectly done, and most singularly well-tasted.” Thompson’s original sous vide machine used hot air to transfer the heat, and not water, but it served the same purpose: retaining the flavor and the juices over the course of a longer cooking period. Today, as well, foods cooked sous vide-style develop unique flavors and textures that can’t be duplicated using traditional cooking methods.
The Science Behind Sous Vide
The technique of sous vide cooking rests on the ability of water to transfer heat to food. When we cook in a traditional oven, we set the cooking temperature much higher than the desired cooked temperature of the food, and timing becomes tricky. For instance, if we were to cook a steak to a medium-rare level, we would set the broiler to high – at least 400 degrees F – although we want the steak itself to reach a temperature of around 135 degrees F. With this system, however, the meat inevitably becomes charred on the outside before the inside reaches the desired degree of doneness. A few minutes too long, exposed to these searing temperatures, and the steak becomes overcooked and tough.
With the sous vide method, the water transfers heat to and through the vacuum-sealed food in a much more efficient and even way. Although it takes considerably longer – or because it takes longer – the food can cook gently at the precise, desired temperature, without ever exceeding it. The steak, in this example, would be cooked at 135 degrees F, and will be medium rare inside and out. No other method can guarantee such consistency and precision.
Benefits of Sous Vide Cooking
Here are just some of the benefits of sous vide cooking:
- Consistent, easy, and foolproof method that yields perfect results every time
- Captures the full, nuanced flavor of foods
- Reduces waste, as food loses none of its volume
- No-bother, time-saving meal preparation
- Nutrients and natural juices are retained in the vacuum-sealed bag, ensuring moist results
- Money-saving method that tenderizes and upgrades inexpensive cuts of meat
How to Cook Sous Vide
The only downside to sous vide cooking is that it takes longer than traditional food preparation methods. But once you get your timing down pat – starting well before the time you want to serve your food – you’ll be amazed at the results, and the simplicity of this method. Sealing the food in sturdy plastic bags – even heavy-duty Ziploc bags are okay – will keep in juices and aroma that otherwise would be lost in traditional cooking processes. Placing the food in a water bath, with the temperature set at the desired final cooking temperature of the food, avoids overcooking, because the food can’t get hotter than the water it is in.
Basic Sous Vide Steak Recipe
Although we’ve been talking about longer cooking times, a one-inch-thick steak, cooked medium rare, will only need an hour in a sous vide “bath.” After, though, it’s recommended to sear it briefly, for that nice, crisp exterior layer we all crave.
- Attach a sous vide immersion cooker to a large pot, and preheat the water to 126°F for medium-rare doneness.
- Season your steaks on all sides, with the seasonings and spices you’re used to.
- Seal your steaks in a vacuum-sealed bag or a Ziploc bag.
- Cook for 60 minutes.
- Remove the steak(s) from the bag and pat dry.
- Sear the outside of the steak. Serve.
Sous Vide For You
Juicy, flavor-packed, and tender, sous vide steak – or any other cut of meat, such as London Broil – is an amazing delicacy that you can make on your own, with no fuss or bother. Fish and vegetables can also be made using this method. If flavor, efficiency, ease, and great results are a top priority in your kitchen, embrace sous vide and never let go.