What is “sous vide”?

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Sous vide” (French for “under vacuum”) is a relatively new technique for cooking food where it is wrapped in food safe plastic bags and submerged in temperature-controlled water baths.

Though food cooked sous vide is generally vacuum packed, the water bath is really what’s important.

Sous vide cooking allows you to gently & accurately cook foods to exact internal temperatures you pick.

The Benefits of Sous Vide Cooking

• It’s much harder to overcook food
Sous vide baths are incredibly accurate, usually to within at least .5˚F. This allows you to reach precisely the internal temperature you want every time, and makes it much harder to overcook food.

In addition, many foods can be “held” at that desired temperature for longer (sometimes hours) without overcooking, which can make sous vide more convenient as the food’s ready when you are.

• Food cooks more gently & evenly
Food cooked using other methods demonstrates something called “the bull’s-eye effect” where outer layers are more cooked than inner layers. Food cooked sous vide can have the exact same level of doneness from end to end.In addition, lower sous vide temperatures can better preserve foods’ appearance, flavor, nutrient content and texture.

• Food cooked sous vide can be more moist and tender

You often need less liquids, spices, fats or herbs

Allows you to further separate cooking time from level of doneness when braising Braised meats need to be cooked low and slow to release their collagen into gelatin. As a result they usually come out of the oven well done. Sous vide braised meats can be slow cooked long enough to become fairly tender (more like steak than pot roast) while still coming out rare, medium rare, etc.

The Cons of Sous Vide Cooking

Sous vide cooking can take longer than using conventional methods
However, as many foods cooked sous-vide can be held longer (see first benefit), with prior planning this con can often be mitigated by starting the cooking process earlier.

Some fish & vegetables do not react well to being cooked sous vide
Some seafood and some green vegetables develop undesirable textures, colors, and or flavors when held at sous vide temperatures for the length of time necessary to cook them through.

You need to be more careful about food safety
Done correctly, sous vide isn’t inherently much more dangerous than other cooking techniques, but it allows you to cook food in less safe ways. In other words, its safety is largely a factor of what you’re doing with it.

If you’re cooking foods at lower temperatures and to lower levels of internal doneness (and that’s a primary draw of the method), you need to be very aware of cleanliness. As restaurant menus warn you, eating undercooked meats & seafood can be risky.

Searing proteins before or after cooking them is recommended for flavor as well as safety. It is also possible to pasteurize your food while sous vide cooking – check out Jeff Potter’s book, “Cooking for Geeks” for time & temp guidelines.

Controlled sous-vide cooking requires special equipment
It’s certainly possible to cook something in a vacuum bag on your stove top or in the oven, but you won’t get the highly accurate temperature control that makes sous vide really effective.

To properly cook sous vide you’ll need a sous vide water oven, immersion circulator, or to build your own sous vide machine using a PID controller.

Post Written by Matthew Johnson

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