It’s probably safe to say that every carnivorous gourmand has at some point encountered a hunk of chewy steak or a slice of dry turkey. Nothing ruins a great dish faster than tough or dry meat, which is why so many cooking tips often center around the old maxim: “low and slow,” as in low heat and long cooking times. This is also why so many people favor crock pots, and why really good barbeque is usually an all-day affair.
These popular forms of cooking can yield tender, flavorful meat, but what if you’re on a quest for the absolute best results? What if you want the most tender, tasty meat that can possibly be prepared by human hands?
This is where sous vide comes in, and once you’ve tried it, you’ll never look at cooking the same way again.
What are sous vide cooking?
Sous vide is a remarkably simple process that revolves around sealing food in plastic bags and then immersing the bags in hot water for long periods of time. While this might sound like the preparation method for survival rations (military Meals-Ready-to-Eat are actually reheated using a similar process), sous-vide is actually a time-honored cooking method that’s employed by professional chefs all over the world.
The primary reason why sous-vide produces such amazing results is the lack of moisture transfer during the cooking process. Since the food is sealed inside the bag, there’s no chance of the cooking process drying out the meat!
How do I start cooking sous-vide?
The aforementioned professional chefs will often use special immersion cookers or water ovens that maintain perfect water temperatures while losing very little heat to the surrounding air. These cookers can cost thousands of dollars . . . but there’s good news. You don’t need one to cook sous-vide in your own kitchen!
All you really need to start preparing your own deliciously tender dishes is a chamber vacuum sealer and a little time (the low temperatures used will often require a couple of hours to cook thoroughly and reach safe temperatures.) We recommend a chamber vacuum sealer such as the VacMaster VP210, as they’re easy to use and remove almost all oxygen from the bag. This one is available for as low as $15 on Amazon and works quite well!
You’ll also need a vessel to hold the hot water – an immersion bath of some kind. A large cooking pot (or your kitchen sink) could work for very thin cuts of meat, but the trick is to find something that will keep hot water at temperature for several hours. One of the best tricks is to use a small cooler designed to hold a 6-pack of canned beverages.
What can I cook sous-vide?
It’s possible to cook nearly anything sous-vide as long as safe internal temperatures are reached, but the method lends itself perfectly to meat, poultry, and fish. With sous-vide, it would be very difficult to dry out chicken or turkey breasts, and since the consistency of the food doesn’t change during cooking, even delicate fish fillets can be prepared with nearly zero hassle.
Sous-vide cooking tips
- Vegetables can be cooked sous-vide, but they must be held at above-180-degree temperatures for a good amount of time to break down the pectin which makes them “tough.” This is a difficult temperature to maintain using a sink or small cooler, and will often work best with a specialized water oven.
- Sous-vide cooking won’t brown the outside of the meat, even when it’s cooked thoroughly. If you’d like, you can quickly pan-sear the sous-vide meat before serving.
- Keep your food thermometer handy! Always check the internal temperature of meats for safety before serving.