When you hear the term sous vide, it may conjure up images of nervous chefs on a cooking competition tv show, or professional chefs in a five-star restaurant. Sous vide, French for “under vacuum,” is a technique taught in many culinary arts programs, that utilizes temperature controlled cooking to deliver perfectly prepared food every time. Something that was once saved for only fine restaurant cooking by professional chefs, has now become popular with home cooks as well.
Sous vide is the method of cooking food in vacuum sealed containers in a temperature controlled water bath in order to achieve perfectly cooked food, in a manner that can not be achieved in any other cooking technique. Professional chefs learn this cooking practice, along with many others, in culinary school. With this method, chefs vacuum seal the contents of their dish, usually a protein along with its sauce, spices, marinade, or herbs, in a bag, and cook it in a large pot of water. The food is never in contact with a flame, steam, or grill. The water never even comes to a boil. Sous vide can be used to make everything from chicken to ribs, even creme brulee and most famously, steak.
What Makes Sous Vide a Superior Cooking Technique?
For some food, sous vide cooking is the superior cooking method over traditional cooking methods. This is because with traditional cooking methods, the heat flows from the burner to the pan and then to the food, or the heat from the oven circulates to cook the food inside it. This way, the air in the oven and the metal on the pan are much hotter than we want the food to be. Therefore, you have to remove the food at exactly the precise time in order to cook it properly. If you remove it too soon or too late, the food will be under- or overcooked. However, when cooking with water, you have the ability to control the temperature of the water to get the food cooked exactly the way you want it without guessing when it’s done. You can even leave the food in the water until you are ready to serve it. No more checking the oven obsessively or being chained to the stove.
How Does it Work?
When you cook with a sous vide machine, a metal coil is placed in a bath of water to heat it to a constant temperature, never fluctuating. This means the cooking process is gradual and controlled and the foods are cooked over long periods of time, slowly heating until they reach the temperature of the water. Because the temperature of the water is the same as the doneness temperature, proteins can take a much longer time to cook. But they will also never cook past the desired doneness temperature. You’ll never have an overcooked piece of meat again.
If you were to cook the same protein on the stove, a high, direct heat is used to achieve an ideal internal temperature for that protein. However, you can’t actually see what’s going on inside the meat, so in order to see the doneness, you must either cut into it, jab it with your finger, or poke it with a meat thermometer. This is what makes sous vide so popular – it takes the guesswork out of cooking. By setting the water to the desired doneness temperature – for example, 140 degrees for a medium-rare steak – there is no chance you will overcook your meat. The sous vide machine ensures that the water circulates constantly so that no cold or hot spots ever develop.
Now that your meat is finished cooking and you remove it from the bag, the last step is a little more hands-on. Since your meat never came into contact with any heated surface, it won’t have a beautiful char, crisp or caramelization to it. You will want to sear your meat quickly in a hot pan as the last step before serving. Searing meats like steak or pork quickly in a hot cast iron skillet, will give it that caramelized look without cooking it any further.
What Can You Cook Sous Vide?
But it’s not just proteins that chefs with a culinary education love to cook sous vide. The sous vide method is great to get the perfect egg white with a runny yolk. Sous vide makes the best potato salad. Vegetables can be cooked to the perfect doneness – crisp-tender. Even desserts like creme brulee come out spectacular. Sous vide can take a tough piece of meat and make it juicy and tender. Traditional cooking method contract the fibers quickly with high heat which forces the juices out of the meat. The sous vide method contracts the fibers of the meat slowly, allowing the juices to stay inside the meat. Sous vide can also turn your cheaper cuts of meat with a tougher texture into tender, juicy piece of heaven.
Cooking your main dish using the sous vide method allows you to relax, enjoy your guests, and focus your time and attention to a side dish or another part of the meal that requires more effort. It allows you cook that perfect steak each and every time, with no guesswork.