I enjoy experimenting with kitchen gadgets. For Christmas, I was gifted a “Sous Vide Supreme” to add to the culinary arsenal. After a few sous vide meals, it’s clear this was a perfect present. Meat is moist and evenly cooked throughout. Vegetables taste fresh and vibrant. Every time.
What is Sous Vide?
The Sous vide (French for “under vacuum”) method cooks food encased in a water-proof bag, immersed into a water/steam bath heated to a precise temperature. The food is cooked evenly, ensuring that the inside is properly cooked to a desired temperature without overcooking the outside, as well as retaining moisture in the food.
How Does It Cook Food?
When using an oven or pan, the heat goes from a source (e.g. oven element) into the food by heating the air. This will be hotter than we want our food to be. So the food needs to be removed at the right moment. Get it wrong and food is over or under cooked.
Consider oven-roasted chicken breast. The oven is probably at 160°C/320°F. The ideal internal temperature for chicken breast is 66°C/150°F. Leave the chicken in for too long and it will overcook and dry out, as heat continues to transfer from air in the oven to the meat. Furthermore the outside will be cooked more than the inside.
It would be better to cook the chicken so that it is bought up to 66°C/150°F and then held there until needed.
This is what a sous vide device does, using heated water to get the food to an exact temperature. The outside of the food will reach the desired temperature before the inside but it will not overcook. The time food spends in the sous vide device is the amount needed to ensure a consistent temperature. As food is inside a sealed bag, moisture cannot escape.
The food can be taken out as soon as it’s ready … or left to rest in the water for a while. It’s not going to get any hotter and overcook.
For more information on this check out this post on ChefSteps.
Does It Really Work?
Yes. Absolutely. In the sous vide cooks I have done, the meat has been noticeably moister than when using an oven or frying pan. Vegetables taste fresh and almost vibrant. And everything is cooked evenly and correctly.
So instead of pan-frying a ribeye steak for 6-8 minutes and trying to guess when it’s ready, seal it in a bag, pop it in a sous vide and cook for the allotted time. It will be ready, moist and tender. Check out this blog post about sous vide cooking rib-eye steaks.
Some food will need finishing off under a grill or in a Big Green Egg, e.g. searing a steak to get a nice crust and hatchmarks. That’s just finishing it off though, and the result will be perfectly, uniformly cooked meat with a lovely crisp, tasty coating.
One fun cook was carrots sous vided with orange juice. I froze the orange juice into cubes so that when the bag was vacuum sealed, the liquid didn’t go up out of the bag and into the sealing device.
Whether the food retains more nutritional value being sealed in a pack (as opposed to boiling directly in water) is an interesting question, there’s a lot of evidence that this is the case. A quick Google of the topic brings back a lot of articles to ponder over.
Does It Have Any Drawbacks?
The main drawback is time. It takes longer to cook food. For example:
- Carrots can be boiled in 10 minutes, but take over an hour in a sous vide.
- A chicken breast takes 60 minutes to sous vide, or can be pan fried in 10-15 minutes.
Sous vide cooking needs time and planning. If you have time and can plan, you’re golden.
Also, it makes cooking formulaic and arguably takes the fun out of it. You don’t get to smell, taste or otherwise tinker with the cook, just set it off and go. That means if you’re marinating something in a sous vide, you can’t test it partway through to see if it needs more salt.
Lastly, it’s not a panacea for cooking. It’s not going to make bread, bake a cake or fry chips. It’s won’t replace anything in the kitchen, just augment what’s already there.
Where Can I Get One From?
There are two types of sous vide devices – standalone units and those that attach to the side of a large saucepan (or similar).
The Sous Vide Supreme (pictured at the top of this post) is a stand-alone unit, available from amazon.co.uk. There is a Sous Vide Supreme pack option available that comes with a vacuum sealer. You can use ziploc bags (see this article on Chowhound), I prefer to be safe in the knowledge that the bag really is sealed.
Anova make a device that sits inside a standard saucepan and has a wifi adaptor so you can monitor temperature whilst somewhere else. There are other brands such as this, e.g. Wancle, I’ve only tried the anova though (borrowed one from a friend). Anova has recently been acquired by Electrolux, and have bought out a nano version in the US.