In the world of cooking, precision is everything. To get a perfect medium-rare steak, you have to know exactly how long and at what temperature the meat has to cook. Just a few degrees’ difference separates medium-rare and rare. Most likely, you’ve been to a restaurant where you’ve had to send a meal back because it was under- or overcooked. It results in a negative dining experience, as you’re made to wait while the kitchen makes it again.
In traditional cooking, it’s harder to create great results consistently. To make sure the food is cooked all the way through, you cook at a higher temperature in order to get the internal temperature to a safe level. This can lead to the outside getting overcooked, and a dry, chewy center. Chicken and pork especially come to mind, since typically we’ve been taught to cook them well done to kill harmful bacteria like salmonella.
However, in the last few years, a cooking technique has been gaining popularity as it has been made accessible to not only commercial kitchens, but residential ones. This method relies on the ability to cook with pinpoint precision, resulting in perfectly cooked meat every time. The method we’re referring to, of course, is sous vide.
What is Sous Vide?
Sous vide (pronounced “soo-veed”) is a French term that translates literally to “under vacuum.” The main process of sous vide is taking food that has been vacuum–sealed in a bag and cooking it in a water bath to a precise temperature. This results in juicy, tender meat that has the exact level of doneness end-to-end. Steak cooked perfectly all the way through. Chicken and pork come out moist, juicy and tender every time. Roasts that simply fall apart when you cut into them. Sous vide does it all!
What You’ll Need
- An immersion circulator. An immersion circulator creates heat at a precise temperature and circulates the water in the pot or container to evenly distribute that heat. Think of when you start a bath – if you get the water too hot, you may crank up the cold faucet. To get the bath down to temperature, you use your hand to swish the water around, so that the cold water can get mixed in with the hot water evenly. It’s the same principle here. If the water is not circulated, the heat will not be distributed evenly, resulting in imprecise cooking. Immersion circulators are available online or in stores. Popular brands include Anova and Joule.
- A container for your water bath. When shopping for a container for sous vide, you need to consider how deep the container needs to be. It should be deep enough for whatever food you add to immerse itself in the water bath. A stockpot would work, but we recommend a durable plastic container from Cambro, Carlisle or Rubbermaid. These containers are not only great for sous vide, but can be used for ingredient storage, brining large turkeys, or whatever else comes to mind. Optionally, you can add a couple of drain grates to your container. These will keep your sealed bag from sitting at the bottom, and allows the water to circulate around the entire product
- Packaging for your food. The good news is you don’t have to have a vacuum sealer and vacuum bags to sous vide. Large freezer bags can work as well, using a method called “water displacement.” When you put your freezer bag in the water bath, lower it slowly into the water leaving a small corner of the bag unzipped. As the bag descends, air will start to be pushed out of the bag, creating a vacuum-like effect. Once the bag is nearly immersed, close the seal and drop into the container.
How Sous Vide Works
First, fill your container with water, making sure you have added enough to cover your food. Tap water is fine in this instance, since the food should not be making any contact with the water. Set your immersion circulator into the water, using a clamp to attach it to the container. Adjust the circulator to the desired temperature that you want to cook the food.
Once the water reaches the desired temperature, add the vacuum-sealed food. The reason the food needs to be vacuum-sealed is that any air in the bag will allow the product to float, which means the water will not be able to circulate all around the food, resulting in uneven cooking. One of the best benefits of cooking in the bag is that your meat will cook in its juices, keeping it moist.
Pro Tip: If you have a Cambro container with a lid, you can make a hole in the lid to fit the circulator and allow it to sit upright without using a clamp. The benefit to this is that a lid prevents evaporation as you sous vide, meaning if you are cooking for hours, you don’t have to add water later to keep the bag submerged.
It usually takes around an hour for cooking to finish. However, the great thing about sous vide is that even if the food is in longer than an hour, it can’t overcook because your temperature will never go above what you set. If you have to run errands or don’t want to eat right away, that’s okay!
When your food is ready, simply take the bag out of the water bath and cut it open, removing the meat from the package. You can serve your meat now, but it’s recommended you take the time to finish the meat on the stove or grill. To do that, you’ll pat the meat dry with a paper towel to remove any excess juices. From there, you will get either your grill or a heavy pan up to high heat to sear for a short time. All we want to do is create a nice brown crust on the outside – we don’t want to start cooking the inside, which would defeat the purpose of sous vide. Once you’ve got the desired crust, you’re ready to serve!
Recipes and Techniques
From personal experience, sous vide has opened our eyes as to what can be made using this technique. Some of our favorite things to make have been pork tenderloin and chicken breast, because the difference between eating them sous vide versus traditional cooking is dramatic.
Any meat can work in sous vide, but you can also cook vegetables, eggs, and even desserts!
One of the best sources for everything sous vide is The Food Lab. There, you can find sous vide recipes, temperature guides for all types of meat, and other fun resources.
Cody Bell is a content specialist with Central Restaurant Products. With over 7 years of experience in the foodservice industry, Cody has developed knowledge on topics from all aspects of commercial foodservice, from the front of the house to back of the house. He is a NAFEM Certified Foodservice Professional. In his free time, Cody likes to spend time with his wife and puppy.