A Plastic Bag and Some Water: Mysteries of Sous-Vide Cooking Explained

For an average person, the phrase sous-vide sounds like something only a posh restaurant can do, a bit like molecular cuisine. And yet, this precise and innovative cooking method is surprisingly easy to master at home - you do not even need any special equipment! Let's see what it is and how it works.

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In French, sous vide means “under vacuum”, but you don’t need a fully sealed container to cook sous vide: you just put food in a sealed plastic bag and cook it in water at a precisely controlled temperature.

Advantages of sous vide

We all know what happens when we fry meat on a skillet: steaks come out brown on the outside and red on the inside, chicken breast becomes dry, and prawns turn rubbery. This is because the temperature is uneven; what’s more, a typical chunk of meat loses up to 40% of its volume in juices when cooked in a traditional way. It is difficult to avoid, though, because a certain temperature has to be reached to kill all parasites and bacteria (here is a list of temperatures for various foods).

With sous vide , food is cooked for longer (up to 2 days for tough cuts of meat), but at much lower temperatures; all juices are preserved, meat becomes tender and pasteurizes slowly. Your steak will come out perfect on all sides, and the taste is just out of this world (here are some more recipes to check out).

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Equipment you will need

To do serious sous vide cooking, you will need an immersion circulator. It is a device that clips onto the side of any pot, sucks in water, heats it, then releases it back into the pot, thus keeping the temperature constant (you can set any temperature you like). Circulators cost between 100 and 400 USD.

Next, you will need ziplock bags for the freezer to put your food in (silicon bags are ideal). It’s hard to push all the air out of the bag so that it sinks (the bag has to be fully submerged in water), but there easy hacks to keep bags from floating. You can use any large pot, though there are special plastic containers that provide better heat isolation.

How and what to cook

Steaks are the classic sous vide food, but chicken and seafood are perfect, too. Vegetables retain all their flavour, and you can prepare many desserts, such as puddings. Eggs can be cooked at various temperatures to achieve your favourite texture, and you can make side dishes of legumes and cereals. You can put as many as 10 bags into a big pot and prepare a meal for a big company. Remember, though, that different foods require different temperatures (you can find a list here).

Try it right now

Before you decide to spend $200 on a circulator, you can try sous vide without any expensive equipment. All you need is a beer cooler, a thermometer, and resealable bags. Heat the water to the needed temperature, fill the cooler (it can keep things warm as well as cold), put your bags in, close, and wait. Since water in the cooler will slowly lose temperature, this method works for foods that require two hours or less, such as steaks and salmon (you can read more on the cooler technique here).

As you see, sous vide may sound fancy, but it is actually quite easy. Innovative and full of possibilities, it is also fun to try with your kids. Why not start today?

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