Cooking With The Sous Vide Method

The Sous Vide method of cooking has been a well guarded secret for many years. One reason for this is that the equipment for doing it has been quite expensive. Over time the cost of equipment has dropped and the desire to learn more about the ways that sous vide can be used to make a beautiful meal has grown.

Let’s start by what sous vide is. The words “sous vide” is French for “under vacuum”. This means that the food items are sealed into a vacuum pouch to then be cooked in some manner.

Why would you want to cook like this vs poaching? First if you poach the liquid can take some of the flavor and nutrients away from the item being poached. Second poaching often is much less controlled when it comes to temperatures.  Third, unless you season the poaching liquid the item that you’re cooking will have all of the seasonings wicked away from it.

By keeping everything in the vacuum sealed bag the seasonings, salt, marinade, etc… stays inside and won’t be diluted.

So what do you do with this pouch?

Usually the pouch is lowered into a temperature controlled water bath for a period of time. The temperature and time that is needed varies by item being cooked and thickness.

For example let’s take a look at the following chart to get a feel for what I’m saying.

Looking at the table we can see that in order for beef to be considered medium-rare it must reach a temperature of 130-135 degrees Fahrenheit. Also notice that the definition of medium-rare has nothing to do with color of the meat. The doneness of meat is strictly a temperature reached by the meat.

So if you can wrap your mind around that fact then the rest of how sous vide works its magic will become apparent.

Also the faster you cook protein, whether it’s eggs or steak the tougher it gets. Try cooking an egg on a rippling hot skillet and after you have made your hockey puck then try to do it at the lowest possible temperature. At low temperatures the proteins in the egg will relax and allow for a nice, soft texture to be developed. High temps will cause the egg to bunch up and it will be tough and chewy.

By slowing down the cooking method we can affect how soft and chewable the protein is.

The sous vide method does this by carefully regulating the temperature in the water bath and allowing the item cooking to gradually come to temp. Also because the item can never go above the bath temperature you can’t overcook it.

Looking at the table again if you want a medium-rare steak, by sealing it in a plastic pouch and immersing it into 135 degree water for a period of time the steak will come to 135 degrees and never over. So it won’t overcook. AWESOME

Why do we seal the bag in a vacuum seal? Air acts as an insulator so we want as much of the cooking item to come in contact with the water bath through the bag. If there is air in the bag then the less direct contact will change things a lot.

How do we proceed? You could go and spend $100 on a vacuum sealer and another $500 or so on a dedicated sous vide machine but I’m going to tell you how to do this on the cheap so that you can experiment before investing in something like that.

What you will need is a good thermometer, preferably one that clips onto the side of a pot, and that you can easily read. An instant read thermometer that you hold can be used but it takes a bit more fussing.

Then you need a large pot, 1.5 – 2 gallons is great. The reason you want such a large pot is that when you fill it with water you don’t want the water temperature to change rapidly. With a small amount of water the temp will fluctuate widely and we want it to be as stable as possible.

What I did for my experiment is I filled up my pot of water and slooooowly brought it up to temperature. And then I let it sit there for an hour as I monitored the temp, adjusting the dial up or down keeping the needle of the thermometer hovering around 135 degrees Fahrenheit.

I also during this time brought an organic sirloin steak up to room temperature. This steak was provided by Rocky Mountain Organic Meats.

Keeping the seasoning to a bare minimum just some sea salt and fresh ground pepper I attempted to vacuum seal it….

Swearing at my vacuum sealer I then was forced to use a zip top freezer bag and squeezing as much air out as I could manage. I then put this payload into my 135 degree bath. Every 15 minutes or so I checked on the temperature of the bath to keep it steady and to make sure that the steak was submerged.

One thing I should mention is that the sous vide method does not create a crispy outside. So you have to sear the meat afterwards. It is a quick seer so you won’t overcook your steak.

After an hour and 15 minutes went by I pulled the steak out and seared the steak on some clarified butter in skillet.

Then I let the steak rest for a few minutes before slicing, plating and serving.

It doesn’t get much better than this.

Was it worth it? This preparation was very low stress. I didn’t have to monitor the steak wondering if I had over or under cooked it. The interior was perfect in color and temperature and the searing brought the wonderful crust that a good steak is known for. The beef from Rocky Mountain Organic Meats was marvelously flavorful. With a meal like this you may not ever bother going to a restaurant again.

I’ll continue to experiment with the sous vide method with veggies and other items and maybe some day I’ll invest in dedicated equipment. However this can get very expensive.  For now I’m a chef on a budget and this will be great to use when needed.

Hope I piqued your interest in Sous Vide cooking and if you give it a try let me know.