If you are a close friend, family member, co-worker or even a Facebook friend you are probably sick of hearing me talk about Sous Vide cooking. It has been my latest food related obsession for the last five months. I had contemplated buying an immersion circulator for a while and I almost did on a whim. Then the more research I did made me just want to purchase it even more. I decided on an Anova brand immersion circulator, and have been playing around since.
Sous Vide is French for “under vacuum” and an immersion circulator is the tool you traditionally use to cook Sous Vide. Simply put, Sous Vide is the style of cooking, not the actual tool you use. Preparing food in this fashion is nothing new, but until recently it had been reserved for chefs and fancy restaurants. Within the past few years immersion circulators have been made smaller and more affordable, perfect for the home cook.
To get started you need an immersion circulator and a vacuum sealer. You can cook “sous vide” without these things (using a cooler, hot water and Ziploc bags), but it is not the easiest method and there is a lot of room for error. We will mostly ignore those methods for now. The main idea is that whatever you are cooking (meat, vegetables, etc.) will be vacuum sealed, often with fats and/or herbs and then cooked in a pot or tub of warm water with the temperature being controlled by your immersion circulator. The circulator has a heating element and it will circulate the water during the cooking process, to ensure that there are no cold spots in the water.
The easiest example, one I always use, is cooking a steak. Often ordering (or cooking) a medium-rare steak will result in the middle being cooked perfect, or even under done, but then the meat above and below will be overcooked, as evident by the gray bands. When you cook a medium rear steak sous vide you will get as much perfectly cooked meat as possible, and very little, if any, gray bands. You are cooking for a longer period of time, at a very low temperature, and your food never actually touches the heat source. The result is very tender, evenly cooked and never dried out.
Step By Step Steak
Water Temperature: I love medium rare so I set my Anova to 129 degrees Fahrenheit. If you fill your pot with hot tap water (as opposed to cold or warm) it will get to 129 degrees very quickly. The temperature you want can change depending on the cut of beef. In this example we are referring to a strip or ribeye.
Prepare Your Steak: You have two options (1) cook a fresh steak or (2) cook one that has already been vacuum sealed and stored in your freezer. Option 1, I will season both side of the steak liberally with salt and pepper and then vacuum seal with some herbs on each side of steak (thyme or rosemary work well). Option 2, you will cook the steak in the same vacuum sealed pack it was frozen in, and then add butter and herbs later.
Cook: Once everything is sealed up and your water is up to temperature just drop in the meat and walk away. Just be sure that all meat is fully submerged or it won’t cook evenly. As long as it was vacuum sealed properly it should sink. If not, you can lay something over it, in the water, to keep it submerged. If I need to do this I have a stainless steel spoon rest for my stove I will drop in. Keep in for water for however long it needs, an average steak can take 45-60 minutes. The beauty of the circulator is that the water will never go above the set temperature. You can leave it in the water until you are ready to serve, as long as it is within reason. For a steak, after 4 hours it will not overcook, but the meat texture can change and break down a little.
Finishing Touches: Remove the meat and discard juices from package (unless you are using for a pan sauce). At this point you have a super tender steak, which is gray on the outside and looks very unappealing. Pat the outside dry with a paper towel, as the enemy of a thick seared crust is liquid. At this time, salt and pepper your steak if not done previously. You can finish by deep frying, grilling, searing in a cast iron or hitting it with a flame torch. I don’t have a torch so I can’t speak to that, and I have only deep fried chicken wings. The cast iron will give your steak a crust and char all over, as opposed to a grill which will only crust or char where the grates are. For the cast iron finish I will get the pan screaming hot, then add a little oil, remember you are searing it not frying it. Place the meat gently in the pan and hold it in place or put a burger press on it. This will allow you to get a crust quicker and less of a risk over cooking. When you sear the second side add some butter and herbs if you want. The butter can be spooned over the top of the meat . The herbs will add another layer of flavor and the butter will help the crust develop quicker. When finished I will let the steak rest for 10 minutes or so prior to cutting it open. When serving you can re-heat the butter and other pan juices and pour back over the top.
Words of Caution: Sous Vide food is very safe when prepared properly. Be sure to cook for recommended times and temperatures to ensure that the food is cooked to a safe level. There are plenty of resources available online in regards to this. You will see that a lot of food is cooked to a temperature that is lower than normal, or recommended. An example of this is chicken breast, which is recommended to cook to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. When cooking Sous Vide you can cook with a temperature of 140-160 degrees depending on your preference for texture etc. in the finished product. The reason that this is possible is due to pasteurization which happens when cooking the food at a lower temperature but for a longer period of time. Lastly, if you are not serving the food right away place it in a bowl with cold water and ice so the temperature drops out of the “danger zone” for bacteria growth. It can then be reheated later by one of various methods (back in sous vide water bath, grilled, etc.).
My Favorite Sous Vide References: I am not being compensated in any way for sharing these sites.
Anova – All sous vide and the brand of circulator I use.
Chef Steps – Mostly geared around Sous Vide, but plenty of other cooking techniques.
Serious Eats – All sorts of cooking techniques, my favorite area is The Food Lab, written by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.
Please comment and let me know what you’d like to see cooked sous vide next!!