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What's the Big Deal with Sous Vide?

What is Sous Vide?

Sous vide is a consistent-low-temperature cooking method wherein food, either vacuum-sealed in plastic or stored in a glass jar, is placed in a water bath for a long time. 

This form of cooking ensures that food (especially proteins like MEAT) are immersed in a stable consistent temperature, and helps to evenly distribute heat to thoroughly cook the food. After sous vide-ing, there is usually a process of searing or grilling to add color and texture to the surface of the meat. 

The term sous vide (pronounced SOO-VEED) derives from French for “in vacuum,” which refers to the process of vacuum sealing the bag. Sequentially, the bag is then lowered into a tub of hot water, usually  a large stock pot or polycarbonate tub. And in order to maintain the temperature of the water bath, an immersion circulator machine is needed. 

By now, you’re probably wondering why anyone would go through the hassle of acquiring a vacuum sealer, a plastic tub, and a high-tech piece of alien equipment. Perhaps you’re asking why anyone would be bothered to cook food at low temperatures. Doesn’t that take longer, which is a big turn-off if you’re hungry for dinner? Can’t the same results be done with regular stovetop cooking? Or a trusty convection oven?

Well, if you’ve ever wondered how restaurants produce high-quality, consistent, and tender meats, they’re most likely using the sous vide method. Precise temperature control ensures that the protein you have is rarely overcooked. Essentially, the low moisture loss of sous vide cooking creates more tender meat, which cannot be reproduced through other means of cooking. 

However, this method is not exclusive to chefs. Now that most sous vide equipment are becoming increasingly affordable and accessible to the home cook, you too can easily prepare your favorite steaks or pork shoulder using sous vide. It’s truly not as complicated as it seems.

Why You Should Sous Vide

If you’re still on the fence, here is a pros and cons list to make up your mind about sous vide:

Pros

Cons

Hard to Overcook

The even temperature makes sure that you don’t end up with a hot exterior and cold interior, especially for larger cuts of meat.

As Helen Rennie explains it, “[d]oneness is the biggest problem cooks have with proteins and the sous vide method solves it.” And so if you have an expensive cut of protein like lobster tail you don’t want to mess up, sous vide may be the way to go. 

Takes longer

Unlike when tossing steak unto a large simmering skillet, sous vide steaks can take anywhere from an hour to 24 hours, depending on what your end goal of your texture is.

Efficiency

While sous vide takes time, most of that time is downtime for the cook. And so you are free to prepare other parts of the meal like sides. Ultimately, sous vide saves time and you’ll be able to enjoy restaurant-quality meat with minimal prep

Requires more equipment

As mentioned before, in order to do proper sous vide, at the least, you need to purchase an immersion circulator machine, and multiple freezer bags.

High replicability

With sous vide’s insurance of what J. Kenji López-Alt calls “edge-to-edge doneness,” it’s extremely hard to undercook or overcook the meat. It also makes it easier to replicate similar results every single time. This is why restaurants and professional kitchens use sous vide to cook large batches of meat; it ensures that every guest’s meal is of an equal quality.

Requires planning

If you're hungry and want to eat now, sous vide cooking might be impractical. 

However, if you plan ahead, you can time your meal or set it up beforehand (such as storing ready-made vacuumed meats to be thrown in the water) with very little effort.

Temperature Guide for Sous Vide 

Temperatures for sous vide cooking vary from recipe to recipe and may change according to the time of cooking and the size of your meat cuts. Due to its low temperature, there is usually close to no discernable difference between a couple of hours difference.

For example, chef J. Kenji López-Alt epitomizes the flexibility of sous vide cooking through his instructions for  turkey breast:  

  • Very pink, soft, extra moist 132°F / 55.5°C for 4 hours
  • Pale pink, soft, moist 138°F / 58.8°C for 3 hours
  • White, tender, moist 145°F / 62.7°C (Kenji’s favorite!) for 2.5 hours
  • White, traditional roast texture 152°F / 66.6°C for 2 hours

As you can see, sous vide cooking allows for big customization changes depending on your preference. And so, we recommend  referring to the recipe of your choice and experimenting based on textures that work for you.

For food safety, Kenji recommends keeping temperatures above 130°F if cooking for more than four hours to ensure that harmful bacteria are effectively killed.

Can you still overcook with sous vide? 

Although it’s extremely hard to overcook/undercook using the sous vide method, It’s not totally impossible. 

If you leave the bags in the water for too long, your steak, for example, may become overly tender (yes there is such a thing!), start resembling roast, and lose its chewy bite after an extra couple of hours. The  Sous Vide Everything YouTube channel tested multiple cook times ranging from two hours to twenty-four hours at a temperature of 135°F and found out that longer hours do not necessarily equate to better steaks.

Aside from poultry and red meats, more fragile pieces like egg and fish would suffer from just the extra couple of minutes. The proteins will start breaking down and you may find yourself with mushy fish or overcooked yolks.

How to sous vide with MeatStick?

Sous vide-ing with the Meatstick allows for total awareness of the internal temperature of your food and prevents overcooking or undercooking. 

While sous vide is a relatively safe measure for cooking, you never want to be overly confident, especially if it's a thick, expensive cut of meat that you’re trying to prepare to impress a large number of people. 

Simply by inserting the Meatstick in your protein before vacuum packing, you will be able to track the internal temperature even when you are far away from your sous vide machine. 

What’s more, having a meat thermometer on standby is helpful to ensure you don’t overcook the meat when transferring it from the tub into the pan or grill to sear. You can’t ever be too safe, after all!

Sous Vide Tips and Tricks

  • Refrigerate or rest before searing. After being taken out of the sous vide machine, your meat will start to purge a little water which interferes with the surface temperature of the pan and prevents a nice crust from forming. Resting or briefly refrigerating stops the moisture from seeping out the surface, and you can rest assured that you get a lovely crust on the side. 
  • Choose freezer bags to bag your meat. Freezer bags are able to withstand long soaks and greater temperature changes. Plus they are generally food safe and thus perfect for the sous vide method.
  • Cover your tub with plastic wrap or a lid.  This prevents evaporation from the water surface when the tub is heated. What’s more, most immersion circulator machines shut off when the water level becomes too low and could potentially disrupt the cooking time and ruin your dinner. So it's vital to keep evaporation at a minimum.
  • Add oil at your own discretion. Some like Chef Kenji claim that adding oils and fat during the sous vide dilutes the meat's flavors. Yet, others claim that the oil helps to prevent the meat from creasing in the bag or from sticking together and creates a more aesthetic final product. And so, try and see which one you prefer. Sous vide, after all, is a relatively new and exciting terrain for the home cook to explore. So have fun, and let us know what you think! 

Sources: 

https://www.seriouseats.com/first-thing-to-cook-with-sous-vide-immersion-circulator-essential-recipes 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkyWtgW-ySI 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3wB68py1A0 

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