Sous vide is a consistent low-temperature cooking technique wherein food, either vacuum-sealed in plastic or stored in a glass jar, is placed in a water bath for a long period of time.
This technique stands out from conventional cooking methods in that this method ensures that food (especially proteins like a piece of meat like a pork chop or strip steak) is immersed in a stable, consistent temperature and helps to distribute heat to cook the food evenly and thoroughly. After sous vide-ing, searing or grilling is usually used 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. The vacuum-sealed bag is sequentially lowered into a hot water tub, usually a large stock pot or polycarbonate tub. And in order to maintain and control the target 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 with low-temperature cooking. 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 low-temperature cooking as the sous vide. 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 is 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.
If you’re still on the fence, here is a pros and cons list to make up your mind about sous vide:
Hard to Overcook
Low-temperature cooking ensures you don’t end up with a hot exterior and cold interior, especially for larger cuts of meat.
As Helen Rennie explains, “[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.
Unlike when tossing steak into 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.
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.
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 equal quality.
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.
The water temperatures for sous vide cooking vary from recipe to recipe and may change according to the cooking time and the size of your meat cuts. Due to its low-temperature cooking, there is usually close to no discernable difference between a couple of hours.
For example, chef J. Kenji López-Alt epitomizes the flexibility of sous vide cooking through his instructions for turkey breast:
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 constant temperatures above 130°F if cooking for more than four hours to ensure that harmful bacteria are effectively killed.
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 eggs 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.
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 or other low-temperature cooking methods are 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 many people.
Simply inserting the Meatstick in your protein before vacuum packing, you can 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!
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