This post is for all of those who got a new immersion circulator for Christmas, or just took advantage of the many sales leading up to it.
For those new to the idea, Sous Vide is a revolutionary new(ish) cooking method that has been in use at high-end restaurants for many years, but is just starting to enter the home market. The basic idea is to seal your food in a vacuum sealed or ziplock bag and place it in a water bath kept at a consistent temperature by an immersion circulator. There are a number of benefits to this method of cooking. First, it’s incredibly easy and forgiving, simple enough for even the most basic cook. You just set the temperature and walk away. If you accidentally cook your chicken breast for a two hours instead of an hour and a half? No big deal, it’ll just be a little more tender. Since the water bath is the temperature you want your food cooked to, it (mostly) can’t overcook. If you leave it cooking for far too long, the worst that’ll happen is that it gets TOO soft. The second benefit is extremely moist, tender food. Since the higher the temperature you cook meat to, the more moisture is lost, this method results in very juicy meat. The possibility of cooking for extremely long periods of time means you can take very tough pieces of meat such as pork shoulder and short ribs and cook them for 48-72 hours, resulting in extremely tender meat. So with sous vide, you get a simple, hands-off approach to cooking that gives you some of the most moist, tender meat you’ve ever had. What’s not to love about that?
There are four basic steps to sous vide cooking. First, you need to prepare your ingredients. That means peeling the vegetables, trimming excess fat from the meat, brining, applying rubs, etc. Next you package the food in a bag, either with a vacuum sealer (most beginning sous vide cooks use a Food Saver) or a zip-lock bag using the water displacement method. Once the food is sealed, cook it in a water bath for the proper period of time (Chefsteps.com’s Time and Temperature guide is a great starting place, though I prefer my ribs for 36 hours at 145°F and my brisket cooked at 130°F for 72 hours, for example). Once the meat is cooked, you’ll need to finish it. The low temperatures of sous vide cooking aren’t high enough to cause a maillard reaction, so there’s no browning of the meat. You’ll need to sear it somehow, whether on a grill, under a broiler, in a cast iron skillet (my favorite method), or even with a blow torch.
Here are a few tips I’ve found helpful, and I’ll follow it up with a selection of recipes to showcase everything you can do with sous vide, from the obvious like cooking meats and vegetables to coffee infused butter and creme brulee.
- Because the temperature is too low to render fat, be sure to trim all large pieces of fat from meat before bagging.
- Add herbs and spices along with a liquid to the bag along with the food for flavoring, but avoid adding salt unless you’re looking for a cured, ‘hammy’ texture.
- Adding oil to your meat will prevent herbs and spices from ‘stamping’ softer meats.
- Watch out for sharp bones which may puncture vacuum sealed bags.
- Adding oil to the bags prevents the bags from molding the meat and incuding weird shapes into your food.
- Don’t overcrowd your bags or they will cook unevenly. Food should only be in one layer.
- Add a lid to the water bath to reduce evaporation of the water during long cooks.
- Bags must remain fully submerged, so if the bag floats, weigh it down with a plate, bowl, or other heavy object.
- Since sous vide does not heat meat hot enough for browning, sear it before or after for more flavor.
- Smoking the meat prior to cooking sous vide allows the smoked flavor to develop while cooking, whereas smoking after gives the traditional smoked appearance.
- The juices that develop in the bag during cooking can be the base of a great pan sauce. Simply pour the juices into a hot pan, add fat and seasoning, and reduce.
- Be sure to either immediately open and use meat after cooking, or cool rapidly in an ice bath before refrigerating or freezing. If you place the meat from sous vide to referigerator, it will take too long to cool and potentially develop bacteria.