What Is Sous Vide? A Comprehensive Guide To Get Started Today

What is sous vide cooking? It’s often associated with high-quality restaurant dishes and  may seem that it’s only appropriate for special occasions, but it’s actually an ideal home cooking tool for a clean, easy, and affordable way of preparing food. It creates amazing rich flavors with little to no effort and it’s nearly impossible to overcook these dishes for those who don’t want to keep an eye on their food every few minutes. 

This no-nonsense guide will teach you what sous vide is, how it’s used for cooking, why it may be a good idea to get one, and which foods are best to use with it. By the end of this article you’ll be ready to make a decision on what you’d like to cook and where to get started! Get ready to impress your friends with delicious fool-proof food that takes only minutes to prep and minimal maintenance. 

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sous vide pears

What is Sous Vide?

Sous vide (pronounced soo-VEED) literally translates to the word “vacuum”, and is a simple cooking method that involves sealing (or vacuum-sealing) a bag of food and submerging it in a container full of precise temperature controlled water. The sous vide machine (known as an immersion circulator) ensures precise and predictable results, eliminating the need for constantly checking or adjusting your food as it cooks. 

Sous vide cookers are cylinders that are approximately 12 inches long and a couple inches in diameter. They come with a clip that can be easily attached to any container (such as a kitchen pot or plastic bin) and temperature and timer settings that will allow you to easily choose the desired settings for any dish you prepare. 

When you turn your sous vide cooker on, it will filter water through the “wand” to reach and maintain the proper temperature you have set. The water will never reach a boil, as most cooking temperatures will range from 110 F to 200 F. Sous vide cookers are very quiet and use very little energy, making them very economical for home cooks. 

How To Sous Vide: The Basic Steps

sous vide container
  1. Clip your immersion circulator to the side of a container filled with water. Set it to the desired temperature and cooking length. 
  2. Prepare your food by drying it and seasoning it.
  3. Seal your food in a gallon bag or a vacuum bag.
  4. Submerge the bag into the container.
  5. Remove food when it’s finished and take it out of the bag.
  6. Dry the food.
  7. Sear the food in a hot pan for 30 seconds each side for a quick and easy crust. 

A Brief History Of Sous Vide Cooking

sous vide steak

Sous vide techniques weren’t developed to become the fine dining tools they used as today. They were primarily designed to create an extremely safe environment for large scale cooking. They have made the process of sterilizing and pasteurizing foods in schools, hospitals, commercial kitchens, and even on airplanes. This process was perfected and widely distributed in the mid to late 60s, primarily in the U.S. and France.

Sous vide entered restaurants in the mid 70s when the French chef Pierre Troisgros experimented with using this method to create foie gras that retained all of its weight, flavor, and fat content for an optimal taste. In the 1980s, chefs Bruno Goussault and Joel Robuchon created a dining program for the French railroad that more popularly introduced the public to this delicious cooking method. 

By the 2000s, the popularity of sous vide cooking spread around the world and to the United States. Thomas Keller was one of the first chefs to help with spreading awareness of the sous vide a home cooking tool. Blog and forum culture ultimately bridged the gap and provided a platform for any level home chef with any budget to get started sous viding, and now it is an accessible and affordable tool for all. 

10 Benefits of Sous Vide Cooking

sous vide rosemary pork

With so many kitchen gadgets such as slow cookers, pressure cookers, grills, air-fryers, and so much more on the market, it’s important to be able to justify the cost and the counter space that any new cooking appliance will take up. Here are ten reasons why sous vide may benefit your life:

  1. Great Flavor: Because your food will be vacuum sealed in a bag, it will maintain all of its liquids and fats, and will marinate slowly, deepening the flavor. Adding salt, pepper, garlic, fresh herbs, or other seasonings will add a complex layer of flavor that penetrates your food more deeply than possible in a frying pan. 
  2. More Nutrient Dense Food: Since the food is self-contained, there is no loss of vitamins and minerals when sous viding your food. You can also use less salt or fat when preparing your meals since the flavor will naturally turn out richer.
  3. Amazing Texture And Tenderness: Sous vides make it nearly impossible to overcook food, so you won’t have to worry about dryness and toughness. In fact, for certain meats that are very tough, you can sous vide them for a very long time and get tender “flake off the bones” results, while still maintaining the level of doneness you want. It’s like cooking a brisket in a slow cooker, only with the sous vide, you can maintain a medium rare meat! 
  4. Consistent Results: Once you find the perfect temperature and time combination, you can easily repeat your recipe and will never experience “unexpected” results.
  5. The Food Is Cooked Evenly: It’s nearly impossible to cook food on a pan evenly, since the surface heat is always higher than the food itself. When making a steak, this may mean that it is burnt and overcooked on the outside, while nearly raw internally. The sous vide will make sure that your whole piece of meat is evenly cooked. This means when you cut into a medium steak that has been sous vided, it should be the same color of pink all the way through. Then you can lightly sear the outside for about 1 minute total for an outer browning effect.
  6. It’s Easy To Time Out Your Meals: I love being able to throw my food into the sous vide at 2:00pm knowing it will be ready at 5:00pm. When it’s done, I simply remove the food, pan sear it, and serve within minutes. If I get busy or am running late, no problem! The food won’t overcook if it’s left in the water bath longer. This makes sous viding extremely flexible for busy people. 
  7. It Can Cook Quick Meals Too: Not all sous vide meals take hours on end to cook. Some meals can be prepared in just 30 minutes. You can also use the sous vide to quickly reheat leftovers without over cooking them. 
  8. You Can Easily Cook In Large Quantities: The sous vide is especially helpful if you’re preparing a large amount of food for a group of people and want to make sure everyone has the same great experience with, let’s say a steak, without some being overdone or underdone. 
  9. You May Save Money: Sous vide cookers use less energy than electric or gas ovens, meaning that over time they may save you money on your bills. 
  10. You Can Store Your Food Better & Longer: If you’re not going to eat your sous vide dinner right away, you should quickly cool it using an ice water bath. You can then store it in the fridge or freezer for much longer than food in a tupperware container, since it is perfectly sealed with no air inside. 

Sous Vide Accessories 

vacuum sealer

For the simplest sous vide setup, you will need an immersion circulator, a gallon sized freezer bag, a container (such as a cooking pot or chef’s storage cube) and water. However, there are lots of other great options for creating an easier and more enjoyable sous vide experience. 

Essentials

Immersion Circulator: This item is the device that you submerge into the water to heat it up and maintain a specific temperature by circulating the water through a heater. There are many models you can get. The basic models will include timer and temperature settings. More advanced models have bluetooth and wifi capabilities so you can control your circulator from afar and choose automated settings for specific foods. 

Freezer Bags: You’ll need to place your food into a bag so it can cook and marinate in an air-free environment. Slowly lower your bag into the water and it will naturally push all of the air out of it. Seal it tightly and then press the bag down into the water bath to begin sous viding your food. 

Clips: For both food safety and even cooking, you will want to make sure your ingredients are completely submerged. Clipping the bag to the side of your sous vide container will help prevent them from floating during the process. 

Container: It’s best to use a food storage container or a large pot to hold water in. There are many containers that are designed to specifically work with certain brands of sous vides. Some also include lids that help prevent evaporation. However, most containers will work and you’ll mainly want to make sure the size of the container is large enough to hold both the circulator and your bags of food. Check out my article on how to choose the best sous vide container to suit your cooking needs!

Additional Materials

Vacuum Sealer: Since you can use gallon bags for sous viding, this item isn’t essential. However, it’s a tool that can help you get an even stronger airtight seal. It’s also convenient for those who want to use custom sized bags. Vacuum sealed bags are also great for preserving your food for longer and avoiding freezer burn when you freeze your items.

Food Saver Bag Rolls: You’ll want to purchase these to use with your vacuum sealer. The rolls allow you to create bags of various sizes depending on the amount of food you are cooking. You can also buy pre-sized vacuum sealable bags. 

Canning Jars: If you’re interested in making cheesecake, creme brulee, or an infused beverage, sealable glass jars are a great option for safe and effective sous vide cooking. You’ll have a variety of sizes to pick from depending on the portions you’ll be preparing. 

Lids: There are many types of lids you can purchase for your sous vide set up, and many kits include one. You can also purchase sous vide water balls that float on the surface of your water bath. Lids help stop water from evaporating as your food cooks. This is especially helpful for those that want a low maintenance solution and don’t have time to check on water levels.

Weights: In addition to clipping your bags down to keep them in place, you can add weights inside or on top of your food bags to keep them submerged. There are food safe weights for purchase, and you can also use something you have around the house. One easy free method involved piling a bunch of forks on top of your bags to keep them under. 

Cookbooks: It’s helpful to have cookbooks that contain flavoring and seasoning advice, as well as temperature and time charts that let you know what settings to use when cooking various foods. You can check out my article on my favorite sous vide cookbooks to choose one that’s right for you. 

Sous Vide Torch: Most commonly, you will sear your food with a pan after the sous vide process to create a visually and flavorfully appealing finish on your food. However, some enjoy the control of a small culinary torch for finishing food. The torch is also handy for sous vide dishes that you cannot sear, such as creme brulee. Here are my recommendations for the best torch for sous vide cooking.

What Can I Cook? Best Foods To Sous Vide

sous vide pork

Eggs: Eggs are the simplest foods to cook in the sous vide, and you don’t have to sea them in bags since they contain themselves in their own shell! The eggs will be cooked evenly, meaning that you can achieve perfect textures, depending on how you will use your eggs. This is great for those who want hard boiled eggs over easy and medium, making a delicious benedict meal, and much more. 

Tougher Cuts Of Meat: Sous vides work similarly to slow cookers in that they slowly break down tough foods while infusing them with flavor. You’ll be able to make tender, juicy, and flake-off-the-bone versions of beef shoulder, brisket, ham shanks, ribs, and pork belly, just to name a few options. Sous vide lamb chops and sous vide corned beef are also great options for special occasions. 

Steaks: Many people purchase sous vide setups specifically for this one cut of meat. And a sous vide steak has restaurant quality results every time. You can perfectly control the level of doneness and will have an even distribution throughout the entire cut. You can also cook tougher steaks for longer to tenderize them without overcooking them. 

Chicken & Pork: Both of these meats have a tendency to get dry and tough when not properly cooked on the stovetop or in the oven. I’ve found that sous viding these meats is a perfect way to preserve moisture, lock in flavor, and tenderize your cuts. I like to add lots of rosemary in my bag when I’m working with these cuts to give them a flavor they would never get from 20 minutes in a frying pan. 

Vegetables: Since vegetables are dense and fibrous, it can be difficult to fully penetrate them with flavor. The sous vide method is a perfect solution for this. Throwing in fresh or dried herbs alongside your vegetables with a little bit of butter or olive oil is a great way to have an even fully penetrated flavor with the finished product. I like to use my sous vide torch to finish vegetables since they don’t sear as nicely as a flat piece of meat. 

Sous vide green beans will have a nice snap to them and are great vegetables to use with this method. 

Sous Vide Safety Tips

sous vide apples

Sous vide is a relatively safe cooking method, since the food is tightly and securely packaged and submerged while cooking. However, it never hurts to be safe and not sorry. Here are a few tips to make sure you have the best experience with no mistakes. 

Use a towel or pot holder under your sous vide container: This will make sure that there is no scorching or damaging of your countertop as your food cooks.

Use BPA free bags: Make sure that you use BPA-free food safe plastic when choosing your sous vide bags. If you’re using Ziploc sealable bags, make sure to choose the heavy duty ones to ensure that puncturing won’t happen. 

Don’t reuse your bags: Using your plastic sous vide bags more than once can compromise the integrity of the material and lead to leakage issues. If you’d like to avoid waste, you can purchase silicone bags that can be easily washed and used again and again. 

Double check your temperature: To make sure your circulator is working correctly, consider using a thermometer to check the temperature of your water bath. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can cook your food one or two degrees higher than the recipe calls for just to ensure you’re in the right zone. 

Immediately cool your food after sous viding: If you’re not going to eat your food right away, take the bag out of the water bath and immediately submerge it in an ice bath. If you don’t have an icemaker in your fridge, you can use several ice packs instead. This makes sure that your food always stays in the safety zone and can be stored for weeks or even months on end safely. 

Sous Vide Recipes

pork loin sous vide

Meat

Vegetables

Beyond

Additional Resources

Summary

By now you should have a good idea of where to get started with sous vide cooking. As you see, this method is perfect for all diets, family sizes, and lifestyles. You can splurge on fancy equipment or get a simple and affordable setup depending on your preferences. 

What is the tastiest thing you’ve made with the sous vide method so far? Let me know in the comments below! 

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