What is Sous Vide?

July 27, 2016

A Chef Named Sous

While not everyone has heard of Sous Vide cooking, chances are you’ve eaten food cooked using this method. It’s been a restaurant tool for a few decades now, and if you have tasted a perfectly cooked piece of meat where the color and doneness is consistent from edge to edge, it was probably cooked sous vide.

So what IS Sous Vide?

Literally translated from French, it means “under vacuum,” so named because the food being cooked is sealed in a food safe plastic bag that is vacuum-sealed. It is then put into a temperature-controlled water bath and cooked to perfection for a prescribed period of time, which can range from 20 minutes to 2 days depending on what you are cooking and the results you want.

Pourquoi Sous Vide?

I grant you, 2 days seems a long time to cook something and that something sure isn’t for spur-of-the-moment dinners. But cooking a tough piece of meat at a low temperature over that length of time breaks it down without drying it out or over cooking it. It’s like the ultimate slow cooker. And when you cook sous vide, food is pasteurized in an oxygen-free environment, so it can be cooked ahead of time and refrigerated for several days with no adverse effects. This is what restaurants do; sous vide a steak and cook it perfectly medium rare, then when you order it, they take it out, sear it and serve it.

This is great for entertaining because it enables you to spend more time with your guests and not worry about overcooking or drying out your food. Which brings us to another great benefit of sous vide cooking: You don’t ruin expensive cuts of meat from overcooking, and cheaper cuts of meat are cooked to perfection (chuck steak turns turned into filet mignon!), so you are saving money either way. (Sous vide was invented by French chefs so they wouldn’t lose half the weight of fois gras when cooking it in a pan.)

But most recipes don’t take two days! For a recent Toque Blanche cooking class, we cooked 12 pork chops all at the same time in our favorite sous vide cooker (more on that in a second) at 143° for one hour, then just seared them in a cast iron pan and used the juices from the bag to make a quick pan sauce. The actual cooking time is minimal. See the recipe here.

How to Choose a Sous Vide Cooker

While it’s been used for decades in restaurants, sous vide has only recently made it into the home kitchen market. They were previously only available through restaurant supply stores and cost thousands of dollars.

The main thing a sous vide cooker does is maintain a very even and extremely consistent temperature. The first machine for home use was a large tank with temperature controls. While it was a closed system, there was no water circulation for such a large volume of water, creating hot and cool spots which could lead to uneven cooking. It was also big, bulky and ugly and hard to fill or empty.
The second style to arrive for home use was a clip-on unit to use with your own pots, but it’s an open system which allows for evaporation and temperature fluctuation.

Our favorite,* and what we think the best, is the new Tribest Sousvant cooker. This unit is a closed system with a water circulator. It is very precise; the temperature variance when we tested it was just one half a degree over a 72 hour period. It not only solves the problems of the other home units, it does so in a stylish way and is easy to fill, empty and program. The base unit and lid fit into the tank for easy storage as well. 

Local inventor, Lynn Neff tells the story of the making of the Sousvant in this short video.


 *We liked the Sousvant so much at Toque Blanche that we made an investment in the company to enable them to get the machine into production more quickly!

Do I need to use a vacuum sealer with Sous Vide?

Not really. Most of the time you can use a food safe freezer ziplock bag. Seal it using the displacement method:  place food in the bag, seal the closure about ¾ of the way, and then slowly lower the bag into the water. As you do, the water will help push the air out of the bag. When the top of the bag gets close to the water, seal it the rest of the way.)

And some foods, like eggs, come in their own packaging, so just drop them in and let them cook!

Recipe of the Month
Pork Chops with Napa Valley Rub cooked Sous Vide

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