Sous vide cooking is growing in popularity and there are so many questions about what it means to cook using sous vide. Here are your questions answered about sous vide.
Be sure to check out my complete collection of sous vide recipes.
What is Sous Vide?
Sous Vide is French for 'under vacum'. Sous Vide cooking is the water batch cooking method that was developed in Europe where meats, fish, vegetables and more are vacum-packed in food save plastic bags and cooked in circulating water at a precise temperature.
At times, the water displacement method is used to removed air from the bags when a vacuum sealer is not available.
Previously only available in high end restaurants, hotels and commercial cooking Sous vide is becoming very popular for the home cook.
What are the advantages of sous vide cooking?
- For me, the advantage of sous vide is temperature precision. Meats are cooked edge to edge at my preferred temperature. How often have you had a steak that was too done on the edges and too underdone in the center? Sous vide cooking solves this problem. By keeping the temperature of the water at your preferred temperature for doneness the meat will only be able to cook the meat to that temperature. Example: If you want your steak to be cooked to 135F, it can be done on the grill but it takes skills. With sous vide, the steak will be 135 from edge to edge by just dropping the steak in a bag and cooking in the water circulator. It won't be cooked any higher or lower because the steak takes on the temperature of the water.
- Another advantage of sous vide cooking is when making infusions. What would take weeks can be done in hours. By gently raising the temperature of alcohol it easily takes on flavors instead of sitting for months on end.
- Cooking dairy items such as cheese cakes or egg nog will help eliminate cracking in the cheesecake and keep the eggs from curdling in the egg nog.
- Incubate at a perfect temperature. Incubate homemade sous vide yogurt between 110 and 115 to get more of a pourable yogurt or more of a dense yogurt.
- Cooking fish with the sous vide method will ensure that the fish is neither dry, nor underdone. Now you can cook expensive pieces of fish such as sea bass at home without worrying about messing up the beautiful cut of meat.
Are Ziploc bags safe for sous vide?
Ziploc brand bags are made from polyethylene plastic with a softening point of approximately 195F.
Plastic Ziploc bags are good for lower cooking temperatures, under 158F.
If you have a longer cook, 12 hours or more, I would recommend a sous-vide bag or double bag the item in 2 freezer bags.
Can you sous vide with FoodSaver bags?
Most definitely! I use FoodSaver bags for vegetables, fish, and shrimp. FoodSaver bags are more resistant to punctures, tears and are intended for vacuum sealing. Ziploc-style bags are not designed for heat sealing.
Can you sous vide without vacuum sealing?
You can sous vide without vacuum sealing but you can't sous vide without removing the air from the bag.
Sous vide translates to 'under vacuum but it does not mean that a food vacuum has to be used.
Use the water displacement method to remove the air from the bag and use a clip to keep the bag from floating away. When I make sous vide chicken breasts, I won't always use the vac and seal. Especially when I am just cooking one piece.
What is the water displacement method for sous vide?
Water displacement method of sealing a bag for sous vide is great for food items that do have a high air percentage, such as apple pie filling or sous-vide beef stroganoff.
- Place food item in the bag.
- While keeping the bag open, lower the bag into the water bath.
- Allow the pressure of the water to force the air out of the bag.
- Once the food is below the water surface it is not sealed!
- Use a clip to attach the bag to the side of the sous vide container.
- While the bag is under pressure, it is still open. Don't let it free float or the water will enter the bag.
Why is the cooking time so variable with sous vide cooking?
There is some 'wiggle room' when it comes to sous vide cooking. You will see cook times written like this: 1-4 hours. That means that the recommended time is 1 hour but not to exceed 4 hours. After 4 hours the protein starts to get mushy. In other cooking methods the window of 'done' and 'over done' can be close. Sous vide cooking will help expand that window up to several hours because of the precision of the temperature control of the water bath.
How long does it take to sous vide a steak?
The short answer on how long does it take to sous vide a steak is, it depends. But I would definitely plan on at least an hour per inch of thickness.
A grilled steak could take from 6-15 minutes but the exact temperature is not guaranteed from edge to edge.
With the precise temperature control of the sous vide water, the steak will be your desired temperature from edge to edge. For example, sous vide prime rib will take from 6-18 hours depending on the texture and doneness you are looking to enjoy.
Plus, if you need a few extra minutes, and up to several hours, before you serve your steak, the sous vide method will keep your steak at your desired temperature without overcooking. What you give up in time you more than makeup for in quality.
Can you reuse the Sous Vide water?
The Sous Vide water can be reused for multiple cookings.
The food does not touch the water so therefore there is not any cross-contamination.
I would recommend switching out the sous vide water every week if you cook several times a week or if you have hard water deposits.
Can you sous vide for too long?
While sous vide method of cooking is very forgiving, it is possible to sous vide for too long, depending on the food item.
Low-fat percentage, tender steaks such as beef tenderloin will start to lose structure after 4 hours.
Whereas the tougher, higher fat cuts of meat will benefit from a longer sous vide time, especially at a lower temperature. For example, sous vide ribs and sous vide pork shoulder each take 24 hours and beef short ribs take 48 hours.
Sous Vide is not as time-dependent as other cooking methods but it does have a limit to the lengths of time it should be used.
How do you clean a sous vide?
I clean my sous vide immersion circulator about once a month. We have hard water so I am doing my best to keep the sous vide clean and keep it in good working order.
- Add equal parts white vinegar and water to a heat safe container.
- Place sous vide immersion circulator in the container as you would be preparing for a cook.
- Set the temperature to 140ºF/60ºC and let your sous vide heat the liquid.
- The sous vide is clean once it has reached temperature BUT I usually let it run for about 20 minutes.
What is the best Sous Vide Circulator?
I have not had the chance to test different sous vide machines so I went with the recommendations of the Business Insider. I loved their explanations of their choices. ps... I have and LOVE the ChefSteps Joule.
Chilling is part of the sous vide cooking process
For best results with most proteins, it is best to chill the food to refrigerator temperature within 2 hours. The fats will slowly reenter the meat and re set into the meat. Once reheated, the meat will be the best it can be in terms of flavor and texture. It is like when you reheat a meal the day after. It always tastes better the second day.
How to chill sous vide food for safe storage. Chill down to refrigerator temperate to the core of the food. (ex. 1 inch thick steak.)
- Leave on the counter for 15 minutes.
- Plunge in tap water for 15 minutes.
- Continue to chill in ice water bath.
How to reheat sous vide food.
It does depend on the density and thickness of the product.
- Defrost, if frozen.
- Heat on a cast iron, grill or in the oven.
- It will be warmed to the core until a probe inserted in the center reaches your desired temperature.
- Larger pieces can be brought up to temperature in a water bath to about 50% of the original temperature.
- Sear on a hot grill or sear in a cast iron pan. The cary over cooking will help bring it back to the desired temperature.
👩🏻🍳 Sarah Mock
Sarah Mock is a classically trained Chef and graduate of Johnson & Wales University. A culinary blogger for 14 years Sarah helps the home cook prepare her recipes with professional results.