What is Sous Vide? And Should You Buy One?

I got a Sous Vide machine.  I love it.  If you like perfectly cooked meats, turning cheap cuts into tasty and an easy clean up – you might too. So today I answer, What is Sous Vide?

On day one, all I could think was, I hope this isn’t the Instant Pot all over again.  As you may remember I bought an Instant Pot, even though I wasn’t convinced it was the right tool for me.  I was right.  It wasn’t.  I hate it, other than for making chili which it does exceptionally well. Here’s my full review.  For the Instant Pot lovers among you, just assume that I realize you love it while I don’t, so you don’t need to leave a comment extolling the virtues of the Instant Pot. Just give me a dirty look through your laptop or mobile screen and we can all move on.

The Sous Vide machine was something I thought I was more likely to warm up to but I still didn’t have it in me to buy a $300 gadget in case it was useless.   $300 aside, that’s a lot of kitchen real estate in a 180 year old house that wasn’t meant to hold more than a pair of boots, a shotgun and a sack of potatoes.

I was surprised and elated when a Sous Vide machine showed up at my door from a reader who happens to work for the company that distributes the Sous Vide Supreme in Canada.  I started testing it the next day.

And yes. I agree.   It *is* completely fantastic to have a job where people randomly send you stuff.

What is Sous Vide?

A Sous Vide machine is a water oven.  Food is cooked in it by placing the food in a plastic bag and then lowering it into water that’s held at an exact (low) temperature for a long period of time. The method was first developed in 1974 by a French chef.

There are two types of Sous Vide cookers.  A full water bath (which is what the Sous Vide Supreme is) and an immersion stick which you just place in your own container and it circulates and heats the water.

The full sized Sous Vide machines run about $300.

An immersion stick Sous Vide runs about $100-190.

Why does any of this matter?  Steaks are probably the best example.  You know how you make a steak and you want it medium rare?  That steak is medium rare in the very centre but the closer you get to the edges the more and more that steak is cooked.  The edges are often well done.  That’s just the way it is in the world of bloody meat.  Those multi-doneness steaks are a thing of the past with a Sous Vide machine.

Food is cooked to the exact same temperature from edge to edge.  So your steak is done to 137 degrees in the centre, 137 degrees near the edge and 137 degrees at the edge.   137 degrees is just an example or course, you can cook them to whatever  temperature you want.  My mother would choose 792 degrees as the perfect degree of doneness for her steak.  I once served her a rawhide bone and she didn’t notice the difference.

Benefits of Sous Vide Cooking

  • Perfectly cooked food. No overcooked or undercooked chicken or steaks ever.
  • Intensified flavour because the food is cooking in it’s own juices without any dilution through water.
  • Almost nothing to clean up because everything is cooked in a sealed bag.
  • Easy.
  • All the hard part of cooking happens while you ignore it throughout the day or overnight.  The “dinner time” cooking just involves a few minutes of searing or frying.

But what about the crust?  The sear?  The crispy skin???  Yeah, those were my first questions too.  As it turns out, the cooking in the Sous Vide is *just* the cooking.  After it’s cooked you can do whatever you want with the food.  Sear it, quickly roast it, or crisp it up in a cast iron pan.

With a steak for example, after cooking it in the Sous Vide you just remove it from the Sous Vide machine, take it out of its bag, pat it dry, season it with your favourite steak spice and sear it for a couple of minutes in a “searing hot” cast iron pan or BBQ.

What have I cooked?

Steak – The first thing I tried in the machine was steak which I cooked for 12 hours in the Sous Vide at 58 degrees celsius (136 degrees Fahrenheit). I then seared it in a cast iron pan.  It was delicious.

It was still a little too well done for what I like, but that’s because I had no idea what temperature to cook it to.  Next time I’ll do it at 55 degrees Celsius.

Back Ribs – I did a 2 day long back rib experiment, the results of which I’ll be talking about in depth next week.  I tried two methods both using a Sous Vide machine and a smoker.  Again, I overcooked them but they were still tasty (in part thanks to my Award Losing Maple Bourbon BBQ Sauce) and they were more foolproof than straight smoking of ribs or grilling them. Because you have to cook them low and slow to tenderize them, ribs are notorious for drying out.   More information to come!

The Notorious P.I.G.

Fried Chicken – I have never once in my life made fried chicken.  But I did the other night. I have no idea what came over me but I knew that a Sous Vide is supposed to be a miracle tool for award winning chicken overcookers like myself. The Sous Vide takes any of the worry that your fried chicken will be raw on the inside.  THIS was the real winner.  Holy crap.

 

The chicken was – succulent. And that’s a word I don’t like as a general rule because I find it creepy.  But it’s exactly what the chicken was.  Moist, juicy, not dried out and tender without being mushy.  I will absolutely be posting this recipe in the future.  I LOADED the batter with herbs and spices. Maybe not 11 herbs and spices, but a lot of them.

Just describing the fried chicken to my mother had her hopping.  She was ready to run out the door and buy an immersion Sous Vide. I had to convince her it wasn’t imperative that she get one at 10 o’clock on a Tuesday night and it could wait until morning. You know, once she’d sobered up a bit.


QUESTIONS/ANSWERS

Which Sous Vide should I buy?  In terms of brand the Sous Vide Supreme is reputable for the all in one water bath unit. For the immersion sticks, Anova and Joule are the leaders.  Both water baths and immersion sticks have their pros and cons.  Immersion sticks offer better constant temperature with no  hot or cold spots, but the water baths come with a lid so there’s no evaporation or better insulation.

For most home cooks, the immersion stick will do a great job and for less money and less space. You will need to buy a pot and some people buy ping pong balls to add to the water to act as a lid.  Weird, I know.  But true.

Do I need a Foodsaver for sealing bags to use a Sous Vide?  Not at all.  You can use plastic food grade freezer bags just fine.

You’re cooking in plastic??!!  Isn’t that unsafe you lunatic??  THIS is a hotly debated topic but after doing  a fair amount of research I’ve decided that the risk is minimal especially considering the low temperatures at which food is cooked.  Nom Nom Paleo has a great post describing all of the potential dangers and solutions.  Foodsaver bags are your safest option while also being convenient and affordable.  If you’re incredibly worried you can go with silicone bags which at this point are about as safe as you can possibly get but also cost $20 each and are difficult to find.

Is cooking Sous Vide really worth the time and effort?  That’s the thing!  There’s almost no effort.  And yes it might take 48 hours to properly turn a crappy chuck roast into something that tastes like tenderloin, but you’re not actually doing anything in that time. You drop it in the machine or pot and walk away.  So my answer is yes.

 


On day 15 all I could think was, I think I’m becoming like those weird cult-like Instant Pot people, only with the Sous Vide machine.  I’m only a few weeks into owning the Sous Vide so I could still be in the infatuation stage where it can do no wrong in my eyes but so far for me, it’s MITTIP. More. Impressive. Than. The. Instant. Pot.

Mind you, so is an Easy-Bake oven as far as I’m concerned, so maybe not a good comparison.

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What is Sous Vide?  And Should You Buy One?

68 Comments

  1. Warren Lee says:

    Karen, I was surfing a few of your blog posts yesterday (love ’em as usual) .. and possibly some replies … yours and Followers …

    Saw some hate on the IP – admittedly it is not the best thing for everything … but there is an amazing Mushroom Risotto recipe here: https://damndelicious.net/2018/03/21/instant-pot-mushroom-risotto/ (you’re welcome)

    … and don’t get me started on the amazing stews and braises

    now …. me so hungry

    • Karen says:

      I disliked it so much I gave my IP away, lol. I gave it to my mother. Who now wants to give it back. ~ karen!

      • Warren Lee says:

        Run ! – don’t walk … and pick-up that IP

        Make one stop for at Costco – they have re-stocked that amazing Wild Mushroom company (bargoon!)

        Med or short grain rice and an onion … ok chicken stock would be nice too…

        Thank me later….

  2. Michelle A. S. says:

    Reading the post and the comments got me to thinking: Bacon sous vide?
    Apparently, the answer is a resounding yes!
    https://www.seriouseats.com/2016/11/how-to-make-juicy-sous-vide-bacon.html

    Sounds really good…..

  3. Marcia says:

    I am so happy you talked about sous vide. I have been looking at the dreaded Instant Pots and trying to decide if I would regret buying one since I already have 2 crock pots, a pressure cooker and skillets. I’ve sort of been waiting for the price to come down when the craze fades. At a recent party I ended up talking to the son of our hosts who is a huge sous vide fan. When he started talking about leaving food in the pot for a day or so I got weirded out. You have convinced me. I ordered a stick today and can’t wait to try it out. Looking forward to your sous vide recipes. I have a rib roast in the freezer that will be one of the first things I try. I always overcook this not inexpensive cut of meat. I am so excited!

  4. Linda says:

    I have had the Anova Sous Vide immersion stick for well over a year and love it. Quick and easy to use – stores small. Seems impossible to overcook food.

    Not usually a big fan of salmon as I usually overcook it. With Sous Vide, it is perfect – moist and cooked to perfection. I don’t sear it after this method – personal preference – but it would be quick and easy to pop under the broiler or into a pan. If I have a large salmon or enough for two meals, I prep two bags with butter, lemon and salt and divide fish between. One gets tossed in freezer in the sous vide bag and other is dinner. Lobster tails were perfect done this way too.

    Prime rib roast or steaks are fabulous done this way. Perfect med rare to the edge. To save time once, I did two separate roasts at the same time. Used one for dinner and froze the other in the bag. When I removed the frozen one, I put the entire bag into container with the Sous Vide set to med rare temp again. Once it thawed roast and brought centre temperature up, I finished it in hot oven. Huge time saver and as good as the one used right away. NOT overcooked in the slightest which was amazing.

    Can’t wait for the fried chicken method/recipe.

  5. Beth says:

    Our absolute favorite is shell fish Sous Vide. Scallops, shrimp, and lobster tails (unshelled so they don’t poke holes in the bags). Some herbs, a slice of lemon, and a pat of butter into the bag with the fish and your dipping sauce comes out with dinner.

  6. Sean Kelly says:

    Karen, welcome to the Cult of Sous Vide! Seriously these things are incredible. We got a Nomiku stick 5 years ago and loved it. Now we have 3 kids under 3 years old and the Sous Vide is WAY easier than any other cooking method, on top of giving delicious results. This really does help us feed the 3 barbarians since the tastes and texture works well for toddlers. This summer I’m going to try a brisket in the sous vide then smoking it to finish it with a nice bark.

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Sean. :) I’m happily immersed in the cult. I’m terrified you’re going to make your brisket before my post on smoking vs sous vide goes up next week, lol. So I’ll tell one one of the points in it right now … don’t Sous Vide first. Smoke for the bark and flavour first and then Sous Vide. A full explanation coming up next week. ~ karen!

      • Sean Kelly says:

        Definitely appreciate that advice. I’m most curious on how to smoke first, then sous vide without making the bark get soggy and gross. I look forward to your advice on this!

  7. Mary W says:

    I love rare steak but ALWAYS screw them up – smoke up my kitchen and make the fire alarms go off. Just can’t do it correctly no matter how many times and directions I try. This is the first time I’ve ever thought about getting this tool and the description was very enticing. We get locally grown and butchered , grass fed steer meat which of course makes it more tough since they need grain to help ‘fatten’ up the meat so I’m even more intrigued by your results and the comments made by those that have had a SV for awhile. WOW Karen, where do you have time to do all this ‘stuff’ and come up with these surprise posts. Good Job. Girl!

  8. Melody says:

    Is no one but me curious about the ping pong balls??

    • Mary W says:

      I was curious! After thinking about it – sounded like a great solution since the balls would move freely and roll around allowing steam out without having to stir and keep heat in (air inside the ball would be good insulator) and never get hot enough to melt the balls. I don’t think I would use this on stew or soup where it gets hot since the plastic in them could certainly be harmful. But what a fun way to impress guests!

      • Alberta Karen says:

        the ping pong balls act as a cover to prevent evaporation during long cooking times.

  9. Kelly says:

    Welcome to the Sous Vide cult! We love ours, and we have both the Anova and the Joule. ChefSteps (the crew who sell the Joule) have great resources on temps and length of time. My husband made creme brulee in ours once! I’m excited about the fried chicken recipe and all of the other adventures you’ll share about yours.

  10. Kasia says:

    I have a friend who was into Sous Vide about 10 years ago, before they made these machines. They bought a scientific grade water bath heater (scientists need this for keeping bacteria cultures at a constant temp, etc.), and a huge industrial plastic tub (they like to cook big) to do it in. I think they spent a couple thousand dollars at the time. Best steak I have ever eaten in my life. Ever. It was so WEIRD at the time. Now, SO COOL! Glad it’s become more mainstream, and maybe I can actually afford to do it now!

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