What Is Sous Vide Cooking?
What is sous vide cooking?
Sous vide, French for "under vacuum", is a style of cooking where meats (or other ingredients) are sealed in plastic and cooked in a temperature controlled water bath. The result is perfectly cooked meat without any of the guesswork that comes with traditional cooking methods such as roasting, BBQing or pan frying.
Ever bought a beautiful steak only to accidentally cook it past that perfect pink and end up tragically chewy? Well - that's pretty much impossible with sous vide cooking! You may even find that the secret to many of your "how did they get this so tender and perfect??" restaurant dinners is a sous vide machine.
Is it safe to cook with plastic?
Short answer - it depends who you ask. Many people say that sous vide specific plastic bags that are free from BPAs are safe to cook with. The best of these sous vide bags are those made from high-density polyethylene, low-density polyethylene, or polypropylene - the safest of the standard plastics. These bags can be sealed using a vacuum sealer, which is ideal for sous vide cooking. When you are doing sous vide cooking, you will be heating the water to a temperature well under boiling as well - so your bags are not getting super hot which reduces the risk further of chemicals leaching.
With that said, the research around other BPA-esque compounds that similarly disrupt hormones in the body is still emerging. That's why at this stage our preference when doing sous vide is platinum grade silicone bags. Food grade silicone is widely considered a safer alternative to traditional plastics and is free from BPA, latex, lead and phthalates. And the best part? They're re-usable (and dishwasher safe if you get the same ones we bought from Stasher!). The seal will obviously not be as airtight as a standard vacuum sealed sous vide bag when you use silicone, but we've found we still get great results! If you're struggling to get the air out, you can try the oft recommended water immersion sealing method to help.
What do I need to get started?
Although you can buy full scale sous vide machines, for home cooks we'd recommend starting with a sous vide wand from a reputable maker. These are affixed to the side of a water bath - we often just use a big pot for this, but you can also buy purpose built containers. The wand then heats the water to your desired temperature and maintains this throughout the cooking time.
You will also need sous vide bags (and a vacuum sealer if you're going the full hog and vacuum sealing).
If you're using a bag that you're sealing yourself such as silicone bags or food grade ziplocks, you may also need something to weigh your bag down and prevent it from floating. This may sound bizarre, but we have found that using a bulldog clip to secure a spoon to the side of our bags weighs them down quite nicely. Get creative if you need to!
What tips should I know before I start?
- Set your water temperature to your desired "doneness" level - e.g. for medium rare steak, set the temperature of the water between 52 - 55C and it will come out perfectly pink.
- You'll most likely still need to sear your meat when it's done, especially for chops and steaks. Load up your pan with a mix of ripping hot butter and olive oil once your steak comes out of the sous vide and quickly sear for a beautiful crust and perfect pink the rest of the way through.
- Don't add too many flavours into the bag with your meat. Some flavours taste different or intensify when cooked in a sous vide environment so use a light hand.
- Avoid cooking with raw garlic - it cooks a bit differently than usual in a sous vide (taste-wise), and over longer periods of time can be a risk for botulism bacteria. Better to add it into sauces/sears in the final stages of cooking!
How long should I leave it in the water bath for?
In our travels so far, we 've found that 1 - 3 hours is the sweet spot for most sous vide cooking. You can leave it in past this time and it won't necessarily overcook, but the texture of the meat can start to lose its structural integrity. Unlike traditional slow cooking, past a certain point the meat won't cook more if you leave it in longer - this is because the temperature of the water is so tightly controlled. So - whether you cook your steak for 2 hours or 3, it will turn out pretty much the same! Very handy if you have multiple elements to your meal and need everything to come together at the same time. Christmas hack anyone?
If you're looking for specifics on a particular cut you're sous vide-ing, there are heaps of recipes online so don't be afraid to Google for times and temperatures!