Sous vide is a revolutionary cooking technique that has taken the world by storm within the past few years. It is a pretty much guaranteed method to cook your food to perfection every single time.
By following some simple fundamentals, this technique will completely change food for you – from meal prepping to cooking, from hosting large parties to entertaining a few guests – sous vide will serve all of your needs and more. Let this guide teach you the sous vide basics.
How to Pronounce "Sous Vide"
First things first, you may be wondering how the heck do you even pronounce “sous vide”. I know I had no idea at first and was too embarrassed to ask.
To save you from the ridicule of all your food snob friends, I’ll give you it to you straight: simply say “soo veed”.
Pronounce it right and you’ll sound like someone who was raised on a château in Bordeaux eating the finest camembert and coq au vin for every meal.
What is Sous Vide?
Now that we got that over with, let’s get into exactly what cooking sous vide means. Cooking sous vide is the process of placing ingredients in an air-tight container or bag, then dropping it in a temperature-controlled water bath.
Sealing the ingredients in a bag retains juices and aromas that otherwise would be lost in traditional methods such as grilling, baking and pan-frying. Also, cooking food in a temperature-controlled bath offers complete control over whatever food you are cooking, eliminating all guess work.
Air-tight bags and temperature-controlled baths may sound complicated at first, but cooking sous vide is an incredibly simple process. All you gotta do is put your ingredients in a bag, determine a time and temperature, let the sous vide machine work its sweet magic, then give it a good sear for a nicely browned crust.
However, there are some nuances in the process that can significantly impact the result of your cook. Below, I share my pro tips in a detailed, step-by-step look at the process of cooking sous vide. Follow this and you’ll be a sous vide sensei in no time.
Sous Vide Process
Step 1 - Packaging
As mentioned above, an essential part of cooking sous vide is putting ingredients in an air-tight bag or container. The two most common techniques to package your ingredients are vacuum sealing and using the water displacement method.
Vacuum Sealing -A vacuum sealer removes all the air and seals the contents of a plastic bag through a vacuum. Vacuum sealers are convenient but not mandatory, for sous vide cooking, especially given the high price tag that comes with them. If you are interested in one, the NutriChef vacuum sealer is an affordable, great option.
Displacement Method - The Displacement Method is a technique where you first place your food and marinades in a Ziploc double zipper, freezer bag, submerge your food in a container of water, and allow the pressure to force all the air out of the bag. I recommend this process for beginner's. For a thorough step by step explanation with pictures, click here.
Step 2 - Selecting Sous Vide Time and Temperature
Before you can put the sous vide machine to work, there are two variables that you need to determine. The first is the total time of the cook, and the second is the temperature of the water. Both of these are massively important to cooking sous vide as they will determine the doneness, texture, and tenderness of your food.
In short, temperature = doneness and time = tenderness. Once you select a time and temperature based on your preference, all you have to do is set the temperature of the sous vide machine and let it work its magic.
Check out my foolproof cooking time and temperature guide to help you determine the ideal time and temperature for anything you are dropping in the bath here.
Step 3 - Searing
Searing is the most critical step in the sous vide process. When your meat is done cooking in the water bath, it comes out with a pale color on the outside. Although the inside is cooked to perfection, the outside is not visually appetizing to say the least.
This is where searing comes in to play. Getting a deep, rich sear can make your food look like it is Michelin star quality. Failing to do so will make your dinner guests wonder why they let you cook again.
Not only is searing important for aesthetics, it also seals in the juices and kills off any unwanted bacteria still present. This is why searing is a major key for sous vide cooking, and can make or break your final product. If you want an amazing sear, you’ve got to:
1. Pat your meat completely dry
2. Season generously with salt
3. Sear at extremely high temperatures.
If you are looking to take your searing game to the next level, we recommend you invest in a cast iron skillet. Lodge offers the best quality and price, which is why it is our favorite cast iron brand.
Essential Sous Vide Equipment
Sous Vide Machine – This one is obvious. To cook sous vide, you’re going to need a device to precisely regulate the temperature of the bath water. The two best sous vide machines in the game right now are the Anova Precision Cooker and the Breville Joule. The main difference between the two is that with the Anova you can control the device both manually and with a mobile device, and with the Joule you can only control the device by using your mobile device. Either way, both sous vide machines are top class and you can’t go wrong with either choice.
12-quart Container – Although you can use a basic stockpot for your sous vide cooking needs, I highly recommend buying a large plastic container. They are inexpensive and spacious, so you won’t have to worry about cooking a big roast in a small pot. I recommend a 12 quart Rubbermaid container, as it is BPA free, sturdy, and large enough for just about anything you will be cooking.
Container Lid – If you are going to buy a plastic container, I highly suggest buying a compatible lid for it. When you sous vide for a long duration, the heat of the water causes evaporation. With a lid, it eliminates a majority of the evaporation so you can cook for 72 hours care-free.
Cast Iron Skillet – If you are looking to take your searing game to the next level, we recommend investing in a cast iron skillet. By using a cast iron in this recipe, you’ll achieve a deep sear on the protein. Cast irons are also extremely handy for searing just about any and all sous vide meat. Lodge offers the best quality and price, which is why it is our favorite cast iron brand.
Check out our full list of recommended gear here.
More on Sous Vide!
If you want to learn more sous vide basics, check out our Beginner's Guide on how to sous vide! This foolproof guide will teach you everything I wish I had known at the beginning of my journey. A lay out of the foundations of cooking sous vide, so that you can hit the ground running. Check it out here!
Kate L says
Thank you for this great summary!! I came in to this article not knowing anything and now feel confident to start my first cook.