The most helpful sous vide beginner’s guide. Whether you’ve never heard of sous vide, an immersion circulator, or you already dipped your toe in but want to up your game – I’ve got you covered!
The silver lining to people staying at home more has been enjoying the outdoors, spending quality time with their family, and trying to learn a new skill like playing guitar. Most of us are spending more time preparing home cooked meals. Whether you think of yourself as a ‘good cook’ or not, cooking sous vide will immediately make you level up your kitchen game.
What is Sous vide?
Sous vide is French and translates to ‘under vacuum’. Essentially, the process begins with food being placed in a plastic bag, with all the air removed. Then, it is dropped into a water bath that is configured to a precise temperature for a determined amount of time using an immersion circulator. The finished product yields something that was once only achievable by professional restaurant chefs. Sous vide has been commonplace in many restaurants, and you probably have enjoyed sous vide food, you may have just not known it. This technique has seen an uptick in popularity recently because of the availability of more affordable home models.
What is an immersion circulator?
The gadget is attached to the side of a container with the heating element and circulator submerged in the water. The device then heats and circulates the water around inside the container in order to maintain a consistent temperature, much like an air fryer circulates hot air. Depending on what is being cooked, the cooking process can take several hours, but is unattended. I love it for meal prep because I can batch cook individual portions while doing other chores around the house. When cooking for guests, I set the immersion circulator well in advance and then prepare other food or finish getting ready myself. Plus if guests arrive late, the food is still fresh, warm, and not at all overcooked. If you are sous vide cooking meat, you may finish with a quick sear in a hot pan so you have that beautiful golden brown crust.
Should I be intimidated?
Not at all! New kitchen gadgets can be scary or difficult at first. The beauty of sous vide is the perfect results, with minimal effort. It may take a few attempts to dial in what time and temps you prefer. Unlike something like an air fryer or Instant Pot, all immersion circulators are very precise and generally performance doesn’t vary from machine to machine. This means you can hit the ground running and focus on experimenting with different foods, sauces, and spice.
Sous vide vs. other techniques:
The sous vide technique gives you complete control of the ‘doneness’ of your food without guesswork or fear of overcooking. By not elevating the cooking heat beyond the recommended internal cook temperature, you guarantee your food will never be over-done. The overall quality of sous vide food is better compared to boiling because there is no oxidation. When using a stovetop, oven, or grill, to achieve that perfect doneness in the middle, the outer part will be overcooked. Also, since the bag is sealed when sous vide cooking, there’s no loss of flavor or nutrients.
How do you start sous vide cooking?
- An immersion circulator. I use an Anova Precision Cooker.
- A container or stock pot. Any 12 quart stock pot. If you want to do longer cooks (several hours) I like using a dedicated container with a lid.
- Freezer safe resealable bags or vacuum sealer with vacuum sealer bags. With freezer safe resealable bags, ensure you remove all air by slowly submerging the bag (referred to as the water displacement method), with food item in it, into water stopping before any water creeps into the bag.
- A cast iron skillet or carbon steel skillet for searing. Any skillet designed for high heat cooking will work, but I prefer a cast iron skillet or carbon steel skillet.
- If using freezer safe resealable bags, a clip of some sort (clothes pin, chip clip, or binder clip) comes in handy.
What kinds of things can you cook sous vide?
Don’t be worried that your sous vide is a one-trick pony kitchen unitasker, only for cooking exceptional meat and fish for dinner. You can sous vide breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even dessert! If you are weighing the decision to purchase an immersion circulator, think of it as a multi-use, do-anything, can’t live without kitchen gadget.