If you’ve watched any TV cooking competition, you’ve most likely heard the term “sous vide” being thrown around. (It’s pronounced soo-veed, if that rings any bells.) But the chances that you’ve personally tried the technique—in which vacuum-sealed food is slowly cooked inside a temperature-controlled water bath, resulting in the perfect amount of doneness—are much slimmer. After all, how many home cooks have a Cryovac plastic-wrapping machine sitting on their counter?
Although this gourmet cooking style seems complicated and mysterious, it can actually be pretty easy. Believe it or not, you can pull it off with equipment that’s commonly found in most kitchens.
“People shouldn’t be scared of sous vide—it’s fairly simple once you wrap your mind around it,” says Robert Curry, executive chef at the Michelin-starred restaurant at Auberge du Soleil in Napa, CA, where his menu combines local California fare with classic French cuisine.
Bonus: Cooking this way retains your food’s nutrients and cuts down on grease. “Sous vide does have some nutritional advantages,” says Sara Haas, RDN, a registered dietician nutritionist and chef in Chicago. For one, you don’t need to use any additional fat. (Though ketogenic diet devotees would argue that more fat is a good thing, not everyone agrees.) Plus, she says, “Similar to cooking food in a crock pot or pressure cooker, the nutrients are essentially ‘locked in’ the food. And since there’s limited moisture loss, food will likely be juicier and more flavorful.” Certainly beats the letdown (and potential health risks) of over-blackened salmon or under-grilled chicken, doesn’t it?
Read on to learn how to cook sous vide at home—no special equipment required.
A beginner’s guide to sous-vide cooking
Curry has been cooking sous vide—everything from fish to lamb ribeye to potatoes—for years. “The whole premise of the idea is to [cook the protein at an] even temperature and then sear afterward to achieve that extra-savory flavor,” he says. The process is different from plain poaching because the food is generally sealed in a plastic sack—hence the term “sous vide,” which is French for “under vacuum.”
The expensive, scientific-looking gadgets that high-profile chefs break out when cooking sous vide is where the technique’s intimidation factor comes from. But all that stuff isn’t necessary to nail the technique, says Curry. He does strongly suggest home cooks invest in a thermal immersion circulator to help them dial in to a specific water temperature, but it doesn’t have to put a serious dent in your wallet—you can get one for about $100.
You can also skip the circulator and just use a regular ol’ pot on the stove, but it’s much more difficult to keep the water temperature set, Curry warns. And if the water gets too hot, your food will cook unevenly—overdone on the outside, raw in the middle—which defeats the purpose of sous vide.
The pricy vacuum-sealed bags aren’t crucial either. Instead, you can simply reach for a roll of plastic wrap. To try it, wipe a wet towel along a section of your counter to get it damp, then lay a sheet of plastic wrap over it—the moisture is just to get the plastic to stay in place. Put a marinated cut of meat, fish, veggies, herbs, or whatever else you’re cooking on one end, then roll it all the way up. Next, wrap the plastic-wrapped food in a layer of aluminum foil. Set the temperature on the immersion circulator in a pan of water on the counter, drop in the wrapped food, and leave it. Fish, veggies, and tender cuts of meat can be ready in about 45 minutes, while tougher cuts can take several hours—and don’t forget to finish off your protein by searing it on the stovetop.
It’s so easy, you can even do this ahead of time. If you’ve got dinner party plans, cook the meal sous-vide early in the day, then leave it in an ice bath until guests show up, says Curry. Take it out of the ice bath 20 minutes before mealtime, and sear the food on the stove before serving.
“If you’re having people over for a party, it can be pretty foolproof,” says Curry. “You know the piece of meat, as long as you cook it long enough, is going to turn out nicely every time.” That means less stress slaving over the stove, and more freedom to perfect your playlist.
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