Sous Vide Guide

As a keen cook and someone who finds it important to cook healthy meals, I decided to dive into immersion/sous vide cooking, an emerging method of cooking with some snazzy technology. Who’d have thought Bluetooth technology can help you cook the perfect steak or even an egg?

Having been impressed with not only the health benefits of immersion cooking but the perfect results you can achieve at home each time, this informative guide explains everything the keen cook needs to know about sous vide cooking and the precision cooker aka the sous vide cooker.

Included in this article

What is Sous Vide?

Sous Vide, pronounced sue-veed, refers to the process of sealing/vacuuming food before using a precision cooker to cook foods whilst maintaining low cooking temperatures in water. Not too dissimilar to cooking in a bain-marie. 

 Sous vide, when translated from French, means under ‘under vacuum’ hence the use of vacuum sealing foods in bags. However, you can also use jars or containers to place the food within prior to cooking in water.

 When you sous vide you are using precise cooking. Temperatures for sous vide are maintained at around 55 – 60 C (131 to 140 F) for meat and slightly higher for vegetables. The method of precision cooking results in consistent, restaurant-quality results every time. 

 Most common cuts of meat, fish, vegetables and eggs, are placed in sealed airtight bags or glass jars and cooked in temperature-controlled water baths for a period of time usually between 1-7 hours, at times up to 48 hours. Sous vide machines allow you to set the time and temperature that you cook your foods for. 

While it may seem that sous vide cooking is a little complex at first, this really is the extent of the basics.  It’s not quite as simple as boil-in-the-bag, of course – but it’s actually a lot easier to get started with sous vide machines and immersion circulator tech than you might assume.

How Does Sous Vide Compare to Other Cooking Methods?

The most common types of cooking methods are: 

Baking which uses a dry convection heat in an enclosed environment i.e. an oven range.
Frying where you cook in fat overheat on either a gas, electric or induction hob this could be deep-frying, stir-frying, pan-frying or sautéing.
Roasting which is similar to baking, however, initial temperatures tend to be high in order to brown the exterior of foods before reducing the heat to cook the food whilst keeping it moist inside. 
Grilling/broiling both methods are similar and use intense direct heat. With grilling the heat source is below the food, such as barbecuing although in the UK many domestic grills heat foods from above. With broiling the heat source is also from above.
Steaming where you cook foods over boiling water.
Sous vide uses precision cooking which uses water to transfer heat more evenly in a less abrasive manner. This gentle cooking method cooks food at a set temperature which is maintained throughout the cooking process. 

Pros

  • Consistent temperatures – perfect food every time
  • Even cooking – less wastage 
  • Whilst your food cooks, you can do something else
  • Supports healthy eating – reduced calories/ cholesterol

Cons

  • Initial set-up can be pricey 
  • Your kitchen won’t be filled with tantalising smells.

What’s The Point of Sous Vide Cooking?

Traditional methods of cooking expose the exterior of your food to higher heat levels than is required for their internal cooking temperatures. Sous vide on the other hand prevents overcooking because you can set a maintained temperature that is more suited to both the external and internals of your food.  This in turn reduces food waste from shrinkage and gives perfect results every time.

Steak, for example, can dry out during the cooking process, losing at times as much as 40% of its volume. The precision cooker maintains 100% of the volume of the foods you cook.

Food waste caused by a reduction in shrinkage is avoided because immersion cooking ensures that foods are cooked evenly to guarantee that foods are cooked properly both on the outside and inside whilst maintaining their juices and moisture. Thereby making sous vide cooking an ideal method especially for irregularly shaped foods with varying thicknesses such as steak and fish.

In the case of sous vide when you cook steak you will experience a very tender finished result because precision cooking evenly breaks down the collagens and proteins which can make foods tough, it also preserves muscle which in turn improves texture and taste.

Another good example is salmon, have you ever noticed the white albumin formed on cooked salmon? This is caused when the pan surface temperature is higher than the desired internal cooking temperature. The white albumin forms as the salmon dries out.

How do you like your eggs in the morning? Well, it doesn’t have to be the morning, but when you use the precision cooking you are guaranteed perfect eggs every time. Which if you are planning on cooking perfect scotch eggs or eggs benedict is a must.

Is Sous Vide Cooking a Healthy Cooking Method?

The two most common concerns people have with immersion cooking are: 

Bacterial growth
When you sous vide the risk of food poisoning from food-borne viruses is greatly reduced because the vacuumed pouches are sealed preventing harmful bacteria growth on the food you are cooking.

Chemical leaching from plastic bags/containers
Concerns around chemical leaching are eliminated when you use ziplocs, vacuum sealed pouches and of course glass. High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) products are commonly used in food production and storage as they are known to not pass chemicals into our food or drinks.   

The benefits of immersion cooking are: 

Nutrients and minerals
Essential for energy and a healthy immune system. Sous vide maintains the essential vitamins, nutrients and minerals which are lost or reduced when using traditional cooking methods such as heating and boiling.

Weight loss
Sous vide supports healthy eating and is helpful for those looking to lose a few pounds due to lower salt and saturated fats added during the cooking process which results in fewer calories and supports reduced cholesterol.

Anti-ageing
We have already mentioned collagens and proteins which can, when poorly cooked make food tough, but did you also know that collagen is good for your skin, hair and nails and is responsible for skin elasticity. Collagen is also important for joint and bone health

How Do You Sous Vide?

Sous vide follows a very simple process;

  1. Prepare your water bath, this might be a specially purchased sous vide water oven or as simple as a large pot or saucepan. The key tip here is to ensure that you don’t overfill your container…you don’t want the water to go up and over when you add your food!
  2. Add your sous vide and set the required temperature and time. 
  3. Prepare your ingredients as per your recipe. Squeeze out the air and zip the bag (if not using a vacuum bag).
  4. Pop into your water bath.
  5. Due to the low cooking temperatures used during the cooking process the foods you are cooking, such as steak, fish and chicken will look pale when finished. At this stage, your food will be ready to serve and heat, however, if you wish, you can add a flash of colour to your food by searing it in a pan with a little oil over a high heat.

What Foods Can You Sous Vide?

All meats, steak is particularly popular but low cooking temperatures are brilliant for meats that are known to be tougher such as brisket, flank or hanger steak, vegetables and fish. 

Sous vide has been popular for several years and as such there are some fantastic cookbooks on the market with some great recipes to experiment with. 

Do I Need a Special Container for Sous Vide?

That all depends on the type of sous vide machines you intend to use.  You can buy specific sous vide pots and ovens for cooking in this style outright.  However, if you prefer to simply buy an immersion circulator outright, you’ll need a special container.  You might want to invest in strong polycarbonate, for example. At the very least, you should be looking for a pot or container which is BPA free.

Are Ziploc Bags Safe for Sous Vide Cooking?

Yes, on the whole.  However, before you use any kind of plastic bag with a sous vide machine, you are going to need to check that it is BPA free.  Some plastics, unfortunately, continue to carry harmful chemicals. When you heat up this type of plastic, you will, as you can imagine, risk releasing all kinds of harmful toxins into the air.

However, you’ll find that the vast majority of plastic food bags are free from BPAs.  Then again, it really doesn’t hurt to check. Providing your ziploc bag is able to withstand intense temperatures, you’ll be absolutely fine.  Specific vacuum bags built for sous vide will likely offer you the best performance and the safest options on the whole. That’s because some ziploc bags won’t withstand incredible temperatures.  You should also be aware that some plastic bags for sous vide can’t be reused. This might not appeal to anyone looking to run a less wasteful kitchen.

Which is Better - Anova or Joule?

This is a question that many people will ask when looking at sous vide products.  Anova is a well-established brand which offers immersion circulators as well as standalone oven units.  Chefsteps Joule technology, however, is also very popular. What are you looking for in an Anova precision cooker?  Is a joule system likely to appeal to you more? Chefsteps Joule products are available online and through various stores.

However, the right immersion cookers and sous vide technology for you might vary.  It all depends on where you are on your sous journey! If you are thinking of buying a Sous vide machine check out our Best Sous Vide 2020 with Recommended Books Review.

However, you’ll find that the vast majority of plastic food bags are free from BPAs.  Then again, it really doesn’t hurt to check. Providing your ziploc bag is able to withstand intense temperatures, you’ll be absolutely fine.  Specific vacuum bags built for sous vide will likely offer you the best performance and the safest options on the whole. That’s because some ziploc bags won’t withstand incredible temperatures.  You should also be aware that some plastic bags for sous vide can’t be reused. This might not appeal to anyone looking to run a less wasteful kitchen.

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