What is Sous Vide and Why are People Obsessed with It?
Tender, perfectly cooked vegetables and impossibly succulent steak are made so easy with this near 50-year-old cooking technique. Sous vide is no longer reserved to chef's kitchens, thanks to new, easily accesible home kitchen appliances and the cooking technique's increasing popularity. Learn what all of the fuss is about and the best way to try sous vide at home.
“Have you heard of sous vide?”
A salesperson asked me this about two weeks ago in a checkout line, immediately after learning that I studied food and nutrition in college. I told him yes, I have heard of it, but that I wasn’t familiar with the process. Honestly, I just knew that Starbucks recently added Sous Vide Egg Bites to their breakfast menu and hey, they sounded delicious. His eyes widened with excitement as he began to explain what it was, all of the things that he cooked, and why sous vide was the ultimate way to prepare food. Seriously, he should’ve been paid for that speech. I went home to investigate--because who can just ignore something backed by a testimony of life change and the fact that Starbucks, too, is on its band wagon?
So what is it?
Sous vide is French for “under vacuum." It’s pronounced “soo VEED,” and it’s a food-packaging technique that originated in Europe. Fresh ingredients are combined to create complete dishes, they are then vacuum packed into individual portions, and cooked in water with a controlled temperature and lengthy cook time. The result is a perfectly cooked product, vegetables that are tender and have retained nutrients and vibrancy, meat that is juicy, flavorful, and evenly cooked throughout. This method is incredibly precise and relies on temperature control more than anything else to ensure this level of consistent results. Think of a cooked, medium-rare steak. When sliced, there a deep pink center, often wrapped with a gray band around it. When a steak is cooked sous vide, there is no gray band. The even heating results in an all pink center, like in the photo below.
The technique was first used in the ‘70s, so naturally, there are now numerous ways to cook sous vide. Aside from commercial-grade sous vide equipment, you can buy an appliance called the Sous Vide Supreme that looks like a square slow-cooker and keeps a water bath at the exact temperature needed to cook your food of choice. You simply season your food, vacuum seal it in a food-grade pouch, and place the pouch in the water. There are other tools that operate on similar principles, but don’t require a vacuum-sealed pouch, making the technique even practice at home. You can purchase an Anova Precision Cooker that attaches to the side of a stock pot or food storage bucket, and then heats/keeps water at a specific temperature throughout the cooking process. This device even connects to your smartphone for cooking at the push of a button. With this method, you simply season the food as desired, place it in a zip-top bag, and put the bag in your stock pot with the Anova Precision Cooker attached.
Some have attempted to hack the system and use slow cookers or rice cookers to cook sous vide... but doing so requires constant monitoring with an accurately calibrated thermometer and still may produce questionable results. In other words, we would not recommend going this route. But if you’re interested in cooking sous vide in your home kitchen, it's worth researching and investing in an appliance that's been created specifically for it.
Why do people love it?
Sous vide is popular because it’s consistent, it yields food that tastes delicious, and it you have the right equipment, it’s an incredibly hands-off way of cooking. And once you get the hang of it, it's almost impossible to mess up. Natural juices and natural flavors are locked in the pouch, so the result after the slow and gentle cooking process is an intensely flavorful final product, that doesn't require much in terms of attention or additions. Generally, its a healthier way to cook, in comparison to cooking methods that require added fat and high heat that breaks down the good-for-you components of your food, such as fiber and antioxidant compounds in vegetables.
You can cook meat, poultry, vegetables, cake, grains, beans, custard, and more using sous vide. The method is straightforward, with certain temperatures and cook times needed for different foods. For example, a medium-rare tenderloin steak should be submerged in a 129 degree bath for 45 minutees. Cooking this way is far more dependable than following a typical recipe that utilizes the oven, stove, or grill. The required cook time for perfection is impacted by a wide array of variables, like your cookware, your add-ins, your stove, and the way you control the heat, etc. A precisely heated water bath eliminates most of these factors.
Obviously, there's no trying sous vide before making the leap and buying the necessary equipment (unless you too meet someone who swears by it and want to share their Anova with you). Though the tools come with a notable price tag, sous vide could very well turn your dinners of lifeless veggies and overcooked meat into effortless, fine dinning-quality entrees.