Sous Vide Cooking…Now so easy to do at home!
What is Sous Vide? Sous Vide is French for without air. It’s is worth knowing about because it’s a way to cook meats and fish with absolutely no fat – reducing in calorie reduction. But most important, it’s a way to get your food the perfect temperature with no fear of over cooking. It can supply a big window of time within which you can serve your food, all the while keeping it warm and perfectly cooked. The sous vide method was popularized by high end restaurants for just these reasons – and now, even the home cook has an opportunity to take advantage of this unique method of cooking without a huge expenditure.
To use this method, you place a circulator/heater in a tank with enough water to cover the food. You heat the water to the desired temperature and then you drop sealed bags containing your food into the water for a specified period of time. (Charts come with the equipment.) You can slow cook thick fish for several hours and meats for many more. Once you reach your minimum cooking time, you can leave it in there to keep it warm for quite a while, taking it out when everything else is ready – a cook’s dream!
Does food taste the same? Your food will be moist and the texture will be extremely tender. However, it might look a little different. You won’t see any caramelization, so you might want to use a blow torch, broiler or blow torch with a diffuser on it to brown up your meat. I don’t think this is so important for fish and with fish – because it’s more tender and thinner – you risk over cooking when you have just gone to the trouble of preparing it perfectly. You can compensate for the lack of caramelization with tasty and colorful spices. In general, you will want to use more spices anyway to compensate for losing the taste of the fat you would normally use in cooking.
There are some important precautions! Watch out for safe temperature ranges. Bacteria proliferate exponentially between the temperatures of 41 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit. Some bacteria grow without the presence of air, so vacuum packing it in this sense doesn’t make any difference. When your food is in this range for four hours, you should throw it out. This includes cooking, cooling and eating time – and it’s cumulative. So if you save leftovers, even though your refrigerate them, when you bring them back into that temperature zone, you have to count the time it was out before. (You can extend this by two hours by re-heating to specified temperatures.)
All this means is that if you plan to cook a roast, for example, that has six hours of cooking time, make sure your water temperature is above the zone. A product like fish, for example, that might, also for example, take an hour or two to cook, would be fine cooked at a lower temperature – even within the zone.
What equipment is required and where do I get it? All you need is a large, plastic tank and a heater/circulator, as well as a way to vacuum pack your food. It’s important to circulate the water in the tank so that all the liquid is a constant temperature. Basically, you are poaching without your food touching the water, which would leech out the flavor.
Take a look at the Anova Sous Vide Immersion Circular for $199 and the ARY tank, for $39 (found online at the time of this printing). A vacuum pack machine can be found at places like Bed, Bath & Beyond. Although there are more expensive ones available, I got a Food Saver brand machine there for $69 and it has worked fine for years. A nice aside to these machines is that you can freeze food without air in the packages, eliminating or highly reducing freezer frost. For sous vide, you can even use Ziploc bags, as long as you press out the air and make sure they are sealed tightly.
This method of cooking is easy and fun. Especially for those of you who are afraid to cook fish, just can’t get it right or don’t like the smell of fish in your kitchen, here’s your answer!