Getting Started with Sous Vide Cooking

Cooking uses two types of heat to prepare food, high temperature and low.  Each has advantages.  While most cooks use ovens, skillets and grills with a range of 300 to 600 F, the Sous Vide method utilizes a low temperature approach, slow cooking food for hours in a water bath.  This assures even cooking, outstanding texture, succulent flavors and a tenderness rarely achieved with any other style of cooking.

In the past Sous Vide cooking was concentrated in the restaurants and large capacity kitchens because of the cost.  An investment of several thousand dollars would be quickly recouped by the improvement in quality and volume of the food served.  Today, for an investment of under $500, temperature controlled water baths or immersion circulators can bring a whole new style of cooking to your daily life.

For those who want to rough it, you can get started in Sous Vide simply by adding a high quality digital thermometer and some heavy duty Ziploc freezer bags.  You can use your our pots and stove but the diligence involved is extreme.  While this would be the cheapest at under $100, this is not recommended.  New technologies offer convenience and reliability that make the hands-on approach silly.

The SousVide Supreme is the most popular counter top unit for home cooking.  This counter top unit electronically maintains the cooking water at a constant temperature for the desired minutes, hours and days.  It monitors the water level and slowly cooks food to perfection.  Proper temperature is essential for the taste and texture of the food.  It is also critical for safety reasons, especially if you are cooking for those with immune system issues.

Eggs need to cook for up to an hour, at 145 F.  Steaks need two to three hours, at 125 degrees.  Salmon takes 20 minutes at 114.  Short ribs might take between 2 and 3 days, at 133.  The water used in sous vide cooking evenly distributes the heat, slowly raising the internal temperature of every particle of the food until the desired internal temperature is reached.  Sous Vide cooking offers the ultimate in control, with the chance of overcooking near zero, for the waters is never at a temperature higher than the desired finished product.

Immersion circulators are the ultimate in the best sous vide equipment.  These are small units that heat and circulates the temperature controlled water around the food.  This evenly distributes the heat around each item.  These can be used with any large cooking pot and when not in use do not take up much counter space.  In the past they cost nearly $1,000 but smaller units now go for around half of that.

Food preparation for sous vide cooking is essential and offers moments of satisfying creativity.  Poultry, beef, fish or vegetable will be cooked inside of a plastic cooking bag.  The slow cooking locks in all of the natural flavors and nutriments inside of the bag.  Seasoning is done prior to immersion and all of the taste is locked inside.

A vacuum bagging machine can be used to seal your food inside a tight, inexpensive cooking bag with your best FoodSaver vacuum sealer.  This allows the food to cook and marinate faster and more intensely.  A Ziploc freezer bag, with most of the air pressed out, can be just as effective, though costlier.  These also keep the texture of the food a bit more uniform and pleasing.  Plastic wrap can also be used but there is a greater chance for water to seep into the items.  Either way, your food is being cooked sealed inside of the bag, with an even distribution of heat thought out.

To begin cooking with Sous Vide you must choose the proper equipment for your particular needs.

If you are cooking for a large family or even a small restaurant, size is important.  When cooking at home your need to work with between 5 liters and 12 liters of water.  For water baths units, get ones with a tank near those sizes.  For an Immersion Circulator, make sure it is powerful enough to handle cooking pots that large.  This brings into issue the heating power of the unit and also the water pump capabilities.  There is a lot to be said for bigger and stronger.

Temperature stability is critical, especially considering the long cooking times involved.  Immersion circulators can maintain the desired temperature for hours with a variation of less than ½ degree F.  A basic startup device costs under $300, such as the Anova WiFi Precision Cooker.  The more expensive Sansaire Immersion Circulator models have float sensors that will sense falling water levels due to evaporation.

Water bath units are more automatic and boast timers, warnings and other bells and whistles.  The SousVide Supreme and the Oliso Pro are home kitchen models which package the water bath container, heating elements and electronics within a small counter footprint.  These usually have a non-stick interior surface for easy cleaning.

Getting started with Sous Vide is quick and easy.  You just have to decide to go long and slow.  You will taste the advantages in every bite.

Next Article: Practical Uses of Sous Vide Cooking

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