Sous vide cooking is a great way to produce delicious, tender, perfectly cooked food. It’s easy to prepare, requires almost entirely hands-off effort, and has quickly become a favorite way to cook for both gourmet chefs and home cooks. But, what happens if you planned to make a recipe for dinner, and forgot to take the chicken (or steak) out of the freezer? Not to worry! Food can be cooked directly from frozen, using a sous vide machine, with excellent results.
Cooking sous vide meals from frozen (instead of fresh) helps you provide your family with delicious, healthy meals at home. Stocking up on meats, seafood, fish, and poultry, especially when they are on sale, is a great way to save money. It also cuts down on restaurant bills; why go out to eat when you can prepare the same thing at home?
There are a few things that you need to know, though, to make sure that you are fully prepared to cook frozen meats using a sous vide machine.
Packaging is important
Depending on the packaging of the meat, you might not need to repackage your food; don’t ever cook frozen foods that include an absorbent pad (without removing it first!), a foam tray, or those moisture removing packs.
Go ahead and get that tenderloin that’s on special; have the butcher cut it into 1.5 inch thick steaks, and package them individually in bags. It’s important to know that the bag needs to be heavy enough that it won’t tear or rip during cooking or during storage. If you have any doubts, play it safe; once you get home, repackage the meat in a sous vide vacuum-seal bag, or in a freezer-safe zip-top bag (removing the air using the water displacement method). Also, it’s important to know that overfilling a sous vide bag can lead to misshapen food; the steaks might taste great, but trying to squeeze too many of them into one package could leave you with hockey pucks (which might not be that big of a deal).
Cook times aren’t that much different
From the Chef Steps website, there is an easy way to determine cook times for frozen food.1 Take the recommended cooking time for a fresh piece of protein and divide by two. Then, add that number to the original cook time. If that seems a little confusing, just take the cook time for the food in its fresh state, and multiply by 1.5. Either way, you’ll come up with the same time.
Example; cooking that frozen filet that normally takes 60 minutes from fresh? Divide the original cook time by two; 60/2=30. Add that back to the initial cook time (60 minutes); 30+60=90 minutes.
Or, using multiplication; 60 minutes x 1.5=90 minutes.
Is cooking frozen meat sous vide safe?
Absolutely! Cooking directly from frozen helps to cut down on cross-contamination and helps to ensure the food’s best quality; the fewer times that a great steak is frozen, thawed, and reheated, the better. Pasteurization (gentle, slow heating which destroys harmful pathogens) starts at about 130 degrees; as long as the meat is cooked and held at the correct temperature, it helps to decrease the risk for food-borne illness.
Another way to cut down on harmful bacteria is to pre-sear the meat prior to sous vide cooking; a piece of whole meat (compared to a ground hamburger patty) can’t be penetrated by bacteria, meaning that a quick pre-sear can help to cut back on harmful microbes and keep food tasting delicious. Interested in learning more about food safety? Read this article to learn all about sous vide safety.
What about a pre-marinated meat?
Meats that have been marinated and then frozen can be prepared using the sous vide method. Just know that certain ingredients in marinades can alter the texture of food. Also, flavors tend to come out much stronger in sous vide, because nothing is being lost to a pan or grill grate. Be mindful of how much salt, sugar, alcohol, or acid a marinade has, because those can all impact flavor and texture of sous vide meats.
Don’t know exactly what’s in the marinade? No worries! Skip the marinade and add fresh herbs and spices before cooking to ensure great flavor, every time. Check out this great article to learn more about seasoning foods for perfect sous vide, every time.
Cooking sous vide is a great way to produce delicious, tender, perfectly cooked meals. It can be used for either fresh or frozen meat, which helps to cut back on prep time and saves money. Have more questions? Leave a comment below
This article was written by Stephanie Searor, MS RD LDN
- Chef Steps. You can cook frozen food sous vide without defrosting! Here’s how. https://www.chefsteps.com/activities/you-can-cook-frozen-food-sous-vide-without-defrosting-here-s-how. Updated 2019. Accessed January 1, 2020.