Heralded as the most important technological advance in the kitchen since the microwave, sous vide—controlled temperature vacuum cooking—does the microwave one better. By making it impossible to overcook ingredients, food is not only simpler to cook but also considered far tastier.
At first, sous vide cooking seems intimidating, but don’t be put off by its techie presentation. Here’s what it boils down to: You seal your ingredients in a plastic bag or a canning jar and place it in a temperature controlled water bath. Think of it as laboratory-grade science meets precision cooking.
For some the technique is a boon that takes the guess work out of cooking, while others criticize it is a soulless exercise in food science. Before you make up your mind, may want to experiment and decide for yourself.
Roots of sous vide
Preserving and cooking food in sealed packages is a concept millennia old. Since ancient times, food has been sealed in dough, salt, fat and leaves before being cooked. People throughout history have known that sealing food not only arrests the decay of food but keeps it from drying out.
Fast-forward to the 1960s: Sous vide originates in NASA labs, born of the necessity for creating sealed bag meals for astronauts. It spread to France in the 1970s, where it became the darling of experimental French chefs. By the 1990s, this simple method of sealing in flavor and juices had spread to professional kitchens the world over.
What is sous vide?
Sous vide literally means under vacuum. But the technique refers to any kind of cooking that takes place in a precisely temperature-controlled water bath, whether a vacuum-sealed bag is involved. Once the submerged food reaches its target temp, you take it out of the water and either freeze it for later use or sear and serve.
What’s the payoff?
Increasingly affordable and accessible for the home chef, sous-vide immersion cooking has become a thing for foodies who geek out over precision cooked meat (especially steak). While you can rig a water bath, most cooks tend to purchase a cylindrical gadget that gently circulates and heats the water to a precise, consistent temperature.
Warning: it can take several hours to cook this way, so plan ahead. According to the technique’s fans, meat cooked this way reaches new heights of tenderness.
What foods to use it for?
While sous vide stands out for its juicy meat and fish treatment, it can also make vegetables extraordinarily tasty. And potentially more nutritious, since the vegetable’s beneficial compounds (antioxidants) are retained rather than leached out.
For example, a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found carrots cooked sous vide had higher levels of vitamin C than steamed carrots. But not all food is sous vide compatible: ground meats, chicken and certain fish can acquire strange, unpleasant textures.
Safety is a concern with sous vide. Because the technique is slow, food can spend a long time in the bacteria-friendly danger zone that breeds pathogenic bacteria. You need to make sure you are cooking food at a safe temperature and chill or freeze food you are not planning on immediately consuming.
Also, make sure you use food-safe plastic bags to cook the food, as certain kinds of plastic bags may leach hormone disrupting chemicals.
Still curious about sous vide? Do your homework, get the right equipment, prep your food and get rolling. The proof, as they say, is in the sous vide pudding.