If you’re thinking about treating yourself to a sous vide machine, you might be a little hesitant if it’s something you’ve never tried before, or if you’re not a particularly confident cook.
However, sous vide is a lot easier than most people realise. We’re going to run through the basics that you need to know to get started, including what you need and some recommendations of what to try out first.
So what are you waiting for? Once you get into the swing of it, you’ll wonder how you ever coped without your sous vide machine!
What is Sous Vide
It’s worth a quick reminder on exactly what sous vide cooking is, and why it’s so effective.
Sous vide literally translates as “under vacuum” and refers to foods which are cooked in vacuum sealed bags.
However, the fact that food is vacuum sealed isn’t the most important aspect of sous vide; that would be the fact that the food is cooked at a very precise temperature, submerged in a water bath.
So why is this so important? It gives you a level of control over your food that you simply don’t get with traditional cooking methods, removing the element of risk and ensuring that you get perfectly cooked results every single time.
This means that you can simply leave whatever it is you’re cooking in the water, go about your day and come back to it whenever you’re ready, knowing that it won’t be overdone.
So, how do you get started?
What You’ll Need
It doesn’t take as much equipment as you might think to get started with sous vide, and while you can technically get by with just a sealable bag and a container filled with water, you’re going to need a couple more things if you’re taking it seriously.
An immersion circulator (also known as a thermal circulator) is probably the most important thing that you’ll need.
It sits in your chosen sous vide container, drawing water from it, heating it up and pumping it back around, keeping the water at a consistent temperature.
Here at Sous Vide Tools, our circulators are accurate to within 0.1˚C, so you really can hold the water at a very precise temperature.
While circulators used to be quite expensive pieces of kit, they’re now a lot more affordable, and you can pick up the Twist circulator for as little as £99.00.
Circulators will usually have a simple interface which allows you to set the temperature, and you’re ready to go!
An alternative is to buy a water bath such as the SousVide Supreme. These standalone units are more commonly used by professional chefs and they take up a lot of room in a home kitchen, but if you’re going to be cooking large amounts or plan on cooking sous vide regularly, then it may be something you want to consider.
Technically, you can use any form of container to fill with water, but we suggest using a proper sous vide container.
Plastic and stainless steel containers are available in a number of sizes which offer great heat retention and have custom cut lids so that your circulator will stand up in them.
A large container is a great idea if you’re going to be cooking in large numbers (perhaps batch cooking).
Cast Iron Skillet
Once your food is done, you’ll just need to quickly sear it to give it that brown crust and flavour that you’re used to with traditional cooking methods, so make sure you have a red hot cast iron skillet to do the job.
Vacuum sealed bags aren’t just crucial for cooking sous vide, but they also help to preserve your food, extending its life by up to five times.
Make sure you buy vacuum pouches which are food grade, as some pouches can contain harmful bacteria!
While it’s best to use a home vacuum sealer, you can seal your bags DIY-style by sealing them almost all the way, then submerging them under water to push the air out, then closing fully.
What to Start With
Steak is held up as the best example of just what sous vide can do, so it’s probably one of the things that you’ll want to try first.
It’s heartbreaking when you leave an expensive piece of steak just a little bit too long and wind up making it tough and dry, but thankfully, sous vide takes away all the guesswork.
Sous vide means that you can dictate exactly how well-done you want your steak to be, no matter how experienced you are.
To make sure that chicken is safe to eat, it usually has to be cooked at much higher temperatures than its optimal serving temperature, leaving it stringy and dry.
But sous vide means that you can safely lower the temperature you cook chicken at, to about 63˚C, and as long as you leave it to cook for long enough (about an hour and a half) then it should be safely pasteurised, leaving you with a juicy and tender chicken breast.
Sous vide is practically tailor made for cooking eggs. Just like steak, everyone likes them differently, and a couple of degrees in temperature makes a lot of difference.
Being able to accurately control the temperature means that you can get your eggs just the consistency that you want them, and you don’t even need to vacuum pack them because they’re already in a watertight shell.
Where sous vide really comes into its own is with tougher cuts of meat, such as a shoulder of lamb.
While it takes a while (24 – 72 hours in fact) to cook, the sous vide method really breaks down the proteins of the lamb, giving it a tenderness that you simply wouldn’t be able to get any other way.
All kinds of vegetables work great sous vide, especially carrots. Sous vide gives vegetables much more flavour, tenderizing them in their own juices (as well as any seasoning).
Here are a couple of easy tips and tricks which will make your life with sous vide:
Binder Clip Anchors
One of the problems people sometimes have with sous vide is stopping their pouches from floating on the surface of their container, caused if the bag isn’t sealed properly, or by water vapour.
It’s crucial that your bags stay submerged, so you can stop this by attaching a binder clip to the bottom of the bag and placing a spoon in the mouth to keep it anchored to the bottom of the container or water bath.
Ping Pong Blanket
Another potential problem is that of water evaporation, which can lead to the water bath actually dropping considerably.
While this will add to your cooking time, it’ll also pose a risk to health and safety, and while the best solution is to buy a lid for the container, if this isn’t possible, you can use a blanket of ping pong balls instead. This will help to insulate the container and stop steam from escaping.
Now that you have a grasp of the basics of sous vide cooking, what you’ll need, and what to get started with, why not browse our full range of home circulators, baths and containers here at Sous Vide Tools?