The Sous Vide cooker is becoming increasingly popular among busy home chefs.  Are you  trying to balance the hectic life of long days at the office, parenting active kids, and managing a home? Or maybe you are looking for a cooking method that ensures top quality and predictable results every time without you having to hover over the stove for hours.  For either of those scenarios, sous vide cooking is a great solution!

What is Sous Vide?

Sous vide is a French term that means “under vacuum”.  It refers to a method of cooking food in a vacuum sealed bag in a water bath set to low, carefully controlled temperatures.

Before we go any further, let’s deal with the pronunciation!  Say, “sue veed”.  Say it again a few times until it rolls off your tongue easily and without thinking.  If you are going to start talking with your friends about this cooking method, you want to sound authoritative.  That starts with correct pronunciation.  And if you aren’t fluent in French, the spelling is of little help.

This method of cooking is actually easier than that fancy French name might lead you to believe. It involves sealing the food in an air tight bag, putting it in a water bath, and setting the exact temperature.  

It is that ability to set the temperature precisely that makes this cooking process so unique.  

You set the exact low temperature you want, and a computer-controlled heater warms the water bath and holds it at a constant temperature for as long as needed.  This means you can cook the food to an even degree of doneness all the way through.  

You won’t have a cut of meat that is over cooked around the outer edge and under cooked in the middle. Because the temperature of the water bath is set to the desired final cooking temperature of the food, the food can never be over cooked.  The texture, flavor, juiciness, and appearance of the finished dish is superb. 

No traditional method of cooking can come close to matching the level of perfection you will achieve with sous vide cooking!

Meat, fish, and poultry are all cooked to perfection, but this method is especially advantageous for cooking seafood and those cuts of meat for which there is a very small window for “perfect doneness”.

What is a Sous Vide Machine?

The sous vide “machine” may come in the form of a water cooker or water oven looking like this: Or it may be an immersion circulator looking more like this: The water oven is a complete unit.   The immersion circulator is a unit you immerse into a container that is large enough to hold your wrapped food and the water bath.

How To Sous Vide

I’m not sure “sous vide” can be used as a verb, but since people ask, we’ll go with it. Two elements are critical for this cooking method:

  1. An air tight wrap or container for the food you want to cook.  This is usually a food-grade plastic bag.  I know many people are concerned about cooking in plastic, but keep in mind that the temperatures never exceed 200 degrees Fahrenheit.  Food grade plastics generally don’t break down at such low temps.  Also, the bags used are BPA free.  But canning jars can also be used.

2.  You need a way to control the temperature of the water bath to within 1 or 2 degrees of the exact temp required for the desired level of doneness.  This is where the computer-controlled sous vide cooker comes to your aid. The whole process is very simple:

  • season your food to suit your taste
  • seal it in the food pouch
  • place the pouch in the water bath set to the precise temperature
  • when food is done, serve directly to the table, or sear briefly if you want a crispy, brown exterior to your meat.

Is Sous Vide Cooking Safe?

Since this cooking process relies on low temperatures, many folks are understandably concerned about safety.  The short answer is “yes” it is perfectly safe.  You should continue to be mindful of safe food handling guidelines — just as you are with other cooking methods. More detailed information about this is available on Douglas Baldwin’s website.  And you will find lots of recipes and tips for beginners in his cookbook, which is available here on Amazon.

Which Sous Vide Cooker?

We’ve looked at both types mentioned above: both the water oven cooker and the immersion circulator.  Each type has some pros and cons.

Immersion Circulator:

This Sansaire Sous Vide Immersion Circulator is available here at Amazon.

A down side of the immersion circulator is that since you are cooking in an open pot, there will be some evaporation.  This can be avoided if you use a specially fitted lid.  When choosing a lid, make sure it is intended for the specific brand of immersion circulator you purchase.

This lid, for example, fits the LIPAVI C10 Sous Vide Container and is designed for the Sansaire circulator.

Probably the best thing this version has going for it is the small footprint.  If storage space is extremely limited in your kitchen you might opt for this version even if some other elements are less desirable.  You do still need to have a container that is large enough to serve as the water bath, but you may already have a tub that can do double duty.

Water Oven:

The Sous Vide Supreme, available here at Amazon, is our top pick in this category.             Enthusiastic users say that the sous vide meat is so tender they could throw away their steak knives.  Others say the chicken white meat “explodes with juices”. We like the fact that this Supreme model is stainless steel on both the exterior and the interior.  As of this writing, 171 customers give it an average rating of 4.5 stars.

The Demi model has only a slightly smaller footprint.  Its smaller capacity may serve a couple or small family, but that would limit its use for larger gatherings.

Professional chefs rely on sous vide cookers.  Now you can too.