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Jan 29, 2010 05:54 PM

Sous vide at home??

Is it possible to do sous vide at home without buying thousands of dollars worth of equipment? I have a Food Saver vacuum sealer and bags and a couple digital thermometers. How can I create a stable temperature water bath using regular kitchen stuff?
I have a large Crockpot, a 9.5 qt Le Creuset, various stainless stockpots and a giant slab of 1/2" steel. Any mad scientists out there?

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    1. re: Bryn

      Thank you. I am embarassed to say that I hadn't thought of the food safety side of it, so thank you very much. That makes it more complicated than I thought it might be.

    2. If your crockpot is the "dumb" kind without digital controls you can use a device like Sous Vide Magic from Fresh Meals Solutions. I am using one of these devices with a rice cooker to great effect. The unit costs around $160 and it can be used to control any dumb cooker. You plug your cooker into the SVM and put the sensor into the tank and the SVM manages the power to the cooker effectively taking over from the thermostat in the cooker itself.

      Hope this is helpful.

      1 Reply
      1. re: blackp

        I've seen these units on eBay and it's good to know they work. They seem to be the most cost effective way to go, and they are accurate to one degree if I remember right.

      2. Well, what are you trying to cook SV?

        The very basics would be a ziploc bag, a pot and a thermometer. With Foodsaver and nothing that will regulate temperature you're limited to loading the bag without liquids (hint: freeze then put in the bag) and a cooking time of maybe 6-7 hours tops because you're the one doing the temperature regulation (tedious with times > 90 minutes).

        That said, you can SV quite a bit under those constraints (I've done various poultry, beef, fish/shellfish).

        I use an All-Clad stock pot, a Polder thermometer with a clip to hold the probe in place and an induction cooktop. However, I'll be upgrading to a circulating immersion bath and a chamber vacuum sealer as soon as possible.

        You may want to check Douglas Baldwin's site to read up on SV (or wait for Nathan Myhrvold's giant book coming out later). There's a discussion on safety that's a bit more detailed than the earlier Chow thread.

        13 Replies
        1. re: wattacetti

          I am most interested in cooking chicken breasts, but I know that chicken is a big food safety concern. Freezing the liquid is a great idea, thank you for that. I would also like to try to cook endive, like the video on the EMP website, click "Film".

          1. re: runwestierun

            For chicken breast, take two large skinless breasts, wash and pat completely dry. Season with salt and pepper (I like long pepper for this). Cut thin slices of very cold unsalted butter and cover breasts with butter. Place a couple of sprigs of fresh thyme on top of butter. Pack into your Foodsaver bag so that it goes thyme, butter, chicken, butter, thyme.

            60 minutes, 64ºC.

            Remove from bag immediately and set aside to keep warm. Strain liquid from bag into a pan, reduce, and use it to help mount a chicken jus or use as-is for your sauce. Chicken can be served as-is or you can sear in a pan or blowtorch after painting with a little melted butter.

            This is eminently possible using a manual setup (use a digital thermometer with overtemp alarm and have a cup of cold water handy), as you'll be swirling the bag around in the pot from time to time. If you had a more convoluted SV setup (PID, circulator etc), it'll be a set/forget until your timer goes.

            1. re: wattacetti

              Wattsup? (heh heh)

              OK wattacetti,
              I made this exactly to your method tonight and it was d e l i c i o u s ! Thank you so much for the coaching.

              I am so fortunate because I found that if I spin the lid of my oval Crockpot 90 degrees (so the crock is just partially lidded) the Crockpot maintains at 64C exactly. That will save me a bunch of money on equipment. The breasts weighed 7.7 oz and 8.3 oz. The smaller one was done perfectly after 60 minutes, the larger registered 59.3C at it's center, so I pan seared it a bit. It was not as tender as the other one, so next time I will butter it and hit it with the weed burner if it's underdone.

              Having a Crockpot that will easily maintain 64C will make it easy for me to make this often. The new husband really likes this alot.

              My cooking partner is 70 years old and her husband is 82. Do you think there is any health risk serving this to them? I know they'd love it.

              1. re: runwestierun

                SV is a staple technique in restaurant kitchens and I have personally served SV chicken, duck, geese and beef to several individuals > 70. Actually, I SV a lot so that would go without saying.

                Since you're into the pasteurization range at this point, you could always hold your chicken for more than 60 minutes. The chicken will not overcook (larger pieces will definitely come to temp), but I wouldn't say to hold excessively or the meat will get mushy.

                The resulting stock from the broth works really to flavor morels by the way.

                1. re: runwestierun

                  I forgot about the endive you also mentioned.

                  You will probably not have great results using a FoodSaver because you will not be able to generate adequate vacuum (most vegetable applications call for a chambar machine). Still worth a try just to see what happens, but different temperatures will result in different textures.

                  1. re: wattacetti

                    Ok, so if I am cooking the chicken at 64C, and it cooks for an hour, are you saying that I could hold it at 64C successfully for another hour? This is all new to me, so I want to be clear.

                    Also, I cooked 2 chicken breasts, cryovac-ed separately, in my large oval Crockpot. (I got it at Costco but it doesn't say how big it is, maybe 9 quarts.) 4 breasts would be pretty crowded, do you have a feel for how crowding affects sous vide?

                    Thanks for all your help. These breasts were amazingly delicious. The new husband didn't want me to put the Crockpot away this morning because he wants me to make it again tonight.

                    1. re: runwestierun

                      I have held chicken successfully for over two hours with the only effect being a slight change in the texture of the meat (it's slightly mushier). The chicken can't overcook since the temperature doesn't climb .

                      More mass in the pot means that it'll be slower to bring back up to temp (or bring down temp) but so long as there is the occassional movement in the pot this should be minimized; a circulator makes this somewhat of a no-brainer. I wouldn't pack the pot though.

                      Since you mention crowding, I'm assuming that you're serving one whole breast per person (I do one per two people). I don`t think it would be a problem, but if you do think so, either flat-pack two breasts into each bag (for two bags) or make three and serve nice slices.

                      If he wants you to make it again, fine but remind him you're not a culinary one-trick pony. You could always serve radish jello as a starter.

                        1. re: runwestierun

                          You grate a bunch of radishes, soak the sludge in some water to extract the radish flavor and then use the strained liquid to make jello. Makes a light snack.

                          1. re: wattacetti

                            Thank you. How unusual, I have never thought of making a jello like that. I had an octopus jello once in Japan. It was garnished with pickled bees.

                            Do you have any fish sous vide recipes that you like and are willing to share? I live on the Oregon coast so we have lots of salmon and halibut. Also, does sous vide have any good shellfish applications?

                            1. re: runwestierun

                              I've had SV abalone but that was in a restaurant and pretty pricey. Have done shrimp and scallop and a couple of wild guys on eGullet have done lobsters. You can do the shrimp and scallop with butter, salt, pepper, *very* small quantity of vanilla bean. 45-50ºC for 10-20 minutes depending on size of shellfish and how you like your shellfish.

                              Salmon you'll want to brine a couple of minutes or else the albumin starts to leech out, but how long and what temperature depends on how you like your fish. 40-45ºC for 10-30 minutes, again depending on size and how you like it.

                              You can aromatize the fish with lemon (buddha's hand is really nice with salmon) and other aromatics, but if you want to add some oil to mimic oil poaching, make sure to freeze your bag first before popping in the fish.

                              Oh - have done the bees. Bee wine is better (less chewy).

                              1. re: wattacetti

                                Thank you so much for your help. I will let you know how the fish turns out. The albumin info is appreciated, too. I wouldn't have guessed that. Oh, and you are the only person ever who didn't think that that was a typo and what I really meant was "beets".

                                1. re: runwestierun

                                  Ah, because I really have eaten pickled bees (as in insects). Bee wine still better.

          2. i just came across this today, for the do-it-yourselfer: