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Mar 22, 2010 11:11 AM

Sous Vide -- wow

So we took a Sous Vide at Home class at Sur La Table on Saturday, where we played with the new Sous Vide supreme machine they are selling for home use (for like $500 instead of the professional ones that are $3000++). We used it at home yesterday to make lamb chops. All I can say is, WOW. We let it cook for 3.5 hours at 133 degrees (temp for medium rare) and seared it off on a cast iron pan before serving. It was the most tender piece of lamb I have ever had, and perfectly cooked to a medium rare.

Thought other foodies would appreciate it. Today we're going to try shrimp fajitas, where we'll sous vide the shrimp. So excited!

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  1. It's really nice getting really juicy chicken. No more dry lean meats. Fits in well with batch prep cooking. Should be interesting to see when menu items start getting listed as prepared sous vide as the popularity increases.

    1. Did you also buy a vacuum sealer?

      I assume/hope that the class and instrument came with safety instructions... if not, it's worth checking out Thomas Keller's book. I haven't used it much for recipes, but the safety guidelines are pretty conservative.

      Along those lines... Chris Ward at The Mercury said that he sears meat before going into the bag in order to sterilize the surface. I'm pretty sure I did not see this in Keller's book... did they say anything along those lines in the class?

      38 Replies
      1. re: gavlist

        We already have the foodsaver, so we are just experimenting with that. It worked out pretty well. Sur La Table is also selling a lower-end vacuum sealer (aka one that is not $1500), but it is almost exactly like the foodsaver, so we didn't see any value in getting that. Ofcourse we can't vacuum any liquid marinades. For last night, I did a dry spice rub + rosemary/garlic crust. For tonight's marinade we froze lime juice that we put into the vacuum bag frozen w/ spices and herbs.

        The sous vide came with instructions, and we researched temperature and times on the internet as well to double check (didn't want food poisoning on the 1st try --- but we're still alive, so that's a good sigh). I'm curious to check out the Under Pressure book just for more ideas with veggies. I def. want to dry the sous vide egg!

        Interesting about the pre-searing. In class we did post-searing, which I think I prefer. The reason for that is, I found that by the later half of your dinner, your meat wasn't warm (which would make sense, since the temp of the whole thing was 133 degrees), so searing in the end I thought got the temperature up to what we expect when we eat our proteins.

        1. re: pgwiz1

          From what I've heard about the Under Pressure book, the method used there uses multiple cooking temperatures and times for pasteurization and cooking. Much more complex processes. Too much work for me at the moment.

          I'm completely unfamiliar with the lower end vacuum products but notice that I often get liquid at or near the top of the bag without marinades - just from the meat's juices. If the lower end products still work, I say go with them and not waste the extra money.

          Eggs are very good. Then again, I prefer soft boiled eggs and a soft eggwhite.

          1. re: pgwiz1

            I keep meaning to buy a foodsaver, or the like, but haven't gotten around to it. And, thus far, I haven't actually seen any problem with just using ziploc bags, trying to get most of the air out. Recipes in Under Pressure sometimes use the vacuum sealer to compress foods - a technique that I can't do with the ziploc bags - but otherwise they seem fine. Since I haven't ever actually used a vacuum sealer, though, I might be missing something. Any thoughts to the contrary?

            1. re: gavlist

              You may have better luck with your ziploc method for things with liquids I believe. But I think the vacuum sealer really helps with the marination. It's hard to say how much of a difference the vac sealer makes tho, so if you've had luck with ziploc, you're probably okay :). I haven't tried the compression of food, so will have to play around with that...

              What kind of things can you compress? I know you can do melons....and maybe bread?

              1. re: pgwiz1

                I think it was mostly fruits and vegetables... melons yes, but also things like plums, fennel... not sure what else. I think that there was also an application where they combined two things in the bag and compressed them together so that they were sort of bonded together.

                1. re: pgwiz1

                  I was reading about vacuum sealer for marinades and a few articles said that tumbling meat was vastly more effective and faster at marinading. You could use a dryer but a rock tumbler would be more suitable... of course, then where to put another piece of equipment?

                2. re: gavlist

                  I don't think there's much difference as long as you can get enough air out and the plastic seal is good. The highest end vacuum sealers let you do liquids but home cooks can get around that by freezing the liquids before sealing.

                  So far I've just been using a FoodSaver, stove, a pot of water, and my electronic timer/temperature monitor. Testing the waters before making an investment into a rice cooker and a sous vide magic. So far results have been good. The two basic things I've learned are that flavors get really intensified and meats come out very juicy and tender (sometimes too much so). It's a lot of prep work though, especially if you need to freeze stuff.

                  Note: the normal plastic with the FoodSaver will leave a pattern on your food. This is one reason I like post searing.

                  1. re: gavlist

                    My primary concern with not using a vacuum sealer is that any air left in the bag will insulate the food and require a longer cooking time. Not knowing how much air is left in the bag and how much longer, you take a chance on food poisoning or overcooking (it's possible but not easy).

                  2. re: pgwiz1

                    So, pgwiz, could I take lamb shanks, season them, seal them in the foodsaver, and then give them 6 - 8 hours in our crockpot on low, and then roast them off in the oven? I love lamb shanks and am always trying new ways to cook them without boiling the flavor out of them.

                    1. re: junescook

                      No, Junescook - you can't just use a crockpot b/c the temp needs to stay the same for it to cook properly and a crockpot's heating element cannot do that. However, you can buy a device (can't recall name of it right now) that will let you adapt the crockpot for about $150, I think. I don't own a sous vide machine (yet), but have been doing lots of research.

                      I"ve also read the ziploc vacuum sealer works well, too, and is much less $$ than the food saver.

                      1. re: sillysully

                        The two important factors with regards to a vacuum sealer are its ability to work with liquids and its ability to remove air from the bag to create a vacuum.

                        If you're not going to be working with marinated items, liquids aren't as much of a problem and you can save money with a cheaper model.

                        If your cheaper model does a good job of creating a vacuum, you've got all you need.

                      2. re: junescook

                        As sillysully said, you can't just do it in a crockpot because of it's inability to maintain its temperature. You want to be very certain about the temperature because leaving the food for 6-8 hours without a controlled temp, could cause very harmful bacteria to thrive. The proper vacuuming also helps because it takes out the air that is needed for the bacteria to grow.

                        That said, I hear that lamb shanks in a sous vide are incredible. You can get the tenderness that you want from this tougher piece of meat, without having to braise and cook it to a well done temp. I haven't tried lamb shanks yet, but will most likely do so soon :).

                        1. re: junescook

                          Ignore the nay-sayers; you can absolutely do this. Most sous vide lamb shank recipes call for a water bath of around 180F, which is about where the the "low" setting on a crock pot will tend to stabilize. Use a thermometer to be sure. No worries about bacteria at those temperatures.

                          Anyhow, season and seal a shank, put it in the crock, and cover with water. Once the temp hits 180F, cook for about four hours, then remove the bag from the water, remove the shank from the bag, brown the surface however you like (oven, grill, broiler, blowtorch) let rest, and serve.

                          If you want to do lower-temp applications, then precise control becomes more important. A PID device will control a basic crockpot, rice cooker, or roaster oven and keep the temperature within a very narrow range. Oh, and it's less than $150, not $500.

                          1. re: alanbarnes


                            What's the point of cooking meat at this temperature? You certainly don't want to raise the internal temperature that high and cooking at this temperature leads to more shrinkage, moisture loss, and tougher meat.

                            1. re: mahalan

                              It's the cut of meat. He's not talking about a lamb chop, but a shank. Tough cut, lots of collagen. As with barbecue, you want to go low and slow, but also need to get the temp up just high enough to melt the collagen.

                              1. re: mahalan

                                >>"You certainly don't want to raise the internal temperature that high"<<

                                Maybe you don't, but I've got no problem with it. Lamb shanks are traditionally braised until their internal temp approaches 200F. As for "tougher meat," have you ever eaten a well-braised lamb shank? A spoon is the utensil of choice. If the meat were any less tough, it would be mush.

                                Sure, you can cook a lamb shank sous vide until it's tender and still keep it medium-rare. But none of the collagen is going to be converted to gelatin; that doesn't happen until you get into higher temperatures. I didn't write any of the (numerous) recipes that call for cooking a shank at 180, but it seems clear to me that the unctuous mouthfeel you get from gelatin is the reason that temperature was chosen.

                                Sous vide isn't just good for low-temp applications. It's a much more versatile technique than that.

                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                  According to "A Practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking", collagen breaks down between 131F and 140F. Granted, you'll have to cook it for a much longer period of time.

                                  Personally, I think of cooking a lamb shank at 180F as braising and not sous vide.

                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                    While I agree with you that a 180 degree lamb shank can be totally delicious and not tough, you can definitely convert collagen to gelatin at sous vide temperatures. It just takes a long time. That's why sous vide short rib recipes (along with shanks, etc) often call for 24-48 hours at low temperature. You can have medium rare short ribs with complete collagen -> gelatin conversion.

                                    1. re: alanbarnes

                                      My lamb shank/ crock pot experiment worked out fine -- Thanks, AlanBarnes. My shanks were big, 1 1/2 lbs each. I seasoned them well with salt, mixed pepper, garlic and rosemary and I sealed them in one bag. I placed them into the crock pot with hot tap water since the shanks were cold from the fridge, and set the dial to high figuring I'd check the temp every half hour til it got to 180 or so. after an hour when ti was not much more than 140, I took out about 1 1/2 cups of water and heated it in the microwave until it boiled and then returned it to the pot. (I had just about filled the pot with water because I figured it would help maintain a more consistent temperature.). After 2 1/2 hours the temp was pushing 170 and I decided to email the Crock Pot company to ask what temp the unit was designed to stabilize at at both low and high settings. This is the response I received:

                                      Thank you for contacting Crock-Pot, a brand of Jarden Consumer Solutions. Both the Low & High settings cook at 215 degrees F., but they cycle differently. Therefore, the High setting will still cook the food in a shorter period of time than the Low setting will. Please remember that these are all approximate temperatures and they can vary depending on what you are cooking. It can also boil on High and Low. We do recommend that you always fill your slow cooker at least 1/2 - 3/4 of the way full with liquid or sauce, and you may also have to adjust your cook times accordingly. This will prevent the food from drying out and burning.

                                      At the end of four hours the water temp was about 200. At that point I turned the pot off but left the shanks in *just to be safe* if you know what I mean. When I removed them an hour later, they smelled wonderful and were very tender, to the point that one of the shank bones came out, but not offensively tender. I placed them in a roasting pan and crispened them off in a hot oven. One other nice thing, the juice in the bag was very easy to separate out by cutting a small hole in a corner and allowing the juices to go into a cup, then the fat into another. I used the liquid in my bulghur pilaf, and the lovely clear fat to baste the shanks that I browned in the oven.

                                      Lng story short, I appreciate the encouragement and information. Next time I'll know that 4 hours will probably be enough. Can't wait to try more things and more seasonings.

                                  2. re: alanbarnes

                                    Thanks, AB. I already have the foodsaver and a new, fairly good sized crock pot and while I've had prett good luck with a slow roast (475 30 mins - cover tightly with foil, reduce to 325, 90 mins), the normal braising methods seem to suck a lot of the flavor out. I'm going to try this either tonight or tomorrow night and get back to you all.

                                    1. re: alanbarnes

                                      I'm hopelessly confused by that page -- how does the controller work with the rice cooker or slow cooker? In some references, it seems that it has its own heating element, but then it keeps talking about the switch on the rice cooker. Do you own one of these, and can you explain it better than the product's own page?

                                      1. re: dmd_kc

                                        The controller will control the power to the slow cooker. If the water gets cold it switches on, if it gets too hot it switches off.

                                        1. re: dmd_kc

                                          You plug the cooker (slow cooker, rice cooker, roaster, etc.) into the controller, and the controller into the wall. Then you fill the cooker with water, turn it on high, and insert the controller's probe.

                                          The controller monitors the temperature of the cooker and interrupts the power off when the desired temperature is reached. It also monitors how long it takes for the cooker to heat up when the power's on and cool down when the power's off. It then begins to anticipate the need for more power to avoid lag time and to shut off a little early, thus preventing overshoot. Pretty soon it "learns" the heating and cooling characteristics of the cooker and keeps the temperature within a very narrow range.

                                          The PID controller doesn't have a heating element; it's purely a control device.

                                          1. re: alanbarnes

                                            I am not sure the PID works with the newer fuzzy logic and induction heating rice cookers. I think the PID works with the older simple technology rice cookers.

                                            1. re: celeryroot

                                              Correct. You need a "dumb" appliance.

                                            2. re: alanbarnes

                                              Got it -- so the bottom line is that as long as you have a rice cooker or crock pot with analog controls that will allow it to turn off and on simply by turning the power off and on, this will do the trick. Still not the same thing as having a circulator, though, is it?

                                              While I enjoy eating sous vide out, I'm far from convinced I'd use it enough at home to have another appliance to have to store -- especially one that costs $450. I'm not much of a fan of things I'd normally grill cooked sous vide, steaks especially. I enjoy the contrast of the "overcooked" exterior vs. the medium-rare inside, myself.

                                              1. re: dmd_kc

                                                The only difference is that a home cooker doesn't (duh) circulate. The circulator is helpful when you've got large quantities of water, and it's critical when you're trying to make quick temperature changes (eg, dropping the temperature very quickly before putting food in storage to minimize the time in the danger zone). But if you're dealing with family-sized amounts of food that you plan to eat immediately, it isn't necessary.

                                                I've found that straight sous vide is good for some things (mmm, butter-poached lobster), but for most applications I like to use it as one of several steps in the cooking process. For example, put a dry rub on a tri-tip, seal it and immerse in 125F water for 24 hours, then remove and sear the outside with very, very high heat. The meat is perfectly mid-rare right out to the edge and is incredibly tender, but you still get the char on the exterior. Good stuff.

                                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                                  And if everything I've read is correct, you don't really need the "sous vide" -- i.e. the vacuum -- part for home cooking that you're going to eat immediately either, do you? I've seen several things that indicate just putting it in a zipper-lock bag and pushing out as much air as possible is fine, no?

                                                  1. re: dmd_kc

                                                    The vacuum is not needed to manage bacteria growth, it is need to get as much air out as possible to prevent a floating bag and to allow direct contact between water and product. Air is an insulator. For protein it is usually fairly easy to get enough air out - even submerging a ziploc and pushing the air out works to some extend, for burgers and some vegetables it is a bit more tricky.

                                                    I use the ziploc vacuum bag with pump and for most things it works well enough (broccoli etc is tricky). I even used it with fluids, I just wash it out afterwards ... doesnt seem to be a problem for the seal if some fluid escapes.

                                                    In regards to use for the home cook, I think this is a killer technique for restaurants but for home cooking the time it takes is often just too much.

                                                    I have a polyscience circulator and as said here earlier I use it as one of many techniques - for chicken for example I prefer roasted or skewered and grilled rather then the SVed breast.

                                                    For sure it rocks with tough beef and burgers, fish can be great as well.

                                                    If you have 500$ to spare and want a gadget, go play - otherwise some things can be done with a digital thermometer and a normal stove and some patience. This is how I started a year back.

                                                    1. re: jk1002

                                                      which polysci do you have and are you happy with it???

                                                      1. re: celeryroot

                                                        I have the 7306c. They will come out with a new model soon, a bit cheaper then current ones I heard. I am not sure if they are these ones .... or if there will be a dedicated SV line.

                                                        I am happy with mine, only thing is it is a bit bulky. I wish the would make a smaller one. I wanted to use my 8qt stock pot and gave up on that and bought cambro tanks.

                                                        Very solid built, restaurant approved and made in america which I liked (even though I am just a guest here).

                                                        If you want to buy right now I would wait a bit if you can or call and see if they do deals to clear inventory.

                                                        If the small one shown on the website is the new slightly cheaper one for the SV market I would def go for that one ....

                                                  2. re: alanbarnes

                                                    "For example, put a dry rub on a tri-tip, seal it and immerse in 125F water for 24 hours, then remove and sear the outside with very, very high heat."

                                                    Alan, is this based on your own recipe or another's? Have you tried this many times?

                                                    I'm curious because I've been hesitant to try any long cooking (>3-4 hours) at temps below 131 F. At the same time, it's my understanding that temps in the 120s will kill most of most types of bacteria and also retard bacterial growth. So I'm not sure if I'm being overly cautious or not.

                                                    I imagine a quick dunk in boiling water before the long low-temp bath would help ensure safety. Do you do this? Even the rub probably helps to a degree, assuming there's salt in it.

                                                    Roughly how many times have you tried extended cooking times in the 120s?

                                                    1. re: cowboyardee

                                                      I've done it a dozen times or so. I figure that there are very few bacteria anywhere other than on the surface of the meat, and they won't survive the searing process anyway. Besides, 125F isn't exactly a happy temp for those that are around. Although a quick pasteurization of the surface probably wouldn't hurt anything.

                                                      1. re: cowboyardee

                                                        Here's an excellent guide to the science behind sous vide cooking. It includes a review of where meat begins breaking down to become more tender and where muscle starts contracting and gets tougher as well as where and how quickly bacteria starts to die.

                                                        I strongly recommend anyone doing sous vide cooking being familiar with it.


                                                        1. re: mahalan

                                                          The website for my guide, "A Practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking", has moved to

                                                          1. re: DouglasBaldwin

                                                            Thanks for contributing and updating the link. Your work has been very helpful to me.

                                            3. re: junescook

                                              Junescook, you can use the crockpot, but it takes some experimenting beforehand, and you will need a digital thermometer. I have a big oval crockpot and if I set it on high and spin the lid 90 degrees, so it kind of straddles the pot, my crockpot will maintain 148F when it's full of water. This is the temperature I need for chicken. You first need to determine what temperatures your crockpot will maintain on low and high when they are full of water, and then you need to play with lid position to get it to maintain the temp you need.

                                              1. re: runwestierun

                                                That sounds great, I've got a digital thermometer too. So how long would I have to cook various chicken pieces that way?

                                        2. I've owned a Sous Vide Supreme for about six weeks now (got a top of the line FoodSaver at the same time) and have had mixed results but am learning.

                                          For tougher cuts of meat, this is amazing. They turn out tender and juicy. I can see why everyone has a short rib recipe for sous vide cooking.

                                          One mistake I made early on was to use my Sous Vide Supreme and my Jaccard on a dry-aged, prime, ribeye steak. It came out perfectly medium-rare but was too juicy and too tender (something I didn't think was possible beforehand). It had the consistency of a wet sponge. I'll try this again but without the Jaccard.

                                          I've made short ribs three times. Each time, they've come out tasting like the tenderest, most juicy STEAKS I've ever had.

                                          Fish is amazingly easy and comes out perfect. It doesn't take too much longer than conventional methods either.

                                          If you're into white meat chicken (I'm not), sous vide is also a godsend. It comes out juicy and flavorful. Unfortunately, you have to cut it into pieces before cooking as opposed to being able to cook a whole chicken.

                                          1. So this is like a new craze? I don't know exactly what it is, but I'd be interested in trying it. As far as I'm concerned, moist meat is easy enough with the right technique.

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: Soop

                                              Not exactly a new craze - it's been in use since at least the 1970s. The premise is that you seal food in a plastic bag, then immerse it for hours in water that's approximately the temperature that you want the interior of the food to be when it's done. So for a medium-rare steak, you cook the meat at 135F. For a soft-boiled egg, 155F. And so on.

                                              The method has been popularized of late by Thomas Keller and other celebrity chefs. I've played with it at home with pretty good results. Especially for foods that are easy to overcook (chicken breast, scallops, etc.) it works very well. And moisture isn't the only benefit; the food has a flavor and texture that are fundamentally different than what you get using other cooking methods. Lobster tail cooked sous vide with herbed butter is a revelation.

                                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                                Oh, I've seen that on TV. "Boil in the bag". Interesting...

                                                1. re: Soop

                                                  Definitely not boiling, even though I think you were joking anyway.

                                                2. re: alanbarnes

                                                  Yes, being able to cook things like shrimp and chicken breast which are frequently over cooked is the great thing about the sous vide.

                                              2. One thing I've been wondering- is it a bad idea to buy frozen, vacuum packed fish at Whole Food or Trader Joes and then cook it without removing the fish from the bag ? Is there a food safety issue with this idea ?

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: BarryP

                                                  It's probably fine (assuming that by 'cook it' you mean in a sub-boiling water bath). I have found that some bags don't hold up in water baths (mostly, the really cheap, discount ziploc style bags). I bet that the vacuum sealed fish from WF or TJ's would hold up fine.

                                                  Of note, you won't be able to pre-season the fish this way.

                                                  Also standard safety still applies - if you cook salmon to 115 F, it's not gonna be pasteurized.

                                                  Since no one mentioned it yet, here is the best reference I know for sous vide safety:

                                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                                    Yes, I mean specifically sous vide the fish. Whole Foods seems to offer some preseasoned/sauced fillets as well, which is why I thought of this. I have a SV Supreme, but no vacuum sealer, so to date have only been cooking zip-locked stuff. This seemed like an opportunity to easily try something else that was even more convenient.

                                                    1. re: BarryP

                                                      I'd bet dollars to donuts (approx 79 cents on the dollar) that it'll work just fine.

                                                      Didn't know they had pre-seasoned/sauced fish. Its been a while since I've been to a TJs or WF. Let me know how it turns out.