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Sous vide at home

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Lynndsey Rigberg Jan 7, 2011 02:20 PM

Is it just me, or is the topic du jour home sous vide?

People using Zip Lock Freezer bags (even though its not recommended by the makers!) or going through the expense of getting a home vacuum food saver type system.

I'm ready to try it and now I've read too much - but which way should I go?

I'm a tad afraid of the Zip lock method because of unknown issues re: boiling in the plastic.

But I'm also a little reluctant to spend $200 for the vacuum system until I know hovering over my stove to watch water boil is going to be worth the results.

Thanks for any thoughts!

  1. ipsedixit Jan 7, 2011 02:30 PM

    Use the bathtub.

    http://www.megnut.com/2006/09/bathtub...

    2 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit
      chowser Jan 10, 2011 04:43 AM

      This is probably the thought behind the dishwasher sous vide, too. If you set your hot water heater at the right temperature, it might be idea. Clean dishes and dinner at once.

      1. re: chowser
        ipsedixit Jan 12, 2011 08:42 AM

        or how about the washing machine? Set it on "warm water" and "gentle cycle" and make maybe sous vide scrambled eggs?

    2. a
      AdamD Jan 7, 2011 03:18 PM

      the key to sous vide is the temperature control

      No matter which container or bag you use, the key is the cooking vessel-it must be suited to maintaining that optimum temp. I would guess that you should only use plastic vessels that are temp rated to handle the temps that you will cooking in. If in doubt, contact the manufacturer to obtain clear temp ratings.

      3 Replies
      1. re: AdamD
        honkman Jan 7, 2011 03:47 PM

        Correct. It's not as important what kind of bags you are using but the temperature control. With sous-vide cooking you are working in a temperature area (definitely not at water boiling temperature) which if not done correctly can support bacteria growthl. Before trying anything you should buy any of the new books or at least go over the cooking tables from Baldwin. (The thickness of your cuts and the water temperature will determine your best cooking time)

        1. re: AdamD
          y
          yeah_whatever Jan 19, 2011 09:37 AM

          Cooking For Engineers just posted a pretty long treatise on various no-hack (no disassembling or wiring or normal DIY stuff) solutions to setting up a sous vide cooking area at home. Three of the ways they start off with I can try at home without buying anything else. It's worth trying I guess.

          http://www.cookingforengineers.com/ar...

          1. re: yeah_whatever
            f
            foreverhungry Jan 20, 2011 06:14 AM

            Great article in Cooking for Engineers! Thanks for the post!

        2. pikawicca Jan 7, 2011 03:54 PM

          sous vide is not about "boiling in the plastic." It's cooking food that's been vacuum-sealed at precisely controlled (low) temperatures. For the home cook, this means you need something like the Sous Vide Supreme, which I own and love.

          I've owned a vacuum sealer for lots longer than the SVS. I package just about everything that goes in my freezer with this: no freezer burn, ever.

          4 Replies
          1. re: pikawicca
            chatty Dec 21, 2011 11:27 AM

            Does the Sous Vide Supreme have a means of holding the food in the water? I am pondering an immersion circulator, but in addition to the expense, it also seems like keeping the food submerged would be a challenge.

            1. re: chatty
              pikawicca Dec 21, 2011 02:28 PM

              Yes it does, but more to keep packets of food separated than to keep them submerged. If you've sealed the packets properly, they will have no air in them, and will not float.

              1. re: pikawicca
                chatty Dec 21, 2011 04:40 PM

                Is it totally great to have one of these at home?

                1. re: chatty
                  pikawicca Dec 21, 2011 05:07 PM

                  Yes.

          2. paulj Jan 7, 2011 04:27 PM

            Zips are the cheap way to go if you are just experimenting with temperature control methods. I've done small pieces of salmon (only takes 10 minutes or so, depending temperature), sweet potato (2hrs) and eggs (no bag needed).

            There are various ways of controlling the water bath temperature. I just used a pot of water, lowest heat on the stove, lid or no lid, and the probe thermometer. You can go up from there.

            3 Replies
            1. re: paulj
              greygarious Jan 8, 2011 09:52 AM

              How about oven roasting bags instead of ziplocs? Obviously, the former are meant to be used with heat.

              1. re: greygarious
                paulj Jan 8, 2011 10:41 AM

                The nice thing about zips is that you can close them up with very little air inside. One trick that I read is to immerse the bag (with the food inside) in water as far as possible, and then seal it. The water pressure will squeeze out most of the water.

                As to temperature sensitivity, remember that Sous vide is below boiling, In the 140-165 range as opposed to 212 F.

                1. re: paulj
                  greygarious Jan 8, 2011 10:46 AM

                  Oven bags should work with the immersion trick - gathered up so it's almost closed, dunked, then a quick twist and wrap with a twist tie.

            2. rilkeanheart Jan 8, 2011 10:18 AM

              If you like to tinker with things (or knows someone that does) I've read a handful of versions on instructables.com that look like this.

              http://www.popsci.com/diy/article/201...

              1. Hank Hanover Jan 9, 2011 07:25 AM

                I have never tried to do Sous Vide although I am looking forward to trying it sometime. It seems to me that the most exciting applications are for fish and eggs. The results of Sous Vide looks a lot like poaching except there is no water contact.

                Chowhound has a video on "hacking" a slow cooker to use for Sous Vide. It involves using a slow cooker controlled by a digital temperature controller you can get on Ebay for $40. A digital controller can control temperature to within .1 degree C. You can get an old crock pot at a garage sale for $10. I would go that route.

                As far as bags, any air in the bad will make the bag float and will interfere with good heat flow to the meat. I would use a Foodsaver bag. I use them already because they are so helpful with freezing.

                9 Replies
                1. re: Hank Hanover
                  honkman Jan 9, 2011 11:19 AM

                  I think thr best application for sous vide are different kinds of meats. Either a perfect medium rare steak (which can't be overcooked) or something like cheeks, short ribs etc for 72 hours.

                  1. re: Hank Hanover
                    f
                    foreverhungry Jan 10, 2011 12:53 PM

                    I'm suspicious about a $40 Ebay digital temperature controller that can "control" temperature to 0.1C, given that research laboratory grade copper-constantan thermocouples used with a $300+ thermcouple reader are good to about 0.2C (at best). And that's measuring temperature, not "controlling" it. Controlling a water bath to 0.1C is baloney. Controlling a water bath to 0.5C is achievable only with a research lab water bath or professional level sous vide cooker, which is essentially a research lab grade water bath - using an expensive, precise thermostat, a high amp heater, and strong water circulation to eliminate thermal gradients (boundary layer effects). Just because something reads to a decimal point doesn't mean its accurate to that decimal point.

                    A relatively easy way to hack a sous vide cooker is using a rheostat (Ebay, electrical supply, salvage stores, etc.). A rheostat is basically a voltage control unit that you plug your instrument of choice into - like a crock pot, and you plug the rheostat into the wall outlet. Then you set the dial: 0 is no volts, 100 is full volts. It's basically a larger scale dimmer switch. Add a known volume of water into your crock pot (and make sure you use the same volume consistently), and stick a thermometer into the water, and run a calibration curve, with setting the rheostat on 25, 50, 75, 100 (or whatever your rheostat scale reads). A little easy math will give you a very good way of being able to precisely set a given temperature.

                    The other big issue is water circulation - without water circulating around the chamber, you'll get a strong thermal gradient around your food bag, so the water will be very cool next to your food, because the food cooled it down. An easy and cheap way to get around that is with a cheap aquarium pump and an airstone - that should throw enough water current around that mostly gets rid of any thermal gradient effects. Without that, you could have the water temperature "set" to 160F, but have the water that's immediately in contact with your food bag reading 100F for quite a while.

                    1. re: foreverhungry
                      Hank Hanover Jan 10, 2011 01:46 PM

                      Well, you certainly have a point about circulating the water. A heat controlled water circulator would certainly do the job better. However those are in excess of $300 and most go higher than that. I think you could probably hook up a pump if you were handy which would help but would add to the expense.

                      As far as the temperature controller, I bought one 2 - 3 years ago on Ebay for $40. It plugged into the wall and the heating device plugged into it. The thermocouple went from the controller to substance to be heated. It turned the heating device on and off based on the temperature of whatever i wanted heated. The controller itself can display down to .1 degree centigrade. It may not be able to control an entire water bath to that degree of accuracy but certainly accurately enough for this application. There are certainly controllers on Ebay that you can hook up with a relay and all that. I could do that but I doubt that a lot of people could. The one I bought required no assembly or buying other parts.

                      Your rheostat would work and control the bath to within a couple of degrees and that would probably suffice. You would have to keep adjusting it to account for changes in how much food you were submerging in your water bath.

                      Bottom line... I am an electronic engineer and I can, indeed, set up a digital temperature control. I could even set up a pump to the crockpot for circulation. I could certainly do it all for under $100 probably with all new equipment. My digital controller, by the way, was used.

                      1. re: Hank Hanover
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                        foreverhungry Jan 11, 2011 05:44 AM

                        Circulation: $10. Aquarium pump + air stone. Problem (mostly) solved. No, not as efficient as the pumping systems in pro water baths, but it'll do a "good enough" job for 5% of the cost.

                        Temperature controller - as an electrical engineer, you can appreciate the difference between an instrument being accurate to a certain decimal point, and its readout going to a certain decimal point. With digital temperature measurement, the temperature is basically given through a series of calculations. And those calculations can, in theory, go to hundreds of decimal points. But that says nothing of the accuracy of the measurement system. If I use a ruler that only has inches (nothing finer scale), and measure the length of 10 bananas, and calculate an average, I should report the average to the nearest inch, even though my excel spreadsheet will calculate it to 2 decimal points. A 2 decimal point average in this case is nonsense. Ditto inexpensive digital thermometers. Just because they give you a decimal point on the readout doesn't mean it's accurate to that decimal point. (The most egregious example of this is digital bathroom scales that read to a decimal point, when a look on the box says "accurate to 1%". For an average human, then, the decimal point is meaningless).

                        In the end, though, it doesn't really matter - unless you're Thomas Keller, controlling water temp to a decimal of a degree doesn't matter. It matters even less when there's no circulation, because you can have thermal gradients of upwards of 20C in a heated water bath with no circulation.

                        I think there's a reason that professional sous vide cookers run in the several hundreds $$$, just like laboratory research grade heated water baths run in the several hundreds $$$. Controlling temperature of a large body of water (several liters) to within a 1 degree C is a pretty difficult thing to do. While lots of people have done crockpot hacks of a sous vide water bath, it's not going to come close to what a true sous vide cooker can do - not for the average person, anyway. That's like saying someone can "hack" a ford taurus into a ferrari with $40 of parts.

                      2. re: foreverhungry
                        paulj Jan 10, 2011 05:05 PM

                        Can you define 'strong thermal gradient' and 'very cool'? Lets say you aim at 140F, and the temperature probe is held about an inch away from the food bag, what would be temperature next to the food, and closer to heat source (cooker walls or bottom if using bottom heat)?

                        1. re: paulj
                          f
                          foreverhungry Jan 10, 2011 07:41 PM

                          In the scenario you're painting, let's say there is absolutely no water movement - it's a crockpot rig, you have a water heater and thermostat, but no circulation. You're water is at 140F, you put in a bag from the fridge that's at 50F. Without doing the calculations, my guess is that you'll establish a gradient within a few minutes of dunking the bag that will keep a layer of cool - 60ish F - a couple of millimeters surrounding the bag, and that layer will slowly heat up. Of course, because heat exchange between the bag containing the food and the water is happening only at the boundary, the temperature of the rest of the water is almost irrelevant. It's the temperature at the boundary that matters. Circulation breaks that boundary down. It's the same effect as wind chill on humans.

                          A good and easy way to gauge the effect yourself is to fill 2 ziplocks with the same amount of water and freeze them solid for the same amount of time and so that they have the same resulting shape (and thus same surface area). Heat the same amount of water in 2 pots of the same dimensions to boiling. Throw in the bags. After 30 seconds, stir one pot with a spoon or something. Notice the difference in time it takes for the bags to completely liquefy. Of course with this experiment, we're talking about a huge thermal difference between water and bag, and a relatively small temperature change the bag as to achieve to the end point - probably 15 degrees? Now magnify those differences to smaller thermal difference between surrounding water and bag, and the large temperature range the food in the bag has to achieve. The effects of circulation is huge.

                          Heck, drop an ice cube in a glass of water and stir it, and see how fast it melts compared to an undisturbed ice cube. Simpler and same point.

                          It doesn't take much to break down a thermal gradient, but in a perfectly still environment (or as close as you can get in nature), thermal gradients that are almost as strong as the temperature difference of the 2 substances (in this case water and food bag) can continue for a very long time.

                          To directly answer your question: let's say your temperature controller probe is 1 inch from the food bag? I'll guess the temp of the water a couple millimeters from the crock wall will be much higher than 140, a couple mms from the food bag will be close to whatever its starting temp is. And the temp of the water around the probe will be about 140.

                          1. re: foreverhungry
                            paulj Jan 10, 2011 08:09 PM

                            But you are going to have the same sort of temperature gradient inside the bag, within the liquid and food, with even less circulation. Regardless of the circulation in the water bath, the final transfer of heat is by conduction.

                            While circulation does speed up the transfer of heat in water, transfer by simple conduction is not that slow. Especially when the overall cooking time is measured in hours.

                            1. re: paulj
                              f
                              foreverhungry Jan 11, 2011 05:28 AM

                              Yes, it's definitely true you'll have a temperature gradient in the bag, and there's not much to do about that. Just like you have a temperature gradient within a chunk of meat in your oven.

                              Think of it this way - what's the difference in cooking time between a regular oven and a convection oven? Pretty significant. What's the difference between the two? Air circulation. A fan that breaks down boundary layer effects. This is the exact same situation in a water bath, except its magnified somewhat in a water bath (there are stronger natural convection patterns in an oven because of the flow of hot air, as compared to in water, in part because of the physical characteristics of water, and in part because the temperature differences aren't as great).

                              Cooking times are decreased by around 25 - 30% in a convection oven. Only because of breaking down of the boundary layer. Same goes in a water bath.

                              Yes, the final transfer of heat is via conduction - but it's conduction from the layer of water that's in immediate contact with the bag, through the bag, to the layer of food closest to the bag. If that layer of water is 140F (no boundary layer in a 140F water bath), or that layer of water is 100F (large boundary layer in a 140F bath because of no circulation), you'll have very different cooking times.

                              In the end, if you want something to reach an internal temp of 140, and it doesn't matter how long it takes - it can sit there all day - then circulation doesn't really matter. But if you want something to reach a desired temperature in the shortest amount of time possible, then circulation does matter, a lot (a lot being cutting the time down by as much as 1/3rd).

                              And that circulation can be set up for about $10 - a cheap aquarium pump and air stone.

                              1. re: foreverhungry
                                paulj Jan 11, 2011 08:58 AM

                                One possible way of testing the quality of your temperature control setup is to cook eggs. This article discusses the effect of various temperatures, and gives a formula for cooking time, based on egg size, target temperature (at yolk surface), initial egg temperature, and water bath temperature. If your eggs turn out as predicted by the calculations, your setup is reasonably accurate.
                                http://blog.khymos.org/2009/04/09/tow...

                                Regarding the convection oven analogy, since heat conductivity in air is poor, advection can have a big impact on the heat transfer. WInd chill is another example.

                                A wet suit might be a better example of the insulating effect of a thin trapped layer of water. But even that highlights the difference between air and water. A dry suit, with a trapped layer of air, is a better insulator than a wet suit. In the sous vide case, I think care in removing air from the food pouch is more important than good water circulation.

                                I think a circulation pump is more important in a commercial sous vide than a home setup, because the heater, temperature sensor, and pump are designed to work with a separate water container. In effect the heat is applied at one spot near the edge of the body of water, and can only spread through out the pan by way of circulation. In a modified crock pot, heat is applied across the bottom or sides of a ceramic vessel, and temperature is measured close to the food. So circulation can help, but isn't nearly as important as with the commercial setup.

                    2. l
                      Lynndsey Rigberg Jan 9, 2011 10:00 PM

                      Thanks everyone for your advice. I borrowed a FOOD SAVER device from a friend and tried steaks last night, and then chicken breasts today. Just used a very large pot and kept the temperatures consistent for each thing I cooked (130 for steaks, and 160 for chicken).

                      Steak was perfect. Utterly perfect.
                      Chicken - well , I screwed up. I got distracted by some friends taht came over and let it go up to 170 - and I have no clue how long it was there for. By the time I realized it overheated, the chicken was a little tough. But that said, it was still pretty tender for "overcooked" chicken. It will make a really tender chicken salad or something. But I know it can be better.

                      I'm hooked - I will be experimenting much more in the near future! THANKS EVERYONE!

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Lynndsey Rigberg
                        honkman Jan 9, 2011 11:27 PM

                        How long did you cok your steak and how thick was it ? Did you also preseared it or just afterwards. I would also be careful to be sure that you are indeed cooking at 130 and not lower (some thermometers are not really ccurate) because otherwise you are in an "interesting" temperature zone for bacteria growth

                        1. re: honkman
                          l
                          Lynndsey Rigberg Jan 10, 2011 03:54 PM

                          I intended to cook the 1 inch steak for an hour - but my dinner guests were late, so the steak sat around for another hour. I too was worried about bacterial growth, however, that seems to be more of an issue with food cooked longer than 3 hours. According to the thermometer I used, I was at 132.

                          But it ridiculously perfect. : )

                          1. re: Lynndsey Rigberg
                            w
                            wattacetti Jan 11, 2011 09:39 AM

                            Thanks to your tardy dinner guests you've discovered one of the beauties about SV cooking. If you re-try with your chicken, salt, long pepper, thyme and some really good butter alongside your poulet. 145-150ºF (depending on preference), 1 hour.

                      2. Hank Hanover Jan 12, 2011 02:32 AM

                        I think it would be important to have circulation in any sous vide application so a pump of some form would be needed. Whether an aquarium pump would work with the elevated temperatures, I have no idea but there is a quick an inexpensive way to find out... use one.

                        Another great use for a set up like we have been describing is a speed thawer. Soaking something in water has always been the quickest way to thaw frozen food but add a slightly elevated temperature like 75 degrees F and a circulation pump. Things would thaw very quickly. In fact, I suspect this set up would get more use thawing than cooking. If it is quick enough, you could keep all your protein frozen until you were ready to cook it. Except for, maybe, that 12 pound turkey or that 8 pound standing rib roast.

                        1. g
                          gregoryc24 Jan 27, 2011 08:25 AM

                          I've been doing sous vide for a couple of years now. You can do it without spending too much money, but it's a hassle. I had a food saver when I started, but you can use a ziplock. The key is to leave the corner open when you submerge the bag to get the air out. I started with a dutch oven on the simmer burner and a probe thermometer. You can get the temperature right but it takes a long time, so you pretty much need a PID controller.

                          The other day I cooked lamb t-bones for 6 hours at 130 degrees. I then finished the meat in a saute pan. Everyone raved about the lamb, but sous vide is pretty much idiot proof. You can't over cook the food. It's also great for dinner parties because the entree is basically ready when the guests arrive.

                          You don't need the Sous Vide Supreme (I'm not a fan of single task appliances). A PID controller and a rice cooker do a great job. You can use a crock pot, but it's hard to adjust the temperature quickly.

                          My current setup is this:

                          PID controller http://www.auberins.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=13&zenid=0d457b166cc2fc4b530953d110f8858c

                          Rice cooker http://www.amazon.com/Proctor-Silex-3...

                          Costco food saver and

                           
                          13 Replies
                          1. re: gregoryc24
                            r
                            racer x Mar 1, 2011 09:30 PM

                            I just cooked my first sous-vide chicken breast using the Auber PID controller and my 25-year-old rice cooker tonight.
                            (I bought a slow cooker the other day just for sous vide cooking, but when I read the instructions that came with the Auber PID controller, I saw that a home rice cooker was one of several options they suggested specifically for sous vide cooking using their temperature controller.)

                            Vacuum-sealed the chicken in a plastic bag using a Food Saver.
                            Cooked the approx 30-mm thick chicken breast at 146ºF for 75 minutes.
                            When I took it out of the bag, the internal temp registered at about 140ºF using a non-digital probe.
                            Salted the breast then browned the outside in a little butter.

                            Delicious. Very moist and tender. Enjoyed it with a butternut squash risotto and broccoli.

                            Auber PID controller was about $160 with shipping.
                            Rice cooker -- already had it (the slow-cooker I bought though was $33 with tax)
                            Food Saver -- about $44 with tax

                            It's only a matter of time before the rice cooker and slow-cooker manufacturers start selling lower-priced (compared to the Sous Vide Supreme $400 monstrosity) units for home sous vide. No honest reason they shouldn't have something on the market for about $40 - 70.

                            1. re: racer x
                              f
                              foreverhungry Mar 2, 2011 05:31 AM

                              One reason that sous vide cookers are so expensive is that maintaining a water bath at a constant temperature +/- 1F, and with circulation, is not easy. Research quality water baths are the identical thing - a water bath with a heavy duty heating coil, a thermostat accurate to 0.5F, and a means of circulating the water to eliminate cold spots and boundary layer effects. That's not cheap to do.

                              Like anything else, it depends on what the end goal is. If it's professional quality application, then that'll cost you - maintaining a precise temperature, with no dead spots, and being able to do large quantities, like multiple chicken breasts. If you're looking for something that can do 1 or 2 breasts, and it doesn't matter if the water temp is 142, 146, or 149, then something under $100 will do the job.

                              Lots of people forget - just because you set something to a certain temperature doesn't mean you're actually at the temperature. Ovens can be off by more than 25F, and have very pronounced hot and cold spots. The better the technology, the tighter the results, but the more expensive.

                              1. re: foreverhungry
                                r
                                racer x Mar 2, 2011 06:17 AM

                                Maybe (although I don't buy the argument that controlling a water bath is such a high tech operation that it has to be so expensive) -- but is a tolerance of only +/- 1ºF really required?

                                Even Thomas Keller talks about the poor (wo)man's sous-vide method (adding an ice cube to a stove-top water bath whenever the temp gets too high).
                                http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lAeDR2...

                                1. re: racer x
                                  honkman Mar 2, 2011 10:04 AM

                                  "but is a tolerance of only +/- 1ºF really required?" - If you read some of the books about sous-vide it depends in which temperature zone you are cooking. If you cook something very close to the "danger zone" (which many people do for sous-vide) than having a tolerance of only +/- 1ºF is absolutely necessary or even less is prefered.

                                  1. re: racer x
                                    f
                                    foreverhungry Mar 2, 2011 10:32 AM

                                    Again, it depends on what the end application is. For some sous vide purposes, such as cooking a chicken breast, a brisket, or even a steak, precise temperature control isn't necessary. If you're only doing one package, circulation probably isn't important.

                                    But if you're trying to get the desired consistency on a poached egg, more precise temperature is more important. If you're hoping to recreate some of Keller's "Under Pressure" recipes, then pretty precise control is important.

                                    As for the expense part, the more precise you want to hold temperature, the more expensive the equipment is. I've worked with environmental chambers for plant and animal growth experiments that run over $1000 each. It's a basic refrigerator shell, but the thermostat unit and heating and cooling units are souped up. It can hold a temp to within a degree. Your fridge can hold a temp to within 5 degrees. For keeping food in your fridge, that's fine, hence lower cost. For animal growth experiments, 1F was needed, hence the higher cost.

                                    It's all a matter of your end goal.

                                    1. re: foreverhungry
                                      r
                                      racer x Mar 3, 2011 03:27 PM

                                      Jeff Potter managed to poach that egg for well under $400.
                                      http://www.chow.com/food-news/64330/h...

                                      I'm not contesting your argument that commercial applications will necessitate higher expenditures.

                                      But we are discussing home cooking here, which usually implies quantities that will feed a small family, not a large church gathering or a busy restaurant. And most home cooks probably aren't aiming for Thomas Keller showpiece meals on a regular basis.

                                      For temperature circulation, the manufacturer can surely stick a little motorized stirrer at the well bottom (or some such) without significantly impacting production costs.

                                      I think the problem right now is that the demand for this equipment is still very low and probably has been limited to an 'exclusive' group of consumers who have too much money on their hands (from the manufacturers' view point).

                                      Which explains why you can spend $400 for a vacuum sealer, while ones costing only a tenth that are also available.

                                      (Btw, I posted upthread that I had bought a FoodSaver vacuum sealer. That was an error. It was a Rival vacuum sealer.
                                      The FoodSavers I have seen are far more expensive, many in the $100-200 range.)

                                      Anyway, my intention wasn't to start an argument.
                                      I just wanted to give a big thumbs up to gregoryc24 (and Jeff Potter), who showed that this is a more acessible form of cooking than many of the rest of us, intimidated by the potential cost and technical details, might have previously assumed.

                                      1. re: racer x
                                        f
                                        foreverhungry Mar 3, 2011 08:06 PM

                                        I don't think you started an argument. At least, that's not how I'm looking at it. I see it as a good discussion about home sous vide cooking is. And how it can be done.

                                        To me, it's just a matter of understanding the basics of keeping a water bath at a certain temperature means, which I think some folks think is easy, and I think isn't. And the devil is in the details.

                                        Again, for some applications, a $50 option is great. For others, sous vide will mean more.

                                        Just like some folks work very well with $20 pans. And others work better with a $200 All Clad. It all depends on your end product.

                                        No Argument. Just Discussion.

                                      2. re: foreverhungry
                                        paulj Mar 3, 2011 03:46 PM

                                        http://blog.khymos.org/2009/04/09/tow...
                                        shows how to achieve any degree of doneness in an egg, provided you know the relevant temperatures. You don't have to hold the cooking water at an exact temperature for a long time.

                                        1. re: foreverhungry
                                          cowboyardee Apr 19, 2011 08:19 PM

                                          You can reliably achieve a bath stable to within +/- 0.5 degrees F with a $150 PID and most slowcookers or rice cookers (they claim +/- 0.1 deg f, but IME that's not practical). That's tight enough for any of the Keller recipes, or really, any sous vide recipe that I know of. The bottom-up or surrounding heating elements of a slowcooker or rice cooker seem to create enough convection to even out the temperature in a water bath fairly well, as long as the bath isn't overcrowded with food. An immersion circulator needs circulation especially because its heating element (and thermocouple) is off to one side of the bath.

                                          Of course, when cold food it put into a bath there will be a temperature drop, and also usually an overshoot as the bath gets back up to temperature (if you have your PID set to recover quickly). With practice, I've found that you can easily predict this and manually account for it by adjusting your PID settings when cold food is introduced to the bath.

                                          The need for more expensive systems really comes into play when you want to:
                                          A) cook a lot of food sous vide at the same time
                                          B) play with compression or other features only a chamber vacuum can accomplish
                                          C) Introduce cool or frozen foods to a bath already cooking other foods at low temperatures (immersion circulators recover temp quicker and more accurately).

                                          1. re: cowboyardee
                                            f
                                            foreverhungry Apr 19, 2011 09:26 PM

                                            Sorry, it was common practice in my research lab to confirm the temperature specs that a manufacturer claimed.

                                            We paid top dollar for +/- 0.5C. +/- 0.5F is even narrower, and getting better than research grade. That's in the close to $1k mark.

                                            Sorry, if a "cheap" system claims to be +/- 0.5C, I'd be suspicious. Just because a digital readout goes to that accuracy doesn't mean it's so.

                                            Then again, a degree or 2 won't matter for the vast majority of sous vide applications.

                                            (It's the research wonk in my that raises hackles at talk of +/- 0.5C.....)

                                            1. re: foreverhungry
                                              cowboyardee Apr 19, 2011 09:45 PM

                                              My post was based on over a year of personal experience regularly using a PID and spot checking temperatures with a Thermapen. It takes a while for a bath to fully stabilize to that point with this method, so if you need that degree of temperature control, there is some planning involved. And if you want this degree of temperature stabilization very quickly, then a more expensive setup may be required.

                                              Try it before you knock it.

                                              1. re: cowboyardee
                                                f
                                                foreverhungry Apr 20, 2011 07:11 AM

                                                I'm not knocking it. I'm just commenting on a couple decades of experience in using a variety of devices to both measure and maintain temperature. In research labs, we paid top dollar for thermostat units able to maintain a high degree of accuracy. We'd calibrate every thermometer and thermocouple with a NIST certified thermometer - one capable of reading to 0.5C costs about $250.

                                                I'm not knocking home-spun sous vide rigs, and have rigged some up myself. I'm just very critical of claims of +/- 0.5F, given my experience of working with research grade, top line, fairly expensive devices.

                                                Of course, variation of even 2 or 3 degrees won't matter a bit for most sous vide application.

                                                1. re: foreverhungry
                                                  cowboyardee Apr 20, 2011 01:33 PM

                                                  Fair enough. I was under the impression that my thermapen was consistent and accurate to less than 0.5 C, and likewise the thermocouple on my PID seemed to get similarly accurate and consistent readings, but I haven't tested them to that level of accuracy. Maybe next time I calibrate the thermapen in an ice bath I'll take multiple readings, let you know what figures I get and if there is much variation.

                                2. l
                                  lockednloaded Apr 18, 2011 09:59 PM

                                  You can do this right or mickey mouse .Here is a cheap way of making your own unit that works perfectly. Shop second hand stores for an old crock pot . ok thats 5 - 10 bucks Then buy the a419 made by johnson controls another 50- 70 bucks . When that arrives read the instructions you will have to take the cover off and move two jumpers from cooling to heating. You jus simply set your temp and plug the crock into the machine and put the thermometor on top of the meet . I have had the best prime rib in this thing 4hrs at 132 degrees and I would put it up against the best steak house in town . Right now I am doing a corned beef that will sit at 131 degrees for 3 days cant wait! This is an extremely great way to cook as most main courses are the stuff that can be ruined so it leaves you time to work on the veggies .It does take a little bit to get used to but it really works . As for the foodsaver well it is just junk look at the pro 2300 you will be glad you did. and dont use ziplocks they are not meant for heat or the green giant would be using them.

                                   
                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: lockednloaded
                                    f
                                    foreverhungry Apr 19, 2011 07:18 AM

                                    Question:

                                    Is cooking a piece of meat at 131 degrees for 3 days flirting with that "unsafe" food temperature zone of 70 - 140F?

                                    I'm usually not one of those folks that freaks out when food is left out on the counter, nor do I tend to pay much attention to expiration dates, but I'm just curious about cooking for 72 hours at 130F?

                                    Then again, is the idea that because you (presumably) first rinsed the brisket and then immediately sealed it (any flavoring agents? Or was it flavored when you brined it?), there aren't any bugs you need to worry about, since most of what you need to be careful about tend to be surface bacteria?

                                    Just wondering....thanks!

                                    1. re: foreverhungry
                                      cowboyardee Apr 19, 2011 07:50 PM

                                      131 F is considered the lowest temperature at which you can pasteurize safely for most products (chicken is a little bit higher, IIRC). Pathogens are killed as a function not only of temperature, but also of time, meaning that starting at 130 F or so, you can reliably kill enough bacteria to make a food safe, as long as you hold it at that temperature long enough. 3 days is more than long enough. So there is nothing unsafe about cooking for 3 days at 131... if your water bath is actually 131.

                                      If you're going to cook sous vide, you should periodically check your water temperature with a second well calibrated thermometer just to ensure that your cooking temperatures are accurate - unlike an oven, mis-calibrated temperature of a few degrees is a real problem.

                                      1. re: cowboyardee
                                        paulj Apr 19, 2011 09:28 PM

                                        The common food handlers guidelines are heat the food to 165 to kill all bacteria, and hold at 140. 165 is hot enough to kill them immediately. 140 is far enough into the safe hold region to be used by relatively unskilled workers and with basic instruments (i.e. a $10 thermometer).

                                        Cooking for Geeks has a plot of bacteria survival v. temperature. It's a curve with a peak around 100, dropping off to zero near 140. That is simplified because different species of bacteria have different temperature dependencies. 131 as a safe temperature is consistent with this picture - but requires more accurate and reliable equipment.

                                        1. re: paulj
                                          cowboyardee Apr 19, 2011 10:17 PM

                                          Those guidelines are not really applicable to sous vide cookery. "The danger zone" is based upon storage in open air, where heat transfer is far less efficient than heat transfer from water, and evaporative cooling can have an effect. 165 is the internal temperature at which food is pasteurized within a very short time (maybe a minute or two), which is why it's generally listed as a safe cooking temperature for roast poultry. Industry has been pasteurizing at temperatures below 140 for quite a while - the pasteurized eggs you see at the supermarket are a good example. If you are going to cook below 140, it is advisable that you use good, accurate thermometers/thermocouples, and that you double check temperature with a calibrated thermometer on a regular basis. There's no magic involved and no need for thousands of dollars of equipment - just the more slapdash your setup is, the harder you'll have to work to make sure you're erring on the side of safety when you push the limits of food safety.

                                          On top of that, it's not like food pathogens thrive and reproduce readily but suddenly start dying at 130. Even small errors and fluctuations in bath temperature do not automatically render foods cooked at the bottom end of pasteurization petri dishes - just (possibly) unpasteurized. Temperatures in the high 120s are still bacteriostatic.

                                          Beyond that and no longer pertaining to the initial question, the game changes again when we're talking foods cooked under ~4 hours and finished off with another method, so long as the inside of the food is unmolested and considered generally safe. The analogy would be to a rare steak cooked traditionally to 120 or below internally but seared on the presumably more dangerous outside. Many of Keller's recipes are based on this principle (they often also use a differential temperature, cooking in a bath hotter than the desired internal finished temperature to speed pasteurization of the food surface).

                                          Read Baldwin's "A Practical Guide to Sous Vide" for more information about pasteurization.
                                          http://www.douglasbaldwin.com/sous-vi...

                                          1. re: cowboyardee
                                            f
                                            foreverhungry Apr 20, 2011 07:14 AM

                                            Excellent! Thanks! I was figuring it laid with interior vs exterior, surface area, and time held at temperature issues. Thanks for the link, too!

                                  2. Hank Hanover Apr 18, 2011 10:36 PM

                                    I'm curious about what good home cooking applications there would be for a sous vide set up.

                                    Certainly there would be novel approaches to things that could be done another way.

                                    While $400 is fairly expensive, upscale chowhounders could afford it. Besides just a standard wall oven is about $1200 now.

                                    I have seen threads where people stridently defend paying $800 for a big green egg.

                                    I think if there were a lot of really great applications and it could make something you just couldn't get any other way, there would be no shortage of people buying a sous vide setup right now.

                                    Don't get me wrong. I am curious and would like to try it and may set up a system so I can experiment with it.

                                    Anyway, can someone come up with a few suggestions for using a sous vide system?

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Hank Hanover
                                      f
                                      foreverhungry Apr 19, 2011 07:13 AM

                                      Some of the best sous-vide applications that I have eaten have been:
                                      1) poached egg (by far the best poached eggs I have had have been sous-vide)
                                      2) fish (packed with herbs and olive oil)
                                      3) as odd as it may sound, reheating steak - it's the best way (only way?) of re-heating a large rare or medium rare piece of steak, like left over prime rib, to the low 130's without overshooting, or having overcooked exterior and cold interior)

                                      4) Other than those applications, I think the biggest advantage of a sous vide is that once you get it figured out, it's like having an extra person and cooking unit in the kitchen. You can cook stuff to desired temperature and let it sit there for hours (well, to some extend anyway). You can "pre-cook" chunks of meat who's timing might be tricky - be it a large roast whose time may vary by an hour to to size, shape, oven variability, or a small piece of meat, like tenderloins, prawns, etc., where hitting an exact internal temp matters a lot, and being off by a minute can ruin the dish. With sous vide, you can literally set it and forget it. I think this is especially nice when you are preparing multi-course meals with lots of dishes that require tricky timing. Being able to, for example, through some arctic char fillets with olive oil and some herbs into some bags and "poach", but know that you can't over cook it, means you can turn attention elsewhere, knowing that all you have to do is reach in, grab the bags, and you're fish is cooked exactly to your specifications. I think that's kinda nice.

                                    2. c
                                      causticcandy Mar 10, 2012 08:47 PM

                                      Can someone answer the following question - after I've cooked my steaks/prawns/fish etc sous vide, how long can I leave them before I finish them off and serve them?

                                      I'm thinking of a situation where I need to cook say 8 steaks for a dinner party but I can only sous vide two at a time. Can I sous vide the day before and just sear them on the day? I can't see why not, but just wanted to make sure.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: causticcandy
                                        cowboyardee Mar 11, 2012 11:33 AM

                                        That's actually a trickier question than it would appear to be. The short answer is that if you chill the steaks (in bag, no more than 15 minutes out of the sous vide bath) in an ice bath for about an hour before refrigeration, you should be taking minimal risk, which isn't exactly to say you're taking NO risk at all. There might be and there might not be. I would do it without worry as long as I'm not serving to anyone with a medical condition that makes food poisoning extraordinarily dangerous.

                                        The longer answer has to do with the exact temperature and time you're cooking the steaks - whether or not they're pasteurized. I can elaborate if you want to list your plan, but it's only if you're especially concerned about being absolutely safe for whatever reason.

                                        Also keep in mind: there is a kind of art to reheating food that has been cooked sous vide and refrigerated, searing the outside and warming the inside through without cooking it past the temperature of the sous vide bath. This can also depend on the temp of the sous vide bath, the method used to sear, the thickness of the steaks, etc.

                                        1. re: cowboyardee
                                          c
                                          causticcandy Mar 11, 2012 04:51 PM

                                          This obviously needs a little more investigation on my part! Thanks very much for your help, much appreciated. Maybe the simplest thing for me to do is to go out and find a bigger rice cooker!

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