Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Cookware >
Feb 22, 2011 07:43 PM

Sous Vide?

Okay, I thought I pretty up to date on most culinary creations. My neighbor just got the Sous Vide, and I have never heard of it. Apparently it cooks in a bag in a water bath. Has anyone used it, how does it work, does it brown meat ? I went online and looked and it said that somethings cook as long as 72 hours. I would love to hear from you, because I never heard of this. TIA

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. This is all the rage. It allows restaurants to keep food cooked to the perfect temps for a long time and that is one reason it was developed. Here is a great article about the vacuum bag part and the sous vide part. Browning is done in a second step with very intense heat.

    1. paprkutr: If you want to bone up on this, go to the Cooks Issues website and read your heart out.

      No, it doesn't brown meat. It cooks the vacuum-sealed food in circulating liquid to a very precise temp/degree of doneness, without any drying, and with a small/concentrated amount of marinade or liquor if you choose. Slow or fast. You brown your meats either before or after.

      IMO, it is more of a commercial food prep tool than a home cooking godsend.

      1. It arises from the realization that many of the changes that we associate with cooking occur at temperatures below boiling. 165F is enough to kill bacteria instantly. 140F is enough to hold safely hold food for a long time. Proteins denature at various temperatures, some as low as 130F. Sous Vide is a way of cooking food at a precise temperature, for how ever long it takes. Browning meat requires temperatures in the 300s. SV (below boiling) cooks without browning.

        Vacuum sealing removes air that prevents effective heat transfer to the food. It also separates the food from the heat source (hot water).

        The other important component is the water bath that is kept at the desire temperature.

        1. As with any of the traditional cooking methods you get different textural qualities in the food and develop flavors without the food drying out or introducing undesired moisture (as with poaching). At the extremes you get a "poached" salmon that still has the delicacy of the raw fish without altering the texture like poaching or broiling would. Or the 63-degree (celsius) egg:

          1. Sous vide refers to the cooking method. It's not a piece of equipment (though I'd bet your neighbor probably got the Sous Vide Supreme, which is a device built for home cooks to cook sous vide). It means, literally "under vacuum," which is a bit of a misnomer, because the vacuum aspect is of little importance.

            As others have said, it involves sealing foodstuffs in an airless plastic bag (often with a vacuum sealer, but not necessarily) and then cooking it in a water bath kept at a constant, accurate temperature.

            The upsides of sous vide cooking:
            - Foods can be cooked to perfect doneness, without concerns of overcooking. If you want a medium rare steak, you can cook it sous vide in a 130 F water bath and it can't possibly overcook.
            -Foods can be cooked more uniformly to perfect doneness. That medium rare steak from the last example will be medium rare from end to end. A grilled medium rare steak will be well done near the surface all the way to rare at the center.
            -Braised cuts can be effectively cooked at low temperature, keeping moisture in. Traditional braised meats contract and lose their moisture, but compensate with lots of gelatin. A sous vide treatment of a braising cut can create all the gelatin at a lower temperature, also minimizing moisture loss. This is surely why your neighbor was cooking something for 72 hours. The end result is super tender and juicy. You can get a lot of different effects by stopping along the way as well.
            -Because of the enclosed environment, there is minimal loss of flavor - no smells escape, and as such volatile flavor compounds stay with the food. This also means that fewer spices go a longer way. The inherent flavors of your food seem amplified a bit.
            -You can confit in expensive fats like EV olive oil or duck fat using much less than you'd need with any other method.
            - With good technique and equipment, you can prepare and cook delicate foods well in advance (hours, days, months), then easily finish them off last minute with minimal or no loss of quality. This has been a great boon for restaurants that employ the technique. A single person can easily handle hundreds of portions of sous vide cooked foods at service.

            There are various methods to cook sous vide - all the way from a $1000 immersion circulator with a $2000 chamber vacuum sealer, down to using a large stockpot filled with water with an instant read thermometer and a ziplock freezer bag (which works surprisingly well if you get the hang of it). I usually use a PID hooked up to a slow cooker.

            Cooking sous vide isn't hard to do, but there is a good bit of homework before you get started, since it is different from other methods and has the potential to be dangerous when practiced poorly.
            Read that if you're interested in trying this method. End to end. Seriously.

            There are numerous chowhound threads about sous vide cooking as well.

            3 Replies
            1. re: cowboyardee

              And if you are really a masochist you can head over to eGullet where there is a thread with 4,134 posts on sous vide cooking, techniques, and equipment. It was officially closed after 6 years running. Below is the thread, but you can see the index in the second link.



              1. re: cowboyardee

                i don't like to cook or heat things in plastic because of the chance of chemicals leaching into the food. i know some plastics are safer than others, but i think it is risky with any plastic. is this ever addressed in any way with this technique? what kind of plastic do chefs use for this?

                1. re: helenhelen

                  This is only the tip of the iceberg, but here's one view:


                  Chefs most often use bags made for a chamber vacuum that are specified as sous-vide safe, which generally means that the plastic does not degrade at sous vide temperatures (sub boiling). Here is an example:

                  Home cooks are more likely to use foodsaver bags or ziplock-type freezer bags. These might be more problematic for sous vide cooking of vegetables since veg are often cooked around 180-185 and there is some question as to whether that is the temperature at which these kinds of bags begin to degrade. At meat temperatures (~120-170) the plastic in these bags appears to be stable.

                  In general, many people have raised questions about the safety of plastic in sous vide cooking. But no one has actually demonstrated any real harm caused by plastic in the process. Any individual is welcome to make their own choices. But as of this point in time, those choosing to avoid sous vide because of the plastic bags are making that choice based on speculation, not real scientifically demonstrated danger.