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Sous vide of not to sous vide... That is the question.

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Researching and debating if I should start cooking sous vide. What's your experience with this method and the pros and cons of it.

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  1. Cons are you need a few gadgets or need to be pretty resourceful. I've tried a few techniques to keep the water temp constant, best was just keeping it on the stove and regulating temp by adding cold water. It was fun for a few times, results were so-so. Not worth the hassle for amateur cooks like myself but I'd encourage you to try for yourself, but start with home remedy techniques before you go out and buy an immersion circulator and vacuum sealer.

    1. Pros: When done right you can get some incredibly impressive results
      Cons: Initial equipment cost, poor results when done improperly.

      As far as equipment is concerned, there are immersion circulators made specifically for the food industry (Polyscience is one source), but they aren't cheap! Less expensive are units like the Sous Vide Supreme (which is a static bath), they're selling a smaller model packed with a vacuum sealer at places like Costco and Sam's Club for around $370. I went the cheap-o route and lurked on Ebay until I was able to snag an old surplus immersion circulator for about $130, only go this route if you'll be comfortable tearing down the unit to give it a thorough cleaning before reassembly and use. You never know what it was exposed to while being used in a lab. There was a recent Kickstarter campaign for a small immersion circulator called a Nomiku, if everything goes as they hope the circulator will go on sale in December for around $360. I should be receiving one around that time (from backing the kickstarter campaign) and will likely post about it once I get a chance to play around a little. There are also DIY solutions out there for those inclined that range from the simple (using a thermocouple hooked up to a PID controller to cycle the power on and off to a crock pot) to the more involved (building your own immersion circulator).

      Like any other cooking technique, if you do it wrong you're gong to get poor results. If you put a steak in a 134 degree bath for 45 minutes to an hour, then allow to cool in the bag for 10 minutes before de-bagging, patting dry and searing you'll most likely end up with a wonderful steak. Leave that same steak in the bath for 5 hours before searing and you'll end up with something that's mushy and dry. The more you know about the technique before you start the better your results will be.

      Some of the things I've had good results with are beef short ribs (72 hours at 134 degrees), pork carnitas (pork shoulder for 48 hours at 144 degrees), steaks (134 degrees for 45 min - 1 hour), turkey breast (155 degrees for 2 hours) and hamburgers (135 degrees for 60 minutes).

      1. I tried to sous vide without proper equipment. Boy, did I try! I didn't like the results and didn't like what it did to my electric bill. The very premise of sous vide is exact unwavering temperature. Hard to achieve. So I finally bought a Sous Vide Supreme. I am very glad I did. I've cooked things that have taken days and there was no evidence of it in my electric bill!

        I'm not one of those people who feels they have to use a new toy every day. I use my pressure cookers and my ovens as often as I sous vide anything. And I cannot see anything to be gained from cooking vegetables sous vide. But as the saying goes, don't knock it until you've tried it, so I'm not knocking it, but I just don't see any sense in taking hours to cook carrots when I can do it stove top much much faster and I like the flavor..

        But sous vide beef and proteins? Fantastic! I usually cook beef to medium rare, then take it out of the cryovac, dry it a bit, season it, then sear it with my kitchen torch. I like the flavor, but pan searing also works. I've only tried fish about three times and was not that impressed with the results. Fish cook very fast and are always tender, so why go through all of the bagging and folderol? But eggs! Oh my goodness. I LOVE sous vide "soft boiled" eggs. They are like no egg you've ever had before. The yolks and the whites come out close to the same level of doneness when you do it right, but there's no "nasty" texture to the whites. They are wonderful. When I want to make a quick but impressive and delicious lunch, I make mushroom risotto and serve it with a couple of sous vide eggs on top. Everyone seems to enjoy it immensely.

        The end result of sous vide cooking of proteins is that they will come out very tender, and not exactly like any other cooking method. With a beef roast, for example, when you cook it to medium rare using sous vide, there is no "bullseye" effect in the doneness as there is with oven roasting or barbecuing. Medium rare will be medium rare from edge to edge and all across the center. And then I crust the outside. Beef also comes out a lot more tender when cooked sous vide than it does with any other cooking method. I primarily use grass fed organic beef because of allergies, and grass fed beef is a bit trickier to cook than corn fed. It always comes out perfect when sous vide is the cooking method. I'm occasionally overcome with fits of self indulgence (it's affordable when you're cooking for one!) and splurge on wagyu beef. Sous vide is the perfect cooking method for wagyu/kobe beef. No loss of weight as there is with pan cooking or oven broiling.

        There are other ways in addition to a Sous Vide Supreme water oven that will give you very even and controlled temperatures, but all of those that I know of involve immersion pumps and heaters, and they are not in one compact unit. And that's why I chose the Sous Vide Supreme. And it is amazingly steady and accurate in temperature maintenance. I can't say that owning it has radically changed my life or my cooking, but it has brought some truly wonderful meals into my life that I could not attain without it. Overall, I'm pretty happy with my investment.

        Oh. One last tip! If you decide to go with a Sous Vide Supreme water oven, when you buy it, also buy a syphon hose. Easiest way to empty the oven! '-)

        2 Replies
        1. re: Caroline1

          Caroline1,

          I have a SVS and it is one of the best cooking gadgets I have purchased. Amazing results. Except for the sous vide soft boil egg you describe... Any chance you can share your method? Thanks.

          1. re: cooksquest

            Really easy. Set temperature to 142F. It doesn't matter much whether you put the eggs in when the water is still cold or after it has come to temperature, as long as you hold them at that temperature long enough for it to equalize throughout the egg, usually 20 minutes or more. That's it! If you do a web search for "sous vide eggs," you'll get lots of hits, including some with detailed information on small temperature variations and the results it produces.

        2. I think sous vide is an exciting technique but, frankly, if it were really useful, more people would have one and you would have more responses to your thread. You can get a pretty nice setup for $400. That is well within the price range of a lot of the chowhounders here. Just check out how many people have spent $1000 on a Big Green Egg.

          I have to admit that I would love to experiment with poaching eggs or cooking a roast to a perfect temperature and then searing it off. I'd love to poach a salmon steak in one. Unfortunately, those 3 things are about all I can think of I would want to do.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Hank Hanover

            eggs, small roasts, and salmon steaks can all be accomplished in a large (3 gallon + preferably) stockpot heated over a low burner if you have a good thermometer. Get the water temp to within a couple degrees of the cooking temp (a couple degrees hotter is best because the food will bring the temp down), turn heat down to very low, add food sealed in ziplock freezer bags zipped underwater to push the air out (or eggs just as they are) and measure the temperature in regular intervals, adding cool water or turning heat up as needed. Stir occasionally. With either a burner consistent enough or a stockpot large enough, you can achieve a very stable temperature.

            Most meats aren't super sensitive to a degree or two of variance in water temperature. Eggs and salmon both can be on the more sensitive side, but even that can be done.

            1. re: Hank Hanover

              Regarding "how many people have spent $1000 on a Big Green Egg", the reason so many people have spent that much on a Big Green Egg is . . . marketing.

              You don't see much marketing in the way of sous vide machines.

            2. Actually, the question is "Sous vide OR not to sous vide" ;-D

              1. I have been doing SV going on seven years now, first starting with Ziplocs, a pot and a thermometer and now using an immersion circulator.

                Pros: precision cooking once you've got your technique down pat, including understanding that there are steps to "finish" your product after it comes out of the bag. Excellent method for preparing duck confit and magret. I like SV for poultry and land animals, not so much for fish but that's more in line with my preferring fish to be raw.

                Also excellent for large parties because you can prep everything ahead of time and then retherm and finish when needed without massively screwing up cooking temperatures from having to control so many portions.

                Cons: good equipment still expensive. SVS is about $400 which makes it livable, circulator setups start in and around $1K and can get really expensive if you opt for Julabo's units with the jacketed water baths. Vacuum sealers add to cost; you can still do Ziplocs but for long-duration cooking something which appropriately seals is required (FoodSaver is what most people use I think). Circulators also make noise, and everything takes up counter space when in use.

                Why don't more people SV? Apart from cost, there is that gadget-y aspect to it and an understanding of what it can and can't do. Guess it's like what microwaves were like when those first came out.

                2 Replies
                1. re: wattacetti

                  There are some newer immersion circulators designed more with a home cook in mind. They are much more affordable than the bigger, more traditional immersion circulators, but I'm waiting on more user feedback (and anyway, I get by alright with the Sous Vide Magic system).

                  The newer, more affordable ICs briefly discussed and linked to in this thread:
                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/858894

                  1. re: cowboyardee

                    Interesting; I haven't been paying attention to the low end as I came from a lab environment and immersion circulators are supposed to be in mated to insulated stainless tanks and do temperature tolerances to 0.01ºC.

                    Polyscience apparently now has a cheaper IC model for "occasional" use.

                2. Cons: waste of plastic. new equipment.

                  1. So I made my first corned beef with sous vide (celebrating StPs a day early)

                    Perfect! That is why. The corned beef came out uniformly pink, consistently seasoned throughout, gently salted with a lingering aftertaste. The texture amazed me, tender, but fim so easily sliced. I sim.ply put in the bag the same pickling spice I would use in a pot

                    I did 60 hours at 135, let it sit in the bag for several hours, then browned it on a stove top cast iron grill pan.

                    Well worth the time and cost.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: law_doc89

                      What was the weight of the meat? I'd love to try this, but 60 hours?

                      1. re: grampart

                        About 2.5 lbs. I find the beauty of SV is that letting something run is fine, so I could go to bed and take the thing out in the morning (I read up to 72 hours for this would be fine)

                        1. re: law_doc89

                          What do you figure the minimum time at 135?

                          1. re: grampart

                            Guessing 48? Hey, it's SV, 90 minutes to pasteurize an egg is short order cooking.