Guide to Sous-vide Cooking

Sous-vide Steak with Asparagus
Sous-vide Steak. Source: James
Sous-vide cooking is pretty awesome and sometimes overlooked by the average eater. Some of us might have seen "sous-vide" in restaurant menus and disregarded it as another random, fancy, french word. Or some of us might have never heard of it before. Hopefully this post will clear some things up.

I won't go over the boring history behind sous-vide because you can just wiki that here. I usually summarize the info I find online, but it's pretty unlikely that you'll be interested in the history. So, I just left it out to keep you guys awake. You're welcome.

Sous-vide is frenchy for "under vacuum". It's a method for cooking food (meats, fish, vegetables, whatever) in skin-tight, plastic bags in a water bath for periods of time ranging up to 72 hours. During the cooking time, the desired final temperature is set to cook evenly throughout the center of the food. If you've ever gone to a steak house and noticed that your steak might seem medium around the edges but medium-rare to rare along the center, that can be a bummer. You probably would have enjoyed it more if the steak was cooked evenly to your liking. It's not that the chef was being a jerk, it's just that it takes a lot of precision to cook a steak perfectly on the grill. 

36-hour Sous-vide Pork Belly
36-hour Sous-vide Pork Belly. Source: J.W. Hamner
Thankfully, sous-vide cooking is the answer to this problem. This method of cooking is useful in a bunch of different ways. Sous-vide avoids undercooking and overcooking. It also helps break down some of the thick lines of collagen in steak without using a ton of heat. Too much heat will cause the meat to toughen. My favorite part of sous-vide is that it keeps all the sexy juices inside the vacuum-sealed bag so that JT doesn't have to bring sexy back again.

Sous-vide isn't perfect though. It has a weakness, unlike me, I don't have weaknesses. Sous-vide doesn't get that hot, brown tan it gets from being grilled. This is called the Maillard reaction. SCIENCE. It's that almost-but-not-quite burnt taste with that amazing brown, smokey crust. Sous-vide misses out on these flavors. Good thing smart people have found a loophole for this. The meat can be quickly seared or grilled at super high temperatures before and/or after sous-vide, giving it that crisp, charred taste. 

I'm not going to go into all the cooking times and temperatures because the average eater won't be into that. But here's a great link to a reference chart if you're interested. 

Sous-vide Set-up. Source: Scott Ashkenaz
Serious Eats wrote a cool article here about sous-vide. It has a section about cooking times and temperatures. One of the awesome facts I read from the article is that cooking the meat at 130F will prevent bacteria from multiplying. Any temperature below 130F will accelerate bacteria growth. Here's a summary of the cooking temperatures:
1. Rare: 120F
2. Medium Rare: 130F
3. Medium: 140F
4. Medium Well: 150F
5. Well: 160F

If you're looking to try sous-vide, you probably need some robots to help you. After some research, I found a few machines to help:

1. Polyscience Sous-vide Pro Immersion Circulator: This is the Terminator of sous-vide. It's close to $US 800 if you have money to spend. What's good about this is that it circulates the water to ensure uniform cooking temperatures. Williams-Sonoma has it here.

2. Sous-vide Supreme: This one's pretty cool. It's like an all-in-one Jacuzzi for your food. It's energy efficient, operates silently, and easy to use. Amazon has a promotional pack that comes with a vacuum sealer and a cook book here for $US 465.99.

3. Sous-vide on the Stove: For all the DIY people out there. Check out this page for tips on cooking sous-vide in a pot on your stove.

4. Sous-vide in a Beer Cooler: This one is actually ingenious. It may seem strange but it's kind of funny and cheap. You can read about the Beer Cooler Hack here.

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