If you like to experiment a little in the kitchen, or have foodie friends who enjoy trying new things, you’ve probably already come across the term sous vide. It’s an alternative method of cooking that promises incredibly succulent meats and other foods without you ever having to worry about overcooking, charring, timing, or other issues. It may sound too good to be true, but sous vide is a real, high-tech cooking method that’s all about water. Let’s take a look at how it works and what it’s best used for.
What is sous vide?
Sous vide, a French term meaning “under vacuum,” is a water-based cooking technique that can be used across a wide variety of foods. It doesn’t work too well for things like baking or sautéing, but when it comes to meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, and other menu items, it can prove very effective.
Sous vide has grown more popular with the advance of smart kitchen tools that can accurately judge temperature and set automatic timers. Despite the presence of high-tech cooking, however, sous vide is actually a very simple concept. It involves two important steps:
- Sealing foods and their related ingredients in a plastic bag. Sometimes a canning jar or other receptacle is used, depending on the method.
- Placing the sealed food in water, often in a pot or specialized cooker, and cooking it there at a precise temperature for a certain amount of time.
Wait, so are we just boiling foods now instead of roasting them? Not exactly, since the food is safely sealed away from the water, it doesn’t boil (unless you want it to), and the temperatures are often lower than the boiling point of 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius). It simply cooks in a very uniform way, and there are several advantages to this type of cooking that food fans and ambitious chefs greatly appreciate.
Why is sous vide is so popular?
Chefs like the sous vide method because it removes a lot of the problems with cooking demanding foods over traditional sources of heat. You see, heat via a burner — gas, electric, charcoal, what have you — is never uniform. While the infrared energy that comes from a burner steadily increases the heat of air and objects around it, it’s impossible to fully predict or control, and you can’t hold it at a specific temperature for long periods of time (no matter what your oven tells you). This is why it’s so difficult to cook the perfect steak or fish, even with years of practice. The heat is uneven, constantly changing, and cannot be left on without burning the food. The window for an ideal cooked meat may be only a minute or less.
Sous vide, on the other hand, removes most of these difficulties. When meats and other foods are cooked in water, they are heated precisely from all sides with a temperature that can be easily controlled and maintained at exact levels of heat for precise periods of time. No exposure to flame or external air means no charring or drying out, either. As a result, all the meat and other ingredients are cooked equally well, all the way through. Since temperatures are controlled so precisely, you don’t need to rush off to the kitchen or hover over the stove, either. Also, because the process is so reliable, it allows people with less experience in the kitchen to tackle more difficult meals with greater confidence — and save more time.
There are other, less tangible benefits too. Sous vide is supposed to help lock in natural juices more effectively, increase the amount of edible meat you get on a cut, and may even increase nutritional value.