Over the past several years, the term sous vide has been slowly gaining mainstream popularity, especially now that it’s no longer limited to restaurants. These days, smaller and more affordable sous vide machines make it easy for home cooks to master this technique in their own kitchens. So what IS sous vide cooking?
What is Sous Vide?
Sous vide, which means “under vacuum” in French, is the process of sealing food in a bag with little to no air, then cooking it to an exact temperature in a precisely-heated circulating water bath. It guarantees that your food will be cooked perfectly every time.
While plastic bags are typically used, food can also be cooked in glass jars (for example, if you’re making homemade yogurt), and eggs can be placed directly into the hot water and cooked in their shells.
Meat, poultry and fish are often seared immediately after (or sometimes before) the sous vide process for added flavor.
A Brief History of Sous Vide
Immersion circulators didn’t start out in the kitchen; they’ve long been used by scientists. Precisely heated water baths are the perfect way to incubate live cell cultures and do other science-y things.
In the late 1960s, when food-grade plastic and vacuum packing was mastered by American and French engineers, the food industry began using sous vide cooking for food safety measures such as pasteurization and sterilization. This made it easier for large-scale commercial food companies, hospitals, and labs, and would extend the shelf life of foods.
In the 1970s, French chefs began experimenting with sous vide cooking as a way to perfect foie gras, and word slowly began spreading around throughout the 80s. The technique slowly began making its way to American chefs thanks to word of mouth and the internet.
Thomas Keller was the first American chef to introduce a sous vide cooker into his restaurant in the early 2000s, and other big name chefs soon followed like Wyliê Dufresne and Grant Achatz.
Sous vide really began picking up steam in 2005, with books being published, sous vide dishes showing up on restaurant menus by name, classes at the French Culinary Institute, and a New York Times article by Amanda Hesser. In 2006, Iron Chef America aired a battle between Mario Batali and Wyliê Dufresne showing sous vide cookers on television for the first time.
Bringing sous vide cooking into home kitchens has been a slower transition. Restaurant devices cost thousands of dollars. In 2009, the first sous vide cooker for home use debuted at $500. In 2012, the Nomiku was released at a slightly lower (but still expensive) price point of $359. In 2016, ChefSteps released the Joule (now owned by Breville) for $199. Every year since, price points have been decreasing as companies try to compete, making sous vide more accessible to the masses.1
Why Has Sous Vide Become Such a Popular technique?
As someone who loves to cook, I immediately fell in love with sous vide. There is a wide variety of recipes I like to prepare, so I don’t actually cook the same meats, poultry and seafood on a regular basis. Because of this, I don’t always get it just right.
It’s my shameful secret. Sometimes my medium-rare steak turns out medium. Sometimes the chicken is dry. Sous vide recipes make the entire process completely brainless, leaving no room for error.
It’s a game-changing technique, especially when it comes to more expensive cuts of meat like steak. Sous vide is so precise that you never need to worry about over or under-cooking; food is cooked perfectly every time!
It’s an excellent technique to use at dinner parties and during the holidays, when you want to relax and not worry about the food.
What Are The Best Foods To Sous Vide?
Here are 10 examples of what you can sous vide:
- Seared steak
- Poached chicken
- Shrimp cocktail
- Soft-boiled eggs
- Homemade pasteurized eggs (safe runny yolks!)
- Seared pork chops
- Glazed carrots
- Ricotta cheese
- Lemon curd
- Creme Brûlée
Sous Vide Equipment
You only need one piece of specialty equipment for sous vide cooking at home (a sous vide immersion blender); the rest is optional. You probably already have everything else you need! Here’s a basic rundown of what you’ll need to get started:
- Sous vide immersion circulator (Anova and Joule are good options)
- Saucepan, stockpot, or Dutch oven. You can also purchase a cambro container with a lid
- Freezer bags (I use these bags,) Another option is reusable, silicone bags.
- Kitchen tongs and a ladle for transferring food.
- Something to weigh down the bags (weights or magnet can be purchased, or you can use a binder clip and a spoon).
- A cast iron skillet (stainless steel or aluminum will also work), for searing meat at the end.
That’s it! You really don’t need to make the investment in the specialty options listed above unless you want dedicated tools for the job.
1. “A Brief History of Sous Vide” facts are sourced from Cook’s Illustrated’s Sous Vide For Everybody.