How to Sous Vide – A Comprehensive Guide

All set to try and practice the sous vide cooking technique? We assure you are never going to regret this decision. Scroll down to learn how to sous vide the perfect way. Also, find answers to ‘What makes the sous vide method worth trying?’ ‘What are the ideal cooking conditions?’ ‘Are there any equipment required?’ and other FAQs? 

Plus, to help you start away right after grasping the method, we have thrown in the most popular sous vide recipes. So, let’s begin your journey to mastering this incredible cooking method! 

What is Sous Vide? And What Makes it so Special? 

The term “sous vide” is a French phrase that means “under vacuum”. Originally, when someone used the term “sous vide cooking,” it was considered as cooking in a vacuum-sealed bag. However, the application of this method has altered now. Anything that is cooked in a temperature-controlled bath, with or without vacuum sealing, is called sous vide cooking. 

There are many exclusive benefits associated with sous vide cooking. The most prominent among them is superior control. No matter whether you are cooking small cuts (steaks or chops) or large cuts (pork shoulders) of meat, this method requires no active monitoring to perform the cooking task perfectly. 

It saves you from the hassle of keeping an eye on the temperature, checking for doneness or caring about inconsistent cooking. The sous vide meat is perfectly tender, moist, has a rich texture and is loaded with flavors. Moreover, you can also plan for cooking vegetables like carrots, potatoes, cauliflower, etc. 

Essentials for Sous Vide Cooking 

Not much is required for cooking with the sous vide method. Buying the following equipment is enough to make cooking simpler and efficient: 

Immersion Circulator 

An immersion circulator maintains a temperature-controlled water bath for cooking. The circulator draws out water from the container, heats it to the required temperature and pours it back into the tub. Buy an immersion circulator with single-degree precision to ensure accurate temperature. 

Cambro Container 

Though sous vide cooking can be done in a large pot, we strongly recommended buying a small or large Cambro container to have the best experience. Since plastic is a better insulator than steel, the Cambro container can retain heat much better than a pot. 

Besides, the large containers can be a much-needed accessory when you are hosting a large group of friends. So, buy them and enjoy cooking multiple steaks or chicken breasts simultaneously. 

Cast-Iron Skillet 

While not directly involved in the sous vide method, a cast iron skillet will give meat the right texture and crust. Just pop the meat on a hot cast-iron skillet for some time, and your food is ready to serve and enjoy. 

Ziploc Freezer Bags 

Zipper-lock bags are necessary for holding food and added ingredients together. Do not use thinner bags, as their seal is not strong enough to withstand long cooking times. Also, if you have a vacuum sealer, use it to seal the meat in a food-grade bag. For most of the sous vide recipes, ziploc freezer bags can work fine. 

Other Things 

Binder clips along with a spoon can be used to keep the food bag submerged. Adding some ping pong balls in the water bath will help in insulating the water and preventing high evaporation. When cooking in multiple bags simultaneously, you can use a pot-lid organizer to separate them from each other. 

How to Sous Vide – Let’s Get Started! 

Step 1: Prepare the Meat 

Just like the meat is seasoned before cooking through traditional methods, you will also require adding some ingredients while cooking with the sous vide technique. Always rub kosher salt generously on the protein. This will make the meat tender and juicy. 

You can also try adding your favorite herbs and spices like grounded black pepper, chili powder, etc. Paste like harissa paste also works wonders for meat. One benefit of the sous vide method is that it keeps all the ingredients intact with the meat so that they have abundant time to penetrate completely, no matter how thick the cut is. 

Step 2: Pop the Seasoned Meat in Bag 

You can either transfer the meat in a food-grade bag and seal using a vacuum sealer or use a zip lock freezer bag. Before sealing meat in the bag, add springs of aromatic herbs like rosemary, thyme or dried chiles. Place the aromatic springs in close contact with the meat. 

You can also try patting butter or oil over the meat, but do not use too much of them as the liquid may affect sealing. 

Step 3: Keep the Seal as Strong as Possible 

If you are using a vacuum sealer, seal the bag twice or thrice so that if one seal degrades, the other can keep the food away from the water bath. For a freezer bag, press it to get most of the air out. Next, seal the bag while leaving a small opening to let the leftover air escape out. 

Take a pot and fill it with water. Hold the bag from the seal side and submerge it slowly in water. Go down until the water is about to reach the seal. Now, close the seal completely. The pressure of water has pulled the remaining air out of the bag. 

Step 4: Decide Temperature, Time & Start Cooking! 

Fill the pot you have decided for sous vide or the Cambro container with water. Set the immersion circulator following the device’s instructions. The optimum time and temperature depend on what you’re cooking. 

Find out the suitable time and temperature for cooking your selected dish, and set it in the immersion circulator. Some latest devices even come with proprietary apps that allow the user to simply type in their chosen dish and know the suitable time and temperature within seconds. 

Start heating the water and wait until it’s at the desired temperature. Once done, shift the bagged food in it. If using zipper bags, try using binder clips to secure the sealed part with one side of the container.  

Step 5: Done Cooking? Time to Sear the Food! 

After the food has been cooked for the chosen time period, take the bag out of the water bath and let it rest for 15 to 20 minutes. This will allow the protein to reach the final temperature while absorbing as many flavors as possible. 

Though some meat pieces like salmon fillet or chicken breast taste best directly out of the bag, there are some cuts like steak or pork belly that demand an extra effort to lock the ideal flavors. For this, you will need to pull the tendered meat out of the bag and dry it using a paper towel. Heat a cast-iron skillet until hot, toss the meat on it and sear each side for a minute or until a crispy, crackling crust is formed. 

Step 6: Serve or Store 

Voila! Dinner is ready to serve. You can also plan to cook and store the sous vide meat for days or even for months. Just plunge the bagged food in an ice water bath and cool it down. If you want to store the meat for a short period, transfer the bag to the fridge. For extended storage, place the bag in a refrigerator. 

So, what else do you need? Cook a bunch of chicken breasts, steaks or whatever. Store, take it out of the refrigerator, cook and sear whenever required. 

Recommended Time and Temperature to Sous Vide Different Meats

If you are new to sous vide cooking and are unable to find any lead for the right time and temperature, this section is designed to help you with starting up. However, there is no hard and fast rule, you can alter the timing or temperature limits as per your choice.   

Recommended Time & Temperature for Beef 

Rare Steak 

Temperature: 129°F or 54°C

Minimum cooking time: 1 hour 

Maximum cooking time: 2 hours 

Thick Cuts 

Temperature: 185°F or 85°C

Minimum cooking time: 8 hours 

Maximum cooking time: 16 hours 

Medium-Rare Roast 

Temperature: 140°F or 60°C

Minimum cooking time: 6 hours 

Maximum cooking time: 14 hours

Recommended Time and Temperature for Pork 

Thick Cuts 

Temperature: 185°F or 85°C

Minimum cooking time: 8 hours 

Maximum cooking time: 16 hours

Medium-Rare Chops 

Temperature: 144°F or 62°C

Minimum cooking time: 1 hour 

Maximum cooking time: 3 hours

Recommended Time and Temperature for Chicken

Light Meat 

Temperature: 149°F or 65°C

Minimum cooking time: 1 hour 

Maximum cooking time: 3 hours

Dark Meat 

Temperature: 167°F or 75°C

Minimum cooking time: 45 minutes  

Maximum cooking time: 5 hours

Recommended Time and Temperature for Fish

Temperature: 122°F or 50°C

Minimum cooking time: 40 minutes  

Maximum cooking time: 1 hour 

*Minimum cooking time is the least time required to cook the meat. 

*Maximum cooking time is the end limit. Cooking after it will affect the texture of meat. 

Done with Learning to Sous Vide? Try Out These Simple Recipes! 

1. Sous Vide Steaks 

Ingredients 

  • Boneless steak pieces (16 ounces, 1 1/2 – 2 inches pieces) 
  • Oil (1 tablespoon) 
  • Kosher salt (1 teaspoon) 
  • Grounded black pepper (1/4 teaspoon) 
  • Garlic powder (1/4 teaspoon) 
  • Onion powder (1/4 teaspoon) 
  • Rosemary springs (3)
  • Thyme springs (3) 
  1. Set the immersion circulator in a Cambro container/pot and fill water as per the manufacturer’s instructions. 
  2. Mix all the spices and rub them on all sides of the meat. 
  3. Place the meat in the bag, lightly roll the herb springs with your hands and add them to the bag. 
  4. Seal the bag using a vacuum sealer or plunging in water (method mentioned above).
  5. Start heating the water to 130°F for medium-rare or to 140°F for well done. 
  6. Now, add the bagged food to the water bath and cook for 2 1/2 hours. 
  7. Take the bag out of the water and leave it for 15 minutes. 
  8. Pull the steak out of the bag, pat dry, sprinkle some salt and pepper, and let it rest in the air for a few minutes. 
  9. Heat the skillet on high flame, drizzle oil and sear all 4 sides of the meat for 1-2 minutes.  
  10. Freeze the leftover meat in a sealed bag. Cook for an hour at 100°F before searing. Serve again.

2. Sweet and Spicy Pork Belly 

Ingredients 

  • Boneless pork belly without skin (2 pounds)
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • Honey (1/4 cup)
  • Soy sauce (1/4 cup)
  • Sambal (3 tablespoons)
  • Scallions (6)
  1. Set the immersion circulator and fill water in a large pot/Cambro container to the manufacturer’s recommended level. 
  2. Cut scallions into 1” pieces and carve the pork belly into 2” wide pieces. Add the meat to the bag along with other ingredients except the oil. 
  3. Seal the bag using a vacuum sealer or by pouring in water (method mentioned above). 
  4. Raise the water bath temperature to 165°F and toss the bag in the container. 
  5. Let it cook for around 8 to 16 hours. Remove and leave the bagged food for 15 minutes. 
  6. Take the pork belly out of the bag, pour the leftover mixture into a bowl. You can use it as a dip later. Pat dry the meat using paper towels. 
  7. Heat a skillet over a high flame and sear the pork belly from each side until browned. 
  8. Freeze the leftover meat in a sealed bag. Cook for an hour at 100°F before searing. Serve again. 

3. Salmon with Lemon and Dill 

Ingredients 

  • Salmon fillet boneless without skin (1 pound)
  • Olive oil (1 tablespoon)
  • Kosher salt (to taste)
  • Red pepper flakes (½ teaspoon) 
  • Grated lemon zest (1 teaspoon)
  • Chopped dill pickle (1 tablespoon) 
  1. Set the sous vide machine in the container or large pot. Pour water to a sufficient level but leave some space to add fish without having the water spill out. 
  2. Rub the fish with salt. Next, mix lemon zest, dill and pepper flakes in a bowl. Season fish with this mixture. 
  3. Transfer the fish to the bag and add olive oil to it. Seal the bag with the help of a vacuum sealer or pull the air out by submerging the bag in a water bath (method mentioned earlier). 
  4. Heat the water bath to 125°F, add the bag in it and continue cooking for 1 1/2 hours. 
  5. Remove the salmon from the bag and serve immediately. 
  6. Store the leftover fish in a freezer and cook at 100°F for 1 hour before serving the next time. 

How to Sous Vide – Frequently Asked Questions 

Are there any Downsides of the Sous Vide Cooking Method? 

When it comes to cooking, no, we don’t think there are any tradeoffs. However, a few people complain about these points: 

  • The cooking time is generally longer than other methods. For example, cooking a pork shoulder on a smoker or oven will take around 6 to 8 hours. But the sous vide method can take almost a day to cook. Similarly, reheating your leftover steak in the oven or skillet will take 20-30 minutes. In contrast, it will take at least an hour to sous vide. Nonetheless, the taste of sous vide cooked meat is worth the wait. 
  • If you like a thick, crusty layer on the meat, the sous vide method may not give you the one. But the sous vide zealots love to have the thin crust from the skillet. 
  • Some people find arranging all equipment for sous vide like bags, containers, immersion circulator, binder clips, etc., confusing. Nevertheless, once you get the gist of this cooking style, you will never plan on going back to the traditional cooking methods. 

What is the Right Time to Season the Meat? 

Right before cooking. There’s no need to season the meat or marinate it hours before cooking with a sous vide method. Since the cooking time is already extended, the flavors will get to infuse perfectly. However, if you rub it before hours, the long seasoning time may turn the meat tough and affect its texture. 

When Should I Add Butter or Oil to the Bag? 

When you are cooking lean meat cuts like fish or chicken. As they contain less fat, using butter or olive oil will help add the extra flavor. 

In contrast, if you are cooking lamb chops or steak, the fat is already sufficient in them. So, adding extra fat will amount to nothing but diluting flavors. 

What Happens if I Leave Meat Cooking for Longer Time? 

Nothing much. The sous vide method is quite flexible with cooking time and temperature. Generally, there are no health concerns related to sous vide cooking for extended periods. The only difference you may notice is in the texture of meat. With that said, following the time limits is ideal to get the best results. 

Is Adding Aromatics to the Sous Vide Bag a Good Idea? 

Yes, definitely it is. But remember that to sous vide means getting the concentrated flavors. So, if you don’t want the herb flavors to intensify, start by adding a small amount of them. You can also add the aromatic springs while searing meat. 

Will Pre-Searing the Meat Make a Difference

No, searing the meat, adding in a sous vide bag, and then searing it again does not add any prominent changes to the meat. The only difference it may make is overcooking the meat at the outer edges. Besides, it is simpler to cook the raw meat and sear it later rather than frying it again and again. 

Wrapping Up 

That’s all you must know about the sous vide cooking method. Decide a dish, grab the equipment and start cooking the most delicious, tender and flavorful meat right away.