If you’ve ever wondered why you can’t seem to replicate the perfect medium rare steak from a top restaurant, it might be because you’ve never adopted sous vide cooking.
We’re not judging if you’re not familiar with sous vide, even if you consider yourself a seasoned at-home chef. That’s because until recently, you could only find the cooking technique and tools to master it in the kitchens of fine restaurants. But with the emergence of more commercial technology, it’s attainable in your own home.
The sous vide method, which translates to “under vacuum,” focuses on cooking meats, vegetables and eggs in a sealed bag that are placed in a temperature-controlled water bath.
If done correctly, steaks come out perfectly tender. It’s why so many top chefs swear by the method.
And since the process eliminates certain variables that could ruin the flavor and texture of your proteins, the results are consistent almost every time. Seriously, perfect medium rare steaks without much effort. It’s a science.
If you’re on the fence about investing in sous vide equipment, need some extra convincing about why the methodology is so great or just want to learn more, then read ahead.
We’re giving you the complete low-down on sous vide, from its rise to fame, to insider tips and tricks, and of course, the best products to buy.
Sous vide in its current form was first adopted in 1974 by Georges Pralus for the Restaurant Troisgros in France. With sous vide cooking, his signature fois grae not only kept its original appearance, but it didn’t lose flavor and the texture was better. The cooking method exploded after scientist Bruno Goussault began sharing his wealth of sous vide knowledge. At the same time as Pralus, Goussault was working on a study that showed how immersion cooking not only made the meat more tender, but also extended the shelf life of frozen beef shoulder by 60 days.
Since then, Goussault has become the pioneer of sous vide teaching, training chefs at the Ritz-Carlton and Daniel in New York City (to name a few) not only how to use the tools of the trade, but also showing them the science behind the preparation.
Simply put, sous vide gives you better tasting proteins for a fraction of the effort.
The simple tenets of sous vide is that you take a sealed bag (think Ziploc or vacuum sealed) with your meats inside of it. You then either place it into a pot of water with a sous vide attachment or into a water oven to cook at the desired temperature.
Some new iterations of the device have made this process even easier, by allowing you to choose your protein and cooking preference through an app, letting the machine do the rest for you. Afterwards, if you want that signature crust on your protein, you just sear it quickly in a cast iron pan or pop it in the broiler. It’s a fairly simple and hands-off process that can reap big rewards.
Like we mentioned, by using a temperature-controlled environment, heat is conducted evenly throughout your food, which cooks your proteins at the same rate. With other forms of cooking, like on a stovetop or oven, your food is more vulnerable to overcooking on the outside with only a small portion in the center that is actually cooked properly. Conventional methods of cooking can also lead to dry, chewy textures due to overcooking. Traditionally cooked steaks also can lose up to 40% of their volume due to drying out. Meats cooked through precision cooking, however, retain their shape.
But what really enhances the flavor of the meat during sous vide cooking is that instead of relying on additional oils, meats heat up in their own juices. This ensures that proteins end up flavorful and tender.
And because sous vide is all about precision of temperature and time, you likely will get similar results every time.
There are two main sous vide operators that people can use.
One is a water oven, which is a contained device (about the size of a microwave) that heats water to the desired temperature.
The other is a sous vide attachment that clips onto a pot and then circulates the hot water.
It’s important to note that some water ovens or countertop devices do not circulate the water. Because of that, water ovens pose an issue for two reasons: They take up a chunk of space in your kitchen and stagnant water could lead to inconsistencies in the food’s texture. In comparison to sous vide attachments, countertop devices also tend to cost more.
So if you’re looking for a small kitchen-friendly device with a reasonable price tag, we recommend the ones that attach. These tend to be perfect for beginners as a handful of options on the market integrate smart technology.
Anova’s Bluetooth Sous Vide Precision Cooker ($118.48; amazon.com) is a No. 1 Best Seller on Amazon and can function manually or through its app, which gives you access to over 1,000 recipes. Other honorable mentions that have over a 4 star rating on Amazon and glowing customer reviews include Instant Pot’s Sous Vide Immersion Circulator ($130; amazon.com) and Kitchen Gizmo’s Simplified Sous Vide Immersion Circulator ($114.99; amazon.com)
After you have a handle on your device, it’s time to experiment with new and innovative recipes.
In the cookbook department, we turn to “Under Pressure” ($51.50; amazon.com) by veteran chef Thomas Keller. Keller, whose restaurants have amassed multiple James Beard Awards and Michelin stars, and who was the 1997 recipient of the Best Chef in America, has created an anthology of mouth-watering sous vide recipes. The book also showcases never-before-published recipes from Keller’s award-winning restaurants.
Once you have the right recipes and the best technology at your disposal, you’ll wonder why you ever spent money on a $60 steak dinner in the first place.
Note: The prices above reflect the listed retailer’s price on the date this article was published.