I like sous vide, a style of low-temperature cooking, for its versatility. I can plan meals ahead, have everything ready to go and just do a final sear. It is a safe method for the novice cook to experiment with and it is great for dinner parties when you have a busy life.
With sous vide, foods are vacuum-sealed in plastic bags and then placed in temperature-controlled water. Sous vide means “under vacuum” in French.
Experimenting with sous-vide cooking gives you control over texture. Tougher cuts of meats done sous vide become succulent; more tender cuts cook evenly to exactly the temperature you want. Chicken, seafood, salmon and vegetables all have their place in the water bath.
To be a sous-vide maven, you need the right equipment. I use an immersion circulator that clips onto the side of a deep pot. You can even use a Tupperware bin when you need lots of space, provided your circulator is powerful enough. The circulator heats the water to the temperature you want and keeps it circulating until you turn it off. I like the flexibility it gives me, as opposed to a sous-vide machine, which is a more confined space. I like the Sansaire immersion circulator: It is slim, easy to use and store.
To seal the food, use either a vacuum sealer or BPA-free freezer bags. (There are many arguments about using plastic and that is your personal choice.) Wet food can be challenging in a vacuum sealer, but using heavy-duty freezer bags works perfectly. Half seal the bag, then lower it into the pot until the water is just below the closure. The water displaces the air, so you can finish closing the bag and be left with a perfect vacuum. Clip the top edges to your pot/vessel with bulldog clips or clothespins. Make sure the water covers the ingredients.
The rule of thumb is the temperature you want your protein to be is the temperature you set on your circulator; it is the length of time that varies. So if you want rare meat, sous vide at 125 F (52 C). If you want it more well-done, pick 145 F (63 C).
Longer cooking times change the texture of the meat, so 48 hours at 145 F for short ribs will give you a rib that looks medium-rare but, because of the slow breakdown of the tissues, will be juicy and tasty. For good cuts of steak, a couple of hours at that temperature will leave the texture intact. The inside will be a uniform colour, not graying at the edges.
Always season before cooking. Herbs, spices, garlic, ginger, salt and pepper will infuse the proteins. Cool the finished ingredients in their bags quickly in ice water and refrigerate as is for up to 5 days. Finish by searing over high heat or grilling. Juices in the bag can be turned into sauces by reduction. Strain first.
A favourite of mine is sous-vide shrimp. Cooked at 125 F for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp, with the addition of some salt and herbs, they always have the perfect texture. Ideal for a shrimp cocktail, or a quick sear with some herbs, garlic and lemon.
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