For months, my sister and mom raved about their sous vide machines. "It's so easy," they'd say. "No extra dishes." With plenty of small appliances already relegated to my basement storage, I kept fending off my mom's offers to buy one as a present. Then one day, my brother-in-law showed us his blowtorch with a searing attachment which he uses to finish meats and fish cooked sous vide. My husband was hooked — and guess what arrived at our house?
In French, "sous vide" means "under a vacuum." In this technique, ingredients are seasoned and sealed in an airtight plastic bag (any old zip-top bag will do), then submerged in a warm bath circulating with air (almost like a bubbling brook) until the internal cooking temperature matches the temperature of the water.
This is not a slow cooker, though it does cook meats much more slowly than your stovetop or broiler. Nor is it "boil in a bag" cooking, since the water temperature is well below boiling point. (For reference, water's boiling point is 212°F, while the recommended internal temperature for pork is closer to 135°F.)
Can sous vide elevate your cooking game to "master chef" level? Well, not quite, but many high-end restaurants use the sous vide method in their kitchens.
- If you're like me and tend to overcook chicken to the point of making it stringy or cooking pork chops until they're tougher than leather, sous vide is a game-changer. I've made the plumpest pork loins, the tastiest steak and the most succulent salmon.
- If you love to cook but hate doing dishes. The sous vide appliance is electrical and does not use the stovetop. Just plug it in, immerse it in a pot or tub of water, and place your sealed bag of whatever you're cooking (even vegetables and eggs can be cooked sous vide). Since no food touches the pot or appliance, you can just wipe them dry and be done with it.
- You're OK with searing after cooking. Items cooked sous vide are uniformly cooked, which is great from a doneness perspective, but kind of blah from a mouthfeel and flavor perspective. Giving the meat a good sear to caramelize the juices is the perfect finishing touch. You don't have to use a blowtorch like my brother-in-law; a very hot pan with some oil will do just fine. You can even use the same pot you used for sous vide cooking — just drain the water, dry the pot, add some oil, heat it up and sizzle away.
My bottom line: Sous vide takes the guesswork out of cooking your meat to doneness without overcooking, and will make you feel like a bona fide chef!