What Is Sous Vide?

“What’s that noise? Is there water running somewhere?”

My husband and I were sitting in the living room reading after dinner last night when he suddenly sat upright on the couch.

“It’s the sous vide,” I told him, not looking up from the latest issue of Bon Appetit.

 “The sous what?”

 “You know, the thing that cooks stuff at a super low temperature. I think that duck you ordered the last time we were out was sous vide. Or is it sous vided? Is it a noun, an adjective, or a verb?”

“How am I supposed to know what part of speech it is when I don’t even fully understand what IT is?” Scott got up and wandered into the kitchen to investigate and I followed, mentally deciding that “it” therefore must be a noun. “Where is it?”

“It’s that white, sex toy-ish thing sticking out of the pot on the counter.” I motioned to the Joule sous vide sticking up from inside a stock pot where glass Mason jars of steel cut oats lay submerged until breakfast time next morning.

“Huh. Interesting.” And back to the couch he went.

While Scott may not fit the hipster-y stereotype of a traditional foodie, he does have a well-schooled palate. He doesn’t shy away from trying new things, loves lamb prepared every possible way, and will dive headfirst into a plate of good paté if I don’t hold him back. So I was surprised to discover that he didn’t know what a sous vide was. And if he didn’t know, then I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of my readers also don’t know, so here we are.

What it is.

Sous vide is a cooking method in which food is placed in an airtight container and submerged in water that’s maintained at a constant, low cooking temperature. This enables it to be cooked “low and slow,” preserving juices and texture while infusing it with the flavors of any herbs or seasonings also included in the bag. Cooking under low heat with the food separated from the heating element also makes it easy to avoid overcooking, which is one reason it’s popular at restaurants. Meats, for example, can be pre-cooked, then kept warm and seared to order, which makes it easier for food to arrive at the table on time.

 

Sounds difficult.

Science-y, yes. But with the right equipment, sous vide cooking couldn’t be easier. That’s because it’s scientifically impossible for the food to reach a temperature higher than the water around it. Take a look at your instant read thermometer. It will tell you that your chicken is done once it reaches 165 F all the way through. So if you set your water temperature at 165, there’s no way your chicken will overcook no matter how long you leave it in there. The only question is how long it will take for the center of the chicken to reach that temperature. Fortunately, we have Google for that.

 

What do you use it for?

I use mine mostly for eggs and fish because both can overcook so easily. But I’ve also made overnight oats, scrumptiously sweet carrots, and a fabulous, perfect medium rare, bone-in rib eye.

And I can do this at home?

Absolutely! You can use a kitchen thermometer, a pot, a stove and some plastic wrap, OR, if you’d rather not pull up a chair and watch the pot for potentially hours on end, you can pick up a sous vide device which will heat the water and babysit the food for you. I have the Joule by Chef Steps and I absolutely LOVE it. I set the water temperature and cook time using its iPhone app, which also contains a searchable library of recipes. I think my favorite part of the app is that I can search it by food – let’s say “soft cooked eggs” — and then click directly through the recipe to set the water temperature while I gather my ingredients. Most recipes require ingredients I already have on hand like olive oil, herbs, salt, and lemon juice.

 

Okay, so do I need one?

File this one under luxury kitchen gadgets that make amazing gifts. I got along fine without it, but now that I have one, I use it at least three times a week. At around $200, the Joule isn’t cheap. But it works great and would be a great Prime day splurge, or an awesome ask on a holiday or birthday. If you love to cook and enjoy experimenting, then GO FOR IT.

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