Once mainly the tool of chefs and caterers, sous vide cooking has come out of the restaurant and into the home kitchen.
Sous vide — which means under vacuum and is pronounced sue-veed — uses a low-temperature water bath to cook food sealed in an air-free bag, maintaining flavor and nutrition. It also allows you to cook without adding fat or oil and gives food at a level of doneness without overcooking.
Local chef Dan Wu began playing around with sous vide at home after investing in an Anova immersion circulator.
“I love it, it’s just a lot of fun, and super easy,” Wu said. “If you can put it in a Ziploc bag, you can cook it sous vide.”
The method works a little like a sophisticated Crock-Pot. Put what you want to cook in a heavy duty plastic bag, squeeze the air out either with a vacuum sealer or by immersing an unsealed bag (like a Ziploc) in the water to force the air out.
Then put the immersion circulator in a large pan or tank of water, set it to the appropriate temperature and once it’s hot, insert your bag or bags of food. There also are all-in-one tank-type sous vide cookers available from a variety of manufacturers. Some cooks also like to get a chef’s torch to sear meat after it has been cooked this way to give it a good crust.
Recipes include the temperature to set the water and the time to cook, which can be much longer than a typical stove-top or oven cooking.
“You’re always cooking at a much lower temperature,” Wu said. “It’s like the opposite of a microwave. You’re not blasting it on high heat.”
That low temperature and long cooking time means that tougher fibers in meat break down, making even lesser cuts of meat ultra tender, Wu said.
“This is the ultimate slow cooking,” he said. “I’ve done meat, steak, pork belly and salmon. And duck confit. ... I did the duck for 10 to 12 hours, and it takes the work out of it. It’s low maintenance. Once you get it in the water, you don’t have to worry about it.”
Nancy Grayson, wife of former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, first came across to sous vide cooking in Boston, where her husband was director of Harvard’s Institute of Politics for three years
One of her friends was experimenting with a sous vide circulator “and was raving about it,” she said. Once companies began making versions for the home cook a few years ago, she got a Nomiku circulator in 2014 and couldn’t wait to try it out.
“It’s kind of a science-y approach. It’s pretty straight forward,” she said. Now that they have moved back to Kentucky (she is director of strategic initiatives for the Northern Kentucky Education Council and he is president and CEO of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce), she shares photos and recipes with friends on a Facebook page they have set up dedicated to sous vide cooking.
Her favorite things to cook so far: Salmon, followed closely by eggs.
“I don’t want to overcook salmon,” Grayson said. “Sous vide makes it easy to maintain the temperature. And it allows me to keep it moist. I just put dill, olive oil and salt and pepper in the bag.”
Eggs are very popular items to sous vide, it turns out. They can be cooked directly in the water without a bag and depending on the temperature cooks can get different consistencies, from hard-boiled to gelatinous.
“Everyone talks about your egg temperature,” Grayson said. Hers? “62 degrees Celsius.”
After about a hour and a half, the yolk takes on a different texture from the egg white, and gets pudding like, she said. “The white sets enough that it holds it in, then oozes out when you break it, which is a good thing when I’m making avocado toast. …. I put that on soups, everything.”
What does she want to try next? Vegetables.
“Our oldest daughter is a vegetarian and this year we want to sous vide tomatoes, make marinara,” she said. “And I want to try carrots, which apparently come out tender and delicious. You can also made soft cheese.”
On the plus side for sous vide: It’s good for parties or large groups of people because you can set the cooker and know your food won’t overcook. And everything will be ready at the same time. And you can cook a wide variety of things, from meat to vegetables and fruit.
On the minus side: Cooking at low temps can take hours and hours. Even eggs can take hours, depending on what you’re going for, enthusiasts say. Meats can take days. But most cooks say it’s very tender when its finally ready.
Needless to say, sous vide takes a little advance work to have food ready at the right time.
“It’s not at 4 o’clock in the afternoon that you’re going to say ‘what are we going to sous vide tonight,’ so it does require some planning. But it’s not difficult,” said Alison Courtney Kerr of Lexington, another enthusiast who has her own bibliotherapy business. A fan of the Serious Eats blog where she first learned about sous vide cooking, she got her husband an Anova in January 2015.
“We both use it. We don’t use it every day, of course, but it’s fun to have,” she said. “We’ve done lamb chops, steaks once ... radishes.”
“We put them in the plastic sleeves with butter, and salt and pepper,” she said. “It was great way to eat radishes; it really mellowed them out.”
The lamb chops also worked well, she said. “I put them in the bath for at least a couple of hours, and when it reached certain temp, we seared them to get a good crust,” she said. “It was the most tender meat I’ve ever eaten.”
What does she want to try next? “One thing I haven’t tried yet but want to is scrambled eggs. Apparently you can get really tender scrambled eggs,” she said. “You whip up your raw eggs, put them in the plastic bag, seal it, then put it water bath. And every once in a while you break up the curds that form.”
Elderflower-Poached Beach Brulée
The Complete SousVide Supreme Cookbook
4 ripe but firm peaches, halved and stoned
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons elderflower or pear cordial
3 tablespoons liquid honey
1/2 cup thick Greek-style yogurt
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 teaspoon Cointreau (optional)
3 tablespoons soft light brown sugar
Crushed amaretti cookies, to serve
Fill and preheat the water oven to 185 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the halved peaches in a large zip seal cooking pouch with the water and elderflower cordial along with 2 tablespoons of the honey. Remove as much air as possible using the Archimedes principle (partially immerse the open bag in the water to push out the air.) Seal and submerge for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the Greek yogurt in a bowl with the remaining honey, orange zest and Cointreau, if using. Beat together until smooth and thick.
Gently remove the peaches from the pouch, reserving the poaching juices, then arrange the cut-side up in a shallow baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with the brown sugar and either use a chef’s torch to lightly caramelize the sugar or alternatively place under a broiler preheated to high for 1 to 2 minutes until lightly caramelized.
Arrange the peaches in serving dishes, then top each one with a dollop of yogurt and scatter with crushed amaretti cookies. Serve with a small pitcher of the poaching juices on the side, if you like.