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What the Heck is Sous Vide (and How It’s Going to Change the Way You Cook)

Created June 14, 2019
You’re interested in sous vide cooking, but you have some questions. Don’t sweat—we have the answers.

So, you’re interested in sous vide cooking, but you’re not quite sure what a sous vide machine even does. You’ve heard people talking about it, you’ve read about it online and in magazines, and all that buzz has peaked your curiosity. If all the information out there on sous vide cooking has your head spinning, rest assured you’re not alone. Truthfully, even we were a little bit intimidated by the sous vide machine at first. However, once we discovered how helpful (and easy!) this set-and-forget kitchen gadget is, we were inspired by all the cooking opportunities it unlocked. Sous vide cooking might very well be the next big wave in meal prepping thanks to its easy freezer-to-water-bath abilities, so you can thank your curiosity for putting you ahead of the curve!

What is Sous Vide

To start off with, let’s answer the question, “What does a sous vide machine do?” by starting with a basic definition. Sous vide is a French term meaning “under vacuum,” and it refers to the method in which the food is cooked. When cooking something sous vide, the food is prepared in a vacuum-sealed bag in a bath of water that had been heated to a specific temperature.

How Does Sous Vide Work?

What makes heating bagged food in a pot of water so special? It doesn’t sound glamorous at first, but sous vide cooking is amazing because you have precise control over the temperature of your food. You set the machine (and thus, the water) to the exact temperature you want your food to be cooked to when it’s done. If you’re wondering why sous vide takes so long, it’s because the temperature of the water bath is low in comparison to other methods of cooking. However, this low-and-slow method is what gives sous vide-prepared foods their tender, juicy, fall-off-the-bone quality. It also allows for consistency and eliminates a lot of risk, which is why it’s so touted in the restaurant world.

Benefits of Sous Vide Cooking

Let’s say you’re preparing chicken. You set your machine to 165º, allow the chicken to cook for the appropriate amount of time and you end up with chicken that is 165º all the way through, every time. There’s never the risk of overcooking food. Because the water is heated to an exact temperature, the food is never going to reach a higher temperature, causing overcooking. Food will always be cooked exactly enough.

Another pro of sous vide is that even if you’re cooking foods of varying sizes, there’s still no risk of overcooking anything as there would be if you were roasting or frying. Let’s go back to our example of chicken. Say you are cooking chicken breasts, but the cuts of meat are all different sizes. Because the temperature of the water never exceeds the temperature that you want your chicken to ultimately be cooked to, none of the pieces will ever overcook. And because it’s vacuum-sealed, they won’t dry out either. One of the major advantages of sous vide is that you’re cooking in a vacuum, and as a result, you’re preserving every ounce of flavor and moisture that may have been lost with other methods of cooking.

Is Sous Vide Safe?

Absolutely. Arguably, it’s safer than a lot of other cooking techniques because you have so much control over the temperature. With traditional methods of cooking, let’s say pan-roasting for example, the outside of food is heated at a high heat in an effort to get the core up to the desired temperature. Let’s revisit the chicken one last time. If you place chicken thighs on a pan in the oven and crank it to 425º, your goal is to get the core of the chicken up to a safe temperature (for chicken, that’s 165º). By the time the middle of the thigh reaches 165º, the outside of the chicken will exceed the desired temperature, maybe even burning or drying out, depending on how long the middle of the chicken took to cook. With the water bath method, the water itself never goes above the core temperature, and that 165º temperature permeates the chicken thigh. By the time the middle of the chicken thigh is heated to the desired temperature, the outside is still at that desired temperature! Perfection, every time.

It’s also worth noting if you’re worried about safety that you invest in quality water bath containers. We here at Tablespoon are huge fans of Cambro™ containers, since they’re BPA-free and their plastic containers can be heated for extended periods of time without risk.

Ready to get started? Head over to our guide on how to cook sous vide.