We talk about sous-vide cooking pretty often at Sur La Table. We swap sous-vide recipes, either for something we cooked and loved or for something we stumbled upon and can’t wait to try for ourselves. We return from Sansaire test-drives with tales of fork-tender short ribs or impossibly custardy egg yolks. But with all of that enthusiasm buzzing around the office, it can be pretty easy to lose sight of the fact that many home cooks either haven’t heard of sous vide or don’t quite understand what it is.
In this series of posts, I’m going to try to demystify sous-vide cooking by breaking down the steps of the process, sharing a few tips and tricks, and exploring some easy recipes. But that’s for later—first, let’s talk about what sous vide is.
In sous-vide cooking, ingredients are sealed in a plastic bag, then placed in a heated, circulating water bath. As the current moves around the sealed package, it heats the food to the same temperature as the surrounding water, often over the course of many hours or even days. After cooking, the food can be plated immediately, stored for later or, in the case of meat, finished with a quick sear. This allows cooks to safely achieve consistent, excellent results even when cooking large batches or preparing meals well in advance.
Translated from French, sous vide simply means “under vacuum.” As names go, it’s a little misleading. Sure, part of the technique involves vacuum sealing, but that’s simply a step in the process rather than the point of it. Calling the whole thing “sous vide” is sort of like calling baseball “strike.”
Painful sports metaphor aside, what its name won’t tell you is that sous vide is all about precision, control and confidence. Because the temperature is accurate to within a fraction of a degree, even novices can cook meat to the perfect internal temperature or tackle otherwise tricky recipes (hollandaise, we’re looking at you).
But for me, where sous vide really shines is entertaining. I know that those steaks I tossed in at 130˚F are going to come out a perfect medium rare, even if (when) I get distracted while mixing up drinks for my guests. I also know that I’ll be able to put a hot, delicious dish on the table with very little hands-on time, freeing me up to enjoy that Manhattan or chat without worrying about what’s coming out of the oven, when. With sous-vide cooking at your disposal, the most difficult part of hosting a dinner party is coming up with the music playlist.
Check out Sous Vide 102: Addressing Some Frequently Asked Questions here.
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