Sous Vide Cooking

We discovered sous vide cooking a few years ago while watching Top Chef. Sous vide means “under vacuum” in French. When we grill a piece of meat, our goal is to get the center of the meat to the temperature we desire. For a medium rare steak for example, the center will be about 137 F when it is done. The problem is that the outside of the steak gets much hotter than this before the center reaches our desired temperature, which means it will have dried out somewhat, and not be as tender as the center. The sous vide techique eliminates this issue. It also has the benefits that we can eat our food as rare as we desire without having to worry about foodborne illness, and not having to worry about having any skill whatsover. 

The sous vide technique involves placing our raw cut of meat into a plastic bag, and then vacuum sealing it. The reason we vacuum seal it is three-fold. First, since we will be submering the bag under water, we don’t want to let water in (or our food out). Second, much like a canning jar, we don’t want to allow bacteria into the cooking volume. Third, we want to ensure that the bag is in contact with the food to ensure good heat transfer between the outside of the bag and the food we are cooking. Once the food is in the bag, we submerge it into a bath of water whose temperatue we control very tightly. The temperature really needs to be controlled very carefully, as for some foods, a couple of degrees, or even a fraction of a degree can make a big difference in the end product. We will typically cook a steak at 137 F for several hours. Generally speaking, the degree to which food is cooked is strictly a function of the temperature to which it is heated, not the length of time it is kept at temperature. Once a cut of meat reaches steady state temperature, keeping it there for a longer amount of time will serve to tenderize the meat. We have cooked some meats as long as 72 hours! The FDA publishes charts that show how long a food must be kept at a certain temperature in order to ensure that all bacteria has been destroyed. This allows food to be cooked rare, but still be safe for consumption. For example, with this technique, you can eat a hamburger as rare as you like without fear of ecoli. You just need to make sure you cook it long enough at whatever temperature you choose. 

There are several models of sous vide cookers available on the market. We initially had a countertop model that included a cooking vessel. While we found this to be a perfectly good device, we subsequently purchased an immersion type cooker. This type is more compact, and is clamped to the edge of whatever cooking vessel you choose, which can be a pot, Coleman cooler, or sink. This is handy if you would like to take your sous vide cooker with when vacationing at a rental condo or somewhere you would like to cook using the sous vide technique.

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