The Easy Explanation Of Sous Vide

What is sous vide

In my research about all things kitchen, I accidentally came across this funky looking “hand blender” that had a digital screen on top.

Indeed, I thought it was a new revolutionary type of smart blender!

And I thought that “Sous Vide” was the new company responsible for this marvelous new technology (my french is limited to “bonjour”, “merci” and “oui”).

Boy was I wrong!

So what exactly is sous vide?

Sous vide is french for “under vacuum”. It refers to where food in a vacuum sealed plastic bag is cooked in a water bath at lower temperatures for longer times with the waterbath’s temperature being precisely regulated.

In this article I will discuss:

A bit of sous vide history

Sous vide cooking has been around longer than you think.

Restaurants have been using this method of cooking for a while now.

In fact, it was as far back as 1799 that Benjamin Thompson described low-temperature cooking.

In the mid-1960s, American and French engineers developed methods for preparing food under pressure as a way of industrial food preservation.

They noticed that food showed improvements in texture and flavor when prepared under pressure.

Georges Pralus was a French chef that adopted this method in 1974 for the restaurant Troisgros in Roanne, France.

The scientist Bruno Goussault was another pioneer that researched the effects of temperature on different foods.

Both Pralus and Goussault worked independently on the development of sous vide in the 1970s.

They later became collaborators and Goussault finally pioneered the marriage of low-temperature cooking with vacuum sealing.

How does sous vide work?

Sous vide immersion cookers are basically hand blender-sized appliances that goes in upright into a pot or container filled with water.

What is sous vide
A Sous Vide Cooker

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It is clipped onto the side of the inner wall.

You set the temperature and it then heats up the water to the set temperature while circulating the water in the water bath to evenly distribute the heat.

The food you want to cook is placed in a vacuum sealed plastic bag in the water and also clipped onto the side of the inner wall.

The food is slowly heated up until it is  throughout at the same temperature as the water bath.

It is cooked at the set temperature until done.

The time taken to cook something depends on several factors including its thickness and shape, its starting temperature and the temperature of the water bath.

What is so special about sous vide?

The biggest selling point of sous vide, or low temperature long time (LTLT) cooking, as it’s also called, is the fact that it’s almost impossible to overcook food.

The water bath is heated by the sous vide cooker to the desired temperature and kept exactly there.

Food is heated right through to the core and kept there, cooking, until done.

Because the heat source doesn’t go higher than the desired cooking temperature, the food can’t go above that temperature as well.

When you compare that to conventional cooking methods you will notice that most of them have a heat source that is higher that the desired end temperature of the food.

That means you have to pay careful attention to the time and actual temperature of the food you are cooking so you don’t undercook or overcook it.

This is all because food gets cooked quicker on the outside than the inside and that is also the very reason you can burn food on the outside yet it is still undercooked on the inside.

When you compare these more conventional cooking methods to sous vide cooking, you will find that with sous vide cooking the food cooks evenly right through.

The concerns of sous vide cooking

There are basically 3 major concerns of sous vide cooking.

Cooking in plastic

Because you cook at lower temperatures, there is a much lower risk of plastic additives being released into the food.

Also, when you use the correct plastic like inert polyethyleen, you reduce the risk to almost zero because these plastics don’t contain additives like phthalate and BPA.

So just make sure you use plastic bags that are food-safe.

Plastic zip-sealing freezer bags are ideal.

Lower cooking temperatures

When you look at cooking temperatures, you get what is called a “temperature danger zone” that is from 40 ºF to 140 ºF (4.4 ºC and 60 ºC).

There is risk of foodborne illness when you cook in this temperature range for more than two hours due to the growth of pathogenic bacteria.

However, bacteria will be destroyed when you cook above this danger zone.

Most sous vide cookers will let you know when you cook in the danger zone.

Because of the precision temperature control of sous vide cookers you can much more constantly and safely keep the temperature above this temperature range.

Cooking food under vacuum

The risk here is associated with the growth of bacteria that does not need oxygen, called anaerobic bacteria.

The major one here is Clostridium botulinum which is responsible for the disease botulism.

With the cooking itself, the bacteria will be destroyed as discussed earlier.

The risk with vacuum sealed food lies more in the storage after cooking.

If you are not going to eat immediately, we recommend freezing it.

What can I cook using sous vide

This type of cooking works best for foods that require lower cooking temperatures like meat and fish.

You can, however cook a much wider variety of foods including but not limited to fruit, vegetables, fries and eggs.

A quick google search will yield heaps of sous vide recipes.

Sous vide limitations

The only major drawback of sous vide cooking is the absence of that nice outer crisp you get with searing or roasting.

It is, however, very easily remedied by quickly searing or roasting the cooked food under high temperatures.

Conclusion

If you are interested and a bit curious about these marvelous little cookers, check out our list of the 7 best selling sous vide cookers here!