Maybe you’ve heard “sous vide” spoken of in restaurants and cooking shows and you want to know what it is. Maybe you know exactly what it is, but you aren’t yet sure what to do about it. Maybe you know it’s good for meat, but aren’t sure if you can sous vide vegetables. Whatever brought you here, this article will answer your questions about sous vide cooking, and let you know what a sous vide machine could do for you and your food.
What’s Sous Vide?
Sous vide cooking is the practice of sealing food in airtight containers or vacuum-sealed bags, and then cooking that food in temperature-controlled water. “Sous vide” means “under vacuum” in French, and this cooking method is popular with chefs and restaurants for several reasons. Foods can be sealed in with sauces and marinades, then cooked very carefully by professional chefs, but you too can sous vide your food, in your very own home. In fact, you probably should.
Why Sous Vide?
There are many reasons why chefs value sous vide cooking, the biggest one being because there’s no contact with high heat, flames, steam, smoke, or heated metal surfaces. In fact, the water in a sous vide machine doesn’t even come to a boil, so the risk of burning or overcooking is drastically reduced. The sous vide machine warms water to a constant temperature with a heated metal coil, with no fluctuations between extreme high or low temperatures so that cooking is done in a gradual, controlled way.
Cooking in Restaurants
Sous vide is especially valuable for cuts of meat like pork, steak, chicken breast, or fish cutlet, because while it takes longer to cook with this method, it’s also very difficult to overcook an expensive piece of meat as well. Sous vide cooking takes the guesswork out of cooking these meats, without having to cut them open to investigate if they’re still raw inside. If you set the sous vide machine at 135 °F and drop in a steak, the steak will never go past that temperature and will be cooked throughout to the specified degree. With constantly circulating water, there will be no hot or cool spots to disrupt even cooking. Basically, your dinner will be getting a high-quality hot tub treatment.
Meat cooked in a sous vide bath won’t look perfectly appetizing on the outside (it will appear rather gray), so chefs will then sear all the surfaces of the meat to give it that extra flavor and visual appeal. This will crisp and caramelize the edges without cooking the interior any further.
Cooking at Home
This is why restaurants value sous vide cooking, so their customers who order a thick ribeye steak won’t get an over or undercooked meal, and so their chefs don’t have to spend too much time cooking and monitoring each piece of meat that is ordered. It used to be a practice done exclusively in restaurants, but with at-home sous vide machines like the Joule by ChefSteps now affordable, you can utilize this technology in your home kitchen. So why should you?
The Value of a Personal Sous Vide Machine
If you’re having a family-wide Christmas dinner party, or you’re inviting your friends to dinner and their spouses, you can already see the value of not having to cook 12 pork chops or chicken breasts one by one for your guests. However, the sous vide machine is also ideal for meal-prepping. Use a vacuum sealer to preserve your protein in your freezer, and cook it thoroughly each night of the week so you’re not having microwave fare just because you’re busy. You also won’t let good food go to waste because now you can properly store it, nor will your good food be over or undercooked when you’re ready to enjoy it.
Don’t eat meat? A sous vide machine can be used to prepare eggs to perfection too, and potatoes, and asparagus. In fact, you do a lot if you’re looking to sous vide vegetables.
Sous Vide Vegetables
Though temperature control isn’t usually a worry with vegetables, there’s still a unique value to cooking vegetables sous vide. The sous vide recipes for veggies are simple enough; a little olive oil and kosher salt in a vacuum bag, nothing too fancy.
The appeal for using this precision cooker on vegetables has to do with the cell walls of the plant and the glue that binds them together. These cells contain sugars, starches, and water held in place by strong cell wells. A raw vegetable has all its strength, and is therefore harder for your teeth to bite through. Overcooked vegetables have too little of that strength, making them unpleasantly mushy. Not only does a sous vide machine guard against overcooking vegetables as much as it does for meat, the vacuum-sealed veggies aren’t being leeched of their colors or nutrients by a big, boiling pot of water. They come out of the bag with all the flavor they went in with—bright and beautiful every time.
How Heat Changes Vegetables
While boiling vegetables leeches them of nutrients, roasting them depletes them of water, sometimes causing an unpleasant leathery texture. In the vacuum-sealed sous vide bags neither will occur. But what’s more, at about 140 °F, the cells of vegetables start to change; they begin to break open and break down. The longer heat is applied, the softer the vegetable becomes.
Most recipes call for a water bath temperature of around 180-185 °F for veggies like asparagus or bok choy, though for starchier vegetables like potatoes and carrots, the temperature can rise comfortably into the 190s according to texture preference.
Why It Matters
Chef Alyn Williams gave an interview about sous vide vegetables and mentioned a particularly lackluster meal given to his vegetarian wife when they were on vacation, in a three Michelin-starred New York City restaurant no less. “There was a boiled turnip, a boiled cauliflower, a boiled piece of fennel and a burned potato gratin on the plate. And that was it. There was no sauce, no garnish, no nothing—just boiled vegetables.”
The experience caused him to pay close attention to the way he treated vegetables in a vegetarian menu, not as sides next to the meat item but as main ingredients themselves. Working to preserve flavor, Chef Williams will even go so far as to vacuum seal carrots in with a tablespoon of carrot juice to create what he calls “a kind of supercharged vegetable.” Far from cooking taking away from the vegetables, utilizing sous vide cooking with an immersion circulator can actually improve veggies, making them worthy of a restaurant-quality presentation. Once you have vegetables prepared with this kind of care, you may never be willing to accept sadly boiled and steamed veggies ever again, especially in your own home where you’re the one giving and taking the order.
Which Vegetables Are Best Served Sous Vide?
Vegetables prepared sous vide are excellent complements to meat dishes, and even more invaluable as the main dish for a vegetarian or vegan meal.
Cooking root vegetables sous vide is particularly appealing, because they’re often the easiest veggies to overcook while boiling. Carrots especially, but beets, daikon, rutabagas, and Jerusalem artichokes can all be flavored and stored away until it’s time to perfectly soften them in your sous vide machine. Sous vide root vegetables and get them to the perfect consistency without losing flavor and nutrients. Glazed carrots, pickled daikon, golden beets, you name it.
Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and bok choy fall under this category, but maybe the best cruciferous vegetable to sous vide is cauliflower for its diversity of use. Cauliflower’s appearance and texture make it a wonderful replacement for the carbs in mashed potatoes or pizza crusts, but just chopping cauliflower up doesn’t always do the trick. It needs the right consistency, and adding heat can bring that change. Instead of the grainy chopped cauliflower you get after it’s been boiled, you could end up with a cauliflower puree after using the sous vide technique—with the right flavors added in during vacuum-sealing, you might fool anyone into thinking they’re eating real mashed potatoes.
Of course, if you’re not keeping a low-carb diet, you could just serve actual mashed potatoes, made from potatoes that have been cooked sous vide. The texture is of superior quality, not just because it hasn’t been influenced by high heat or boiling, but because the consistent heat of the sous vide cooking technique is applied all the way through. That means no untouched lumps in the middle of the potato and no uneven chunks in your final product. Other starchy vegetables that can be prepared sous vide are pumpkins, summer and winter squash, sweet potatoes, and corn.
Stems, Herbs, and Others
There are many miscellaneous vegetables and herbs that can be given the sous vide treatment. Seal them into a plastic bag with some brown butter sauce, together or individually, and vegetables like asparagus and green beans come out delectable, with the perfect dressing. Fennel, leeks, onions, eggplants: get creative with your sous vide machine, and invent your own signature dynamite vegetable risotto.
Sous Vide Desserts
It doesn’t stop at dinner. You can even sous vide creme brûlée for dessert, or make flan, or prepare bananas foster, or pineapple upside-down cake. If you like to cook it’s a fun machine to play around with, and if you don’t like to cook or don’t have the time, a sous vide machine is like a new and improved crock pot: set it and forget it for a little while, then come back in to a thoroughly cooked meal and/or dessert.
Living Sous Vide Loca
Go crazy with this new tool for your home kitchen and get the most out of any food you prepare with it, whether that’s precisely cooked meat or deliciously preserved veggies. It’s not only a good investment to enhance the quality of your food, it’s also a time- and money-saver: meal prep so you can eat well quickly all week long, and never throw out good food because it’s gone bad in the fridge or it sat on the stove so long that it just isn’t palatable anymore. With sous vide technology, you can value your food, your time, and yourself all the better.