For years the messaging around sous vide has been that it's not just for chefs. The number of immersion circulators on the market—not to mention the cookbooks—sent the message that sous vide had finally come to home kitchens. And that was true, technically. But from where we stood here in the trenches of American home cooking, sous vide remained mostly a technique for tech geeks, hobbyists, and hardcore carnivores.
That changed a few months ago. When we looked into recent shopping trends over this past summer, it became clear to us that the Joule, the immersion circulator (or “sous vide machine” if you don’t care to be technical about it) made by ChefSteps, was becoming this year’s Instant Pot—the must-have or must-gift cooking gadget of 2019. So it's pretty possible that you will find the Joule, or another immersion circulator, shoved into many of your friends' kitchen drawers. Even the friends who are, at best, casual cooks.
Is sous vide casual cooking? Can it come into play after work on a Wednesday? We posed that question to one of our favorite curious cooks, Tyler Kord, the chef/owner of No. 7 and No. 7 Sub. Unlike just about every other chef on the planet, Kord doesn’t cook sous vide at his restaurants; he is immune to many of the chef-y tricks that sous vide cooking can pull off. That made him a good candidate for our purposes. Could he play with the sous vide machine at home, paying attention not to the chef-y things but to the ways it might actually make home cooking easier?
Kord’s experiments did not start off well. But after a couple of weeks, he began to see how a sous vide machine could really work for the home cook. When we re-tested his recipes in Epi's test kitchen, we gleaned even more tips for cooks who want to sous vide at home. Below, we’ve consolidated all that learning into one big temperature-controlled list.
A Sous Vide Machine Is Just a Slow Cooker—But Better
When we talk about weeknight cooking, we often talk about it in two ways: fast and easy, as in, say, this 22-minute coconut chicken curry, or slow and hands-off, as in anything you cook in a slow cooker. Sous vide cooking falls in the latter category. An immersion circulator essentially turns any vessel into a slow cooker, with all of the conveniences that slow cookers boast—namely, the ability to start dinner and then walk away, knowing that there’s almost, almost, no risk of what’s inside overcooking.
But everything a slow cooker can do, a sous vide machine can do better.
For one thing, there’s the precision. Whereas slow cookers usually have only two cooking modes (“low” or “high”), immersion circulators dial in to specific temperatures. (Most circulators can even be dialed into half degrees, i.e. 163.5℉.) Cooking to specific temperatures allows more control and more customization, both of which ultimately lead to food that is not simply “tender” but rather cooked exactly the way you like it.
Epicurious Senior Editor Maggie Hoffman uses an immersion circulator at home at least once a week. “The beauty of sous vide, once you're comfortable, is figuring out your personal preferred temps and times,” she says. “Once you follow a few recipes, or look at some charts, you will dial in on what feels like ‘perfectly cooked’ for you. And then you can do it that way every time. 140℉ for three to four hours might be your favorite pork chop, or you might like them at 145℉ or 150℉. There is no one single way.” (Hoffman keeps a white board in her kitchen where she records her personal temp/time list for different ingredients—smart move, Hoffman!)
There are also fewer limits on how many different dishes you can cook at the same time. While slow cookers accommodate one big batch of something (a soup, a pile of braised short ribs, etc); sous vide cooking warms up bags of food, and you can put in as many bags as will fit comfortably into the container, as long as they're fully submerged. When you realize this, all sorts of possibilities open up. Can you cook a bag of thyme-seasoned chicken thighs at the same time as a bag of hoisin-sauced shiitake mushrooms, and then—boom!—have a protein and side ready to eat at the same time?
The answer to that is yes, if the temps and times more or less match up, keeping in mind that many ingredients can be held in the water bath for an extra hour to no ill effect. Kord did his researching, looking for ingredients that cook nicely at the same temperature and for the same amount of time. In his Hearty Sous Vide Rice Bowl, he sous-vides sliced shiitake mushrooms, ½-inch chunks of carrots, and par-cooked rice, then combines them into a single dish. But you could double the quantities of all of these things and eat them together one night, and dole them out separately throughout the other nights of the week.
Cooking multiple dishes at once works particularly well for vegetables (in Acheson’s book, he recommends cooking new potatoes, cipollini onions, cauliflower, Swiss chard stems, fennel, radishes, and carrots each at 185℉), so this can be a particularly good technique to employ for vegetable-focused eating, or for knocking out a week's worth of side dishes.Tyler Kord
Sous Vide Doesn’t Need a Sear
When we think about sous vide cooking, we often think about meat. Steak, mostly, but also leg of lamb, pork tenderloin—anything that benefits from being cooked to a specific temperature, and then quickly seared off.
Searing a sous vide-cooked steak is not hard work, exactly—as long as the exterior surface is properly dried off first—but over-eager smoke alarms have a way of making people hesitant. Besides, blast that silky fillet of salmon and you might compromise your perfectly-cooked fish. Which was the reason you used a sous vide circulator in the first place.
But what is sous vide-cooked meat if it isn’t seared?
One answer to that question: lunch meat. Kord’s paprika- (and oregano-) (and cardamom-) spiced pork loin has no crispy edges whatsoever, but it's perfect for slicing thin and putting between bread. That's not the only thing to do with unseared proteins: Thin, tender slices of pork can be nestled into a bowl of ramen; chicken can be pulled and put into a salad.
You can also cloak carefully-cooked but unseared meat in a sauce. Simply cooked sous vide salmon (or artic char, or trout) is better than any poached salmon you’ve ever made, and all it needs is this yogurt sauce, or a chermoula sauce—not a sear.Tyler Kord
Can You Overcook Your Meat With Sous Vide? Yes! You! Can!
A often-hawked selling point of sous vide cooking is that it’s simply impossible to overcook your meat. The logic is that the immersion circulator is keeping the water at a specific temperature, so whatever is inside it can’t possibly be cooked above that temperature. But when we were testing Kord’s sous vide pork loin, we noticed that while it doesn't get hotter than the bath, you can cook your meat too long. When circulated for longer than eight hours, the pork loin's texture became tacky, bordering on tough. At eight hours, though, the meat was rosy, tender, and perfect. The correct length of time for cooking, is—just like in your oven—determined by the temperature you're using and the texture you're going for. So don’t believe the rumors: sous vide cooking is not magic. Immersion circulators are a tool that exposes your food to heat just like any other cooking method. And when that heat goes on for the wrong duration, the food may suffer.
There’s Something Nobody Tells You About Sous Vide Eggs
Are sous vide poached eggs perfectly poached? Yes. Is it really cool to crack an egg and have a poached egg slip out? Yup. Is it a brunch party game-changer to be able to poach eggs in their shells ahead of time, ready to be quickly dipped in warm water for a few minutes and then served over English muffins? Absolutely. But here’s what some people don’t tell you about the famous sous vide poached eggs: you have to rinse them. The perfect poached egg you get via sous vide has uncooked ovalbumin all over it. It’s really not sexy—the ovalbumin looks like uncooked egg white (which it sort of is), and if you don’t rinse it off your friends will definitely accuse you of trying to poison them. So before you assemble your Benedict, give those eggs a bath.Tyler Kord
Originally Appeared on Epicurious