It take years of training and experience for a chef to be able to cook the perfect medium-rare steak, a juicy piece of chicken, or a perfectly cooked fish fillet. That’s why for most home cooks, it can be extremely difficult to gauge exactly when something is cooked thoroughly. More often, our cooking inexperience leaves us with unevenly or overly cooked meats and fish rather than good meals. And that’s not a very tasty dinner.
However, by using a scientific method known as sous vide, even the worse cook can control the cooking process better and make delectable dishes.
The process itself involves slowly bringing food up to the perfect temperature and holding it there for a long period of time. Typically the easiest way to do this is by vacuum-sealing food and cooking it in a water bath. This allows a person to monitor and perfectly control the temperature of the food. And because water is a much better conductor of heat, the circulation ensures that the colder water immediately surrounding each part of the food is moved away and replaced with hot water instead (a.k.a convection), making it virtually impossible for a person to under cook or overcook their food.
So let’s give you an example. Have you ever noticed that when you cook a steak, there’s always a gray band around the outside of the slices? (If you cook yours well done, it’s all gray, and we can’t help with that).
But that gray band is essentially overcooked meat surrounding your lovely medium rare. So by using the sous vide method or a sous vide cooker, you can hold your steak at 130 degrees for hours, and it will stay a lovely medium rare the entire time (however, don’t hold it too long because the protein fibers could break down, giving the steak a mushy texture). And the extended cooking time activates enzymes that make the steak more tender.
Now let’s switch gears for a minute to poultry. We’ve all been taught to cook chicken breasts to 165 degrees to kill any bacteria, and this is important. Unfortunately, unless you hit that number on the nose, your chicken will be mummified. However, with sous vide, you can safely cook it to a lower temperature and retain some actual moisture.
How’s that? See, to reach safe level of bacteria, you need a combination of time and temperature. The USDA guidelines say holding chicken at 165 degrees for less than 10 seconds is sufficient. However, you accomplish the same level of safety by holding it at 155 degrees for 45 seconds, or 140 degrees for 25 minutes. (Of course, chicken cooked to 140 degrees is inedible, but at least it’s safe).
So you can cook chicken to 150-155 degrees if you hold it at that temperature long enough. With a sous vide cooker, you can hold it there for an hour or more if needed. And at that temperature, it’s much more tender and juicy.
Until recently, the only sous vide cookers were restaurant-grade and prohibitively expensive. However, there are several machines now designed for home use. One that we’ve personally tested which works quite well is the ANOVA Sous Vide Cooker. Rather than being a huge appliance, it’s a heater/circulator that can attach to a pot, large or small. We’ve tested it with a 6-quart stock pot, and it’s done the job extremely well. It’s cheaper than the full-blown models.
And just in case you do so happen to run out and purchased a sous vide cooker, here’s a handy guide to cooking different foods sous vide.
Disclaimer: Chesapeake Fine Food Group does holds no affiliation with ANOVA. It’s simply a product we’ve used and liked.