Sous Vide Cooking at Home Is Easier Than You Think

Sous vide isn't just for restaurants and — surprisingly enough — it can make your home cooking so much simpler and even more flavorful.

Photo: Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Once the exclusive purview of fancy restaurant chefs, now sous vide cooking is everywhere. The specialty equipment can now be sourced for budget-friendly prices, making this style of cooking accessible to pretty much any home cook. But since sous vide is not exactly the type of technique you learned at your grandmother's knee; it can feel a bit intimidating. And for many, while it might not be an unfamiliar phrase, often spotted on menus and in magazines, it can feel a little strange to admit you don't really know what it means. Never fear, sous vide cooking is an easy technique to grasp, both intellectually and in practice.

What is sous vide cooking?

Sous vide is French for "under vacuum" and refers to how foods are prepped to undergo the cooking process. Once ingredients are secured in a protective vacuum-sealed bag, they are placed in a temperature-controlled water bath with a circulator.

How does sous vide cooking work?

The hot water in the container is circulated around the bags for a gentle cooking process that slowly brings the temperature of the ingredients up to, but not past, the temperature of the water. This makes it a much more precise cooking method than heating in an oven or on a stovetop.

MAKE: Sous Vide Salmon Cucumbers

Why should I try cooking sous vide?

This method of cooking is ideal for all sorts of applications. For proteins like beef and lamb, sous vide cooking can get your meat to its ideal temperature, and then hold it there for hours, ensuring that your meat is cooked edge-to-edge at that target temp, with no risk of overcooking. A quick sear for color on the exterior and you can slice and serve with no need to rest. This makes it amazing for both busy working people who want great home-cooked meals but do not have time to babysit meat, or for entertaining when you want to be with your guests and not standing over the entrée.

MAKE: Seared Sous Vide-Style Tri-Tip

If you want to make a lot of something delicate, like soft-boiled eggs, for a crowd, sous vide makes life easy and cooks confident. And if you need to do advanced meal prep, you can sous vide a week's worth of proteins and vegetables, which will just need a quick sear or sauté to warm them back up, and you can put dinner on the table every night with just minutes of effort. If you have forgotten to thaw that steak for dinner tonight, just seal it up and toss it into the water bath while it's still frozen, it will cook perfectly. Finally, there is no better way to reheat cooked meats without overcooking them, so if you have leftovers from a barbecue or gathering, you can seal them up and then reheat, even straight from frozen.

How do I cook sous vide?

While you will need a specialty piece of sous vide equipment to create the water bath, you do not need to have a special container or a vacuum sealer to cook this way. You can use the displacement method to seal your ingredients in regular zip-top bags. There are all kinds of YouTube videos that will show you how to do this, and any large container can be used with most sous-vide units, so a large pot or heat-safe food container like a Cambro work fine. Fill the container with water, and set up your circulator according to package directions, seal up your ingredients, and get cooking. There are plenty of machines currently available, I am partial to the Breville Joule which is easy to operate through an app on your phone and has lots of handy presets to guide you as you begin to explore.

MAKE: Sous Vide Salmon with Cucumbers

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