We’ve all been there: You invite some friends over for a dinner party, then head to the supermarket and drop a sizable sum on hefty New York strip or a beautiful fillet of sockeye salmon -- dreaming of an epic feast featuring tender, perfectly cooked proteins. But then your guests show up, and it’s a whirl of chatter, wine pouring, and pre-dinner appetizers. As much as you want to jump in and welcome everyone, you’re totally distracted by the fear that dinner may wind up over- or undercooked. What if the steak turns out rubbery and gray, the salmon dry and tasteless? A similar problem shows up during hectic weekday family meals -- the careful timing required to get that steak or salmon just right can make investing in, and preparing, pricier cuts feel like a bad idea.
Sous vide cooking can really help here. Formerly a cooking technique practiced in the exclusive domain of high-end restaurant kitchens, this simple method -- in which food cooks gently with water -- has emerged as a favorite of home cooks who want to achieve predictably delicious, perfectly cooked food every night. Why is it such a game changer? When you cook food on a stove, heat travels from a burner to a pan, and then into your food. In an old-school oven, glowing elements heat the air around the food, cooking it. Trouble is, in both cases, the temperature is always hotter than we want our food to be (say 425 degrees to cook the meal when the desired internal temperature is 150 degrees). So if we take the food out too early or too late, it’ll wind up under- or, worse, overdone. But with sous vide, we cook food in a water bath that’s the exact temperature at which we want to our food. Because it never gets hotter than that ideal temperature, you can leave cooked food in the water and pluck it out whenever you’re ready to serve, without overcooking.
In case you were wondering, this isn't some slow-boiling technique. The food is cooked inside a plastic bag so that it retains all its natural juices and soaks up all your seasonings. It's actually quite delicious. Cooking in plastic bags also means that you can easily pre-portion your food the way you like. Technically, you can cook five bags at once and have a week of meals waiting in the fridge -- all you would have to do is open the bags and heat up the food as needed.
You don’t need any special equipment to get started. This Simple Sous Vide Salmon recipe requires nothing more than a pot, a thermometer, and a plastic bag (if you’ve got questions about cooking with plastics, read about how to do so safely in this article on our ChefSteps website). Then, once you’re a serious sous-vider, you can pick up an immersion circulator -- a gadget designed to heat and circulate the water and hold it at a consistent temperature -- and start making more elaborate recipes like lamb or a moist sausage and sage stuffing loaf.
But for now, go ahead and try that salmon. And let us know how it turns out in the comments.