How to Sous Vide Without the Fancy Machine
This method basically involves heating food just enough so that it reaches the exact "doneness" you desire, with no risk of over- or under- cooking. Tools like immersion circulators and Sous Vide Supreme baths do make the process faster and easier, but they are not a requirement. All you need is a digital thermometer and some Ziploc plastic bags, and you're good to go. Really!
The key to cooking food successfully with the stove-top method is holding the water at a steady temperature long enough to cook the food. To do this, you'll need to adjust the stove's burner, as well as the placement of your pot on top if it. Keep in mind that you're constantly losing heat through the sides of the pot and from the evaporation of water, so there's no getting around the fact that your temperature will fluctuate a bit. Stick with it -- if you keep your water within a degree or two, you're doing great.
Let's start cooking sous vide!
STEP 1: PREPARE A WATER BATH.
Fill your pot with water. Leave enough room at the top so that the water won't overflow once you add food.
STEP 2: MOUNT A THERMOMETER ON THE SIDE OF THE POT (OPTIONAL).
Use a skewer or a heavy-duty clip clamp to mount the digital thermometer to the side of the pot, or you can just stick the thermometer in the water now and again to check its temperature. If you really want to set it and forget it, we recommend the clamp.
STEP 3: HEAT WATER.
Turn your burner to medium-low, and heat the water until it reaches the desired cooking temperature. Use ChefSteps' super-simple Time and Temperature Guide to choose a well-tested time and temperature combination that works for the food you're cooking and the doneness you desire. Adjust the burner as necessary to maintain a steady cooking temp.
A word of warning: This can take a bit of time to get right. Plan accordingly. Stirring the water frequently can help speed things along.
STEP 4: PLACE FOOD IN A ZIPLOC BAG.
Place your steak or other food in a gallon freezer Ziploc bag. Add some olive oil, butter, and herbs if you want.
Place the bag into the water with the top open, so that the air escapes the bag. Hang the top of the bag over the edge of the pot and clip into place with a binder clip or clothespin.
STEP 5: COOK.
Once you put the food into the pot, you'll need to bring the water back to the desired temperature. This can take some time, especially if you have a lot of water or a large, cold piece of food.
Once the temperature is back up, start your timer. For a medium-rare 1-inch-thick steak, cook at 136 degrees F for 1 to 3 hours. For more guidance, refer to our Sous Vide Time and Temperature Guide.
STEP 6: SEAR (OPTIONAL).
We like to sear our steaks (and chicken and pork and fish) right before serving. Heat up a large pan until it's super hot, then remove the steak from the bag with tongs and sear for a few seconds on each side. Add butter or aromatics to the pan and baste as desired.
Note: You'll sometimes see recipes that suggest searing before you cook sous vide. Both methods work great and you can do either or both. When you sear before, the flavors that developed during searing will cook together with the food, adding a some nice flavor to the bag. Searing before also means you can get your pan dirty and then have time to clean it way before dinner. Searing after (our preferred method) helps develop a nice clean crust right before serving, and releases all those wonderful it's-almost-dinnertime aromas as well. The bottom line is: They both work. It's really a personal preference thing.
STEP 7: SEASON AND SERVE!
Sprinkle your food with some salt and pepper, slice, and serve! If you're making steak, how 'bout serving it up with some buttery mashed potatoes? Yum, can we come over?