You don’t hear much about sous vide these days, but there was a time when it was on every high-end restaurant menu in the country. The term has been on our radar since we watched Martha learn how to do it from none other than chef (and all-around genius!) Nathan Myrhvold of “Modernist Cuisine” fame. While sous vide may have fallen out of favor as a restaurant trend, it has never been more accessible for home cooks and is worth trying for the precision and consistency made possible by the technique.
The high-tech nature of sous vide might seem intimidating, but it’s actually quite simple once you get the basics down. French for “under vacuum,” sous vide calls for poaching food in airtight plastic bags in a temperature-controlled water bath. The technique ensures optimum doneness and is especially useful for proteins that are prone to overcooking, from eggs and chicken to fish and steak. Instead of keeping a watchful eye on your food, you can set and forget it, almost like that other underrated kitchen appliance, the slow cooker! No meat thermometers, touch tests, or cutting and checking the interior -- just perfect, even cooking every time. Another benefit is that sous vide locks in moisture and keeps the food in contact with whatever flavorings you add to the bag the whole time it’s cooking.
When it comes to equipment, there are two options: a water oven, which is a machine with a tub that you fill with water, or an immersion circulator, which is our preference (we like this one from Anova or the Joule from ChefSteps), especially if you have limited counter space. You insert the wand-like device in a tub of water -- either a pot or plastic container you have on hand -- and it heats up and circulates the water. You also need zipper-lock freezer bags or bags made specifically for sous vide. While using a vacuum sealer is ideal -- after all, that's where the technique gets its name! -- good-quality freezer bags work well for most applications.
Watch our Kitchen Conundrums expert Thomas Joseph explain the basics of sous vide cooking and demonstrate the technique on fish, eggs, and steak: