This French cooking method uses a hot water bath to cook food at a specific temperature, producing tender and flavorful results.

By Kirsten Nunez
June 16, 2021
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breville joule sous vide steak
Credit: Courtesy of Williams Sonoma

When you hear "sous vide," what comes to mind? If you're like most of us, you probably imagine professional chefs at high-end restaurants dishing out fancy meals with even fancier ingredients. Yet, despite its French name, sous vide (pronounced "soo-veed") is actually a simple technique. In fact, it's so simple that the cooking method has become popular among home cooks thanks to its ability to easily cook food to a perfect temperature.

Learning how to cook sous vide is one of the most useful kitchen skills you can develop. Ahead, check out the basics of sous vide and find our which foods are best for this cooking method.

What Is Sous Vide?

Sous vide is a French technique that cooks vacuum-sealed food in a water bath that's heated to a specific temperature. The food is cooked slowly, often between one to seven hours, but some foods may be cooked up to 48 hours or more. The exact temperature also depends on the food, but it generally ranges between 149°F to 203°F degrees. This method traps the food's natural juices without overcooking it, resulting in enhanced flavor, smell, tenderness, and texture.

Moreover, sous vide is more consistent and reliable than other cooking methods, says Grant Crilly, executive director of ChefSteps/Breville. Consider this: Your standard oven uses air to cook food. However, air is inefficient at transferring heat, so it can produce inconsistent results. On the other hand, "water is 23 times more efficient than air at transferring heat, [which] virtually eliminates temperature variance," explains Crilly. This means food is cooked perfectly every time.

Sous Vide Tools and Equipment

According to Crilly, you can cook sous vide with tools you probably have at home: a digital thermometer, pot of water, and food in a plastic bag (and it can be a regular resealable plastic bag, no expensive vacuum sealer is necessary).

Want to upgrade your sous vide game? Swap the thermometer for an immersion circulator, also known as a precision cooker, like the Joule Sous Vide by Chep Steps ($249.95, williams-sonoma.com). It heats and circulates the water at your desired temperature and time, which you select on the tool's display or the Joule Sous Vide app. More basic is the Anova Precision Cooker Nano ($99.99, target.com), whcih takes longer to heat the water but is suitable for sous vide beginners.

How to Cook Sous Vide

Although the exact process will vary depending on the food, cooking sous vide involves a standard set of steps. Here's a play-by-play of sous vide cooking, according to Crilly. First, peel, truss, and/or season the food as you normally would. Next, place the food in a plastic pouch or bag. The most commonly used packaging is a standard heavy-duty freezer resealable bag. Add it to a pot of water. Now, clip your immersion circulator to the side of the pot. Choose the temperature and time on the display or app.

When the time is up, remove the food from the plastic bag. Depending on the food, you can finish by searing it on the grill or in a pan to add crispiness, heat, and even more flavor. Remember, it's already cooked on the inside, so just sear it until it develops your desired color and appearance.

The Best Foods to Cook Sous Vide

According to Crilly, sous vide is ideal for expensive proteins that you might worry about messing up (read: overcooking), like a great steak. Since the "perfect steak" is all about personal preference, sous vide is excellent for cooking steak precisely how you like it. Similarly, salmon is another good option because, according to Crilly, overcooking this fish destroys its anti-inflammatory omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. "[But] with sous vide, many of the delicate nutritional and flavor compounds are preserved all the way to the plate," he says.

If you're looking for new ways to make chicken for dinner, try sous vide. Cooking chicken breast might seem simple, but it's easy to overcook with sautéing, baking, or grilling. Using sous vide makes it super juicy and tender, helping you avoid dry and tough meat. Eggs are another popular choice because of the range of textures that can be achieved with sous vide, says Crilly.

And don't forget about the vegetables! Crunchy root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, and beets are perfect for sous vide. The method enhances the color and sweetness of the vegetables while retaining their natural moisture.

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