WTF Sous-Vide Cooking? 5 Reasons You're Missing Out By Not Using It

by Jake Reese

Sous-vide is a culinary technique that has changed the way people around the world cook and eat.

Despite its use industrially for over 50 years, home cooks have just caught on in the past decade thanks to its safety, its easy use and the satisfying food it produces.

The term sous-vide is French for “under vacuum.” It consists of placing a product into a food-grade pouch, drawing out the air, sealing, and heating it.

Removing the air produces a number of desirable qualities, including improving the product's shelf life, but the real magic comes from being able to cook the food right in the bag.

Once the pouch is sealed, it can then be placed in a water bath, which is held at a constant temperature by a small heater known as an immersion circulator.

After spending as little as 30 minutes to as long as 72 hours in water ranging from 130 degrees Fahrenheit to 190 degrees Fahrenheit (depending on the size and consistency of the food item), the product is then removed from the bath and pouch, and it can be eaten right away, stored or prepared in any number of ways.

So, why go through all this wizardry? You're about to find out.

1. Taste

Vacuum cooking food allows heat to be transferred more efficiently from the water to the food than air.

As French chemist Hervé This, the “Father of Molecular Gastronomy,” explained to me, this means you need far less heat to dissolve the tough collagen tissue of meat and fish.

“With conventional cooking, you lose about 25 percent of the mass of the meat. Shrinking of meat is reduced with low temperature sous-vide cooking, so more tasty amino acids are kept inside.”

The result? Far more tender and better tasting meat (and vegetables) and less waste.

2. Control

Low temperature sous-vide cooking also has the benefit of precise temperature control.

After entering the water bath, the temperature of the food slowly becomes identical to the water's temperature, making it easy to reproduce your favorite dish every time and virtually impossible to overcook.

3. Safety

There are three issues: the technique, the pouch and the food.

The safety of the method itself lies in its activity or lack there of.

You can literally leave your vacuumed food item circulating for hours with no or little repercussions because the water is kept at a constant temperature far below boiling. Try that with a convection oven. (Read: please don't.)

As mentioned, the sous-vide technique has been used for over 50 years to extend the shelf life of food products.

When sous-vide pouches containing pasteurized ingredients are held at below 38 degrees Fahrenheit, they remain safe and edible for three to four weeks, which is much longer than food stored regularly in a refrigerator.

And for those concerned about cooking in what is essentially a plastic bag, no study (and there have been several) has demonstrated a risk of using food-grade or even zipper storage bags with low temperature sous-vide cooking.

4. Versatility

Whether it's red meat, poultry, dairy, vegetables or even seafood, all can benefit from gentle, low-temperature sous-vide cooking.

Tough cuts of meat, which were traditionally ignored or braised to make them edible, can be made tender and cooked to medium or medium-rare without sacrificing flavor.

5. Panache

Let's be honest: It's also just plain cool. Just pop your food in a pouch, turn your circulator on, and enjoy not having to deal with greasy pans, burnt food or smelly clothes anymore.

Finally, we have a cooking technique for the 21st century done the smart way.

And when your steak looks like this, that special someone may just be that much more likely to return the favor.