Sous vide, or low temperature precision cooking, is the process of cooking a food at an accurate temperature. This cooking method can do wonders for meat and vegetables but it can also be easily applied to speed up the process of making infusions.
Higher temperatures are used when making sous vide infusions, which means that the flavors are extracted much faster than they would be at room temperature, such as during traditional infusions. A sous vide infusion is also made in a sealed container such as a mason jar, glass bottle, or plastic bag. This prevents evaporation and flavor loss, keeping the flavors of the infusion concentrated. The temperature used can also be tightly controlled because of the high precision of sous vide machines, determining how much the liquid and flavoring agents are cooked from the heat. This greatly affects the final flavors of the infusion.
Despite having a lot of control over the temperature, using sous vide for infusions is much more forgiving than when cooking food. With a steak, a few degrees of variability can be the difference between a medium-rare steak or a medium one...or on the other end, a medium-rare steak and one that is unsafe to eat.
Variations in temperature does not hurt most sous vide infusions much unless you are aiming for a very, very specific flavor profile. This forgiveness helps open the door for low-cost methods of sous vide such as when done in a beer cooler or on a stove top. I've seen recipes using an unregulated crock pot or even a dishwasher. You can even just use a pot of water on the stove, heated to around 140°F to 170°F (60°C to 176°C) and monitored with a thermometer. While the results won't be as consistent from one batch the the next, it's a good place to get started if you don't have a sous vide setup.
For a more in depth overview, check out my Infusing Liquids and Food modernist technique article. Or you can get a much more detailed look at infusions, both sous vide, whipping siphon, and traditional, as well as more than 140 recipes in my Infusions book. I also have a best selling book on Sous Vide if you want to learn more about that awesome technique.
How to Make Sous Vide Infusions
The general process of making a sous vide infusion is very easy. The water bath is first preheated to the temperature you want to make the infusion at. This is usually around 131°F to 160°F (55°C to 71.1°C) for vinegar, water or alcohol and 149°F to 176°F (65°C to 80°C) for oils. The temperature used affects the flavor profile of the infusion as different flavors are extracted more quickly from the flavoring agents at different temperatures.
Next, place all of the flavoring agents into the liquid you are infusing and seal them in a sous vide bag, Mason jar, or heat-proof glass bottle.
Place the infusion in the water bath and let it cook until the flavor profile you are seeking is achieved. This is usually 1 to 4 hours for vinegar or alcohol and 3 to 12 hours for oil, depending on the temperature used and the flavor profile desired.
Once the infusion has been completed it should be chilled in an ice bath so the volatile aromatics will return to the liquid. Once chilled, strain the liquid and then it is ready to be used.
Using sous vide to make infusions was something that took me a while to get into, but once I did, I started to do it all the time! There's a lot of uses for infusions, from making flavored vinegar and oil to alcohols, syrups and specialty cocktails.
You can make nice versions of aged cocktails in a few hours with a Mason jar by taking advantage of the quick and easy sous vide process. It does not give the cocktail as much body as aging it for 6 weeks in a barrel, but it still is a satisfying drink.
The fruity cherry notes in this infusion complement the spicy rye and tone down its bite. The cinnamon and clove also contribute background flavors to round out the infusion. The resulting infusion can be enjoyed over ice or mixed into cocktails.
This liqueur is perfect when served with dessert or as an after dinner drink over ice. For even more apple flavor I add some Calvados or Apple Jack or for a fun take on a bourbon White Russian add a splash of milk or heavy cream.
Mulled wine is a traditional spiced wine, usually flavored with cinnamon, raisins, orange, and star anise. Using the sous vide infusion process results in a more flavorful, nuanced mulled wine by preventing flavor loss that normally occurs when wine is boiled.
Bitters add aromas to subtly tweak the flavors of cocktails. Classic aromatic bitters infusions have notes of cinnamon, clove, and cardamon while using several bittering agents to round out the flavors.
This infused syrup is made from sarsaparilla root with a backdrop of licorice and vanilla. This sous vide infusion recipe makes a thick, sweet syrup you can mix with club soda, use in cocktails or naturally ferment.
This infusion is packed with the tasty traditional Italian flavors of sun dried tomatoes, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and rosemary infused into a rich olive oil. The resulting bold infusion is awesome on bread or drizzled on grilled fish.
I like to infuse the flavor of pepperoni into canola oil so I can drizzle it on dishes whenever something needs a bump in flavor. Pepperoni infused oil is great on roasted vegetables or as a dip for bread.
Making sous vide raspberry infused vinegar is a great way to preserve fresh berries. I like to make a vinaigrette out of the resulting infusion to serve on spinach salad or as a sauce on white fish like cod or bass.
Rum punch is a strong, fruity drink that is best sipped on the beach! This infusion takes many of the common rum punch flavors and infuses them directly in the rum. I like to
serve the resulting infusion with a splash of orange juice and pineapple juice.
The light, fruity flavors of apples and pears complement the herbal notes from the gin, resulting in a rounded infusion full of flavors. The infused gin is great in martinis and holds up well to other complex cocktails.
Dried mushrooms are full of concentrated flavors. Infusing them into water creates a rich, flavorful broth that is a wonderful base for building savory dishes. You can alter the spices or herbs used in the infusion to further complement the final dish you are creating.
I like to mimic an Arnold Palmer by infusing vodka with the lemon and tea flavors, resulting in a flavorful addition to drinks on a hot day. I infuse the lemons first to fully extract their flavors, then add the tea near the end to minimize the bitterness that can be released.
This recipe uses guajillo and chipotle chiles to infuse the vodka with smokey and spicy flavors that complement most Bloody Mary mixes. This vodka is very spicy and made to
be mixed but it can be tweaked for a mellow, sipping style infusion.
The resulting vodka from this orange and vanilla sous vide infusion is citrusy with a deep vanilla backbone. It is awesome in a martini but my favorite is in a Creamsicle, a rich and creamy dessert cocktail.
Making your own infusion allows you to produce the exact flavors you are looking for. This peach brandy recipe infuses the sweetness and fruity flavors from ripe peaches into brandy. It also works well with other fruits or berries.
Bourbon holds up wonderfully to the strong flavor of espresso and this infusion results in a rich, bold bourbon that can be used in many different cocktails. For a fun variation you can also add a vanilla bean or cinnamon stick to the infusion.
Sous vide simple syrups are a breeze to make and allows me to keep it on hand for easy use! This cinnamon syrup infusion recipe has a spicy and sweet quality to it that I just love to add to drinks or carbonate it by itself.
This recipe focuses on the subtle flavors of the rosemary and sage by using a neutral base oil. With a sous vide machine, the infusion process is simple: combine the ingredients, heat, cool and store! What a great flavor enhancing finishing oil for fish dishes!
This recipe infuses the flavors of shallot, lemon, and tarragon into a vinegar and then makes it into a light, bright vinaigrette. This pairing adds several base layers of flavor to the fish. For a modernist twist, thicken it into a sauce with xanthan gum!
Infused vinegars are a great way to add subtle flavors to vinaigrettes and sauces. When making your own sous vide can compress the infusion process into a matter of hours instead of week or months. I like to use this refreshing raspberry vinaigrette on spinach salad or as a sauce on white fish.
This recipe uses guajillo and chipotle chiles to infuse the vodka with smokey and very spicy flavors that complement most Bloody Mary mixes. You can reduce the spiciness by only using 1 guajillo pepper.
Using sous vide infused vanilla-orange vodka makes this modernist cocktail extra flavorful and the half and half adds a richness that cannot be beat.
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