People often talk about how to use sous vide to make fancy, gourmet food but they forget that most of the time people are using sous vide to cook meals around their busy schedules. Trying to make great food, around work, school, and activities can be intimidating but sous vide can definitely make parts of it easier.
In this article I want to focus on the stages of sous vide and the types of sous vide foods available. Learning about these should allow you to fit sous vide in around your hectic life.
There are three distinct stages of sous vide cooking.
The first is the Pre-Bath Stage, which is all the prep work before you actually cook the food using sous vide. This takes you from seasoning and trimming the meat up through sealing it in the sous vide bag.
The second stage is the Cooking Stage, when the food is actually in the sous vide water bath cooking.
The third and final stage is the Finishing Stage, which is when the food is seared, sides are made, and everything is plated then served.
The thing many people forget about these stages is that they don't have to be done right after each other. There are two ways to separate the stages and both can be useful for busy cooks.
The first is to add time between the Pre-Bath Stage and the Cooking Stage. This usually means getting the food prepped ahead of time and then storing it in the refrigerator or freezer until you are ready to cook it.
The second is by adding time between the Cooking Stage and the Finishing Stage. This usually entails chilling the cooked food in an ice-bath then storing it in the refrigerator or freezer until you are ready to reheat and use it.
By manipulating the 3 stages and the 2 gaps between them, you can make everyday food preparation much easier.
Types of Sous Vide Foods
For everyday cooking, there are 4 types of sous vide foods that work well. They are Day-Of Meats, Multi-Day Meats, Fast Cookers, and Cook, Chill, and Hold foods. Each of these types of food can fit around your schedule, and manipulating the stages will give you even greater benefits.
Day-Of Meats are meats that are generally cooked during a typical work or errand day. This ideally means foods that are cooked for 8 to 12 hours, or however long you are usually away from home. The food is usually placed in the sous vide water bath before you leave the house, it cooks throughout the day, and then when you return you just have to make the sides, pull the finished sous vide meat out, sear it, and then serve it.
Many people prefer to separate the Pre-Bath Stage from the Cooking Stage because they do not want to be cooking in the morning. Sous vide makes it easy to trim, season and bag the meat the night before, or even several days before and store it in the refrigerator. Then in the morning, you simply pull the sous vide bag out of the fridge, set the water bath temperature, and put the bag in the water bath. You don't have to worry about it until you get back home.
Some people even prep a bunch of meals and freeze them, making it even easier to make meals during the week. I dive more deeply into this in the next lesson.
Best Sous Vide Day-Of Meats
Most people are out of the house for 8 to 12 hours, which means certain foods work best as Day-Of Meats. Below are some that fit into the time range and can be considered for sous vide.
If you have a WiFi enabled device there is a final manipulation that can be helpful to turn quicker cooking cuts of meat into Day-Of meals. For instance, a tenderloin might only cook for two hours. You can fill your water bath with 1/2 ice and 1/2 water and place the tenderloin in there when you leave. The ice will keep the food cold for several hours.
A few hours before you want to eat you can turn on your circulator using the WiFi capability. It will finish melting the ice, bring the water up to temperature, and cook the food.
I will dive much more deeply into this process in a future lesson.
The long cooking times required in sous vide are often thought of as a negative, but around a busy schedule they can be a big help. If your food cooks for longer than 12 hours, you can usually time it to be ready when you normally eat dinner. For instance, to have food ready at dinner time on Wednesday:
A 24 hour cook can be started when you get home on Tuesday
A 36 hour cook can be started before you leave Tuesday morning
A 48 hour cook can be started when you get home on Monday
Similar to the Day-Of Meats, it's easy to season and bag the meat ahead of time so you only have to throw the sous vide bags into the water bath when you are ready.
Best Sous Vide Multi-Day Meats
There are lots of types of food that have multi-day cook times, and here's a few of my favorites. Remember that a 2 to 3 day cook will generally be ready anytime in that range, which gives you a lot of leeway.
Fast Cookers are generally the first type of sous vide food people prepare. They are simply things that cook really fast, usually within an hour or two.
If you are trying to eat after a busy day, you will usually want to season and bag your food before you get home, that way you can toss the sous vide bag into the water bath as soon as you step in the house. Bagging it the day before, or several days before, allows you to get it started cooking right away.
By the time you get settled, change out of your work clothes, and make the rest of the meal, the sous vide Fast Cooker can already have been cooking for an hour or two. Because of this, I only consider food a Fast Cooker if it takes less than two hours.
Best Fast Cooker Sous Vide Foods
Here are some of my favorite foods that take less than two hours to cook. Many are based on smaller thicknesses so for specific cook times, you can check out the Sous Vide Thickness Ruler.
Sous Vide Fish
Almost any kind of fish or shellfish is cooked for less than an hour, usually in 30 minutes or so.
Sous Vide Beef
There are several types of beef you can cook in under two hours as long as you don't want to pasteurize the food. Most tender steaks such as tenderloin, ribeye, or hanger steaks that are under 1.5" thick (40mm) cook in under two hours.
Sous Vide Pork
Smaller cuts of pork such as thinner pork chops or sliced pork loin can be sous vided in under two hours.
Almost any type of precooked food that is under 1.5" thick (40mm) can be reheated in a water bath in under an hour or two.
Cook, Chill, and Hold
The final type of food are those that are cooked, chilled, and then held in the refrigerator or freezer until they are ready to be reheated and used. There's a lot that can go into this process and we covered it in much more depth in our How to Sous Vide in Bulk lesson.
This article is by me, Jason Logsdon. I'm an adventurous home cook and professional blogger who loves to try new things, especially when it comes to cooking. I've explored everything from sous vide and whipping siphons to pressure cookers and blow torches; created foams, gels and spheres; made barrel aged cocktails and brewed beer. I have also written 10 cookbooks on modernist cooking and sous vide and I run the AmazingFoodMadeEasy.com website.
Affiliate Disclaimer: Some links on this site might be affiliate links that if used to purchased products I might receive money. I like money but I will not endorse something I don't believe in. Please feel free to directly go to any products I link to and bypass the referral link if you feel uncomfortable with me receiving funds.
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