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This article is a part of my free Exploring Sous Vide email course. If you want to discover how to consistently create amazing food using sous vide then my course is exactly what you're looking for. For a printed version of this course, you can purchase my Exploring Sous Vide cookbook.
I wanted to go over the sous vide process because it can be helpful to have an overview of it whether you are new to sous vide or just want a recap of how it works.
There are a few variations on the process, but in general you determine the time and temperature you want to cook your food for. Next you season and seal your food in sous vide bags. Then you place the bags in a water bath that is held to the specific temperature you decided on and let it cook. Finally, you remove it from the water bath and the pouch, then finish it off, usually by searing.
In future lessons we will dive into each aspect of this process in more detail but I wanted to provide an overview of the process so you know what to expect.
There are many factors that go into determining the time and temperature you will use to cook sous vide but in general, the temperature determines how "done" the meat is and the time affects how tender it becomes. This combination of time and temperature is used with different cuts of meats in several ways.
For tender foods, you just need to cook them long enough to heat them through, and sometimes pasteurize them. So filet mignon, pork chops, and chicken breasts just need to be cooked for a few hours at the temperature you want to eat them at. This is usually 130°F (54.5°C) to 140°F (60°C) for beef, 135°F (57.5°C) to 145°F (62.5°C) for pork and 140°F (60°C) to 150°F (65.5°C) for white poultry meat.
For foods that are tougher, such as a chuck roast, pork shoulder, or short ribs, you need to cook the meat long enough for it to tenderize and break down. This is the same concept as with traditional cooking, there is a reason you traditionally smoke or braise these cuts and don't just toss them on the grill. You need long cooking times at lower temperatures to break down the meat.
The amount of time it takes to break the meat down is dependent on the temperature you are cooking it at. A chuck roast cooked at 131°F (55°C) will take 36 to 48 hours to fully tenderize, while at 185°F (85°C) it happens in 12 hours. However, the 131°F chuck roast will have the texture and flavor of a good steak while the 185°F chuck roast will be fall-apart tender like a braise. So the temperature you pick will make a huge difference on the flavor and texture of the final dish.
Note: Even though there are a lot of options when it comes to time and temperature combinations, in the next few lessons I will give you some good starting guidelines for how to pick ones that are right for you. I will also explain how timing works and go in depth on how temperature affects food.
The next step in the sous vide process is to get the food ready to cook. This generally includes adding spice rubs and sealing the food in a sous vide pouch but it can also encompass brining, smoking, marinating, and other methods of adding flavor to food.
Once the food is seasoned you seal it in a sous vide pouch, typically a Ziploc freezer bag (my favorite method) or in a FoodSaver or vacuum sealer pouch. The sealing is important to ensure the food heats evenly and that the water is as close to the meat as possible.
Note: We go into more details about sealing sous vide food in a future when we discuss recommended equipment as well as other lessons where we specifically look at the various sealing methods.
Once the food is sealed, you set your sous vide machine to the temperature you picked in step 1 and place the sealed sous vide pouch into the water and let it cook for the amount of time you decided in step 1.
There are many ways to keep the temperature consistent, from using a thermometer on the stove up to buying an immersion circulator. Circulators have dropped in price significantly over the years and I now recommend the Sansaire or Anova because the are inexpensive and work well.
Note: I will dive into more details about circulators and other heating methods in later emails.
Once the food has been cooked for as long as you want, you remove the pouch from the water bath and finish the food. This usually entails removing it from the pouch, drying it off, and then searing it to add a flavorful crust. The searing can be done in a hot pan, on a grill, or even with a sous vide torch like I prefer.
Once the food is seared it's all ready to plate and eat!
That's really all there is to the sous vide process, everything else is just nuance and personal preference. Over the rest of this course I'll help you understand how time and temperature work to cook your food perfectly every time so you can consistently create amazing food with sous vide. I'll also provide many simple recipes for everyday food that looks and tastes great.
Do you know anyone that is struggling with sous vide and would find this information helpful? Why not do them a favor and send them a link to this Exploring Sous Vide email course or get them a printed version of this course!
Thanks again and happy cooking!
Jason Logsdon, Amazing Food Made Easy