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.
There is a lot of focus on the gourmet benefits of sous vide, with perfectly cooked meals and high quality dishes, but often the convenience of sous vide is overlooked.
One of the biggest benefits to sous vide, and one many people don't consider, is how much it can help with bulk cooking. Using sous vide it becomes much easier to cook large amounts of food that you can then store for use later.
Note: If you prefer, you can jump right to the Lesson Recap.
There are several benefits to cooking in bulk. The main one is that you can save money doing it. Buying family packs of meat, whole muscles, and other larger packages is often much cheaper than buying individual amounts.
Another benefit is to batch your active time. For many people the hardest part of cooking is finding the time to prepare their food. Cooking in bulk allows you to prepare large parts of several meals at once. Then when you are ready to eat it's as simple as taking a bag out of the freezer and cooking it.
The third benefit is portion control. This has several uses, such as if you are cooking for one so you can't eat a whole pork shoulder or you are trying to eat less by reducing your portion size. Taking the time to actively determine how much you want to eat ahead of time is a great way to keep your portions consistent and only cook what you need at any one time.
All of this results in a lot of convenience. Having food now ready to go in the freezer makes meal planning and last-minute meals much easier.
There are several ways to approach cooking in bulk but the two main ones are to cook your meat then freeze it, or to freeze it raw and then cook it directly from the freezer. There are a few differences but a lot of the process is the same for both. Here's a breakdown of how you can use sous vide to help reduce your cooking time.
The first step is to buy and break down your meat into good portion sizes. For many people this simply means buying meat in bulk, like a family pack of chicken breasts or multiple steaks. However, you can often save money if you purchase an entire muscle, like a whole beef loin or ribeye that you can break down into steaks yourself.
This step also might entail cutting the meat into pieces. For instance, if you use your chicken as a topping for salads, you might want to cut it so it's ready to go, saving you the effort of cutting it later. If you have a large pork shoulder for pulled pork, you might want to cut it into smaller chunks that can be eaten in one sitting. Removing fat, silver skin and other undesirable parts of the food is also done now.
Before bagging the meat, you can season it. If you know what your meat will be used for, you can use a specific spice rub. Otherwise, using salt and pepper is great.
Some people have concerns about salting or seasoning their meat if they are going to freeze it before cooking it. In my experience, it'll be fine as long as you aren't using a whole lot of salt (like a dry cure).
Place one or more portions of seasoned meat in a sous vide bag. Each bag will be cooked at the same time so you want to put in as many portions as you normally want to eat at a time.
For instance, I generally cook for two people so I put two portions into each sous vide bag. A family of six might want to do 3 or 6 in a bag, assuming you can get it in one layer. If the amount of people you cook for varies a lot, you can just put 1 portion in each bag and pull out as many bags as you need when you are ready to cook them.
Remove as much of the air as possible then seal them.
At this point, you have two options. You can either freeze the sous vide bags until later, or you can sous vide them first, and then freeze them. I refer to them as the "Freeze, Cook, Eat" process and the "Cook, Freeze, Reheat" process. Your decision about which one to use really comes down the type of the food, your schedule, and how you are planning to use the food.
At one end of the spectrum you have really tender meat, like a beef tenderloin or ribeye. These items will take just about the same amount of time to cook from raw as they would to reheat. You don't gain much by sous viding them first, especially because you want to minimize the amount of time something like tenderloin is in the water bath. Winner: Freeze, Cook, Then Eat.
On the other side, you have real tough cuts of meat like a chuck roast. They need to be cooked for 1 to 2 days, so getting the long cook done first, then freezing them, allows you to reheat them in only an hour or two, making a quick chuck roast or pulled pork dinner very possible, even at the last minute. Winner: Cook, Freeze, Reheat.
Other items depend much more on how you generally cook. Chicken breasts need to be pasteurized before you eat them, so sous viding them first will cut your reheat time by an hour or two, which might make a big difference to you. Other people have more flexible schedules so the time difference might not matter.
Flank steak or sirloin often benefits from a 8 to 12 hour cook, so Cook, Freeze, Reheat would make the reheat time much quicker. However, if you work a regular job, then the 8 to 12 hour cooking time might work better for you because you could toss it in when you leave for work in the morning. In which case, you might want to freeze it raw.
How you are planning on using the food can make a big difference.
If you are using chicken to put on salads, you probably want to cook it first so you can just defrost it and toss it on the salad, even if you are at work. If it is a steak that you will be eating on the weekends using the grill, you probably have much more time to cook it the day you are going to eat it.
So depending on those factors you will want to choose one of the methods that will work best for you.
The Freeze, Cook, Eat method of sous vide is a great way to have all your meat ready to cook at a moments notice.
Freezing your food is easy once it is portioned and sealed in sous vide bags. Just place the bags in the freezer, preferably in a single layer, and they should be fine. The quicker you can freeze your food, the higher the end quality will be, so some people use an ice bath to quickly lower the temperature of the food before placing them in the freezer.
When you are ready to cook your food, you have two options. The first is to defrost the food in the refrigerator, then use the normal sous vide time and temperatures.
The second option is to put the frozen food directly into the water bath. This will generally increase the time needed to bring the center up to temperature by about 50%. For a tender cut this can make a big difference, a 1.5" (40mm) steak would need an extra hour of cooking time. For tough cuts, the extra hour to come to temperature is negligible compared to the 1 to 2 days you are cooking it.
Pasteurized foods are somewhere in the middle, since once they come up to temperature they need to be held there. For a regular chicken breast around 0.5" to 1.5" thick (15 to 40mm) I will usually add an hour to the cook time. For real thick breasts I might add 2 hours and for real thin breasts maybe just 20 minutes.
Once it's cooked, finish preparing it like normal with a sear and then enjoy it!
The Cook, Freeze, Reheat method of sous vide is a great way to save time when you are ready to eat.
The cooking part of this process is simple. Just sous vide the food like you would if you were going to eat it right away. After it's done cooking just leave it in the pouch instead of searing it.
If you are going to freeze food that has been sous vided, there are few steps you need to take to ensure your safety and maximize the quality of your food.
The first step is to use an ice bath to chill your food as soon as it is done cooking. Take a large bowl and fill it with 1/2 ice and 1/2 water. Take the bag from the water bath and place it into the ice bath. The length of time you will leave it depends on the thickness of the food, you can use my chart to determine how long to chill sous vide food. This will minimize the amount of time the food is in the danger zone and will increase it's storage time.
Once the food is chilled, remove the bag from the ice bath and pat it dry. Place the sous vide bag in the freezer. The food should easily last months.
When you are ready to eat your frozen, pre-cooked foods, there are several options.
The easiest way I've found to reheat pre-cooked food is to just use your sous vide machine. As long as you set the temperature at or below the temperature you cooked it at (but at or above 130°F (54.5°C) please) it will not overcook it. I tend to stick with 130°F (54.5°C) regardless of what I'm cooking so I have more leeway in the sear.
You can use my chart to determine exactly how long to reheat food in a sous vide machine. Either the "Freezer Slab" or "Freezer Cylinder" columns will get you close for any time or meat, and even most poultry since it's already pasteurized.
Note: To speed up the process you can let the meat defrost in the refrigerator first.
Once it's heated through, you will usually want to sear the sous vided meat like normal.
Another way to cook your meat is to defrost it in the refrigerator, then sear it like normal. This allows you to get a much better sear on the meat without being fearful it'll be undercooked. You still need to be careful not to overcook the food while you sear it.
Note: This method usually does not work if you sear with a torch because it doesn't transfer enough heat. Using a pan, grill, or broiler should work just fine though.
If your food is part of a heavily sauced dish or a stir fry, you can defrost the meat in the refrigerator then add it directly to the meal. Be careful you don't cook the meat too long, just enough to heat it through.
If your food is something that doesn't need a sear, or even heated, you can just defrost it in the refrigerator and then serve it. Chicken for salads is a great example of this.
In this lesson we discussed several ways to cook and enjoy bulk food using sous vide including the "Cook, Freeze, Reheat" process and the "Freeze, Cook, Eat" process.
I also shared some key links with you, namely
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