Do You Have to Sear After Sous Vide?
There's a lot of discussion about how to maximize your sear when you're done sous viding your food, but do you even need to sear? I'm going to dive into that question.
This article looks at whether or not you actually have to sear after sous vide. Many people are curious and often ask "Do I need to sear sous vide food or do I not need to sear sous vide food? And when is it important to do it and when is it not?".
In my opinion, there are so many different types of food available that it comes down to personal preference.
Why Would You Sear Sous Vide Food?
When you put a sear on sous vide food it accomplishes several things. I want to talk about that so you can decide whether or not you should sear your sous vide food next time.
For most sous vided food searing does matter. It's also best to sear after sous viding to maximize the flavor. (You can read more about whether to sear before sous vide if you like.) Searing accomplishes a few things.
Searing Makes Sous Vide Food Look More Appetizing
First, it makes it look a lot better. If you've pulled a piece of meat out of the sous vide bag it appears kind of gray. It really doesn't look fantastic. Putting a sear on it adds some great visual cues. Now it looks more appealing and more appetizing, something you're ready to dive into.
Searing Adds Texture to Sous Vide Food
Searing sous vide food also helps add some texture to the outside of the food. This can be in the form of the nicely golden brown and crunchy crust. The crust toughens the outside of the sous vide food a little bit, which gives it a variation in texture.
Having a little bit of a chewiness on the outside of a steak is actually not a bad thing. These variations in texture can help make it taste more appealing to our palates, especially when we're used to more traditionally cooked foods.
To me, those are the 2 big reasons why you want to sear food with any type of cooking, but especially with sous vide. It's to make it look better and to give it a variation in texture on the outside.
You can apply that to any type of cut of meat that you're cooking to decide if you really need to sear this after sous vide.
Different Types of Sous Vide Meals can Impact the Sear
Lazy Week Night Sous Vide Meal
If I am cooking a steak for me and I've been lazy and things just got behind schedule, I don't always sear it. It might just be a weeknight dinner and I don't have time to dry it off, and heat up another pan. Basically, I'm just hungry and want to get it into my belly!
My sous vide steak tastes great. Sous vide food turns out amazing every time, even if you don't take these extra steps to maximize your flavor.
Special Occasion Sous Vide Meals
But if I'm doing a nice dinner for my wife and me, I'm definitely going to sear that sous vided ribeye. I put the time and energy into it because I want it to look beautiful on the plate, and it's something special. I want to go the extra mile just to make sure that everything is maximized.
Searing and Sous Vide Stir-Fried Foods
One category of food that I almost never sear is sous vide food for stir-fries. So I make a lot of sous vide chicken, a lot of sous vide pork or a lot of sous vide steak.
While these foods are in the sous vide machine, I will then make a stir-fry on the side. This would include the stir-fried vegetables and the sauce. Once I get it all together, I'll just throw in the meat at the end.
This is especially true if the meat is just a part of the stir-fry or it's a saucier stir-fry or even a curry, then I'm probably not going to take the time to sear the meat.
Sure, it adds a little bit of extra flavor to the outside, but it's just an extra pan I have to clean, and it's not going to be really noticeable in the grand scheme of things when I'm making a regular meal for my wife and me.
If I'm a Michelin Star Chef, then sure, I'm going to sear to maximize that texture and maximize the flavor every time.
But I don't think most people are going to be able to tell if you have seared sous vided beef or just sous vided beef in your stir-fry. So, I'll just cut it up and I'll throw it into the stir-fry at the last minute. Then I'll heat it through and it's ready to eat.
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Do You have to Sear Sous Vide Chicken?
People want to know if you have to sear sous vide chicken, and that's a really big one. A lot of times the chicken doesn't look great coming out of the bag.
So if you are serving it finding that balance between stringy chicken on the outside, that's a little bit golden brown, or tender, moist chicken that goes all the way through without having a sear on it.
I tend to err on the side of I want it to be juicy. I want it to be perfectly cooked and placed whole on a pile of vegetables or some rice. In this case you probably want to give it a sear or touch it up with a torch, so there's a little bit of color on there. Otherwise, it just looks a little disgusting.
But if you're going to cut it up, if you're going to use it in a salad, if you're using it for lunches, a lot of times I won't sear it. And that's because it's hard to get a good sear on chicken.
It starts to get really tough, really quickly. And so I often times won't give it that much of a sear, or I'll just pull out my torch to give it a little bit of color. But you're not adding the the actual caramelization on the outside as much.
Do You have to Sear Sous Vide Fish?
People always want to know, do you have to sear your sous vided fish? This is another one that really depends on your presentation. What are you trying to emulate?
If you're trying to emulate a pan fried salmon and you want that crunch and the crisp on it, then you're going to have to sear it. And it can be hard to accomplish.
The sous vide fish is going to be tender when it comes out of the bag. You don't want to overcook it because it's already perfectly cooked, so it can be hard to sear fish in a good way that doesn't raise the internal temperature.
But if you're trying to emulate poached fish or steamed fish, then you really don't have to sear it because what you're emulating doesn't normally have a sear on it. You don't poach fish that has a crunchy crust on the outside of it.
And that's why when it comes to sous vide fish, I often recommend focusing on steamed or poached preparations. The sous vide is great at mastering those, where it's not as good at replicating a pan fried or a grilled type of fish with a nice crust and texture on the outside.
Do You have to Sear a Sous Vided Fatty Food?
Another category of sous vide food to consider doing a sear is with fatty food. This can be anything from a sous vide beef ribeye or a sous vide pork chop that has fat on the outside. Unless you're going into the braise-like range, at most sous vide temperatures you're not rendering the fat.
So, for many of these, you do want to put at least some kind of a sear on them to render a bit of that fat and make it a little more palatable.
For instance, for a lot of sous vide pork chops you might not even notice if you don't put a sear on them. It will almost taste like a sous vide pork loin then.
But if they have a fat cap on the outside and you just leave them sous vided without any coloring or any kind of rendering in a pan, it's going to be chewier. It's not going to be nearly as melt-in-your-mouth as it can be if you give it a good sear.
So now the next time you've cooked your food and you say, "Do I really need to sear this after the sous vide process?", you have a good idea on how to answer that for the specific circumstances you're in.
If you like this you can get more than 85 inspiring recipes to get you on your way to sous vide success. It's all in my best selling book Modernist Cooking Made Easy: Sous Vide - Get Your Copy Today!
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.
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