Sous vide has become popular in commercial and residential kitchens alike. The low and slow cooking technique is a great way to cook foods perfectly with very little effort. Think of it as a trendier Crockpot! One of the best things about the sous vide method are the endless possibilities that come along with it. Whether you’re curious about trying sous vide or looking for ways to do it better, check out these helpful tips:
Use a plastic container
You may be tempted to use the stock pot you have laying around your kitchen, but we don’t recommend using it long term. Metal is a conductor and draws heat away from your food. Plastic is a better insulator and will keep the heat inside your container much more efficiently. This is one of the reasons why you see so many people using Cambro containers when they are cooking with the sous vide method. In addition to its thermal capabilities, Cambro containers are durable and clear—meaning you can easily see your food as it cooks without having to take it out of the water. You’ve likely seen Camwear Rounds, CamSquares and Camwear Boxes used as a sous vide vessel. How do you decide which type to use? First, how much food are you cooking? If it’s only a few portions, go for a CamSquare. We recommend the CamSquare rather than a Camwear Round because it offers significantly more space and fits your square food bags perfectly. There is no squishing or manipulation to the bags. If you’re looking to cook larger amounts, choose a Camwear Box. Their size is ideal for cooks that will be served to a large group. Camwear Boxes are commonly utilized in restaurants that prepare food using the sous vide method.
Cover your container
We already covered that sous vide is better with proper insulation. In addition to the container, a very important part of sous vide is covering it up. When the container isn’t covered, heat can escape through the top and water begins to evaporate. If enough water evaporates, your immersion circulator could turn itself off. Avoid this by covering your container. Some of the most popular methods are cutting a hole in your lid, buying a made-for-sous vide lid that fits Cambro containers, or topping your container with ping pong balls. Yes, ping pong balls. Chief Culinary Consultant of Serious Eats, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, made a case for ping pong balls a few years ago and posted this update this year:
“A couple people have questioned whether it’s actually easier to store ping pong balls than to simply use plastic wrap or cut a hole in the lid of the container. There are a couple other compelling reasons to use ping pong balls. First, plastic wrap or holes can lead to long term problems as they end up venting any escaping steam directly towards the head of the sous vide unit, causing condensation near the electronics (not all sous vide devices have sealed electronics). With ping pong balls, any escaping steam comes out evenly from the top surface.”
Some readers questioned the time it takes to dry the ping pong balls and store them, but Lopez-Alt had a hack for that.
“Drain them, put them back into the empty Cambro container, and let it sit for about 10 minutes and excess moisture evaporates pretty quickly because the water was already hot from cooking. I store the balls directly in the container, so when I’m ready to cook, all I have to do is add water. The ping pong balls are already there and ready to go. That’s faster than using plastic wrap!”
There have been numerous debates on this subject, so the best advice we can offer is to try a method or two and see what works best for you.
Best and worst foods to cook
Not all foods are idyllic for sous vide. David Pietranczyk, Product and Marketing Specialist with PolyScience Culinary, suggests foods with a lot of connective tissue that normally need to be cooked a little longer provide the best results. For example, ribs that you would typically braise turn out beautifully when cooked sous vide style. Another popular food is eggs, and they don’t need to be sealed because they are little built with a shell around their most important part.
Two foods that are a favorite for Pietranczyk: chicken thighs—“Sous vide chicken thighs are incredible”—and lentils. According to Pietranczyk, the video PolyScience posted on Instagram about how to make lentils is one of their most viewed Instagram videos to date.
“Cook them at 194°F for 45 minutes to an hour and every single lentil has the exact same texture. It’s like eating good caviar,” said Pietranczyk.
One of the foods we suggest avoiding is lean fish. Although it is possible to cook it using the sous vide method, it is a very delicate process. “[Lean fish] has a shorter window of excellence. It can go from really awesome to really mushy, really fast,” said Pietranczyk.
Vacuum seal your food
Although many people use plastic bags when cooking their sous vide, there are more than a few reasons to avoid using them. Even if you think you’re getting all the air out of your plastic bag, there will still be some in there. According to Pietranczyk, air gaps between the food and the bag create inconsistencies during cooking; that’s also when food starts floating to the top of your container. Plus, plastic bags can’t always handle the sous vide cooking process and Pietranczyk once had a bag break right as he was pulling it out at the end of a cook. Don’t let this happen to you. If you are committed to the sous vide lifestyle, invest in a vacuum sealer. This extra step creates a second skin around your product to keep it safe and evenly cooked.
Sear your food before and after
There are a lot of feelings about searing food before and after it goes through the sous vide process, but when we asked Pietranczyk he said he strongly suggests it and gave three reasons:
- Pre-searing before the sous vide process pasteurizes the surface of bacteria.
- Pre-searing causes flavors and aromas to begin developing, and they continue to develop more fully throughout the sous vide cooking process.
- Pre-searing improves the overall texture and shape of the end product.
Pietranczyk’s best advice for pre-searing is to sear your meat at 400°F in a pan for four minutes total, turning the meat every 30 seconds. After the sous vide process is complete, put the meat on a grill for one to two minutes to re-crisp it and voila! You have the perfect result. If you are seeing that your meat is becoming too charred afterward, decrease its time on the grill.
Sous vide is a process that naturally encourages trial and error. Take these tips and use them to make your sous vide process the best it can become. Do not be discouraged if something doesn’t turn out perfectly the first time, take it as a learning experience for the next cook! Tell us your favorite food to sous vide and best way method you’ve found in the comments below!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: ADRIANA DESIDERIO IS THE DIGITAL CONTENT MANAGER AT CAMBRO.
Categories: Cambro Products