If you haven’t been introduced to the new-fangled world of cooking sous-vide, it’s time to get acquainted. This modernist technique, which involves vacuum sealing food into plastic bags and submerging them in a water bath for slow cooking, has gradually made its way from the fanciest French restaurants to at-home kitchens. It may not sound particularly glamorous, but cooking sous vide is a great way to seriously step up your at-home cooking game.
It used to be that sous vide equipment cost thousands of dollars, but that’s not really the case anymore. DIYers are rigging sous vide machines from coolers, rice cookers, and everything in between. If you’re not the crafty or engineering type, you can purchase an immersion circulator for about $200. Once you’ve got that figured out, there’s an entire universe of delicious possibilities to be explored with your new sous vide expertise.
Cooking sous-vide is largely considered to be “idiot-proof” and ridiculously easy, but some foods are better than others for this particular style of cooking. We’ve chosen the best (and worst) foods for your sous vide enjoyment, but you’ll probably just want to go ahead and put every single one of your favorite foods in there once, just to see what happens. This new technique has a bit of a learning curve and can be hit-or-miss, but most of the time, you’ll find yourself pretty damn impressed.
Eggs are easily the best (and easiest) food to cook sous vide. Since in-shell eggs can be cooked as-is, you don’t have to drag out the vacuum sealer. Just drop a few eggs in at the right temperature for your preferred doneness and wait. The 63-degree Celsius egg and its luxe, creamy yolk have the love of chefs everywhere, and once you get hooked, you’ll find yourself putting an egg on just about everything that isn’t dessert. If scrambled is more your style, cooking sous vide results in a silky, rich texture.
Cooking steaks using traditional methods can be very hit-or-miss, especially if you’ve got a grill that doesn’t heat evenly or are working with different cuts. Cooking sous vide means that you can get your steak to the perfect temperature all the way through, without that icky gray band of overcooked meat, or burned exteriors with raw insides. Ribeyes, NY Strip, and just about any other cut of beef can benefit from a bath in a sous vide cooker, but you’ll definitely want to sear them on the stove (or with a blowtorch) once they’ve finished.
Vegetables can be a little hit-or-miss in sous vide cooking, but long, slow cooking works wonders for the humble carrot. Vacuum-sealed and dropped into a water bath with a little dill, garlic, and duck fat, carrots transform into this decadent dish that even carrot haters (like myself) can appreciate. Once finished in the water bath, caramelize the carrot’s natural sugars in a ripping hot skillet for an easy and healthy side that is also totally addictive.
You probably don’t come across duck legs very often at the grocery store, but there are plenty of other things to confit. Chicken leg quarters are cheap and excellent for confit, especially if you have a stash of homemade schmaltz on hand. You’ll need just a couple of tablespoons of the fat of your choice (olive oil or butter also work beautifully) and you can have restaurant-quality confit with pretty much zero effort. After removing the confit from a water bath, you can sear the chicken legs on the stovetop for a swanky at-home dinner, or shred the meat and save it for salads and soups all week long.
This may all come down to personal preference, but an in-the-know fishmonger warned me that many fin fishes, especially of the delicate variety, just aren’t right for sous vide cooking. The flaky flesh of cod and halibut develops a strange texture after cooking sous-vide, and it isn’t particularly enjoyable. Instead, try shellfish. If you’re feeling really bourgeois, lobster tails are the perfect candidate for butter-poaching sous vide.
Maybe it’s because there’s not enough fat, but chicken breasts cooked sous vide are just strange. The slow cooking results in a pink center that can be unsettling, especially if you’ve ever had a particularly nasty bout of food poisioning before, and the texture can be simultaneously mushy and rubbery, especially if the breasts have been cooked for too long. Fortunately, this chicken is perfect for pulling, making it great for salads, quesadillas, and other easy lunches.
There are some people who claim that you can easily use a sous vide cooker to make an “unbreakable” hollandaise sauce, and they would be liars. The sous vide hollandaise method calls for mixing egg yolks with lemon juice and butter in a canning jar, and then submerging it for an hour, shaking it a few times in the process. Once you’ve removed the jar from the cooker, the resulting product is a less-than-appetizing lumpy mess, but it does improve greatly after a whiz through the blender. Unfortunately, there is almost a 100 percent chance that your sauce will break before it even hits the plate.
Amy McCarthy is Paste’s Assistant Food Editor. Since her first sous vide success about four months ago, she has used her oven approximately three times. Find her on Twitter @aemccarthy.
Photo by Snekse CC-BY-NC-ND