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Sous vide immersion circulators are amazing kitchen appliances largely considered valuable for the serious gourmet cook. While the sous vide machine may look complicated, it is actually quite easy to use.
The circulator consists of a plastic housing containing electrical heaters and two chambers that have thermostats adjusted at precise levels.
One chamber is filled with water, while another contains an airtight seal used to hold food in vacuum-sealed bags.
When the machine is plugged into an electric outlet, water circulates around the heating element, allowing cooking to proceed at very specific temperatures ranging from 120 F up to 212 F (49 C up to 100 C).
Electric clocks attached to each side of the sous vide machine display how many hours remain before food must be removed from the hot water bath.
The housing of this machine is designed to allow the user to immerse it into a water bath which heats water with ease, although some versions can be placed right on cooktops like any other pot.
A digital display shows cooking temperature settings and the cooking time in an easy-to-understand format. The clock portion of the display counts down how many hours remain for food to be cooked before timing out.
Food should then be removed from the sous vide machine and refrigerated until ready to serve or use in recipes.
One advantage of using the sous vide immersion circulator is that since the water bath does not touch the food being cooked, there is less chance of contamination and less stirring required during preparation.
Another advantage is that when food is vacuum-sealed in bags ahead of time, there is less chance it will dry out or become overcooked.
A sous vide machine may also be used for cooking certain types of vegetables that wilt and lose their flavor if boiled.
For example, sliced carrots and broccoli can be placed in a glass container with heated water before the container is sealed and put into the sous vide bath.
Upon removing cooked items from the water bath, they should be removed from bags slowly and allowed to cool naturally to not subject foods to any sudden temperature changes.
In addition, vacuum seal bags should be discarded after just one use to avoid contamination of foods.
What is Sous Vide?
Sous vide (pronounced “suwahdee”) is a French term meaning “under vacuum.” The technique was developed in France in the 1970s.
It’s used extensively for industrial purposes, but the advent of sous vide equipment has brought it to home kitchens worldwide.
Home cooks now have access to inexpensive and portable water bath cooking systems that will forever change how they prepare food. A sous vide unit allows you to perfectly cook just about any food exactly as you like it.
As a result, you can enjoy restaurant-quality food in the comfort of your own home, and all you have to do is set it and forget it.
What is Sous Vide Cooking?
Sous vide cooking is an immersion method of cooking meat or vegetables placed in sealed plastic bags and placed in a water bath heated to the desired final temperature.
This method results in evenly cooked food with a texture similar to braised foods because the duration between when the item begins cooking (water bath) and when it finishes cooking (plating) is relatively short, resulting in less exposure to extreme temperatures.
It’s common practice for many chefs working in professional kitchens using sous vide machines to stir their bags once or twice during this period.
One advantage of using a sous vide immersion circulator is that since the water bath does not touch the food being cooked, there is less chance of contamination and less stirring required during preparation.
Another advantage is that when food is vacuum-sealed in freezer bags ahead of time, there is less chance it will dry out or become overcooked.
A sous vide machine may also be used for cooking food like certain types of vegetables that wilt and lose their flavor if boiled.
For example, green beans can be placed in a glass container with heated water before the container is sealed and put into the sous vide bath.
It takes approximately 8 minutes to cook one pound of beans.
Then, the green beans can be removed from the sous vide bath, drained, and served immediately or placed in a storage container for refrigeration until ready for use in recipes.
How Long Should Food Be Cooked?
A good rule of thumb is that if you aren’t sure how long to cook something, then it’s best to err on the more conservative side – mistakes made while cooking with this method are almost impossible to fix later because those foods will have been exposed to hot temperatures over an extended period of time.
If food is being cooked at 140 F (60 C), it should not be removed until all parts of the item have reached that time and temperature.
That doesn’t mean other parts still might not get overcooked, but it does mean that most parts of the item being cooked will be perfect.
To get an idea about how long to cook particular foods using a sous vide machine, be sure to check the product instructions, which provide approximate cooking times for some common ingredients.
Some items like a chicken breast and a pork chop may vary by only a few minutes depending on thickness (smaller is better).
These values are intended as guidelines rather than hard-and-fast rules.
One thing to remember is the more tender food cooks faster, and less tender food takes longer;
Fish fillets are much easier to overcook than a ribeye steak which is generally medium rare, so be mindful if you’re cooking more than one type of meat in your water bath at the same time.
As you experiment with sous vide, you’ll quickly learn that the time you are cooking is not set in stone.
Once you’ve successfully cooked food at a certain temperature and for a given amount of time, try adjusting the temperature up or down 25 degrees and see how it turns out. The same goes with longer or shorter time to cook (10% more or less).
You can also try increasing cooking time by the same amount to see if the results are better; this is an easy technique to employ when you’re preparing food just for yourself rather than a group of people.
How Long Do Sous Vide Cooker Bags Last?
There is another reason why using vacuum-sealed sous vide bags has advantages over other forms of cooking: because the food will be stored in a sealed plastic bag and not exposed to oxygen, the bags last for several months or even longer without any noticeable loss of quality.
As an example, when sous-vide steaks are vacuum-sealed in plastic, they will stay fresh and tasty even after three months in the refrigerator.
The same cannot be said about other types of cooking where bags should be opened and used right away to prevent food from getting dry or spoiled.
Bags can also be frozen for long periods without affecting the taste or texture of foods once they are removed from the freezer (although this shouldn’t be done too often because food may start to absorb odors and flavors from neighboring ingredients).
Vacuum sealer meals can be safely kept at the desired temperature for more than a week without any noticeable change in the appearance or texture of ingredients.
This is one of the advantages that vacuum-sealed bags have over foil, glass, or plastic containers when it comes to cooking with a sous vide machine: food can be stored for a very long time without worrying about spoilage and dehydration.
Can Searing Be Done Before Cooking?
Searing foods prior to placing them in the water bath helps lock moisture into the meat and also adds flavor once the item has been removed from heat.
For best results, place steel skewers through uncooked items before searing them. Searing should only take a few minutes on each side using high heat (either an open gas flame or under an electric broiler), so do not walk away from the grill.
How Long Should Foods Be Marinated?
The amount of time that ingredients should be marinated will vary depending on the acidity of the marinade and what is being cooked.
For example, it takes much longer to soften onions than mushrooms, so adding them into a particular marinade may require different timing.
As an example, chicken breasts can be successfully prepared after only 30 minutes in a citrus-based marinade, whereas pork loins may need as long as 12 hours if they’re going to be cooked with oil or butter before searing.
The chart below provides a general guideline for how long various kinds of meat should be placed in your favorite marinade before cooking begins; these times are only estimates, and different meats will react differently to different marinades.
How Long Do Foods Need To Rest After Cooking?
In general, meat that is cooked sous vide needs less time to rest than other conventional forms of cooking.
This is because most of the cooking has already been done during the actual preparation process, so you don’t need as much time for the inner liquids to redistribute themselves evenly around the food.
Three minutes should be sufficient for sous vide steaks and chicken, while more stubborn items may require 5 minutes or more depending on how thick they are and their tenderness (for example, a pork loin takes longer to rest than a boneless chicken breast).
Although thawed foods do not require any resting period before eating, vacuum-sealed items that were cooked directly from a frozen state will require 15 to 60 minutes (depending on the size of the item) after being removed from the bag.
These resting times assume that foods are served at their normal, refrigerated temperatures and not piping hot; once they have cooled down, food can be placed in another sous vide bag or stored in an airtight container to be kept cool until ready to serve again.
As long as you use vacuum sealed bags when cooking with a sous vide machine, there is no need to rest your meat for hours afterward like some recipes instruct since this only dries out food more than it already was due to lack of moisture.
If desired, meats can still be rested for up to one hour after removing them from the bag; this is especially beneficial for foods that were marinated beforehand because it helps lock in the taste and moisture.
Although sous vide machines have been available on the market for many years, and similar appliances have been used for decades in French cooking, it wasn’t until recently that they began to gain popularity as a modern convenience.
This is because not only is the sous vide device less expensive than ever before, but also there are now apps that can be downloaded by smartphone owners that are ideal for those who enjoy making meals from home.
By following the steps in this article, along with using a sous vide immersion circulator, you will see that making restaurant-quality meals at home is easier than you might think!