Interrupting your usual Chelsea-centric programming to bring you a guest post from Evan at Sous Vide HQ! He’s here to make sure you nail the sous vide process every time.
Sous vide is a method that has gained recent renown for being healthy, convenient and a time-saving cooking technique. Basically it’s all about slow cooking food in a water bath at a precise temperature. Seasoned sous vide cooks will tell you that there is no need to fuss over or monitor the food as it cooks and you can simply walk away after putting the ingredients in the water bath.
This, by itself, is an attractive feature of everyday cooking where you can actually get other things done as your food cooks. That is why more and more people are turning to sous vide to try their hand at this otherwise fine dining technique.
Plus, if you don’t have the time to put together a home cooked meal every night, you can start off your meal at the start of your day, let it cook while you’re at work and then come home to a perfectly cooked meal. It can’t really get any better than that.
That said, you may want to be wary of some common pitfalls that could mess up your perfect results. Because there is a certain degree of science to it, if you make any of these three common mistakes, your food may turn out undercooked, mushy or even fairly inedible.
Mistake #1: Incorrect submersion
While it may seem simple enough to put your food in a water bath and leave it at that, you need to do this right. Should the water from an improperly sealed bag get into your food, you could have something quite dubious on your plate.
To avoid this, you need to make sure that your vacuum sealed bag or sous vide pouch gets properly sealed before you place it in the water.
Some concerns in this area include placing sharp-end foods in the bag. If your food has sharp stems or edges such as meats with bone-in, there is a chance of puncturing the bag. Make sure that the bag is large enough to accommodate such foods and throw in a spoon or butter knife in there to weight it down and keep it well submerged.
Another problem with keeping the bag from floating is the density of the food. If your food is less dense than the water surrounding it, the bag will rise to the top of the water and start to float. This will end in the food not being submerged fully which means that it doesn’t get exposed to the right temperature needed for cooking.
Mistake #2: Letting water evaporate
The second mistake also has to do with water levels in the sous vide bath. All the heat that will cook the food comes from the heated water in the bath. So, essentially your submerged pouch should have water all around it- above, below and on the sides.
But what if the water evaporates? Since many sous vide recipes do demand that you leave the food in for quite a bit of time, there is the possibility of the water evaporating.
If water levels go below recommended levels, then your food pouch will only be partially submerged. Likewise, your meal will only be partially cooked and once again, present the possibility of a health hazard.
To prevent this from happening make sure to cover your sous vide container. Some models come with a lid so that the water which evaporates goes right back in. Others, you can cover with cling wrap to minimize evaporation.
A handy sous vide accessory known as sous vide balls are designed to provide water and heat loss during cooking. The balls assist in preventing evaporation so you won’t need to replenish the water repeatedly, especially when longer cooking times are involved. These balls will also stop steam from condensing near your sous vide unit. So it’s a win-win situation any way you look at it.
Mistake #3: Overcooking
Too often, sous vide enthusiasts emphasize that you can’t overcook with this method. Why? Because the temperature of the water doesn’t go beyond a certain point.
However, different cuts and thicknesses of meat will behave differently when left in the water bath for too long. For instance, as a general rule of the thumb, cooking most cuts of beef will only make them tenderer.
But if you take a sirloin and brisket, sirloin is fairly lean and simply needs to be brought to temperature. From there, you don’t really need to tenderize it but simply cook. Once the time is done, your sirloin is ready to eat.
Brisket, on the other hand, is loaded with intramuscular fat that needs to be broken down over long periods of time to become edible. Longer cooking times will turn the inedible collagen into edible gelatin and make the cut desirable.
But if you look at chicken and steak, longer cooking times will transform the proteins into stringy and spongy meat. Even though the internal temperature stays the same, and the food doesn’t overcook in terms of temperature, it will have been cooked too long.
So, temperature isn’t the only consideration here but time as well. And while sous vide is more forgiving than other cooking techniques, and gives more leeway in terms of cooking times, it is still possible to overcook with this method.
To conclude, while time is more flexible with sous vide, stating that you can’t overcook is an absolute overstatement.