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DIY Sous Vide

The tender steaks and juicy salmon fillets that you get from sous vide cooking are not easy to match. Conventional cooking might give you those results every once in a while, but certainly not every time. While sous vide cooking has multiple pros, the one thing that is hard to overlook is the price point of the equipment.

If you are new to sous vide cooking, and still not convinced you’ll take it up for life, you may not want to shell out the few hundred dollars that most immersion circulators or precision cookers cost. Even keeping it cheap, you’ll still have to dole out close to a hundred bucks to get a reputable sous vide cooker or immersion circulator. So what’s the alternative?

If your pocket doesn’t allow you to invest in a sous vide cooker, worry not.

DIY is a huge trend these days. From home décor to life hacks, it seems like you can do everything at home. The same goes for sous vide. To set up a DIY sous vide system at home, all you need are some food-grade refrigerator bags and an accurate digital thermometer. With these two things, you can get the same results as any high-end sous vide cooker.

Things to Remember

Since you won’t be cooking in a proper sous vide cooker, there are a few things that you need to remember. First of all, you need to keep the water at a constant temperature because there is no immersion circulator to do it for you. For this, you will need to adjust the settings on your stove’s burner. Also, the way you place your pot on the stove matters a lot. The key is to put focus on tiny details because the whole essence of sous vide cooking is precision.

When cooking this way, heat will get lost from the sides of the pot. As water heats, it will evaporate and water levels will drop as well. So, fluctuations in temperature are inevitable. But you need to make sure that the fluctuations are not more than one or two degrees off from the desired temperature.

Instructions

Follow the instructions given below to make your own sous vide cooker at home.

Step 1:

The first step is to prepare a water bath. In sous vide cooking, food is cooked in a hot, steaming water bath. Heat is not directly taken up by the food but it is passed from the water to the food. Take any heat-resistant deep pan or container and fill it with water. Leave some space on top so that when you immerse the food in the container, water does not over flow.

Step 2:

The second step is to set your thermometer in the water bath. There are two ways of doing so. The first method is making use of a clip clamp that can mount your thermometer to the side of the pan. The second method is to stick the thermometer in and out of the water after every few minutes to check the temperature. Of course, the better method is to use the clamp since it will give you steady control over the temperature.

Step 3:

Now it’s time to turn on the burner and let the water heat. Start the burner at medium-low and wait till the water gets heated to your desired temperature. There are different Time and Temperature guides available online that you can use to determine what temperature you need for a particular recipe or food item.

Set the burner according to that and keep checking the temperature on the thermometer. Since this is not automated, it will take some time to get to the right temperature.

Step 4:

The next step is to finally add in the food item. Keep your food in a ziploc bag with all the necessary herbs, oil or butter. As you place the food in the water bath, keep the top open so that the water pressure pushes out all the air. Once the top of the bag reaches the water surface, seal it slowly making sure no air bubbles are formed. Now clip the top of the bag to the edge of your container with a clothespin or a clamp.

Step 5:

Once the food is in the water bath, it’s time to start cooking. The temperature would have fluctuated by now so you need to bring it back to your desired temperature. If the food is cold, it would take some time to bring the water back to the right temperature. Once the temperature is set, start your timer and cook for the duration mentioned on the recipe.

When done, the last step would be to sear the food if the recipe says so. This makes the food appear better in texture and also adds a crusty taste to it.

Cooking Sous Vide in Different Containers

To make DIY sous vide easier, you can use different containers that you already have at home. The first option in this regard is to use a Rice Cooker. Just immerse a digital thermometer in the rice cooker and you are all set to go. Most cookers also come with a ‘keep warm’ setting. This makes sous vide easier as it lets you keep the water in the container at your desired temperature. Of course, this technique is not as accurate as the automated version but with some calculations and practice, you will get there.

Cooking Sous Vide In a Deep Fryer

Most kitchens have a deep fryer so you can use it for cooking under vacuum too. However, the one problem often faced with a deep fryer is the temperature range. Most deep fryers start very high on the temperature range, typically around the 250oF mark. This problem can be solved with the help of an external thermometer.

The trick is that the thermostat actually works down to 86oF. Fill the deep fryer with water like you would do with a water bath and then clip an external thermometer to the fryer. Calibrate the thermometer to 132oF, which is the ideal temp for a steak. You can change this according to your recipe.

Oven Sous Vide

A very simple DIY sous vide method is to clip your digital thermometer to a container with the prong immersed in the water bath. Keep the container in the oven. When the water gets heated to your desired temperature, add in the food and keep a lid on the pot. Place the pot back in the oven. For this method, you will have to keep an eye on the temperature. If it gets higher than your desired temperature, turn off the oven for some time until the temp drops back to normal.

Sous Vide with Insulation

Did you know you can also use an insulated cooler as a sous vide container? This is a very simple method that requires a thermometer. Fill the cooler with water. Make sure the temperature is slightly higher than your desired temperature. The thermometer will help you with this. If you cannot seem to get the temperature high enough, add some boiling water to cooler.

It depends on which insulation cooler you have, but with most of them, you can put the lid on to hold the food bag in place while the food cooks. Again, you need to keep a close eye on the temperature.

Most of these methods, though easy, are balancing acts. If you get them right, it becomes impossible to overcook the food, ever. Instead what you get is food that never reaches a temperature higher than the water bath it is immersed in. Plus, since it’s sealed, the food retains all its nutrients and maximum flavor.

Cost of DIY Sous Vide

Depending on how many things you have at home, the DIY sous side setup should not cost more than $50. Most kitchens have at least one of the containers mentioned above. If you do not any one of these, you must have a deep bottom pan that you use for daily cooking. Just turn that into your sous vide cooker.

The second thing you need is a digital thermometer. If you already have one at home, then you’re good to go. The last thing needed for DIY sous vide cooking is food bags. Any food grade refrigerator bags work for sous vide. There is no need to invest in expensive bags. So, the overall cost for DIY sous vide is way less than the cost for a precision cooker or an immersion circulator.

Conclusion

It is definitely possible to cook sous vide without a $250 precision cooker. All you need is a little bit of practice and a knack for calculations. Remember that the temperature settings will not be accurate to the degree, like they are with automated cooking but the results will be the same if there is only a degree or two difference.

As you practice, you will learn some tips and tricks along the way. Get help from cooking guides on the Internet to calculate the temperature and time on your own to make cooking easier.

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Is Sous Vide Cooking Safe?

Sous vide cooking promises perfect results every time, but does this perfection come at a cost? This is a question on many minds since the practice uses plastic bags for cooking and involves low cooking temperatures (even though for prolonged periods).

The word “plastic” itself is foreboding enough and when used in the context of cooking becomes an outright abomination. The other issue is cooking on low temperatures which raises the concern for letting harmful bacteria thrive. And then there is the whole business about vacuum sealing the food before submerging it in a water bath.

So naturally skepticism isn’t far behind when it comes to the integrity of food prepared in (seemingly) less-than-optimal cooking conditions.

You may well wonder if you’re putting your health at stake just to enjoy a delicious steak.

The Science behind Sous Vide

Sous vide involves vacuum sealing raw or partially cooked foods in plastic bags. You submerge the bag in a hot water bath for anywhere between a few hours to a few days. The temperature settings are low and once cooked, your food comes out full of flavor and nutrition.

So to determine if this slow cooking technique is indeed safe or not, here’s addressing its main concerns:

Are plastic bags safe?

The simple answer for this will vary depending on the kind of plastic bag you use. If you are using food grade plastic or BPA-free versions, you are safe.

This plastic is inert which means that it doesn’t react with food or water. This also keeps the food free of any contamination. Polyethylene bags are the best in this regard because they are inert and they do not pose any harm to the human health. Inert plastic doesn’t contain additives which may otherwise leach into food and impact your health adversely.

This type of plastic is also resistant to the sub-boiling temperatures used in sous vide cooking. So as long as you are using food grade, BPA free plastic, you have nothing to worry about.

On the other hand, if the bags contain BPA, they can seriously threaten your health. BPA mimics hormones present in the human body and can disrupt normal body functions.

Some studies conducted in animals also show that excessive exposure to BPA may also cause cancer in later stages on life. The effects of this chemical are more pronounced in infants and young adults. So if you are using phthalate-free or BPA-free plastic bags, then you do not need to fear.

Is low-temp cooking safe?

The USDA has specified a ‘danger zone’ which is a temperature range, cooking in which can be harmful for health. The danger temperature zone is between 40 and 140oF. According to the USDA, any food held in this range for more than two hours can be harmful for the body as bacteria thrive in this temperature. This is the range in which pathogenic bacteria increase in number and cause food-borne diseases.

Now there is a buffer zone within this temperature range above which bacteria growth becomes retarded. So when food is cooked at the 130oF mark, bacterial growth stops. In fact, increasing the temperature up a notch to 135oF would actually kill any bacteria present in the food.

Since sous vide cooking is all about precise temperature, and most cooking is done around the 130-140oF mark, pasteurization becomes possible. This makes sous vide cooking a much safer cooking technique than conventional methods. Also, the latest models of sous vide cookers come with keep-safe technology so they will let you know if you are cooking in the danger temperature range.

In addition, some research states that cooking at low temperatures is actually beneficial because it helps retain the nutritional value of foods. Vitamins and minerals in food break down at high temperatures which is why conventional methods can strip the food of its nutritional value. In sous vide, nutrients are retained since they don’t get broken down. Also, there is no likelihood of burning since heat dissipates into the food, instead of just heating on the outside.

Is Cooking Under Vacuum Safe?

Vacuum sealing creates an anaerobic environment which is ideal for the growth of certain bacteria that grow in such conditions. This means that these bacteria grow in the absence of oxygen.

The most harmful bacterium in this regard is C.botulinum which produces toxins when it has the right temperature in the absence of oxygen. It causes a disease called botulism which is certainly possible under anaerobic, low temperature conditions. But if you follow given precautions for staying out of the danger zone area, then you should also be safe from botulism as well.

So if you cook at given sous vide temperatures and for the given times, you should be able to effectively kill off this bacteria. It is important to realize that working at the right temperatures is only half the equation. The other half is all about the timing. Killing harmful bacteria becomes possible because you cook at a certain temperature for a prolonged period of time. Together, the two pasteurize the food making it safe for consumption.

Also, make it a point to always refrigerate your food in case there are leftovers.

Some stipulations

Never attempt sous vide cooking without the proper equipment. For instance, regular cooking thermometers aren’t precise enough. Invest in a proper sus vide immersion circulator or cooker to get the time and temperature right.

Takeaway

Sous vide cooking can be done right if you invest in the right equipment. A quality immersion circulator with give you precision and control over your timing and temperature. Food grade plastic bags will remove the concern for leaching and storing the food correctly will keep it safe for future consumption.

So follow the safety rules and the instructions of your sous vide machine for safe cooking. Overall, sous vide is considered a very safe cooking technique. So much so that one of its earliest uses was to use sous vide for preparing hospital food.

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Best Sous Vide Cookbook

The sous vide cooking methodology has gained a lot of popularity and for the right reasons too. It is a very reliable cooking method that can be used by anyone, whether at the beginner level or expert. The only evident issue that you could have with this cooking technique is knowing the right temperature and time. Since these two are the main elements of this technique, it is important to know the precise settings for cooking a sous vide meal. For this, there are plenty of sous vide cook books available in the market.

Sous Vide at Home: The Modern Technique for Perfectly Cooked Meals

This cookbook is the work of Lisa Fetterman and her colleagues. Published by Ten Speed Press, the book became available for sale in November 2016. This compilation of recipes has something for everyone and allows sous vide chefs to harness the power of this wonderful cooking method.

The author has added all the necessary tips and tricks of sous vide cooking that you need to know to make restaurant quality meals in the comfort of your own kitchen. Whether you want to learn how to make the perfect Thanksgiving turkey or you want to excel at the art of making interesting appetizers, you can turn to this book for guidance.

It has more than 100 recipes to satisfy taste buds of all kinds. The range of recipes isn’t limited to any particular cuisine but derives inspiration from all over the world. For the French connoisseur in you, try the delectable Duck Confit or if you want to tingle your Indian taste buds, there is a recipe for Chicken Tikka Masala too. To satisfy your sweet tooth, indulge in some hassle free vanilla ice cream or enjoy some homemade Coffee Cardamom Bitters using this recipe book.

Chris Cosentine, the winner of Top Chef Masters says that this book is a chef’s trick turned into a wonderful tool for anyone cooking at home. According to him, the recipes in this book are very easy to follow as they come with step-by-step instructions.

Lisa Fetterman is also the founder of Nomiku which has the honor of being the first ever Sous Vide immersion circulator for home cooks. She has been featured in magazines like Forbes and is well-appreciated for her work in the food space. Her experiences from her work at top restaurants are present in this cook book, providing inspiration to expert and new home cooks.

This book available in both hardcover and Kindle editions. The hardcover is listed on Amazon for $35.00 with a discounted price of $15.61.

Pros:

  • Includes tips that expert sous vide professionals would know, now accessible to home cooks
  • Complete guide on cooking safety and proper food preparation
  • Includes wide collection of recipes based on cooking expertise
  • Lots of pictures to go with recipes

Cons:

  • Lacks in recipes with too many words spent on discussing temperatures

Sous Vide for Everybody: The Easy, Foolproof Cooking Technique That’s Sweeping the World

This book is written by a professional team of cooks from America’s Test Kitchen. Published by the same company, the paperback version is scheduled for release in September 2018. It is an ideal book for cooks new to sous vide as it starts with basic techniques such as cooking steak and eggs. With the recipes in this book, you will be able to experiment this new cooking technique. Whether you want to cook holiday-quality chuck roast or you want to make every day soft finish eggs, every recipe is in the book.

America’s Test Kitchen is popular for its TV shows, magazines, websites and cook books. 60 passionate cooks located in different states of the US have provided their services for compiling this book. With this book, you will be able to expand your cooking knowledge. There are different dessert recipes including ice-cream and pudding recipes for your next family gathering or kids’ school party.

The beef recipes in the book will aid you in making the tenderest meals with fully cooked meat cuts with retained moisture and flavor.

The book is retailed on Amazon for $17.56. It will soon be released on 25th September, 2018.

Pros:

  • Includes recipes ordinarily found in restaurants, now available for your kitchen
  • Recipe range includes appetizers and cocktails, plus main courses and desserts
  • Basics and tips on sous vide
  • Includes cooking and temperature charts
  • Compiled by experts who know everything about sous vide

Cons:

  • N/A

The Effortless Sous Vide Cookbook: 140 Recipes for Crafting Restaurant-Quality Meals Every Day

The book is written by top chef and author Carey Copeling. Published by Rockridge Press, this book was made available to the customers in January 2018. This book has 140 recipes that are all hassle free and restaurant quality. The writer claims that this book will turn any everyday home cook into a restaurant chef.

There are weeknight recipes such as sea food recipes, poultry and dessert recipes for every home cook to enjoy. The author has even added drinks recipes. If you are a vegetarian, you can find vegetable recipes in the book too. For meat lovers, there are many red meat recipes for special occasions or for daily meals.

There are also reference guides in the book featuring helpful charts to enhance your cooking skills. You can gauge temperature settings and timings using these charts. You can even learn the power settings from the charts in this book. Go from beginner to pro level with reference guides in this book.

You will be able to savor recipes such as Seared Wasabi, Rosemary Veal Chop, Duck Confit and even more. Care for an Espresso Martini? You can make them with the recipes given in this book too.

Carey Copeling is a top chef and sous Vide enthusiast. He has been experimenting with these cooking techniques for quite a while and shares his findings in this cook book. Also, he has a blog called sousveat.com that you can go to for more recipes and tricks.

This book is listed on Amazon for $15.50. The pictures in this book are so beautiful that you would want to try every recipe as soon as you get your hands on this masterpiece.

Pros:

  • Suitable for anyone excited to try sous vide recipes
  • Sous vide details won’t leave you guessing how to cook your meal
  • High end recipes with everyday ingredients

Cons:

  • Too few photos of finished products

Sous Vide Cookbook: The Complete Sous Vide Cookbook

This book has been written by Vincent Bryant and the best part about it is that it also comes in a Kindle Edition. This edition is a total of 177 pages with word wise reading enables. If you want to know the tips and tricks for getting your meals right every single time, you can surely invest in this book. The book is divided into chapters, with each chapter dealing with a specific aspect of sous vide cooking. First the author explains what sous vide cooking is and then goes on to tell you how it benefits you.

There is also a comprehensive section for home cooks about the things they need for starting sous vide cooking. To round off, the author mentions some tested tips and tricks for learning sous vide.

There is a wide range of recipes with a total of 150. Some of the older cook books only have recipes for meat and fish but Bryant has added dessert recipes too. Now you can enjoy perfectly cooked desserts at home. When you buy a sous vide cooker, it is likely that you might be lost at first but with this cookbook, you can make a perfect steak one day and enjoy a yummy cheesecake the next.

Most of the recipes are extremely simple with no more than five ingredients. For the meat recipes, Bryant mentions the precise temp and time for each cut of meat. It is ideal for beginner level cooks. People at expert or intermediate level may not learn much from this book as it has been kept very simple.

The Kindle version supports page flip, enhanced type setting and screen reader feature. It is available for purchase on Amazon.

Pros:

  • Straight forward and simple writing style
  • Ideal for newbies
  • Provides tips and suggestions on par with sous vide experts

Cons:

  • No pictures in the book
  • Recipes are very basic with nothing for the medium or advanced sous vide cook

Conclusion

All the cook books mentioned above have their own selection of recipes formulated by some of the most well-known and experienced chefs. While Bryant’s book is the most suitable of the four for beginners, it is Sous Vide at Home: The Modern Technique for Perfectly Cooked Meals by Lisa Fetterman which is the best book to have if you want to step into Sous Vide cooking. With its tempting pictures, precise settings and well-explained recipes, this book is a cooking gem by one of the most acknowledged and successful sous vide experts in the world.

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What Is Sous Vide- A Brief History

The term “sous vide” may only recently have become popular with home cooks, but it has a history that spans back a couple of hundred years. The process evolved over time with a few prominent names that brought sous vide cooking to its present state. Here we will take a look at these individuals and how they contributed to the history of sous vide.

Benjamin Thompson

Taking it back to its earliest days in the year 1799, the sous vide cooking approach was somewhat of a discovery made accidently. If anything, some view it as an absolute fluke that later became one of the finest ways of cooking meat and other foods to perfection.

The man responsible for this accident was a physicist named Benjamin Thompson who often engaged in experiments about the transfer of heat. It was during one of these experiments that Thompson was trying to roast meat in a machine that he had engineered to dry potatoes.

He placed a shoulder of meat in his machine and left it for a couple of hours. When things didn’t work out as planned, Thompson gave up and left the meat for the maids to handle. The maids then left the meat overnight in the machine with plans to cook it the next day.

However, when they came back the next day, they found the meat fully done in the machine. But not only was the meat thoroughly cooked, it was also nice and tender and full of flavor. In fact, the result was quite similar to what sous vide cooking today delivers. The only difference is that Thompson’s method used air to transfer the heat while sous vide cooking uses water.

Georges Pralus

Thompson’s discovery may well have started the wheels spinning for sous vide cooking, but it wasn’t until much later that the idea actually took off as an effective cooking technique. To be exact, it was a little over 150 years later that attention revived in this cooking technique and the art of sous vide cooking was perfected.

In 1974, Georges Pralus was a chef at the popular Troisgros Restaurant in France. The issue at hand was to find a more effective way to prepare foie gras which would lose about 50% of its weight when cooked through traditional methods.

Here Pralus experimented with foie gras wrapped up in plastic and discovered that when cooked this way, the meat only lost 5% of its weight. The idea was to expel any trapped air and cook it in a water bath which is pretty much what sous vide cooking today offers.

This is seen by many as the real birth of the sous vide cooking and Pralus is hailed as its pioneer.

Bruno Goussalt

While Pralus was busy perfecting his method in France, Bruno Gousaalt brought science into the mix. Goussalt was a chief scientist for a US foods company and carried out research to develop guidelines for sous vide cooking. His works centered on determining cooking times and temperatures for different foods.

With a culinary rivalry going on for some time, the two finally collaborated in 1980. From thereon, Pralus and Goussalt worked together to make sous vide cooking comply with French food safety standards so the method could be used professionally.

Goussalt’s efforts also proved that cooking beef sous vide style extended its shelf life to 60 days. This was a huge accomplishment as it now made it possible to use this cooking technique on an industrial scale.

Taking It Forward

From the time the two pioneers collaborated, sous vide cooking was primarily practiced by a handful of professional chefs. Another reason for this was that the sous vide equipment available was only for commercial kitchens. The method was kept under wraps as it was considered a somewhat strange and even dangerous method of cooking.

It remained almost unheard of outside restaurant kitchens until books on the subject started coming out. Of these, Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide by Chef Thomas Keller gained attention in 2008. This was quickly followed by another publication that made an impression in 2011.

The book was called Modernist Cuisine by Nathan Myhrvold who wrote about the methods and theories about sous vide cooking. He also include recipes in his book which triggered significant interest. This also motivated many home cooks to try the recipes for themselves.

This is actually the point in history where sous vide cooking took off in a big way. Not only were home foodies interested in this innovative way of cooking, but celebrity chefs like Blumenthal and Adria also became proponents of sous vide cooking.

The Final Furlong

Today sous vide cooking has become an integral part of many home kitchens. The fact that sous vide cooking devices and appliances are now available at affordable prices helps greatly.

The practice of sous vide cooking now offers home cooks the benefit of cooking healthy meals at a specific and consistent temperature. Perhaps one of the biggest reasons for its growing popularity is that this technique takes the guesswork out of the whole process yet delivers perfectly cooked meals every time.

Initially the method was used for cooking meats, but is now quite versatile and used to prepare a variety of foods. Even though foods like steak, fish and pork still remain popular, you can also use sous vide to prepare perfectly done vegetables.

In fact, the technique has evolved so much that many people also prepare items like cakes and custard using this method. The trick is to use canning jars instead of vacuum bags.

At its most basic, you can use a cooking container to fill out the water bath and freezer grade Ziploc bags to place the food item in. But if you are more devoted to sous vide cooking, you can go with vacuum sealers, special sous vide cookers, immersion circulators and a host of other accessories.

You budget may be your only limitation but you are guaranteed perfect results every time.

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Sous Vide Pronunciation

Sous vide is a cooking method different from conventional methods in terms of prolonged timings and temperature precision. In this method, food is placed in a zip lock bag or any plastic pouch and cooked in a steaming water bath.

The food may also be cooked in a glass jar provided that the jar is resistant to heat. The cooking times are longer and can average from 1 to 7 hours. Some foods even have to be cooked for 2 days at a precise temperature.

The temperatures used in this method also differ from your everyday cooking. Sous vide requires food to cook at lower temperatures ranging from 55 to 60 degrees Celsius. This slow cooking gives you perfectly done cuts of meat.

The point of such slow cooking at a regulated temperature is to prevent overcooking the outside and to retain the maximum moisture and flavor.

Origins

The concept of cooking food under pressure comes from French engineers who used this method for food preservation. Later, the practice was adopted by French chefs who wanted to find a cooking technique allowing them to preserve the maximum flavor and texture without compromising on the quality of the food.

More specifically, the method was tried on the preparation of foie gras. With conventional cooking foie gras would lose its texture and original appearance/weight. However, sous vide seemed to solve this problem and deliver succulent results every time.

Pronunciation

Hailing from French origins, the practice got a French name as well. The term sous vide, when translated literally means “under vacuum”. It’s quite apt because, food is cooked under partial pressure to ensure doneness and retention of taste.

When you say the word out loud, many people say it as “soo-vee”. But the correct way of saying it is “soo-veeD”, with a “D” sound at the end. So if you are training to be a culinary chef or you are just a cooking enthusiast, you should know how to say it right.

Once this way of cooking took off, it was primarily shared by restaurant chefs only. To develop it further, others got involved and incorporated temperature control into the cooking method. With collaborated efforts, they found the right temperatures for cooking many foods using low temperature.

Others looked for ways to cook meals under pressure to get perfect results. But it wasn’t until the 1970s, that the marriage of cooking at low temperatures and cooking under pressure took place.

Once a system was established, the main features of the cooking method were the provision of partial pressure to food, cooking in a container and at low temperature.

When cooked in a water bath, the food could not get hotter than its surrounding so there was no chance of overcooking or burning. Also, regulated temperature prevented loss of excess moisture. Nowadays, technology has entered onto the equation and there are electronic immersion circulators available that regulate the temperature of the water bath. It has made things much easier for people who want to try sous vide cooking.