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