Until a few years ago, sous vide cooking only happened in professional kitchens. The equipment was too expensive and bulky and it all seemed too complicated to try at home.
These days it seems every other ambitious home cook on Masterchef is sealing their steak in a vacuum pouch and tossing it in a water bath with an immersion circulator. As the gadgets have become more affordable and readily available, sous vide cooking has crossed from the 3-hatted restaurant to the humble domestic kitchen.
So what do you need to sous vide at home?
The essential piece of kit is an immersion circulator. Sous vide is all about cooking food at very precise, lower temperatures for extended periods of time. An immersion circulator is a very accurate heating element and once you pop it in a pan of water, you have everything you need to begin cooking sous vide.
Sous vide is actually French for ‘under vacuum’ and whilst it might not be the most accurate description of how things are cooked using the method, the vacuum bit is certainly important.
The fact is, if you want to cook a pork chop at exactly 62C for an hour, it has to be prepared correctly. This is where the vacuum comes in. If you want to learn more about why sous vide cooking is so popular, you can read more here.
Most foods that are cooked sous vide have to be placed in a plastic bag first. If they weren’t they’d be floating around in a large pan of water and most of their flavour would be washed away. Also, when food is placed in the bag, as much air as if possible is removed from the bag. This action makes it much easier to get uniform cooking results and to control the temperature successfully.
To create this vacuum you can simply squeeze the air out of the bag by hand before you zip it closed, or you can try displacing the air from the bag by carefully lowering it into a bowl of water and sealing it once most of the air has been pushed out.
Both of these methods are fine, but not particularly precise or convenient.
If you want perfectly vacuum sealed portions of food for your sous vide, it is worth investing in a vacuum sealer. These nifty devices literally remove as much air as you want from inside the plastic bag before sealing it closed with your food safely locked inside.
You may think that buying a vacuum sealer on top of an immersion circulator is an unnecessary expense as it will only be required for a bit of sucking and sealing before each sous vide session. However, I think you’ll be in for a surprise. The beauty of a vacuum sealer is that once you have one, you’ll wonder why you didn’t buy it years ago!
The connection between restaurant-quality sous vide cookery and a decent vacuum sealer is clear, but vacuum sealing has so many other uses.
You can store an enormous range of foodstuffs for extended periods of time once they have been vacuum sealed (both in the freezer and simply on pantry shelves). Everything – from bags of coffee beans to cuts of meat – takes up less storage space when the bag (or container) has had all the air removed.
You can also prepare meals weeks in advance and easily divide up bulk shopping-buys when all that is required is to simply pop portions into vacuum sealer bags and quickly seal them up.
There are many more ways in which a vacuum sealer will make your food prep and storage a breeze. If you want to know more, please see our article Why Buy a Vacuum Sealer?
The sous vide method is professional kitchen magic that can be done at home, but you should invest in a few essential bits of equipment to do it well. An immersion circulator and a vacuum sealer are our ‘must-have’ recommendations. After that, all you need is a few basic ingredients and a sense of adventure.