Imagine you’re cooking a steak. You probably know exactly the color and texture—the doneness, in other words—you’d like, right? With sous vide (say “sue veed”), you simply set a pot of water to the corresponding time and temperature, and you can get that perfect doneness you desire, every time. Sous vide has been gaining popularity recently with home cooks, but professional chefs and restaurants have been relying upon it for decades. It’s a relatively simple method that can easily be used at home to improve your favorite meals, remove unnecessary stress from cooking, or free you from focusing on one aspect of your meal—like getting your steak to the doneness you desire without overcooking it—so you can focus on a creative side dish, sauce, or dessert. Once you’re certifiably obsessed with sous vide, there are tons of amazing things you can make with it, from carnitas to perfect crème brûlée, fried chicken to smoky ribs.
So, how does sous vide work? And why is it so much better than traditional cooking methods for some foods? Allow us to explain. With traditional cooking methods, heat flows from a burner to a pan then into our food, or the glowing elements of an oven heat the air around the food, cooking it. Because the air in the oven and the metal in the pan are much hotter than you want your food to be, you’ve got to take it away from the heat at just the right time. Take it off too early or too late and your food is either over- or undercooked. But when cooking with water, instead of an oven or a pan, we can raise the temperature just enough to get the food to the exact temperatures we prefer. We can take it out as soon as it's done cooking, or let it rest in the water until we’re ready to eat—no more obsessively checking inside the oven, no more chaining yourself to the stove.
Instead you can pour yourself a drink and chill, chat with your guests, or focus on a more high-maintenance part of the meal. Perfect food that’s easy to prepare and ready at your convenience: that’s what makes sous vide such a popular solution in restaurants, and that’s what makes it an amazing tool for home cooks as well. Try it, and right from the jump you’ll see how it can drastically improve matters in the kitchen—you’ll be cooking more and having more fun doing it. And your steaks will be the stuff of legend.
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To quickly get your head around how your oven, grill, or stove cooks food, have a look at the graph below. With traditional techniques, there’s a narrow window of time in which your food is prepared just the way you like it—get distracted for a few minutes, and you’ve missed your opportunity to enjoy a perfectly prepared steak or pork chop. Such a bummer.
Now check out this sous vide graph. As you can see, your food can remain in a precisely heated pot of water for more than an hour, and still emerge perfectly cooked. Guests call up to tell you they’re stuck in traffic? Worry not, good sir or madam, your dinner party will still go off without a hitch. Got your chops ready to go but find that salad recipe took longer than you expect? Don’t you fret, little buddy, you can just let that chicken be. All set to eat some salmon but then find out—you know what? You probably get the picture. Sous vide food is ready when you are, and when you are ready, you’re going to find you’ve got some seriously tasty food on the table.