Got a new sous vide cooker--circulator or water bath? Here are a few things to try--some basic, some you may not have thought of. This is by no means a complete list. But sous vide does all of these things particularly well.
1. Proteins (You Don't Have to Brown)
Proteins--meat--are usually the first thing associated with sous vide cooking. And for good reason. Sous vide is excellent for all types of meat. Because the meat cooks in its own juices at low temperature, and because you can control the texture of the results by how long you leave in the water bath, sous vide is great for all cuts of meat, from the most inexpensive chuck to top-end steaks.
But the very easiest proteins to do sous vide are those you don't have to sear afterward. Nobody wants to eat a grey steak or pork chop, so you have to brown them up after sous viding, adding an extra step. Not all proteins require this, though.
Chicken or Turkey Breast
Sous vide is one of the very best ways to cook chicken or turkey breast. This very lean cut tends to dry out no matter how it's cooked, but sous vide is the exception. Because of the low temperature and the sealed bag, the juices stay with the meat, and the result is moist, juicy white meat that you can use for myriad recipes.
Skinless meat is best for this, as sous vide poultry skin is rubbery and slimy if not seared. But you can use skinless breast meat right out of the bag for salads, soups, stews, pot pies, tacos and enchiladas, and so much more. You can even sous vide a big batch and freeze it for easy meals any time.
Be sure to use plenty of seasoning in the bag: salt, pepper, and a little butter for sure, plus any specific seasoning depending on how you're going to use the meat. (Cumin and ancho for Mexican dishes, sage and thyme for soups, stews and pot pies. You get the idea.) Since you lose a little flavor not browning, you want to add as much flavor as you can to the cooking bag.
You can also do this with skinless thighs, pork tenderloin, short ribs...any cut that's going to get used in another dish is fair game.
Salmon and Other Fish
The proteins in fish are very delicate, which is why it's so easy to overcook it, making it dry and tough. This makes low temperature cooking methods like sous vide are ideal for salmon.
Sous vide salmon is amazing. You can cook the salmon to medium rare perfection (about 120F), which is hard to achieve in an oven or on a stove top. But the extraordinary thing was the texture: it was soft and almost custard-like.
If you don't like your salmon custardy (but hey, don't knock it till you've tried it!), you can cook it for a longer period to get a flakier texture. The beauty is that you can get a flaky texture at any level of doneness by manipulating the cook time.
If you like your salmon well done, just crank up the sous vide to 130F and it'll be fully cooked and flaky, yet juicy.
The only caveat is that you can't forget about it like you can beef or chicken because 1) the delicate proteins with toughen, and 2) if you're cooking it below 130F, bacteria growth becomes an issue after about 2 hours.
Sure you can sear it if you want to, but that kind of destroys the unique sous vide texture of it. If you use enough seasoning in the bag before sealing, you really don't need a sear.
You can do other fish this way, but the custardy texture is best for salmon. Other fish should be fully cooked, but are just as tasty as salmon, even without a sear.
There are a lot of sous vide recipes all over the Internet these days, but you don't see a lot about leftovers. Yet sous vide is perfect for leftovers.
Whether they're refrigerated or frozen, sous vide is the simplest, most hands-off way imaginable to reheat your leftovers. Just set your water bath to 131F (hotter if you prefer) and drop them in. No worries about burning or drying out in the oven. No need to stir in a microwave or on a stovetop. And perfect results every time.
To make it even easier, get into the habit of storing your leftovers in sous-vide friendly bags. If you have a vacuum sealer, even better, because you can just grab them out of the freezer or fridge and throw them right into the bath. The dinner question--solved!
Frozen Meat, too: You can also use your sous vide to thaw frozen proteins for quick, easy meals. If you've stocked up on chicken breast as described above, you can thaw it in your sous vide bath in less than half an hour. You can also thaw most other meats in surprisingly quickly. If they're not too thick (e.g., a whole chicken), they'll thaw in the sous vide bath in 30-60 minutes.
You can't bake pies or cakes in a sous vide, although there are sous vide cookie recipes floating around the Internet. There are also a handful of desserts ideal for sous vide that are both easy and delicious.
Add a small amount of spice and syrup to peaches, apples, plums, or other fruits and put them in a hot sous vide bath--around 185F. Both fruits and veggies need these higher temps to break down the pectins and starches in the fruits and produce tender results. But be careful, because unlike cooking at lower sous vide temps, these high temps can cause mushiness if you leave a bag in too long.
A lot of home cooks cringe at the thought of making creme brulee. All that careful work, and then you curdle the egg by tempering too quickly with the hot cream! Argh!
Well, no such worries with sous vide creme brulee. And no water baths either--in fact, not even an oven is needed. You just mix the sugar, cream, vanilla and egg yolks together and pour them into a bag, or several small mason jars with lids. Cook until done, pour into ramekins (if you use the bag), then cool and torch the top as usual.
If you love creme brulee and have been afraid to make it at home, you have to try this.
Here is the world's simplest recipe for creme brulee:
Creme Brulee for 2
- 1 c heavy cream
- 2 T. sugar
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 t. orange-flavored liqueur (or other flavored liqueur)
- Set your circulator or water bath to 180F (82C).
- Mix all ingredients together in a bowl until fully blended.
- Pour into sous vide bag. Seal in a chamber vac, or use the air displacement method to remove as much air as possible. Put bag in preheated water bath.
- Cook for 30 minutes. NOTE: Do not go above 180F or over 30 minutes as this could cause curdling.
- After 30 minutes, remove the bag from the water bath. Massage it gently to make sure everything is incorporated. Let cool.
- Slice a corner off the bag and pour into ramekins. Chill for at least 2 hours.
- To serve, dust the tops of the custards with sugar and torch until the sugar caramelizes.
(recipe adapted from Anova Culinary)
If you own a yogurt maker, it's time to retire it (and make some space in your kitchen). And if you don't, you've just found the easiest way to make yogurt on the planet. And for this recipe, you use a mason jar, so there's not even any bagging required. You can control the texture by how long you let it go--for thicker "Greek" style yogurt, let it sous vide (incubate) for about 10 hours. For a thinner texture, you can take it out of the water bath after 4 hours.
Your sous vide cooker has endless possibilities; these are just a few.
Thanks for reading!