3 Easy Things to Try With Your New Sous Vide Cooker: Proteins, Desserts, and Leftovers

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

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 it in the water bath, sous vide is great for all cuts of meat, from the most inexpensive chuck to top-end steaks.

Note: ​A sous vide cooker offers a lot of leeway in cooking time and temperatures for most proteins so you can get the results you want. You should check out some time and temperature charts for guidelines, then experiment to discover how you best like your proteins.​

Here are a few examples.​

perfect steak sous vide cooker

With a sous vide cooker and a torch, perfect steak every time.

A Good Cut of Steak

This is what sous vide is best known for, and why people flocked to this technology once the prices came down to an affordable range (less than $200). Because you cook a steak at the exact temperature required for the doneness you prefer, there is no risk of getting it too done--probably the worst sin you can commit against an expensive cut of beef. 

Suddenly, it's possible to make a steak-house quality steak at home. But if you're not into that, there are a lot of other uses for sous vide.

A Not-So-Good Cut of Steak

Unlike pretty much every other cooking method, sous vide produces brilliant results on tough and tender cuts of meat alike. Why? Because you can control the cooking time as well as the temperature. So with tough cuts of meat, you can do long "braises" ​that not only tenderize tough cuts, but keep all the juices in the meat, so it stays incredibly flavorful.

In fact, it goes beyond just tenderizing and flavor. You can cook tough cuts like chuck, short ribs, and brisket for up to 72 hours--and get medium-rare results! Why would you want to cook them for 72 hours? They're done after just a few hours, but you can control the texture by how long you choose to cook them. The longer they go, the "flakier" they get, producing a texture similar to a medium-rare steak. Here's a great recipe for 72 hour short ribs on the Modernist Cuisine site that goes into more explanation about this.

Chicken Breast

Because it's so lean, chicken breast can get dry with conventional cooking methods--even poaching can somehow suck all the juice (and flavor) out of the meat. Sous vide is like poaching a chicken breast, except all the juices stay in the bag with the chicken. 

You can use sous vide chicken breast for all the things you use poached chicken breast for: chicken salad, shredded chicken for tacos, enchiladas, casseroles, salads, etc. Or, if you want some browning to eat the breast by itself, you can finish it in a super hot frying pan or (my favorite) on a grill.​ Don't give it too much heat, though, because it will overcook it. About 30-45 seconds a side should do it.

A sous vide cooker is good for all lean cuts of meat, including chicken, turkey, and many cuts of pork. ​

Salmon

salmon sous vide cooker

Salmon stays moist and succulent in a sous vide cooker.

​The proteins in fish are very delicate, which is why it's so easy to overcook it, making it dry and tough. This is why low temperature cooking methods like sous vide are ideal for salmon.

My first experience with sous vide salmon was amazing. Sous vide cooked 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 (although I suggest you don't knock it till you've tried it), you can cook it for a longer period to get a flakier texture (yup--just like beef). The beauty is that you can get a flaky texture at any level of doneness. ​Or 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 4 hours.

As with chicken breast, you can sear it or grill it to finish, or eat it as-is right out of the bag. Don't forget to season before bagging!

2. Leftovers​

There 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 (just above the danger zone) and drop them in. No worries about burning or drying out in the oven, or having to stir in a microwave or on a stovetop. 

To make it even easier, get into the habit of storing your leftovers in sous-vide friendly bags. And 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!

3. Desserts

You can't bake cakes in a sous vide, although I have seen sous vide cookie recipes (not something I'd recommend). But there are a handful of other items you can make in a sous vide that are both easy and delicious.​

Poached Fruit

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. 

Creme Brulee​

cremebrulee sous vide cooker

Creme brulee is easy peasy with sous vide.

A lot of home cooks cringe at the thought of making creme brulee. All that work and then you curdle the egg by tempering too quickly with the hot cream! Well, no such worries with sous vide creme brulee. And no messy water baths in the oven, either. You just mix the sugar, cream, and egg yolks together and pour them into a bag, or several small mason jars with lids (although sometimes you can get leaks with this method). ​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)
  1. Set your circulator or water bath to 180F (82C).
  2. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl until fully blended.
  3. 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.
  4. Cook for 30 minutes. NOTE: Do not go above 180F or over 30 minutes as this could cause curdling.
  5. After 30 minutes, remove the bag from the water bath. Massage it gently to make sure everything is incorporated. Let cool.
  6. Slice a corner off the bag and pour into ramekins. Chill for at least 2 hours. 
  7. To serve, dust the tops of the custards with sugar and torch until the sugar caramelizes.

(recipe adapted from Anova Culinary)

Yogurt​

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 gotten 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. 

Here's the recipe I use: http://blog.sousvidesupreme.com/2012/11/michael-ruhlmans-homemade-sous-vide-yogurt/​

Your sous vide cooker has endless possibilities; these are just a few. See our recipe archives for more ideas.​

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