- Complexity: very easy
Essential Features: Sealing the food in sturdy plastic bags retains juices and aroma that otherwise would be lost in the process.
Placing the food in a water bath, with the temperature set at the desired final cooking temperature of the food, prevents overcooking, because the food cannot get hotter than the bath it is in, as in bain-marie. In conventional high-heat cooking, such as oven roasting or grilling, the food is exposed to heat levels that are much higher than the desired internal cooking temperature and it must be removed from the high heat prior to reaching the desired cooking temperature. If the food is removed from the heat too late, it becomes overcooked and if it is removed too early, it is undercooked. As a result of precise temperature control of the bath and the fact that the bath temperature is the same as the target cooking temperature, very precise control of cooking can be achieved. Additionally, temperature, and thus cooking, can be very even throughout the food in sous-vide cooking, even with irregularly-shaped and very thick items, given enough time.
The use of temperatures much lower than for conventional cooking is an equally essential feature of sous-vide, resulting in much higher succulence at these lower temperatures, as cell walls in plant-based food do not burst. In the case of meat cooking, tough collagen in connective tissue can be hydrolysed into gelatin, without heating the meat’s proteins high enough that they denature to a degree that the texture toughens and moisture is wrung out of the meat. In contrast, with the cooking of vegetables, where extreme tenderness or softness is seen as undesirably overcooked, the ability of the sous-vide technique to cook vegetables at a temperature below the boiling point of water allows vegetables to be thoroughly cooked (and pasteurized, if necessary) while maintaining a firm or somewhat crisp texture. While the cell walls will generally not burst, the de-polymerization of the pectic polysaccharides that connect the vegetable cells together and/or the gelatinisation of starch in the vegetable can be achieved without overcooking. From a culinary viewpoint, the exclusion of air is secondary, but this has practical importance. It allows cooked food to be stored, still sealed and refrigerated, for considerable times, which is especially useful for the catering industry and it excludes oxygen from food that requires long cooking and is susceptible to oxidation, e.g., fat on meat, which may become rancid with prolonged exposure to air. It also improves the transfer of heat between the water bath and food, without the thermal insulating properties of any trapped air in the bag. Apart from ensuring uniform cooking, sous-vide cooking facilitates development of desired organoleptic flavours and limits off flavours due to oxidation.
Sous Vide Time and Temperature Guides:
Strip, Ribeye, and Porterhouse Steaks - Highly marbled cuts like a grain-finished Prime-grade ribeye and strip should be cooked a few degrees higher than leaner steaks like tenderloin as their copious intramuscular fat helps keep them moist while delivering plenty of flavor. Fattier steaks also have natural insulation which means they’ll take slightly longer to reach the correct internal temperature.
Very Rare to Rare: 49°C to 53°C, 1 to 2½ hours.
Medium-rare: 54°C to 57°C, 1 to 4 hours (2½ hours for temperatures under 57°C.)
Medium: 57°C to 62°C, 1 to 4 hours.
Medium-well: 63°C to 68°C, 1 to 3½ hours.
Well done: 69°C and up, 1 to 3 hours.
Tenderloin Steaks - Lean tenderloin is easily overcooked and without intramuscular fat, will become dry. We cook our tenderloin steaks several degrees lower than fattier cuts like ribeye or strip. We like our tenderloins in the very rare to rare range, between 49°C and 53°C for optimal tenderness and moistness.
Very Rare to Rare: 49°C to 53°C, 45 minutes to 2½ hours
Medium-rare: 54°C to 57°C, 45 minutes to 4 hours (2½ hours for temperatures under 57°C)
Medium: 57°C to 62°C, 45 minutes to 4 hours
Medium-well: 63°C to 68°C, 45 minutes to 3½ hours
Well done: 69°C and up, 1 to 3 hours
Hamburgers - With traditionally cooked burgers, it is very difficult to gauge doneness. Low density means rapid overcooking and a relatively thin profile means that it’s difficult to judge where to stick a thermometer. With precision cooking, you can nail that perfect pink interior time after time.
Very Rare to Rare: 46°C to 51°C, 40 minutes to 2½ hours
Medium-Rare: 51°C to 54°C, 40 minutes to 2½ hours
Medium: 54°C to 58°C, 40 minutes to 4 hours (2½ hours for temperatures under 57°C)
Medium-Well: 59°C to 62°C, 40 minutes to 4 hours
Well-Done: 63°C to 68°C, 40 minutes to 3½ hours
Chicken Breasts - Unlike roasted or pan-seared chicken, sous vide chicken breasts are moist and tender every time. Depending on your preferred final texture and serving temperature, there is a range of suggested cooking temperatures and times. Between 60-62°C is our preferred temperature range for chicken served hot. Chicken cooked to 60°C has a very tender, extremely juicy and smooth texture that is firm and completely opaque and shows no signs of stringiness. Once it gets above 66°C, the chicken will still be plenty moist and tender, but it will have some of its signature stringiness. This is our preferred temperature for chicken that’s destined to be served cold as a salad. When it gets to around 71°C, it is now well-done. If you are a lover of traditional roast chicken but have always wished it was moister, then this may be the temperature range for you.
Tender and juicy for cold chicken salad: 66°C, 1 to 4 hours
Very soft and juicy, served hot: 60°C, 1½ to 4 hours
Juicy, tender, and slightly stringy, served hot: 66°C, 1 to 4 hours
Traditional, juicy, firm, and slightly stringy, served hot: 71°C, 1 to 4 hours
Chicken Thighs - Unlike chicken breasts, chicken thighs and drumsticks are high in connective tissue with a more robust flavour and a texture that can withstand a bit more cooking. Cooked to a temperature lower than 66°C, they are nearly inedibly chewy and tough. At 66°C, juices just begin to run clear but tougher connective tissue like large tendons will still be a little chewy. This is a good range if you like a very robust, meaty texture. Once you get to 74°C, timing comes into play. With shorter cook times, you end up with chicken that is more tender than chicken cooked to 65°C and just slightly more dry. With extended cook times, the chicken begins to fall apart much more readily. Expelled chicken juices and broken down connective tissues start to collect in the bag, forming a gel which can be subsequently used to form a flavourful pan sauce.
Firm, very juicy, slightly tough: 66°C, 1 to 4 hours
Tender and very juicy: 74°C, 1 to 4 hours
Fall-off-the-bone tender: 74°C, 4 to 8 hours
Pork Ribs - Ribs are traditionally slow-cooked in a smoker in order to get their copious amounts of connective tissue to convert to gelatin, turning the tough ribs tender. The rate at which this conversion takes place is a function of temperature and time; the lower the temperature, the longer it takes. At the same time, the lower the temperature, the more internal moisture the ribs will retain as they cook. So while ribs cooked at 63°C will take about three times longer to tenderize than those cooked at 74°C, they will end up with a more succulent, meaty texture that eats almost like an extra-tender steak. Ribs cooked at a higher temperature will have a more traditional BBQ rib texture with well-rendered fat and meat that shreds as you eat it.
Extra meaty, succulent and tender: 62.8°C, 36 hours
Traditional BBQ, tender with a little resistance: 73.9°C, 12 hours
History: Sous-vide cooking is characterized by low-temperature cooking, a longer period of cooking than conventional cooking, a container (such as a plastic bag) that separates the food from its heating environment and pressurized enclosure using full or partial vacuum.
Low-temperature cooking was first described by Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford in 1799. He used air as the heat-transfer medium in his experiments while attempting to see if he could roast meat in a machine which he had created to dry potatoes. In Thompson's own words, the meat was: "Not merely eatable, but perfectly done, and most singularly well-tasted."
Preparation of food under pressure, with or without heat, was developed by American and French engineers in the mid-1960s as an industrial food preservation method. As with Rumford, the researchers learned that the food showed distinctive improvements in flavour and texture. As this method was pioneered, applying pressure to food through vacuum sealing was sometimes called "cryovacking". The pressure notably concentrated the flavours of fruits, even without cooking.
The method was adopted by Georges Pralus, a French chef, in 1974 for the Restaurant Troisgros (of Pierre and Michel Troisgros) in Roanne, France. He discovered that when foie gras was cooked in this manner, it kept its original appearance, did not lose excess amounts of fat, and had better texture. Another pioneer in sous-vide is Bruno Goussault, chief scientist of Sterling, Virginia-based food manufacturer Cuisine Solutions, who further researched the effects of temperature on various foods and became well known for training top chefs in the method. He developed the parameters of cooking times and temperatures for various foods. Goussault and Pralus independently worked on development of sous vide in the 1970s and eventually became collaborators. It was Goussault who pioneered the marriage of vacuum sealing with low-temperature cooking. Pralus, considered the father of modern sous vide, cooked at higher temperatures.