sousvideSous Vide cooking:  it has been used by professional restaurants for decades and European homes for about 10 years but, only now, it is becoming commonly used by American homes.  It turns out you don’t have to be a great chef to create steaks, chicken, pork and eggs that are professional quality. The two big benefits:  it produces great meats and eggs with little risk of overcooking.   Moreover, it is increasingly low-cost and simple to use.   The secret is water combined with slow-cooking techniques.  To test this cooking tool, we purchased an Anova Precision Cooker immersion unit from Amazon.  We were pleasantly surprised.   For about $170, you can begin using this new, easy food preparation device.  you simply attach it to a pot, put your food in a plastic sealable bag and set the time and temperature. The Anova circulates water around the pot while ensuring a consistent temperature throughout. It also connects to your phone, allowing you to cook amazing meals by simply touching a button.   The poultry, beef and eggs that we cooked turned out great……and in the case of the eggs, even better than great.

With a conventional oven, the temperature is set typically around 350 degrees F. But you only want the meat to cook to about 160 degrees (at the most) – because otherwise it will dry out from over cooking. With Sous Vide you preset the water bath temperature (148 for turkey, 130 for steak) so the food will never go  beyond that temperature and therefore not overcook.  After you seal the ingredients in a plastic bag (you can also use a canning jar) and place them in a pot of water the Sous Vide device sets the target temperature to within a degree or two. When the food reaches your target temperature or time, you take it out, give it a quick sear or other finish, and serve it.  It yields results that are nearly impossible to achieve by traditional means because the meat is slow-cooked at low temperatures so that it can’t be overcooked.   That’s why professional kitchens love sous-vide preparation.  Granted, cooking at low temperatures makes some people nervous about food-borne illness.  But Sous Vide has been studied extensively and is safe to cook the foods at these low temperatures for the times we state.

So what about the dreaded salmonella?  Yes, it is one of the worst bacterial food-borne illness we read about today and is responsible for a number of hospitalizations and even deaths. We hear about it in eggs, produce, chicken meat, and turkey meat. Well, heat kills salmonella — ay any temperature above 122 degrees Fahrenheit  bacteria can’t live and reproduce.  With eggs or chicken cooking above 130 degrees for the salmonella bacteria are unable to grow at those temperatures, as are all the other common bugs.

We cooked our chicken at 145 degrees F for at least 45 minutes.  The FDA states that it is safe when it is held at 165 degrees for a few seconds, but also at 148 degrees for seven minutes.  Traditional cooking of chicken to 160 degrees Fahrenheit means that the majority of the chicken is over cooked. Sous Vide has the advantage of holding the meat at a specific temperature for the time needed. Lower temperatures allow the chicken to retain its taste.  We cook chicken at 148 degrees for 35 minutes. Although the great thing is that if you leave the chicken in the water bath for longer, it won’t overcook — the temperature is held constant.

Steak is one of the most popular foods to cook for first-time Sous Vide users, and with good reason. Cooking steak in a skillet or on the grill the traditional way leaves lots of room for error and an over- or undercooked steak is a big mistake to make when there’s a Prime-grade dry-aged ribeye on the line.   For beef, the FDA states that beef is safe when it is held at 130 F for 112 minutes or 140 for 12 minutes.  The temperature of a rare steak is between 130 and 139 in the center.  By cooking the steak for 45 minutes at 136 degrees you will keep well within the recommended limits.

And the eggs……well, you’ve never had scrambled eggs until you’ve tried them Sous Vide-style.  Imagine eating custard, but with no meat or sugar.   The scrambled and soft-boiled eggs that we produced were mind-blowingly good.  It takes a bit longer than frying up some eggs, but the difference is remarkable.   Artichokes cooked Sous Vide style also came out excellently — not overcooked or mushy.   However, Sous Vide is better suited for cooking meat proteins than vegetables.

The other issue raised by some consumers is the wisdom of cooking in plastic bags. Our research finds that bags made expressly for cooking sous vide appear to be as safe —as are oven bags, popular brands of zip-top bags, and stretchy plastic wrap such as Saran Wrap.   An added benefit is the bags are not placed in high-heat conditions:  the water never reaches boiling point.  The plastic that these products are made of is called polyethylene. It is widely used in containers for biology and chemistry labs, and it has been studied extensively.  But, do avoid very cheap plastic wraps when cooking; they are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and heating them presents a risk of chemicals leaching into the food.   However, any Ziploc bags or vacuum sealed plastic wrap is quite safe.

The bottom line: if you cook meat proteins you need to checkout Sous Vide cooking.  We were very impressed.  You will be as well;  especially if you are a steak, chicken breast and/or egg enthusiast.