Picture this scene. The weekend is looming, you have a dinner party to prepare. Of course, you want to impress your guests. There is just one problem. Life is busy and you have no time for extravagant cooking.
I have the solution for you—sous vide (pronounced ‘soo veed’) cooking!
What is cooking sous vide all about?
If you’re wondering what sous vide is, you’re not alone. I avoided the technique for years because I didn’t have a clue what it was. The French name is misleading and suggests a complicated, tricky cooking process reserved for Michelin Star chefs. In fact, the opposite is true. Cooking sous vide is way easier than it sounds.
Sous vide is French for “under vacuum.” It’s basically the process of vacuum-sealing food before placing it in a hot water bath for several hours. The temperature of the water cooks the food. This method is especially good for meat and fish because all the juices are trapped in the vacuum-sealed pouch.
Sous vide dishes are often finished off with a blast from an industrial torch. That’s right, like the ones you’d use for welding! (I’ve reviewed those, too.)
The only downside is that cooking sous vide can range between 1 to 6 hours, or up to 48 hours. The upside is, as long as the water temperature is maintained, you are free to prepare the rest of the meal, carry out chores, or style your hair. It’s multi-tasking in its finest form, and perfect for busy, modern lives.
Is the vacuum sealer really necessary?
Some people say yes, and others say no. Some people use zipper storage bags as an alternative (check out Chef Steps for a how-to guide), but I’ve always been a firm believer in not cutting corners. For that reason, I recommend using a vacuum sealer.
Pros and cons
As with anything, there are pros and cons to sous vide cooking. Amazing Food Made Easy says, if air is not properly removed from the bags, they will float in the water, potentially leaving parts of the food uncooked. That can be dangerous, especially if you’re preparing meat. However, an advantage to sous vide is food can be kept warm for longer after cooking—that’s perfect for busy professionals and families wanting to prepare food ahead of time.
Chambered vacuum sealers
Food bloggers and talented cooks swear by using a chambered vacuum sealer in sous vide cooking. It sounds like a giant, complicated, expensive piece of kitchen equipment, right? Well, it actually is. A chambered vacuum sealer can range from the mid to high price tag, so it’s an investment purchase. They are also heavy machines, but apparently the best.
Chambered vacuum sealers can suck the air out of a bag even if it contains liquid. That’s impressive. And, most machines have a variable vacuum strength for other cooking techniques, such as compression and infusing (for the modernist chefs out there).
Amazing Food Made Easy recommends the VacMaster brand sealer for aspiring sous vide cooks. They endorse most of the VacMaster models but say the VP210 and the less powerful VP112S are the best.
Sous Vide Reviews also recommend the VP210, making it a top choice.
FoodSaver edge sealers
If a chambered vacuum sealer is not within your budget, then another option to consider is an edge sealer machine. Amazing Food Made Easy describes edge sealers as a great intermediate step for those just starting out with sous vide and those who lack the funds for an expensive chambered vacuum sealer. Edge sealers generally have a much more reasonable price tag, are smaller, and are easily transportable. The most popular brand is FoodSaver, with the V2244 and V3240 models as the most highly recommended models.
There are some cons to the edge sealer. First, they can’t effectively seal bags containing liquid. Secondly, plastic bags are expensive 5 times more expensive than bags for a chambered vacuum sealer). For cooks that are new to the technique, however, edge sealers are still cheaper than investing in a chambered vacuum sealer.
What about the environment?
Sous vide cooking does generally involve using plastic, so it’s not the most environmentally friendly cooking method. But, there are options. For example, eggs already have their own protective shells, so no plastic is needed there. Other environmentally-friendly foods to sous vide are custard, yogurt, and chicken liver pate. Why? All these foods are set as they cook and, as such, can be prepared in canning jars. Voila! No plastic, and lots of pretty little jars for your kitchen.
The verdict on the best vacuum sealer for sous vide cooking comes down to price and experience. For first-timers, using a Ziploc bag is a great way to introduce yourself to the technique. For those looking for something more professional, an edge sealer is the way to go. Finally, for sous vide super fans, it’s definitely worthwhile to fork out the cash for a chambered vacuum sealer.
If you’re interested in learning how to store food in a vacuum sealer, see my post on the best vacuum sealer for fish and game.