In the past few years, sous vide cooking—already ubiquitous in fine-dining restaurants—has gained a foothold in home kitchens as well. That’s thanks to newly affordable equipment and cameos on TV shows like The Simpsons and Adventure Time, along with the publication of groundbreaking books such as Modernist Cuisine and Thomas Keller’s Under Pressure.
But despite the technique’s rocketing popularity, it’s still plagued by many-a-misconception. Below, we debunk five common myths surrounding sous vide. Still have questions? Please share them in the comments.
1. “Sous vide” means “under vacuum,” and that means I need to pony up for an expensive, space-hogging chamber-style vacuum sealer if I want to try it.
Yes, “sous vide” is French for “under vacuum.” And yes, it’s a very confusing name. Because in fact, you don’t need a pricey vacuum sealer—or even an inexpensive countertop one—to successfully cook food at a low temperature in a water bath. To get started with sous vide, regular-old ziplock-style bags will do just fine. In fact, in some applications they are preferable to vacuum-sealed bags. Use the simple water displacement method (instructions in sidebar here) to remove the air from the bags, then get cooking.
2. Okay, but I still need to buy pricey sous vide equipment.
It’s true that cooks who regularly cook sous vide often opt to invest in an immersion circulator or SousVide Supreme bath. In the last few years, however, a number of affordable models have emerged for home use. (Popular Science has published a helpful roundup of those). And if you’re just looking to test the method out, you can improvise a sous vide setup with nothing more than a pot, a stove, a digital thermometer, and some plastic bags. Allow us to show you how.
3. I don’t need a circulator to get started, got it—that doesn’t change the fact that it’s not safe to cook food in plastic bags.
According to the latest research, the safest plastics for use with food are high-density polyethylene, low-density polyethylene, and polypropylene. Virtually all sous vide bags are made from these plastics (the inner layer of nearly all sous vide bags is polyethylene). And most name-brand food storage bags and plastic wraps such as Ziploc and Saran Wrap are also made from safe plastics like polyethylene.
Now, other plastics that may be in your kitchen, such as inexpensive, bulk plastic wraps (still commonly made from polyvinyl chloride or polyvinylidene chloride), can contain harmful plasticizers that have been shown to leach into fatty foods such as cheese and meat. Legitimate concerns exist about food exposed to these plastics at higher temperatures—when you microwave food wrapped in plastic, for instance. Spend a little extra on one of the brand-name options, and you will be good to go.
4. But why do I need a whole new cooking technique just to get tender steak, fish, and chicken?
People unfamiliar with sous vide often think it’s only useful for preparing proteins. While all three of those foods taste great cooked sous vide, there are so many more delicious options. Our gallery of sous vide recipes should provide you with plenty of further inspiration.
5. Alright, ChefSteps. I’m convinced this could be a good way to go when I have plenty of time on my hands, but for day-to-day use, my trusty old oven is way more efficient.
We often reach for the circulator when it’s time to give tough cuts the slow-and-low treatment, but we also prepare sous vide mashed potatoes in 45 minutes flat, and fish, steak, and chicken usually cook in under an hour. And remember, instead of staring hopelessly into your oven window, hoping that chicken breast hasn’t turned to stringy shoe leather, you can allow food to cook largely unattended, safe in the knowledge that results will be predictable every time—and freeing you to focus on other things. Like, say, what you’re going to whip up next.
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