With a sous vide in your kitchen arsenal, you’re about to experience pure magic in the kitchen. Here’s everything you need to know to get started, play with your first recipes, and even a little guide to expand your perfect-meat cooking horizons. This is going to be fun.
- A sous vide machine.
- A vacuum sealer or heavy-duty freezer bags with reliable seals
- A large pot
SEASON YOUR MEAT
All successful meat cookery starts with seasoning your protein, and seasoning it well. Give it a complete rub down with plenty of kosher salt and any other dried herbs or cracked pepper as you prefer. One of the advantages of sous vide cooking is having those seasonings right up against the meat for the duration of cooking, meaning they have time to work their way in and leave big flavor behind.
BAG IT (WITH AROMATICS)
Now that your meat is seasoned, it’s time to lock in that flavor. Slide your protein into a food-grade vacuum sealing bag (professional gold standard) or a sturdy resealable freezer bag (the best grocery store option). At this point you can add any larger aromatics — sprigs of hardy herbs like rosemary or thyme, bay leaves, whole dried chiles — positioning them in direct contact with the meat so when the bag is sealed, they’re locked in place. (A pat of butter, a dollop of coconut oil, or a spoonful of ghee wouldn’t hurt either, but try to avoid anything too liquid-y as it could interfere with the sealing process.)
GET A GOOD SEAL
If you’re going the vacuum sealer route, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. (Pro tip: Double or triple the seal in case one of the seals fails.) If you’re working with freezer bags, press out as much air as you can and seal your bag almost all the way, leaving a little gap for air to escape. Holding the corners of the seal, slowly lower the bag into a pot of water — like the one you’re about to cook in — until the water comes right up to the seal, then close it completely. The pressure of the water helps displace any air you weren’t able to press out on your own.
Fill a big pot with water, set up your sous vide machine (aka immersion circulator) according to the device’s specifications, and set the desired time and temperature based on what you’re cooking. Some brands (like the Joule by Chefsteps) have proprietary apps that make it super easy — you simply plug in what you’re making, and the software will determine the appropriate cooking temperature and time. If you’re free-styling, consult our time and temperature guide below based on the official one from Chefsteps. Once the water comes up to temperature, add your bags to the water. Vacuum-sealed bags can be dropped directly into the water and allowed to float around, but use a binder clip or clothes pin to secure freezer bags to the edge of the pot, seal-side up — a little extra insurance that the seal won’t break.
REST, DRY AND SEAR
Once your steak/chicken/salmon/whatever is cooked to the desired temperature, take it out and let it rest, in the bag, for 15–20 minutes. (This gives the protein a chance to soak up any of the seasoned juices in the bag.) At this point your meat is fully cooked and is safe to serve. Some proteins are delicious served as-is — boneless, skinless chicken breasts, say, or a delicate fillet of salmon are ready to be sliced, plated and served. But others, like a perfectly medium-rare steak or a slab of tender pork belly, want to be crisped before serving for optimum deliciousness. In that case, remove the meat from the bag, dry it off as thoroughly as possible with paper towels, and sear it off on all sides in a ripping-hot pan until a beautiful, crackling crust forms — since the meat is already fully cooked, this should only take a minute or two on each side.
SERVE (OR SAVE)
Et voilà! Dinner is served. But the real beauty of sous vide cooking is in the possibilities for meal planning and prep that it opens up. If you aren’t serving your sous vide creation right away, dunk it in a bowl of ice water to cool it down as quickly as possible, and then transfer it (still in the bag) to the fridge, where it should stay good for up to 7 days, or to the freezer where it will keep for up to a year. Cook 4–5 chicken breasts and bring them for lunch all week. Get a bunch of steaks to a perfect medium-rare on Thursday night, and all you have to do is give them a quick sear on Friday night for a nearly hands-off dinner party. The possibilities are endless — go forth and sous vide!
BASIC COOKING TIMES TO KEEP ON-HAND
Below is a quick guide to the time and temperatures recommended for different types and cuts of meat, courtesy of the fine folks at ChefSteps, the company behind the Joule. As you get more comfortable with the technique, you may find that you like things cooked to a slightly different time or temperature — but this is a good place to start. A note on the time ranges: The first number reflects the ideal time as determined by the company for that particular meat, while the second number is the maximum time that item can remain the water bath without having its texture suffer. You can find a more comprehensive guide on their website.
Beef: Steak Rare: 54°C/129°F, 1–2 hours
Beef: Roast Medium Rare: 60°C/140°F, 6–14 hours
Beef: Tough Cuts Well Done: 85°C/185°F, 8–16 hours
Pork: Chop Medium Rare: 62°C/144°F, 1–3 hours
Pork: Tough Cuts Well Done: 85°C/185°F, 8–16 hours
Chicken: Light Meat Juicy and Tender: 65°C/149°F, 1–3 hours
Chicken: Dark Meat Juicy and Tender: 75°C/167°F, 45 minutes to 5 hours
Fish: Tender and Flaky : 50°C/122°F, 40 minutes to 1 hour and 10 minutes