Sous Vide Secrets

A few weeks ago, based on the good experiences of friends, I bought a sous vide cooker. As promised, food cooked sous vide (sponsored link) (at very low temperatures, such as 135 degrees F., for long periods of time, such as 48 hours) was excellent, clearly better than other cooking methods. For example, I made short ribs. They came out a perfect texture (slightly chewy), very moist and full of flavor. I also made eggs. At the right temperature, they turned a wonderful custard-like texture.

Sous vide isn’t new. Professional chefs have been using it for many years. The equipment has been too expensive (such as $1000). What’s new is lower prices. A friend paid about $350 for a sous vide cooker and vacuum sealer.

My brief experience suggests two conclusions I haven’t read anywhere else:

1. Don’t pay that much. I bought a Dorkfood DSV controller ($100). It turns the electricity to a crockpot on and off to maintain the right temperature. (A new crockpot is about $20. I already had two.) The controller is much better than “home sous vide” cookers (about $400) because it takes up much less space and can be used to control anything, not just crockpots. I can use it to make yogurt, for example. I no longer need a yogurt maker ($15, in China). The only problem with the Dorkfood controller is that you can hear it operate. It makes audible clicks. My crockpots and  yogurt maker, which do the same thing at fixed temperatures, are silent.

2. You don’t need a vacuum sealer. You put the food in a bag, which is submerged in a water bath. Yes, sous vide means “under vacuum” but vacuum sealing may be inferior to using ordinary freezer bags, which cost less, are much easier to get, and unlike vacuum-sealed bags allow opening and re-closing. When I use an ordinary freezer bag I put the top of the bag above the water so as to not worry about leakage. My low-end vacuum sealer (Seal-a-Meal, $40) works with ordinary freezer bags, not just the special bags you are supposed to buy. I will eventually do a side-by-side comparison: cook the same food two ways (vacuum-seal and freezer bag).



9 Replies to “Sous Vide Secrets”

  1. Seth,

    I think that the primary purpose of getting all the air out is to keep the item completely submerged. It cooks better when it is completely submerged.

    Seth: I found that the item can be completely submerged using freezer bags. It is easier to get complete submersion with vacuum-packing, that’s true.

  2. Maybe I am paranoid, but I worry about the chemicals in plastic bags contaminating the meat while it cooks all day. That is not a problem with ceramic or metal cookware.

  3. Thanks for this post. I’d been thinking about the Sous Vide Supreme but couldn’t justify the cost or space lost. This looks like a home run.

    Off topic, Seth, but pretty interesting: Powdered food is way more fattening than non-powdered amounts of the same nutrients:

    Seth: The powdered food effect is a lot like one of Israel Ramirez’s experiments, for example that baked bread is more fattening than the same dough uncooked.

  4. As B.B says, i dont think you have thought about all chemicals there are in “normal” plasticbags, the sous vide plasticbags, are tested and made for cooking at different temperatures, but a lot of cheap plasticbags/frostbags, are NOT, cause they are not made to heat/cook in them!

    Think about that aswell, for me it is a big thing there always sous vide plastic bags and a vacuumsealer

    Seth: I agree, this is an important issue.

  5. I have a Sous Vide Supreme (SVS) and I heartily recommend it. Before that, I, too, used a temperature controller connected to a multi-cooker. As far as I can tell, yogurt made in the sous vide supreme is a bit better than my old method due to the superior temp holding capabilities of the SVS vs a multi-cooker or crock pot. (Crock pot will significantly overshoot and undershoot for up to a 5-10F swing). For most things it might not matter too much, but when you are cooking at the low end, say 131F, a significant portion of time spent under the 131F food safety cutoff could result in less than a 7D reduction in bacteria.

    I use mine enough that it has dedicated counter space, but I do understand the virtues of something that takes up less space.

  6. Michael, if you look at the Amazon reviews, you will see people who are testing the accuracy of the dorkfood unit controlling an ordinary crockpot with very high-quality lab thermometers and finding that the dorkfood unit keeps the crockpot within .25°F of desired temp.

  7. hihi

    The problem is with meats etc. that have germ risk. these will not be sterlized with this device.

    If you have read the “how to get Smarter” guy (this with the Russian name, hope you remember), then you will see that this method of cooking eliminates the health issues he claims to be had with high temperature cooking

  8. I have the older Auber control (which still works great after 4 years).

    Rice cookers work better than crockpots because they heat from the bottom.

    Definitely need to add to the tips that, since you’re using an offboard temperature controller, you need to make sure that the onboard temperature controls are minimal or non-existent (again, points for the rice cookers).

    Bags that float can be weighted down with fishing sinkers and alligator clips (the lead will be on the outside of the bag, not the inside).

    When making stuffed grape leaves, Mediterranean cooks will simmer them with a weight on a plate on top. I’ve had great luck with putting a stoneware soup bowl on top of my bags, and then having the water level fill the bowl and go just above the top. The stoneware rises fairly quickly to the ambient temperature of the water, and keeps your floaters under control.

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