Sous vide is French for “under vacuum”. It is a method of cooking that involves sealing food in a plastic bag and submerging the sealed food in a temperature controlled water bath. This method allows food to be evenly cooked to precise temperature targets.
In order to get started, you will need an immersion circulator that will both heat the water and circulate it, ensuring even temperature distribution. The ChefSteps Joule Sous Vide circulator is a good option.
To effectively sous vide, as much air as possible needs to be removed from the plastic bag. You can accomplish this with a ZipLock bag using the water displacement method, a FoodSaver vacuum sealer, or with a vacuum chamber.
Methods for vacuum sealing food:
- ZipLock water displacement method: this method has the lowest upfront costs. First, place the food into a high quality resealable bag and then slowly start to submerge the bag into your water bath. The water pressure will force the air out of the bag. Try to get the opening of the bag as close to the water line as possible without any water pouring in. Next, seal the bag and lift it out of the water. You should have a sealed bag with very little air. Depending on the type of food sealed, the bag may float to the surface during a sous vide cook. You will want something to weigh down the bag. I repurpose my Norpro stainless steel meat pounder to accomplish this; it’s small enough that I can easily maneuver it inside the water bath, but heavy enough to seriously weigh down the bag and prevent floating.
- FoodSaver vacuum sealer: these vacuum sealers use suction to evacuate most of the air out of your bag. They require special bags that have built-in ridges that aid in the vacuum process. Because this method is more effective at removing air from the bag, you will have considerably less bags floating to the surface during your cooks. Click here to purchase Nesco Deluxe Vacuum Sealer.
- A vacuum chamber: this method has the highest upfront cost, but if you are serious about sous vide and long term storage, it can save you a lot of money in the long run. This method does not require special bags and a vacuum chamber can remove virtually all of the oxygen in your bag. All you have to do is place your contents in the bag, place your bag in the chamber with the opening of the bag over the sealing bar, and close the lid. The oxygen will start to be evacuated from the chamber. After about 30 seconds, the bag will be sealed, and oxygen will be let back into the chamber. The result is a tightly compact bag that will rarely float to the surface during a sous vide (sometimes foods will let out gas during the cook causing some floating, but this is minimized with a vacuum chamber). Click here to read my review of the VacMaster VP215 vacuum chamber.