How to Get Started With Sous Vide Cooking

A first-timer’s guide to sous vide cooking. [Photographs: J. Kenji López-Alt]

Let’s say that you were a good little boy or girl this past year (or maybe you’re just really good at faking it) and somebody slipped a brand-new sous vide cooker into your stocking. Problem is, you’ve never cooked sous vide before, and it’s unlike any kind of cooking you’ve done in the past. Where should you start? What should you cook first?

Here’s a simple, no-nonsense guide to the tools you’ll need and some basic foods and techniques that should be at the top of any first-time sous vide cook’s list. These are the dishes that will show you results beyond anything you’ve ever been able to achieve through more traditional cooking methods.

Basic Equipment: What You’ll Need

The “sous vide” part of sous vide cooking refers to the vacuum-sealed bags that are often called for when you’re using the technique. However, these days, when someone says “sous vide cooking,” they’re generally referring to any kind of cooking that takes place in a precisely temperature-controlled water bath, whether you’re actually using a vacuum-sealed bag or not.

It’s a fantastic technique because it gives you, the cook, a very high level of control over the texture of the finished dish, while eliminating any chance of over- or undercooking it. Though the technique can be applied to vegetables, it’s most useful for cooking meat and eggs.

It doesn’t take much gear to get into sous vide cooking. In fact, with the beer-cooler sous vide hack I developed a few years ago, you can make any sous vide recipe with a cook time of around an hour or less using nothing more than a zipper-lock bag and a cooler. (If you haven’t tried it yet, this video might help you make up your mind.)

But some equipment is necessary if you want to perform longer cooks, or if you want to make short cooks easier. Here’s what you’ll need.

An Immersion Circulator

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An immersion circulator is a device that you insert into a tub or pot of water. It draws water from the tub, heats it up to a precise temperature, then spits it back out, simultaneously heating and circulating the water. A good one will have single-degree precision and accuracy. There was a time when these devices cost thousands of dollars. These days, you can get a great one for under $200, putting it in the same ballpark as a high-quality Dutch oven or skillet.

I use the Anova Precision Cooker at home; it has a super-simple interface (set the temperature with the scroll wheel and you’re ready to go) and nice connectivity features, and it’s made by a company with a strong track record for quality precision devices. Other great options are the Nomiku and the Sansaire.*

* I have not yet had a chance to test the soon-to-be-released Joule device from the team at ChefSteps, but it also looks promising.

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