Sous vide cooking has been popular with restaurant pros for years, since it’s a simple technique that ensures perfectly consistent results, time and again. Pronounced “sue veed,” the name of this technique means “under vacuum” in French, and consists of vacuum sealing food before cooking in a water bath at a precise temperature. It’s easier than it sounds, and for those in the food industry, it’s a no-brainer for ensuring reliable restaurant quality at scale. Here’s everything you need to know about this method.

The basic steps

Anyone can learn to do sous vide cooking – and in fact, many enthusiastic home cooks have adopted this method. The first step is to place the precision cooker in the water pot and adjust settings for time and temperature. Next, place the food in a vacuum seal bag and clip it into the pot, and finally, when it’s ready, you can remove it from the bag and finish by quickly searing or grilling the food to add colour and visual appeal. And it’s as simple as that.

Sous vide cooking is great for preparing large quantities of food without losing control over the degree of doneness. You can reliably produce food that is always cooked just right – with the exact same temperatures used each time, food is never over- or under-cooked, meaning you can offer perfect dishes that cut down on waste and take you just a fraction of the time you’d need to monitor temperature yourself.

Though sous vide cooking is safe, there are naturally some foods that are best prepared differently. “Vacuum food sealers are highly useful machines. But there are a few food items that should not be vacuum-sealed or require a few simple steps before they are safe to vacuum seal. These food items are often ones that contain anaerobic bacteria, which can grow without the presence of air” according to the experts at First Food Machinery. This includes soft cheese or raw mushrooms. Many vegetables, for example brassicas, simply need to be blanched before sealing.

Does sous vide cooking really taste better?

Yes! With precise temperature control, food is cooked to perfection retaining its juices and flavours, and giving a results that are seldom achieved with other methods. Pan-cooked meat, poultry and fish tends to shrink or become dry as it loses moisture, or else suffer from uneven cooking, especially if it’s a larger cut. Likewise eggs can be cooked exactly as you want them, without guesswork or overcooked whites and undercooked yolks.

Getting started with sous vide cooking

This style of cooking is now more accessible than ever before. The equipment needed is not expensive, but for home chefs or those running smaller food businesses, there is always the option to rent machines or buy second-hand vacuum sealers. You’ll need a precision cooking device, a large enough water pot and a way to seal food – vacuum sealers are most common.

In the past, sous vide machines were bulky and expensive, but that is fast changing, and today there are many user-friendly devices that take up very little space in the kitchen. There are different kinds on the market. A basic sous vide water oven is around the size of a microwave, but it can have variations in water temperature, causing occasional inconsistencies. An immersion circulator, as the name suggests, heats and circulates water for a more uniform and consistent temperature. These are an affordable, standalone and space-efficient option.

A note on packaging

Sous vide cooking can use a variety of containers, including resealable bags, jars and cans. In practice, vacuum sealed foods are most popular simply because they not only allow you to keep food contained, but can preserve and store it until you’re ready to cook. By removing all the air, you drastically lengthen the storage life of foods, save space and cut down on waste due to spoilage. Some chefs choose reusable silicone bags just before cooking, but the benefit of using a vacuum sealer is that it keeps food sealed and safe, ready for when it’s needed – no extra step needed.

Sous vide cooking is not difficult but it does have a learning curve. Experts advise using the best quality ingredients you can, in as fresh a condition as possible when they’re vacuum sealed. Start with simple dishes first until you get the hang of it, and try not to cut corners by using non-standard bags or containers. Good ingredients to start with include meats and vegetables. With veggies, Sous Vide Magazine suggests you “bypass the delicate leafy greens and start with starchy root vegetables, which lend themselves particularly well to the sous vide process.” Once you’re confident with the sous vide process, you’ll soon wonder how your food business survived without it!