In the last 2 or 3 years, sous vide cooking has emerged from the state of the art kitchens of fine dining restaurants and begun to find a place in the trick bag of ambitious home cooks.
If you think you might like to grab an immersion circulator and have a go, we definitely won’t stop you, but there are a few things that you need to be aware of first, as there are a few disadvantages of sous vide.
Sous Vide Cooking Takes Time
Sous vide is all about cooking low and SLOW. So if you want a tender steak, cooked to medium-rare perfection from edge to edge, you are going to have to wait for it.
There are no time-saving shortcuts when it comes to the actual cooking times with the sous vide method. You can’t speed things along by turning up the heat unless you want to alter the quality of your meal.
Remember that even a luscious boiled egg with a velvety yolk takes a minimum of 13 minutes, so if you want your tea faster, you may have to revert to the 4 minute direct boil in a saucepan option and ditch the sous vide machine for a night when you are less rushed.
It is a Different Mind-Set
I’ve put this as a separate point, but really, it ties closely with what I said above and will outline directly below.
When you first try sous vide, you may wonder if the effort involved is worth it for the end results. After all, you have to prepare everything and seal it in bags before you even think about cooking it. And then the actual cooking process takes far longer than simply bunging a leg of lamb in the oven.
If you are a ‘fly by the seat of your pants’, last minute kind of cook, then sous vide may stretch your organisational skills (and patience!) too far.
However, if you accept that you need to put in a bit of ground-work for sous vide to become a thing of joy, rather than a time-consuming pain in the butt, you’ll reap the rewards. You may need to restructure how you have been cooking for years and have to start planning and prepping meals days ahead rather than coming home and chucking a fry pan on the stove.
That may prove to be too much to ask. Or it could be a revelation.
It Pays to Plan Ahead
One of the biggest disadvantages of sous vide is that you can’t rush straight into it. As there are a few stages involved in successful sous vide cookery, the best results generally come from a well-organised prep session:
- Season Food – and I don’t just mean dusting your steak with salt and pepper. If you plan to marinate your food, do it as soon as you get home from the shops and bag it up ready to hit the water bath.
- Vacuum Seal for Later Use – prepare your proteins or veggies and seal them in their plastic bags for when you need them. This means that you can pull prepared pouches out of storage as and when you need them and they will be ready to cook. The added bonus is that they are also easier to store, either in the fridge or freezer as they take up less space.
If you’d interested in learning about vacuum sealers, you can read more here.
It Doesn’t ‘Work’ for Everything
Even if you fall totally in love with cooking sous vide, you won’t want to cook every single meal using your immersion circulator. Proteins – your steaks, chops, prawns and fish are the big winners here as you will get consistent, incredibly tender results once you have worked out which times and temperatures suit your personal preferences. Similarly, veggies can be astonishing cooked sous vide – bursting with flavour and natural juices.
But if you’re looking to make anything sauce-based, like a casserole or stew, so much needs to be done in a pan first – frying off the onions and garlic, searing the meat – that finishing it all off in your sous vide machine seems a bit pointless. You may as well carry on and cook it on your stove top.
Another of the disadvantages of sous vide cooking, along with the time it takes, is that cuts of meat all come out of their water bath in various unappealing shades of beige and lacking that delicious carmelised finish. And whilst the average 3 year old usually prefers a plate of pale, bland food, most adults want colour, texture and char.
The way round this is to sear your proteins when they come out of their plastic bag.
You have a couple of choices:
Kitchen Blow Torch – some cooks like to bronze their steaks and chops with a blast from a butane torch. This gives you a lot of control over where and how much the meat is seared. Another plus is that because you only apply the flame in a short burst, it’s hard to overcook your perfectly prepped piece of protein.
Finish in a Skillet – for many cooks, the best option is the age old magic of a hot skillet and the sizzle of searing meat. This is the method most of us are familiar with, but you need to be cautious. The problem with searing a piece of sous vide steak in a hot skillet is that to get that irresistible charred crust, you might have to heat your chunk of rump for a few minutes. And a few minutes charring time also means a few extra minutes cooking time on your lovingly sous vide cooked steak. Yes, there is a danger of overcooking something that you have jumped through hoops to prepare exactly to your liking.
As you can see from the point above, there is a real problem with getting colour and flavour on an anemic hunk of meat from the sous vide without continuing to cook it. Thankfully, there is a solution.
Whether you choose to use the kitchen torch or the skillet, the best results come from making sure that you thoroughly dry your protein when you take it out of its plastic bag. Absorb all the excess moisture with paper towels before you hit it with any additional heat, otherwise it will simply broil rather than char. And broil slowly, at that!
In fact, with some cuts, like thick steaks, you can even dry them and then pop them in the fridge for 5 minutes to bring down their core temperature before you heat them again to sear them.
The science of caramelising meat is actually pretty fascinating, so if you’d like to, you can read more here.
Possible to Overcook
Whilst you would have to leave most meals swimming around with your sous vide circulator for days for them to be truly inedible, you can still overcook things.
It all depends on the temperature that you are cooking at, but basically leave a steak for an extra hour in the sous vide and it will still be tender, but less juicy and flavoursome. Forget about your 47C egg for an extra hour and the luscious yolk won’t ooze from the centre when cut.
And some things are more forgiving than others. Fish left for too long in its water bath can become dry, whilst prawns will go mushy. Neither of which are very appealing.
For most things, an extended dip with the immersion circulator isn’t disastrous, so it’s good to remember that the sous vide method is an incredibly forgiving style of cooking. In fact, if you’d like some reassurance on the advantages of sous vide to balance out this article, you can read more here.