Sous Vide Temperature and Cooking Times Guide

There are 2 big questions that you’ll want answered when you first dip your toe into the magical culinary water bath that is sous vide cooking:

  1. What temperature do I cook my chicken breast/buttered carrots/velvety egg yolk at?
  1. What temperature do I cook my chicken breast/buttered carrots/velvety egg yolk at?

Before we start talking about degrees fahrenheit and centigrade and discussing blocks of hours, let me say that some of the choices you’ll make when you are cooking sous vide will depend on personal preference. 

This probably sounds like a major contradiction. The sous vide method is famously all about controlling temperature very precisely and you can spend a lot of cash on commercial grade immersion circulators, specially designed racks and boxes and state of the art vacuum sealers, if that is your thing. (And who are we to stop you?!)

The fact is that whether you choose to go for the best that money can buy or not, you will need some specialised kitchen equipment. You’ll also need some cooking guidelines from the manufacturers or experienced cooks. 

But at the end of the day, you know what you like to eat and your aim is to knock out meals that get your taste buds going. This means that you are going to have to find recipes and guidelines that work for you. There is no point cooking a pork chop to a perfect blush if you like your pork well done. 

At the same time, you have to follow advice to some extent or things may end in disaster.

Eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms and cuts of meat, all in vacuum sealer bags, ready for the sous vide method of cooking

Some Advice Before You Sous Vide

Obey Food Safety Rules

We’ve all heard horror stories about diners becoming terribly ill after eating under-cooked chicken. This is no joke. Some items have to reach certain temperatures no matter how you cook them or a dodgy tummy may be the least of your worries. 

The FDA actually advises that you should cook chicken to 165F (74C). However, if your piece of chicken stays at 145F (63C) for 8.5 minutes, the lower temperature combined with the extended cook time will kill the dangerous bacteria in the meat. This means that cooking your chicken at 145F (63C) with the sous vide method will give you a tender, juicy breast that is also safe to eat. 

So yes, there are clearly health considerations that you have to think about when you sous vide some foods. But there is also the issue of how you actually like different things to be cooked.

Will Sous Vide Work for You?

If you aren’t aware of the fuss that’s been made in recent years about eggs cooked sous vide method then you’ve possibly been living under a rock. Everyone from famous chefs to contestants on Masterchef seem to be slipping eggs into fancy tubs with immersion circulators and leaving them to bob around for hours at a time. 

Well this is fine as long as you actually like what you get when you cook an egg with the sous vide technique.

Cooking your egg at 145F (62.8C) will give you soft, though mostly set, egg white and a velvety yolk that looks raw but has a silky lusciousness. Personally, I’d wolf the yolk down, but wouldn’t be such a fan of the slightly runny white. If you are a lover of hard-boiled eggs – like my Dad – the sous vide version is pretty revolting full stop. And this is the problem.

If you check cooking blogs and bulletin boards you’ll find plenty of comments from home cooks complaining that they followed the instructions for a perfect sous vide egg and it was ‘raw’ or ‘under-cooked’. Was it? Or was it that the cook didn’t fully understand what an egg prepared sous vide would be like? 

If the science of the sous vide egg interests you, you can read more here.

Just as some people don’t like to eat deep fried foods, not everyone likes the texture of everything that is prepared with a sous vide machine and it may take a bit of experimenting to find what works for you and what doesn’t.

Know What You Like

This is closely related to the paragraph above. Basically, think about how you like to eat different things and then see if you can produce the results that you want using sous vide.

Let me give you an example. 

Many of us enjoy a good steak, but we all have our opinions on how we like it cooked. Some like it pink in the middle and charred on the outside, whilst others want the centre to be oozing bloody juices.  Some won’t touch it if there’s a trace of blood, whilst others like it virtually raw and just shown the pan. 

3 different cuts of steak, all vacuum sealed and waiting for sous vide cooking, with punnets of salad leaves, salt and pepper and a carving fork

This means that the temperature and length of time that I cook my porterhouse will probably be different from yours.

The beauty of sous vide cooking is that you can prepare a cut of meat exactly as you like it, but it may take a bit of playing around until you find the combination of times and temps that give you your goal every time.

Use the Resources

I’m the first to admit that I love a winter’s afternoon, mucking around in the kitchen, trying to replicate a favourite dish or to master a new piece of kitchen equipment. But I don’t want to be starting from scratch and guessing temperatures and poaching times every time I step into my kitchen.

Thankfully, there are a huge range of resources out there that can help you to get those first few sous vide meals under your belt before you start tweaking things to your own particular tastes. If you’d like a break down of some of our favourites, you can read more here.

And remember. Of all the cooking methods out there, sous vide is one of the most technical. It is all about cooking items at very specific (usually surprisingly low) temperatures for longer than usual periods of time. It is incredibly precise and is based on science, so this really is the moment to take note of kitchen professionals and follow their advice on times and temps. 

After all, inedible food is a real shame, but salmonella poisoning can be very nasty and extremely dangerous.

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