If you've been reading about the benefits of sous vide cooking, you've probably heard about the fancy immersion circulators that are used to heat and hold water in a container at a precise temperature.
The quality of sous vide machines is excellent, but they can be quite expensive. If you're looking for an affordable way to get started with sous vide cooking, there are options beyond buying a circulator.
Here's how you can use your own kitchen gear to make sous vide meals at home.
- The sous vide machine is definitely a useful piece of equipment to have, but it’s not necessary to get started with sous vide cooking.
- Sous vide machines can cost hundreds of dollars. If you don't want to shell out $200 or more for a fancy device, then use a cooker
- However, without the sous vide machine, you will keep checking the water temperature and continuously adjust it as needed so that it doesn’t go above or below your desired temperature range
- You must have a thermometer with a long probe so you can monitor the water temperature as it changes.
- The results might not be perfect when using traditional means but if you're looking to experiment with this technique, it's worth trying out.
Can You Sous Vide Without a Machine?
Yes, you can sous vide without a machine at home or at your restaurant. In the last few years, sous vide machines have become a staple in home kitchens. The devices sous vide in vacuum-sealed bags that are submerged in water heated to a precise temperature. The result is perfectly cooked meat, fish, and vegetables every time.
You'll also be able to sous vide more eggs at once this way using just one water bath.
It Takes Some Trial and Error
The main advantage of using an immersion circulator is that it holds the water at an exact temperature but if your pot has a lid and doesn't evaporate too much water, you can still cook sous vide though you will keep monitoring the water temperature with a thermometer.
It takes some trial and error, but sous vide is worth the effort if you've always wanted to try sous vide cooking without spending so much money.
Why Would You Want to Sous Vide Without a Machine?
There are reasons why people might want to try out sous vide without buying a machine. For one thing, they're expensive; around $200 for the basic model.
Plus, some people are just afraid of new technology: If you're not comfortable with using apps and Bluetooth devices, then it might not be for you. And then there's the fact that most home cooks don't have enough space for appliances in their kitchens.
How to Sous Vide Without the Fancy Machine
Step 1: Gather Needed Things
- A thermometer
- A pot for boiling water
- Ziploc bags
- A timer to set time for cooking food successfully
- Steak, chicken, or fish. For our tutorial, I will be using steak
- Seasonings such as pepper and salt
You will need a digital thermometer for checking the temperature of your water bath. You can get one at any hardware store or online.
A good digital thermometer will cost around $20 or so, but it is worth it if you plan on cooking sous vide often. If not, then any old meat thermometer will do just fine (but don't use it for anything else).
It's important to emphasize that sous vide works at temperatures needed to eliminate bacteria in food, so there's no danger of food poisoning or food-borne illness from improperly cooked meat.
A Heavy Bottomed Pot
You will need a pot that's deep enough to hold all of your sous vide bags without touching the bottom or sides of the pot (or taking up too much space).
Get yourself a ziplock bag. If you don't have Ziploc bags, then you can use other types of bags made of plastic that can withstand high temperatures. Just make sure that they're BPA-free so they won't contaminate your food.
You'll want some kind of flavoring for your steak; we went with just salt and pepper here, but feel free to add whatever spices you like best.
For this sous vide recipe, we used beef roast. We cut ours into steaks about 1 inch thick, but you can use any cut or size that works for you. Keep in mind that smaller pieces will take less time to cook than larger ones.
Step 2: Season your Steak
I like to use kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper; no more than 1/4 teaspoon of each per pound of meat but you can experiment with other seasonings like garlic powder or cumin seeds.
Step 3: Vacuum Seal
Put the seasoned beef in the bag. If you have a vacuum sealer for sous vide, use it to remove air from the bag and seal it. If you don't have one, use the manual method of removing air from a bag. Push most of the air out with your hands (or with a straw).
Step 4: Boil Water
Prepare a water bath for your food. You can use a sous vide cooker, an instant pot, or a normal pot. In this tutorial, we used a normal pot. Fill the pot with water and bring it to a boil on a stove pot.
For the stovetop method, you will need to adjust the heat to medium-low so as to maintain a steady temperature for sous vide cooking. However, the temperature can drop or be on the high side depending on several factors such as the pot losing heat, etc., hence you will need to keep monitoring it.
Step 5: Cook Sous Vide at 136°F
Use your digital thermometer to check the temperature of the water. Make sure it is 134°F before placing the bag with your seasoned beef. Next, take your timer and set it to cook for 2 hours.
I cook all my steaks at 136°F, which gives them a nice medium-rare finish while still being tender and juicy inside. If you prefer your sous vide steaks cooked medium or well done, simply increase or decrease the heat accordingly.
Sear the Sous Vide Steak
Remove the bag from the water bath and sear on a hot grill or cast-iron skillet to finish cooking. The results are tender; juicy seared steaks that rival anything you could get at a restaurant or butcher shop.
Tip: Sear your steak for about 2 minutes per side. This will give you a nice brown crust. If you want to get some char on the outside of the steak, leave it in the pan for another minute or two before flipping it over (but be careful not to burn it).
Why Buy an Immersion Circulator or a Sous Vide Machine?
An immersion circulator is designed specifically for sous vide cooking. The main benefit of using an immersion circulator is that it keeps the water at a constant temperature. This means you can set it and forget it.
The water will not cool down or heat up when you are not around, so there is no need to keep checking on your food while it cooks. It also circulates the water to cook evenly and has a timer to set the time.
Can Cook at Different Temperatures
Immersion circulators are also great for sous vide cooking because they allow you to cook at different temperatures for different types of foods.
For example, if you wanted a medium rare steak, you could cook it at a temperature of 136°F with an immersion circulator for about 2 hours without overcooking your sous vide steak.
We have seen that you can sous vide without a machine. The benefit of not having to buy any equipment is obvious: You save money.
But there is a disadvantage we have seen with this method; it's harder to control the temperature when you're not using an immersion circulator or other device that regulates heat precisely.
You will keep monitoring the water bath with your digital thermometer. However, if this is not a big concern, begin sous vide without the machine.