Sous Vide is a technique of cooking whereby the food is placed into a vacuum-sealed bag and immersed in a hot water bath to cook. In most cases the cooking time is longer and more even, often needing a post processing step to provide some texture.
You need, of course, some means of making the hot water. There are two primary types of Sous Vide cooking setups. One uses a generic water container and an immersion device, I use an Anova Bluetooth-enabled device, but frankly the Bluetooth is a bit of overkill. While it's nice in that I can find a recipe in their app and have it automatically set the temperature and offer to start a timer once pre-heated, this is a really trivial thing to automate.
If you've got a big house, the WiFi version of the Anova may be a worthy investment. No longer tethered to Bluetooth ranges this can let you know that the preheating stage is done from another part of the house. But I live in a Manhattan apartment - not a huge concern for me.
The container most used seems to be rectangular plastic containers which provide a bit of insulation, but I just use a smallish stock pot I already own because I live in a small Manhattan apartment and prefer to save space over have more toys.
The second type is a full system, sometimes called a water oven, which is a self-contained water bath. This is a lot of space to dedicate so I haven't considered any of them as single-function items. But a more interesting option is the PicoBrew which is an automated home brewing system that can double as a sous vide setup.
You also need vacuum seal bags. Kind of. A standard ZipLock-style bag is often good enough, especially at low temperatures. If you place the food into the bag and immerse it in water nearly up to the top, water pressure will remove most of the air from the bag and allow you to seal it pretty well. The only risk is that some bags aren't well-suited to higher temperatures so as you approach boiling bad things may happen.
Alternatively, you can buy a vacuum sealer. The brand name in this arena is FoodSaver and I had one back in my BBQ days. FoodSavers are great and designed to store food in a freezer without freezerburn for extended periods of time. Which makes them a bit of overkill for Sous Vide where they need to survive a few hours in a water bath. Rather than re-investing in a FoodSaver I'll be experimenting with a $35 generic model from Amazon. Compared to a $200 top-of-the-line FoodSaver even if it lasts a quarter the lifespan of the FoodSaver I'll be ahead of the game.
Ping Pong Balls
This seems odd, but some people swear by adding ping pong balls to their water bath. This covers the water and helps prevent evaporation and adds insulation. Cooking in an anodized aluminium pot I haven't found the need for them, but I'm also still a novice.
Some food floats, sous vide is about making sure food is surrounded by water. You can see the conflict here. In some cases this is just too much air in the bag, in others the food itself is too light. The former can be fixed by resealing, the latter not so much. Now the big question, there are a few ways to keep the bag at the bottom of the container.
- Some people recommend adding weights like stainless steel butter knives to the inside of the bag, but I think that may not be a great idea, especially for anything acidic like a tomato sauce.
- You can try to bag most weights like cutlery, coins, or pie weights and place them inside the bag, but I'd recommend outside the food bag attached using binder clips. I'd also try to avoid lead-based items such as fishing weights even if bagged.
- You can put something like a colander on top of the bag and then weight the colander from above.
- If you're really ambitious you could affix something to the bottom of the pot (weld, glue, magnet, etc.) and then just hook the food bag to it, but be careful you don't use something that could tear the bag.
- I bought a chunk of 304 stainless which I'll be cutting in half, bagging and using on the outside of the food bag.