How to Sous Vide

Easy, Delicious Perfection Any Night of the Week: 100+ Simple, Irresistible Recipes


By Daniel Shumski

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Perfection—in the bag
Ready to turn out the best steak of your life by sealing it in a plastic bag and simmering it in a bath of warm water?

The technique is called sous vide— it’s how a lot of the pros do it—and now with sous vide devices affordable and available, you can too. Daniel Shumski, the gadget whisperer who demystified the Instant Pot, unlocks the secrets of professional sous vide for home use. He explains step by step the process, timing, precise temperatures by ingredient, best techniques, and ins and outs of the equipment. And then offers 100 brilliant recipes designed to take full advantage of this revolutionary method, plus a dozen unexpected sous-vide hacks (make short-cut “cold-brew” coffee; infuse your olive oil with new flavors!)

With Shumski’s guidance, anything can be made better through sous vide, from favorite meats (you’ll never cook a chicken breast any other way) to the surprises of sous vide carrots (try them with miso butter) to the showstopping glory of a Berry Cheesecake in a jar.



Chapter 1

Sous Vide Basics

Though you may not have known it, you've probably had food cooked sous vide. Restaurants use it to cook food ahead of time and to perfection—helping to manage the last-minute scramble for orders—and the technique has gradually spread from there. Not long ago, sous vide equipment became accessible in price and in availability, with companies offering their gear to the home cook. The technique started in fine dining and has gradually expanded from rarefied kitchens to more humble eateries even to the coffee shop on the corner. And now to you.

Sous Vide Cooking in a Nutshell

How to describe sous vide cooking in a single breath: Food is sealed in a watertight package with the air removed and then cooked in a water bath at a precise temperature.

Okay, now a few more breaths: All of this is made possible by a device known as a sous vide circulator or immersion circulator, also called a “stick,” “wand,” or simply a “sous vide.” The circulator is simple. It consists of a temperature gauge, a heating element, and a motor that pushes around the water for even heating.

Cooking sous vide means embracing reliable, replicable, and delicious results. We're talking meat that is cooked to astoundingly even perfection, where a steak done to medium is the same rosy shade from edge to edge. Sous vide cooking spares delicate seafood and vegetable dishes from overcooking.

While a lot of the buzz surrounding sous vide focuses on cooking meat—justifiably!—it also opens up a new supporting cast for your meals. Pasteurizing eggs sous vide means not having to dither about raw eggs. Preparing bacon sous vide and freezing it means cooked bacon is always easy and within reach. Infusing olive oil with chiles and vanilla is such a great note with which to finish a dish.

And what about dessert? Cheesecake, ice cream, crème brûlée—enough said! (Okay, not quite enough said; see Berry Cheesecake, Peppered Potato Chip Ice Cream, and Sous Vide Crème Brûlée.)

And maybe there's a misconception that sous vide cooking is complicated, possibly because it's unfamiliar or because it got its start in fancy restaurant kitchens. But in truth, it's easy. Once more for the people at the back: It's easy! Once you get over the gentle learning curve, you can do it in your sleep. (Perhaps literally if the recipe takes more than 8 hours.) This book shows you how and, even better, will show you why with recipes that highlight the best of sous vide cooking.

The Advantages of Sous Vide Cooking

Precision: Many sous vide circulators regulate temperature to within one-half of one degree Fahrenheit. Your oven can't manage that degree of precision. (Ovens might cycle within a band of 30°F, 40°F, or 50°F, and that's assuming they're even calibrated correctly in the first place.) Try setting a pot of water on the stovetop to, say, simmer at precisely 200.5°F; it won't happen. Sous vide's precision ties in nicely to the next point.

Predictability: It's nice to have unpredictability in the sense of someone whisking you away on a surprise vacation. It's less nice to have unpredictability in the sense of overcooking your expensive steak, even though you thought you did it the same way as last time. Sous vide's precision and consistency combine to eliminate that room for error.

Forgiveness: Five more minutes won't matter. Ten more minutes won't matter either. Half an hour? Eh, it probably won't matter. There aren't too many cooking methods that let you say that, but sous vide timing is very flexible. While food might start to break down and change texture after the recommended times, rarely will a short stretch of time be the make-or-break for dinner success. Try that with the pasta that turned to mush after 3 too many minutes or the pizza that burnt while you refreshed your social media feed. (That “like” was lovely. Was it worth a pizza?)

Ease: This is not just a lack of complication, though sous vide cooking is very straightforward once you know the deal. The ease also comes from the ability of the chef to deep-breathe and leave behind anxiety about dinner. Impressive results aside—for just a second—that's worth a lot, regardless of the cooking method.

Time: While sous vide cooking can take a while—maybe a few hours, maybe more in some cases—that time is almost all passive. There's no watching, stirring, or poking involved. Sous vide cooking allows you to cook while you do the laundry or, um, write a cookbook.

Novelty: Look, you're interested in new cook-ing methods or you wouldn't be reading this. Since our cave-dwelling ancestors discovered fire and first submitted it to reviews from the cave public at large (“not hot enough!”; “too hot!”; etc.), there have only been so many new cooking methods. Sous vide qualifies.

Practicality and Preparation: Sous vide cooking opens up possibilities for portioning and precooking. You have many options: Refrigerate or freeze the sous vide cooked meat and then finish it later. Freeze portions of meat already seasoned and sealed, ready for their sous vide bath. (Yes, you can put the frozen and prepacked sous vide packets directly into the bath!) Get a jump on tomorrow's dinner or this weekend's barbecue by cooking a few chicken pieces for tonight and a few more later on.

Impressiveness: Brag a little. You've earned it. When I mention I've cooked something using sous vide, the response is usually either “Who's that?” or “What's that?” Dinner isn't always for lingering and discussing, but if you want a talking point, sous vide delivers when everyone tastes the results and wants to know more. Or you can keep it a secret, and let everyone be wowed by your powers to cook a steak consistently and perfectly. I can see it going either way.

Is Cooking Sous Vide Safe?

Sous vide cooking is safe. But it's different from conventional cooking, and it flouts some of the rules we've learned as careful cooks. Let's take a closer look at the safety of sous vide.


Many of us have perhaps had certain food safety temperatures drilled into our heads. Do the temperatures 165°F for chicken, 160°F for ground beef, and 145°F for pork ring a bell? Those are the USDA's minimum recommended internal temperatures. (In the case of pork, with three minutes of resting time mandated.) There is a very good reason for those temperatures—and a very good reason that they don't apply to sous vide cooking.

Those temperature benchmarks represent what I would call the “nuke from space” temperatures—those needed to instantly reduce bacteria to a safe level. Once the foods reach those temperatures, the USDA doesn't need to worry about how long the food has spent there; it's safe. The USDA simply does not expect that you will have a sensitive device regulating the cooking temperature to within one-half of a degree over the course of several hours. But you do! You have a sous vide circulator. So a new range of temperatures comes into play. The bottom line is that foods can cook at lower temperatures as long as they stay there for specified periods of time, and as long as they stay out of the temperature danger zone. For more details on this, see Sous Vide Food Safety.

Sous Vide Best Practices

Diligently follow the recipes and guidelines in this cookbook to stay safe. Here's what you're up against:

Some bacteria survive cooking by forming spores. Like the seed of a plant, when a spore is exposed to moisture, food, and an optimal temperature and environment, it will spring into action. Some types of bacteria can produce toxins that contaminate food. Many bacterial toxins cannot be destroyed by later cooking.

The bacteria of most concern for sous vide are the ones that form spores and those that multiply in warm conditions or in vacuum-packaged food. These include C. botulinum, which grows between 38°F and 113°F in vacuum-packaged foods, and C. perfringens, which grows between 39.2°F and 126°F.

  • Sous vide cooking below 131°F—for seafood, for example—must never exceed 4 hours.
  • Because of botulinum risk in vacuum-packed foods, all pouched foods, whether cooked or raw, must be stored at less than 37°F. The best way to do this is to store the pouched food between layers of ice in the back of the refrigerator. The maximum time to refrigerate pouched food is 2 days.
  • If sous vide food is not served just after cooking, it must be cooled immediately. Place it in a mix of half ice and half water and replace the ice as it melts. The food should cool to less than 37°F within 2 hours. Store it in the refrigerator as directed above.
  • The sniff test is not everything: When a vacuum is established, most organisms responsible for off-odors do not grow. But pathogens such as C. botulinum are of concern. Refrigeration— on ice, toward the back of the fridge, as specified above—must be below 37°F.

Source: Guidelines for Restaurant Sous Vide Cooking Safety in British Columbia, BC Centre for Disease Control


Sous vide cooking often involves food sealed in plastic. “Plastic” is a broad term, so it's useful to specify the type of plastics we're talking about: polyethylene without plasticizers such as BPA.

Polyethylene in its solid form is not toxic and is approved for contact with food. (If it melts and you ingest it, that might be a different story. But we're not melting plastic here.) Many of the warnings about microwaving food in plastic or leaving plastic water bottles in the car (where they may heat up) center on concerns about the chemical BPA, which is not an issue with BPA-free polyethylene.

Ziploc-brand bags are typically made from polyethylene and state on the package that they contain no BPA. Generic varieties are also fine as long as the material is stated on the label. Freezer bags tend to be better suited because they're thicker and often have a double seal.

Vacuum-seal bags such as FoodSaver are also great for sous vide cooking. They are made from polyethylene, with a layer of nylon on the exterior. Again, check the label or ask the manufacturer to be certain.

Now, is it possible that more research will be done and different conclusions will be reached as to the safety of plastic for sous vide cooking? Absolutely. It's possible.

Here is how I reconcile that reality with my love of sous vide cooking:

With sous vide cooking's popularity at restaurants, I've almost certainly eaten food that's been cooked sous vide without my realizing it. So if I'm hoping to avoid it entirely, I've already lost on that count. In fact, when I look around me, I see a lot of plastic, in practically every room of my house, including the kitchen. (For more on the environmental impact of plastic and possible alternatives, see How to Choose and Seal Bags).

I also eat food that's been cooked over fire, a process known to generate carcinogens.

I don't offer this to justify taking a wild risk in cooking, just to place in context any risk that might exist.

Ultimately, there is a risk built into many things we eat. It's prudent to reduce the risks but unrealistic to eliminate them entirely. For my part, I have concluded that with proper precautions (such as paying attention to labels and temperatures) sous vide cooking is safe as part of a balanced diet.

One other piece of good news: If you're avoiding plastic entirely, there are a few other options for some foods. Glass canning jars and reuseable packets made from silicone (not a plastic) are available and suitable for many recipes in this book.


All sous vide cooking follows basic steps:

1. Set up the equipment: Fill your container with water and insert your circulator. Make sure the water comes up to the minimum-water line on the circulator, plus about an inch to allow for evaporation. Leave about 2 inches of space at the top of the container to allow for displacement of the food when it is added. (If this is not possible, you need a bigger container. Your circulator's instruction manual will tell you the maximum amount of water it can handle.) Make sure that the surface beneath the container can handle the heat. If you're not sure, either use a folded kitchen towel or wooden cutting board to protect the surface or move the vessel to a safer surface. Placing the container on the stovetop is not recommended; it's too easy to accidentally turn on the stove and wreak havoc with the carefully controlled cooking temperature. Not that you would do that. But someone else might.

2. Preheat the water: Set your circulator to heat the water to the temperature specified in the recipe. Your sous vide circulator can do this; you can also help it along by heating water on the stovetop or in an electric kettle. (You don't have to nail the target temperature; once you add the water to the container with the sous vide circulator, the circulator will sense the current temperature and gradually adjust it accordingly.

3. Seal the food: While the water preheats, set up your food. This means preparing it according to the recipe and sealing it with your preferred method. (See Sealing.)

4. Submerge and check the food: With the water at the correct temperature, place the bag or container in the water. Make sure the water circulates freely around the sealed food, checking to make sure it's not jammed against the side of the container or stuck to the circulator. If the food needs some weight to keep it submerged, place a ramekin or other weight on top of it. (See Weights.) If you've sealed the food in a zip-top bag, you can also see whether the bag has air bubbles and remove those. (The hot water tends to make the air bubbles more evident.) Don't do this in the sous vide bath; it's hot! (See Sealing.)

5. Cook: While the water circulates and gurgles, set a timer and handle any preparation necessary for the final touches.

6. Finish: If you're saving the food for later, skip this step and go straight to Serve or Save, below. Otherwise, know that some foods—many desserts, vegetables, or fish, for example—can be served as is. Others, including most meats, will benefit from a quick sear to develop a crust. Use a paper towel or clean cloth to dry the exterior of the food; a crust forms best when there is no moisture present. (See Finishing.)

7. Serve or Save: If you're serving the food now, plate your finished dish. It's ready. If you're saving the food for later, it's time to cool it down. Transfer the package to a bath of half ice, half water until cool (as a general rule, this takes about 20 minutes), and then refrigerate. (See Cooling and Storing Food.)

Sous Vide Equipment Recommendations

To cook sous vide, there are only a handful of absolutely necessary pieces of equipment. This is a brief listing of the must-haves, the nice-to-haves, and a few things you really don't need at all and that can actually interfere with the ease of cooking with this method. A more in-depth exploration of each type of equipment follows.


• Sous Vide Circulator

• Container for Water

A stockpot will do nicely here—just be sure to take note of the minimum water level for your circulator to function. (I also find it nice when the water jet is submerged; otherwise the flowing water of your sous vide setup may generate a tinkling sound.) Be sure, too, that the water won't overflow when the food is added.

Remember that more water will mean that the temperature will bounce back more quickly when the food is added, which is good. It does mean, though, that the water will take longer to come to temperature in the first place. (You can address this by heating some or all of the water on the stove top. Just make sure that the circulator is not in the vessel if the water is being heated on the stove top when you do this.)

If you use your sous vide setup regularly and have the space, it's worth looking into a purpose-built container. Available online, these containers are typically larger than a pot you might own and have snug-fitting covers with—and this is key—a hole for the sous vide circulator.

Nice to Have

Vacuum Sealer: You can do a lot of sous vide cooking in zip-top freezer bags or canning jars. But if you'd like to expand your kit, a vacuum sealer can be a useful purchase. Not only is it good for preparing food for its sous vide bath, it can also be handy for storing and freezing leftovers and pantry products.

Reusable Silicone Bags: There's a place for these, although they're not perfect. Because the silicone is thicker and more rigid than plastic, it can be difficult to force the silicone to conform to the shape of the food. This leaves open the possibility of air pockets.

One plus: To clean them, just turn them inside out and run them through the dishwasher.

Kitchen Torch: While many of the recipes in this book call for finishing the food in a heavy pan on the stovetop, it's usually possible to use a kitchen torch to achieve the same seared crust. (And in fact, for Sous Vide Crème Brûlée, it's required.) Is it necessary? It's not. But sometimes it's nice to have an extra tool in the toolbox.

Leave It on the Shelf

Ping Pong Balls: As seen on the internet, these float atop the water and help the water retain heat—in theory. In practice, you will chase them around the kitchen and find one under the dining table two months later. Also, table tennis was not meant to be played at, say, 160°F. In testing, some of mine developed cracks and weird smells. Better to use aluminum foil as a makeshift cover for the cooking vessel or to spend the money on a purpose-built container and cover.

Plastic Bags with Hand Pump: Reusable plastic bags and a hand pump that spares you the expense of a vacuum sealer might seem like an ideal combination of environmental sensitivity and thriftiness. Truly, I wanted to believe. Ultimately, in my experience, these fell short.

The instructions may warn against submerging the seal in the water, forcing you to do a delicate dance—submerged, but not too submerged! I've also found the hand pump fragile.

Sous Vide Circulators

All a circulator really has to do is circulate water and heat it.

That's it. Those requirements don't make up a particularly tall order; there are plenty of machines on the market that tick those two boxes. The tricky part, in my experience, is when companies try to layer features on top of those basic functions. Then you're caught in the position of hoping that their app works, that there's no inconvenient Wi-Fi hiccup, and so on.

Wi-Fi/Bluetooth: Meh. Yes, that's my official recommendation: meh. The feature may allow you to monitor the temperature of the water from another room, but in general there's not much to see here—once the water reaches temperature, it stays at temperature. The feature may function as a timer, but you probably already have one of those. In general, it's not necessary for cooking and its novelty wore off quickly for me.

Wattage: Circulator range typically runs from 800W to 1200W. More wattage means more power to heat the water, but if you're using something along the lines of an 8-quart pot, I've found even the lowest-wattage circulators handily manage to heat the water.

Pump volume: The rate at which the circulator pumps out water typically ranges from 1.5 gallons to about 3 gallons per minute. More water circulating can mean the temperature is achieved or maintained more readily. Again, unless you're using a very large container, even circulators on the lower end of the range should be adequate.


There's no magic to choosing a container for the water bath. The size and material can vary, but you probably already have something that will work: A stockpot does the trick. (I most often use an 8-quart pot.) The specific water level necessary will vary by sous vide circulator, but look for the minimum water level line on the circulator and make sure the water reaches an inch or so above that level and does not fall below the line. (Don't overfill the vessel; remember that adding the bagged food will cause the water to rise a bit.)

Restaurant supply stores sell plastic tubs made for food storage and suitable for use as a sous vide vessel. Plastic sous vide containers with custom-made lids are available online. These bins feature a slot for your sous vide circulator, allowing the lid to stay on (and the water to retain heat) while you cook. These are hardly necessary for casual sous vide cooks (they're on the pricier side), but are a worthwhile expenditure if you sous vide frequently. They also allow you to watch the food while it cooks, though I'll be honest: There's not a lot to see here. “A bag sitting in water” neatly summarizes the experience of watching most foods cook sous vide. But there is a tiny bit of theater in getting a window on your food, and clear containers do afford that opportunity.

Consider putting something under the container as well. While the container may not get too hot, it's better to be safe and spare your countertop or work surface from any potential heat damage. A wooden cutting board or a thick kitchen towel should do the trick.

How to Choose and Seal Bags

When it comes to plastic bags, high- and low-density polyethylene (often abbreviated HDPE and LDPE, respectively) and polypropylene bags are acceptable for sous vide. Vinyl chloride polymers are not. Most high-quality zip-top resealable bags, such as Ziploc, are polyethylene.

If you're bagging something that might carry dangerous bacteria, such as chicken, fold back the lip of the bag on itself before placing the chicken in the bag, then unfold and seal the bag. This ensures that any chicken drippings land on the inside of the bag, where you won't touch them.

Zip-Top Bag + Water- Displacement Method

Chances are the manufacturer of your favorite zip-top bag will tell you that they are not intended for sous vide cooking. While that is undoubtedly true, high-quality freezer bags combined with the water-displacement method for chasing the air from the bags (see here) are what a lot of people use. Choose quart- or gallon-size bags depending on the amount of food. Make sure they have a double seal, not a sliding-top seal. (A double seal means the top of the bag has two “tracks.”)

These bags are not what I prefer (I'm partial to vacuum sealing, see here), but I've used them, always with success. One downside is the disposable single-use plastic they entail. My solution to this is to search enthusiastically for other ways to reduce my ecological footprint and to employ reusable silicone bags or glass jars when practical.

Also, be aware that temperatures above about 155°F may cause the seal to fail. For those higher temperatures, stick to silicone bags, vacuum-seal bags, or (if it makes sense) glass jars.

Vacuum Sealer + Storage Bags

Vacuum sealers, such as those made by FoodSaver or Anova, use a roll of food-safe polyethylene plastic for vacuum packing and sealing your food. The roll of plastic allows you to make custom bags to size. (Ready-made bags are also available.) The powerful vacuum makes it easy to remove the air from the bags. One downside: The vacuum can be a little too vigorous, attempting to slurp up any liquids in the bag. The recipes in this book generally use little enough liquid that you can manage, in particular if you tell the machine to seal the bag before it has removed every last trace of air (and liquid). Although the specifics may vary depending on the vacuum sealer, look for a button that says “seal”—that should stop the suction and seal the bag.

These bags also share the ecological downside of plastic zip-top bags. To be more environmentally sensitive, look for manufacturers that offset or reduce their plastic use. Follow the instructions that come with your vacuum sealer in order to use the bags; they're typically quite easy to use.

Reusable Silicone Sous Vide Bag

Reusable bags from companies such as Stasher take advantage of silicone to deliver a food-safe, zip-top alternative to plastic. (If you, like me, did not realize that silicone was not a plastic, what can I say? You're in good company.) Besides being reusable, silicone bags are dishwasher-safe. As with zip-top plastic bags, follow the water-displacement method for chasing the air from the bags (see here).

Glass Jars

Sometimes the best “bag” isn't a bag at all: The glass jar in some ways stands as the gold standard for convenience and reusability. While it's not suitable for many recipes (i.e., meat in a glass jar isn't really happening), many of the recipes in the Desserts chapter—such as Silky Lemon Curd, Berry Cheesecake, Salted Dulce de Leche, and more—do call for glass canning jars. Another bonus of using glass jars with canning lids: It's not necessary to get the air out of them before placing them in the sous vide bath. As long as you respect the jar's headspace (the amount of air between the food and the lid) as indicated by the recipe, and tighten the lids properly (tight but not too tight), the water from the sous vide bath will not flow into the jar.


  • “Cooking sous vide (in water with an immersion circulator) can often make dinner prep easier (and more flexible). For anyone who isn’t yet convinced, this accessible cookbook from the author of How to Instant Pot will help to demystify the whole process.” —Epicurious

    “A terrific how-to... In Shumski’s estimation, this cooking method is forgiving, flavorful, and foolproof—and his enticing recipes go a long way to prove it.” —Publishers Weekly

    "Sharing his enthusiasm in an approachable style, Shumski’s take on sous vide should get any cook excited to try the technique."—Library Journal


On Sale
Nov 23, 2021
Page Count
240 pages

Daniel Shumski

Daniel Shumski

About the Author

Daniel Shumski is a writer and editor who has hunted ramen in Tokyo for the Washington Post and tracked down ice cream in Buenos Aires for the Los Angeles Times. Between stints at the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune, he worked for a Midwestern heirloom apple orchard. His first book, Will It Waffle?: 53 Irresistible and Unexpected Recipes to Make in a Waffle Iron, won praise from the New York TimesPeople magazine, and Food52. He lives in Montreal.

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