There are three basic components that apply when you are cooking sous vide.
They are pressure, temperature, and time and they are the three variables you will have control over when you are creating and tweaking sous vide dishes.
Each one of these components can affect the end quality, texture, and taste of different sous vide dishes. Learning how they affect the food is one of the most important things to learn as you begin sous vide cooking.
Since you are vacuum sealing your food before cooking it you will eventually want to learn how the vacuum sealing process affects different types of food. Most vacuum sealers, even the standard FoodSaver type, will allow you to seal the bags at different pressures.
Most food will be fine with a medium to medium-high vacuum pressure, this will ensure that the bag is snug against the food helping transfer heat during the sous vide cooking process. It will also help lock liquids around the food properly and allow most food to hold its shape.
Some foods such as watermelon or other soft fruits, many types of fish, and even some meats are too delicate to vacuum seal at greater pressures. They will lose their shape and much of their appeal if they are vacuumed at too high of a pressure. Some foods with bones or sharp edges also shouldn't be vacuum sealed at a high pressure because they may pierce the bags.
On the other hand, sometimes you want the crushing power of greater vacuum pressure. If you vacuum seal watermelon under high pressure it will compress and come out with a completely different texture, making for a unique dish. The greater pressure is also helpful when making dishes with multiple components, such as the chicken and ham in a chicken cordon bleu or a homemade sausage.
Temperature in Sous Vide Cooking
Temperature is the most important component of sous vide cooking, and with the proper equipment it is the easiest to control. Temperature in sous vide cooking varies greatly depending on the type of food being cooked but most sous vide cooking is done between 120F and 190F. Most meats are cooked between 130 and 150F.
When cooking with sous vide your window of time to perfectly cooked food is much longer than with traditional cooking methods. This is because you are cooking the food at the temperature you want it to eventually be at, instead of cooking it at higher temperature. This is why leaving a piece of sous vide food in the water for an extra 5 minutes will not normally hurt it.
However, be careful not to take this concept too far as your food can still become overcooked by sous vide, many times without showing it externally.
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