I love to watch cooking shows. It used to be Jeff Smith and Julia Child, but now it’s Michael Symon and Alton Brown. One of my favorite shows is “Chopped” and I have really learned a lot from it. But some of the equipment they use is way out of my price range. So how can I get the same results and not spend all that money? Easy! Do it myself!
What is a Sous Vide Cooker?
A sous vide cooker is a small machine similar to a tabletop deep fryer. It typically uses water as a heating medium. You can set it to 135° and get a perfectly medium rare steak. There is no chance of overcooking and moisture is retained. And the whole process takes only a matter of minutes.
Why use it for pickling? Because vegetables normally take a week or so to pickle, and the sous vide reduces that time to a matter of 30 minutes or less. The result is crisp, pickled vegetables NOW – not in a week. It can also be used cold as a much less time consuming marinade. The pressure from the water helps the marinade penetrate meat much faster.
A good small sous vide can run you upwards of $400. I spent about $14 to make mine, and that was just for the wired thermometer. I had everything else on hand.
Making a DIY Sous Vide Cooker
There are many ways to make your own sous vide cooker. They all require water, a container, heat, a thermometer (preferably one with a long wire), something to cook, and some type of vacuum sealed container. Here are a few examples:
To cook food sous vide in a slow cooker, first fill it half way with water. Turn on high to preheat. While you are waiting, prepare your vegetables. (Find the full recipe below.) Turn the temperature down to medium. Place the vegetables along with the brine in a zip top bag and force all the air out of it. Place the bag in the water and keep an eye on it. For a half pound of vegetables, it should take 20 minutes or so. Keep an eye on the temperature and be sure it stays above 170°F. If it starts to cool, turn it to high again. When the vegetables are crisp/tender, take them out of the water bath and place the whole bag, unopened, in a bowl of ice water. When cooled, dump out the contents and drain off the liquid. Enjoy! If you’re going to be storing any in the refrigerator, keep the liquid and place all of it into a glass jar with a lid.
This method is done the same as above, but with most rice cookers you can set the actual temperature. A good temp is usually 170°F. It’s warm enough to allow the brine to get into the vegetables, but not hot enough to cook them.
If you have a tabletop deep fryer, you can use this as a sous vide cooker. It works the same as above. Just be sure that you clean ALL of the water out of it before you put oil into it again. If any water is left in it, it can boil and pop, potentially leaving you with a nasty burn.
Again, use the method as above. If you can set the temperature on your kettle, do that. If not, use the thermometer.
You can actually use an insulated cooler, with no heat source, for your vessel. Add boiling water to the cooler and check the temperature. If it’s too cold, add more hot water. If it’s too hot, add a few ice cubes. Proceed as above. Because there is no heat source, you may need to add hot water after a few minutes, but many coolers will hold the temperature for long enough to get the job done.
Pickled Vegetables Recipe
This is where I get to have the most fun. Much of what I do depends on my mood and what produce is available.
- 3 cups vegetables
- 1 cup water (find the best water filtration systems here)
- ½ cup rice vinegar (find organic rice vinegar here)
- ½ cup distilled vinegar
- ¼ cup sugar or another sweetener of your choice (find organic cane sugar here)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt (find unrefined kosher salt here)
- a few bay leaves (find organic bay leaf here)
- juice from one lemon or lime, and the zest from either fruit
- a clove of garlic, rough chopped
- 1 tablespoon pepper corns (find organic black peppercorns here)
- 1 tablespoon coriander seed (find organic coriander here)
- ¼ teaspoon mustard seed (find organic mustard seed here)
- Start with about 3 cups of vegetables, cut into small nuggets or slices. I typically use carrots, celery, cauliflower, and onions in the winter. During the summer I like to add green and yellow beans, pea pods, daikon radish, and even okra. You can even try ginger slices or chayote squash. Avoid anything that can quickly get mushy like cucumbers or tomatoes, unless you are doing a very quick pickle (10 minutes or less).
- Prepare the brine. Combine water, rice vinegar, distilled vinegar, sugar, salt, bay leaves, juice and zest of lemon or lime, garlic, and spices in a medium pot. For a bit more kick, you can add a serrano or chili pepper. For extra heat, add the seeds and membrane.
- Bring brine to a boil to dissolve the salt. Allow it to cool a bit. Place your vegetables in a zip top bag and pour the still hot brine over the vegetables. Force all of the air out and place the sealed bag in your DIY sous vide cooker. Cook as directed above, depending on how you made your cooker.
I’ve used my DIY sous vide many times in the past year. I’ve tried the stove top, crock pot, and cooler method, and have been happy with the results of each.
How about you?
Have you ever heard of sous vide cooking? Have you tried something similar? How did it go?