Simple Pickled Vegetables in a DIY Sous Vide Cooker

Pickled Vegetables

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:

Crock pot

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.

Rice cooker

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.

Deep fryer

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.

Stove top

Again, use the method as above. If you can set the temperature on your kettle, do that. If not, use the thermometer.

Insulated cooler

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.

Ingredients

Directions

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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?

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Comments

  1. What a great idea! I’ve used the cooler sous vide method for steak – which I highly recommend, as it’ scooped perfectly and then you just need to wear the sides. I cook my corn on the cob that way as well.

  2. Hi everyone,
    I love pickled/fermented foods, but am not so sure about putting brine in a plastic bag and heating it….will not plastics leak into foods this way ? This is an honest concern :) please let me know either way, and thank you for your website :)

  3. I agree with Susanne. I feel quite uncomfortable pickling and heating in a plastic bag. I was keen on the recipe and simplicity until that part of the recipe. what other options would there be? couldn’t one just do the process in a slow cooker or rice cooker and then store them in a glass container in the fridge? this is a small amount of pickles for quick consumption.

  4. I agree with Susanne. I feel quite uncomfortable pickling and heating in a plastic bag. I was keen on the recipe and simplicity until that part of the recipe. what other options would there be? couldn’t one just do the process in a slow cooker or rice cooker and then store them in a glass container in the fridge? this is a small amount of pickles for quick consumption.

  5. I agree with the others who expressed concerns about plastic toxins, which volatilize at much greater rates when heated.

    I’m also very much not a fan of sugar and it’s long list of detrimental effects on one’s physiology. Even in small quantities, it suppresses the immune system for hours, as just one of about 10 detrimental effects.

  6. In addition to my above comment, I’m also baffled by why one would want to make pickles with vinegar, when you get a far superior product for health, and also for taste (the sourness of lactofermentation is less harsh than vinegar) with lactofermenting.

    • Hi Mary, I’ll be addressing the plastics issue to everyone. As for the lactofermentation, I’ve never tried it so I really can’t give advice on it. I, as well as everyone I know, has used vinegar for pickles and pickled veggies. I’d never thought to use anything else since it’s been done that way for generations.

  7. My son is always trying to get me to try this process for steak. I’m very uneasy about cooking, or any kind of process that involves plastic/heat/food. If you’ve ever had to fill out a Cancer questionnaire for yourself or a loved one, you have found that there is a good size section on food prep involving plastics (bags, containers, Styrofoam.) If the medical profession is asking then they must know that it’s not good for us. I know the temps are low, but at what temp is it BAD for us? I don’t even store food in plastic, and try not to buy food in plastic.

  8. I have the same concerns re: plastic/food with or without heat.
    I know you can vacuum-pack in glass jars with the proper attachment.
    Does anyone have experience with cooking in glass jars using the sous vide technique?

  9. Hey Everyone, I’ve seen all the concerns about using plastics to cook with. While it is a valid concern for many, some plastic bags, such as those made from polyethylene, contain no BPA’s or plasticizers like phthalates. These are the things you want to stay away from. This method of cooking takes a very short amount of time and is done at a low temperature. BPA’s can leach at longer periods of time and temps over boiling. There are food safe bags such as the Food Saver bags and Ziplock brand. Generics may contain anything, so know what you are getting. If you won’t use plastics, consider silicone, which is safe to 400 degrees, some even higher. Or you can use canning jars. The Food Saver machine has a vacuum attachment for jars. I hope this helps! I will be doing any article about the effects of using plastics in the future.