What is Sous Vide?
Sous Vide (pronounced “soo veed”) is a method of cooking that allows you to create foods that are perfectly cooked, at an exact temperature in a water bath. That means the most perfect steaks, impossibly tender, yet juicy brisket, and velvety smooth pork belly that melts in your mouth.
Here’s a video to explain:
Recommended Sous Vide Class
I can’t say enough good things about ChefSteps. I’ve known about ChefSteps for awhile, from Tim Ferriss’ book, The 4-Hour Chef (btw, Tim mentions us in his book in the steak chapter – he features our steak salting method.) But it wasn’t until last week that I watched a class online. This is not a paid endorsement — I’m just a massive fan.
You can watch their free beginner Sous Vide class or for $10 enroll in their Cooking Sous Vide: Beyond the Basics – it’s worth every penny, and more. I’ve already learned better sous vide techniques beyond the steak and salmon.
Anova Sous Vide Review
We have been cooking sous vide for over 6 years, starting with a Sous Vide Supreme Machine (here’s our review + the perfect 146F egg.) and have been using the first version of the Anova Sous Vide for the past couple of years. A month ago, we upgraded to the newer bluetooth enabled Anova Culinary Precision Cooker (fancy name for a sous vide appliance) and love the easier to use interface and dials.
- It’s a fantastic price point and affordable for home cooks. At $179 (Amazon.com), it is $100 cheaper than the Nomiku and $120 cheaper than Sous Vide Supreme. I don’t know enough about the new kid on the block, $199 Sansaire, to comment. The $699 PolyScience creates powerful sous vide machines for restaurants.
- Simple to use: One button + one wheel to rotate for temperature selection. You don’t need the phone app to run the Anova. In fact, I installed the free app, used it once and just deleted it, as I didn’t find much use for the app.
- Small size: The Anova works with any large stockpot, you just clip the Anova onto the side of the pot. This makes the Anova very easy to store in a drawer. Our old Sous Vide Supreme needed an entire deep shelf!
- Reliability: Anova actually specializes in water bath equipment for laboratory, biotech, analytical
equipment control, industry processes cooling, and culinary industries. They are based in Stafford, Texas and specialize in precision machines. If scientists trust their equipment, I can trust them to cook my steak.
- While it does connect to my iPhone via bluetooth, I found that the app was just a “fun to have” and really see no need to be connected. Once you input the Anova temperature, you’re all set.
- What I did like about my old Sous Vide Supreme unit was that it was a contained appliance with a lid vs. the Anova that clips to a pot. But that means a lid won’t fit. This doesn’t matter if you are cooking sous vide for just a couple of hours, but if you are cooking the perfect pork belly (hey, this recipe!) for 16 hours, a lot of water is lost through evaporation. Our sous vide runs overnight, and the last thing I want to do is to wake up in the middle of the night to check on my water level. There are polycarbonate boxes that chefs use, but you’ll need a plastic cutter to cut a hole for your Anova. You’ll see below how I tried to cover my stockpot (and failed!) Others have used ping pong balls or these very expensive balls that float on top of the water to prevent water loss. Yesterday, I actually considered cutting a hole in the lid of a small cooler, but not sure of the dangers of hot water sitting long periods of time in the plastic cooler.
If you’re interested in giving sous vide cooking a try, this is the unit to buy. Paired with the ChefSteps online class, you’ll be on your way to cooking restaurant quality meals with minimal fuss.
How to Sous Vide Pork Belly
Buy a nice piece of pork belly (this is where bacon comes from!) I like to use a handful kosher salt and “exfoliate” the pork skin. Here’s why you should do this, especially with chicken. It’s not a must, but I like to get the skin clean and scrubbed.
I made two versions of this pork belly. One with garlic, ginger, green onion, orange peel, soy sauce and honey:
And the other with prepared Char Siu (Chinese BBQ) sauce.
With either sauce, the cooking. method is the same. Add the pork belly and sauce into a vacuum bag.
Seal the vacuum bag. Schmush the sauce to evenly distribute on both sides of the pork belly.
Fill pot with water, set the Anova Sous Vide to 158F. Place the bags into pot. Use clips to secure the bags so that they don’t move around too much and to ensure each bag has enough room for water to circulate. Cook for 16 hours.
Don’t do this
In an effort to minimize water loss through evaporation, I covered the pot with tin foil.
I threw a couple of dishtowels on top to keep the tin foil in place. Bad idea. After 8 hours, enough condensation had built up on the underside and edges of the tin foil, that the towel began absorbing that water. Then, the towels became soaked and water started dripping down on my counter.
Instead, use tin foil, but fit it INSIDE the pot, just crumple the edges so that it fits on top of the water and inside the pot. It won’t be a perfect, snug fit, but it will help minimize water loss.
A Few Tips
- When cooking sous vide for a long time period, anything over 8 hours, I like to use a vacuum seal bag. You can also use a heavy duty sealable freezer bag, but double-bag.
- Cut your vacuum bag 6″ larger than you need, use the excess bag to clip to the side of your pot, so that the bag stays put — and just in case the seal is not completely tight, prevent spillage.
- Check your water level periodically. Top off as needed. If the water level is too low, the pork belly will not cook evenly or properly.
- Is cooking 16 hours per the recipe absolutely necessary? No! The longer you sous vide, the more the collagen will break apart and meat will be fork tender. Cook too long: and you’ll get a mushy mess. Cook too short: the meat will be chewy and tough. For example, do you enjoy a nice, meaty strip steak that you can dig into? Then 1 hour per inch is about right. If you cook the same strip steak for 12 hours, you’ll be able to cut the steak with a fork, not quite the texture I enjoy for a steak, but one that I would like for pork shoulder. So, timing and temperature depends on the cut of meat AND the desired texture. For pork belly, 16 hours for pork belly falls right in the middle of that spectrum. Delicate and tender, yet retains its structure so that you can slice and sear without breaking apart. The wiggle room for cooking time is pretty lax, anywhere between 12-20 hours will still be good.
After 16 hours, remove pork belly from bag. I like to reserve the tasty juices. Slice thinly, about 1/4″. The pork belly is smooth, still firm in structure, yet unbelievably tender. You want pork belly that you can gently bite into, not just instantly melt in your mouth.
The last step is to heat a sauté pan or frying pan (I prefer the high sides of a sauté pan – you’ll contain the fatty splatter better.) and sear both sides before serving. The full recipe is below at the end of this post.
To serve, I like to keep it simple. Pork belly is very rich, fatty and savory. You need to pair it with something light, bright and acidic, otherwise, like the rich, dense chocolate cake, you can only have a few bite before it’s overwhelming.
I like serving pork belly with a super quick pickle – julienned bell pepper and cucumber tossed in a little seasoned rice vinegar. Warm flour or corn tortillas make it a simple hand-food. Super curly, crisp-crunchy green onion is made by soaking slivers of green onion in ice water. On the side, chili sauce and pickled ginger.
Do you love these eco-friendly bamboo plates? It’s from RestaurantWare. The plates and dishes are sturdy – and reusable when you hand wash.
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Sous Vide Pork Belly Recipe (Taco)
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes active, 16 hours sous vide
Char Siu sauce can be found on Amazon, many well-stocked grocery stores or any Asian market.
Serve with Asian chili sauce and pickled ginger, if desired
16 small flour tortillas
1 cucumber, julienned
1 bell pepper, cored and julienned
2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
2 stalks, green onion (scallion)
1/4 cup prepared Char Siu sauce
VERSION 2: (combine)
2 stalks green onion, minced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
Place pork belly in a vacuum seal bag. Slather your desired sauce (Char Siu or Soy/Honey) on both sides of the pork belly. Seal the bag and prepare your sous vide machine to run at 158F for 16 hours. Make sure you have enough water in the pot, topping off as needed. When done, open bag, reserving the Char Siu sauce in the bag. Slice the pork belly into 1/4".
To make the slaw, mix the cucumber and the bell pepper in a bowl, and toss with seasoned rice vinegar. For the green onion, slice as thinly as possible at a steep angle. Fill a small bowl with ice water, and add the sliced green onion.
When ready to serve, add the pork belly to a frying pan, then turn on the heat to medium. The pork belly will slowly caramelize, and fat will render as it heats up with the pan. Cook until browned, about 2 minutes. Flip and brown other side.
Drain the green onion from the ice water. Assemble tacos with warmed flour tortillas, pork belly, slaw and curly, crunchy green onion.