The sous vide life


Story by Barry Kaufman + Photography by Mike Ritterbeck

It wasn’t that long ago that sous vide cooking seemed like one of those impossibly complicated methods that only the most experienced chefs would undertake. In fact, despite having a fancy French name (meaning “under vacuum”), nothing could be simpler.

“I call it the modern-day crockpot,” said Josh O’Neill, executive chef at the Golf Club at Indigo Run. “A lot of modern-day fine dining establishments have moved over to it, but Thomas Keller really brought it into the mainstream in America. The thought behind it has been out there for hundreds of years, but the technology only really caught up in the 1960s.”

So what is sous vide cooking? Essentially it’s a form of cooking that heats food to the precise temperature it needs to be finished perfectly throughout. You place your dish in a plastic bag (typically a protein, but you can use sous vide cooking for anything from mashed potatoes to cheesecake), suck out all of the air and place it into hot water. This water is kept just below the boiling point via a device called an immersion circulator, which maintains an even, steady temperature.

“A lot of chefs are getting into it because you have the ability to control and evenly cook your protein. It eliminates a lot of human error,” said O’Neill. “Plus, there’s also a lot of moisture control because it’s in a bag versus in the oven. You lose probably 75 percent less moisture than you would using traditional methods.”

Having come up through the hospitality industry, O’Neill has adapted well to the more personalized one-on-one experience afforded to him as EC at Indigo Run. One example being the sous vide cooking classes he’ll teach regularly for members. We took a few notes to share his wisdom with you.

The equipment

The first thing you’ll need for sous vide cooking is something you may already own: a vacuum sealer. Beyond simply keeping leftovers or ingredients fresh, this sealer creates the perfect medium for a “season and drop” sous vide dish.

The other thing you’ll need is the immersion circulator. “I personally have an Innova, but that and Joule are the two leading brands,” said O’Neill. The Joule might have the edge for those just trying out sous vide cooking, however, as it also uses an app that provides step-by-step instructions and videos for preparing the perfect vacuum-packed meal.

Finally you need something big enough to hold it all. “Not that I would ever suggest this, but you could use a mop bucket,” he said with a laugh. “Obviously, that isn’t all that sanitary, but if you have a large stock pot you can use that.”

The prep

As O’Neill notes, sous vide isn’t just for proteins. “You can do vegetables, hard- or soft-boiled eggs, cheesecake, crème brulee. It’s become so versatile.”

But for the purposes of this crash course, let’s assume you’re preparing a steak. Before you begin, you’ll want to place your steak, along with your aromatics of choice – garlic, fresh thyme, etc. – in the bag. “You always have to include a small amount of fat whether it’s oil, butter or bacon fat, which I always say goes with anything,” he said. “Then you season it. Salt, pepper or a fancy dry rub all work well.”

Then seal it (making sure the seal is good. No one likes waterlogged steak), set your temperature, and you’re ready to go.

“The rule of thumb for proteins is an hour per inch of thickness,” said O’Neill.

La grande finition

Once your time is up, it’s not just a matter of cutting open the bag and serving. First, pat your meat dry and get ready to sear. “Patting the meat dry leads to better caramelization,” said O’Neill. “You just finish it on high heat, whether in a pan, on the grill or under a broiler, to get that texture everyone’s used to and pull the muscle fibers back together.”

The great advantage to sous vide cooking, beyond the simplicity of it, is the even cooking it lends to proteins. While a steak cooked in the oven or on the grill will have a variation of color from the red middle to the charred outside, a sous vide steak will be exactly the degree of doneness required, right up to the edge. Also all of the seasonings, aromatics and fats in the bag make for a tantalizing quick-and-easy pan sauce.

“Plus unlike traditional cooking, there’s less need to let it rest after searing,” added O’Neill. Typically you want to let a steak rest for 15 minutes or so, but a sous vide steak needs only 2 or 3, as the moisture has already spread evenly through the meat.

Then, with your steak perfectly cooked, seared and rested, you’re ready to enjoy. Bon appetit! LL

Port wine reduction



2 cups port wine

1 cup demi glace

1 shallot

1 garlic clove

1 thyme sprig

1 dry bay leaf

6 whole peppercorns

2 tablespoons butter, cubed in 1/2-inch dice

Sea salt

Cracked black pepper

Directions [1] Julienne shallot. Smash garlic. Add wine to medium sauce pot and over medium heat reduce by 1/4 volume. [2] Add shallot, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, peppercorns and reduce liquid at a simmer over medium to low heat for approximately 2 minutes. [3] Add demi glace. Bring to simmer for approximately 3 minutes. [4] Remove from heat and add butter until fully incorporated. Season with salt and fresh pepper. Serve alongside your favorite steak.

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