Sous Vide is simple. You can do it with a thermometer, a pot of water, and a plastic bag; boiling an egg meets the basic definition of sous vide, because the egg is sealed inside the shell, and water is the medium. Fortunately, eggs sink of their own volition. There are also much more precise and effective vessels and even racks, dedicated to sous vide and the principles behind it.
You can use any vessel that will tolerate SV temps and has the right dimensions, but some vessels are definitely better than others. While the new and exciting Joule is being eagerly received, the magnet that they install on the bottom of the device assumes that the container to be used would be metal. In fact, metal is not as well applied to SV as other substances.
Metal is a good conductor of heat, which is fine if the source of energy is on the outside of the pot — like a burner. But since circulators apply heat from the INSIDE of the container, anything you can do to prevent that heat from dissipating will save you money, and extend the life of your circulator. Heat resisting (thermal) containers are much more efficient than metal, and polycarbonate plastic is what I typically use.
People modify ice chests and other containers to accommodate sous vide, I have seen some very ingenious setups. You can use simple saws to cut holes in the lids of Igloo type chests and so on; I have done it. I have even used the sink. Not very efficient, but very easy to drain! If the container is flexible, it may sag and tip when filled with water. This is funny if you observe it from a distance. If it happens to you, well, not so funny. Heat tends to travel upward, so a tight seal on top of your vessel is beneficial. I’ve heard of people using plastic wrap, foil, even ping pong balls have been mentioned.
It doesn’t seem like the color of your vessel would matter, and it doesn’t, as far as the science goes. I suppose a darker container would lose heat faster than a lighter one, but not to a significant degree. That being said, there are a few benefits to using clear containers. Not white. CLEAR.
Seeing is believing.
A certain amount of anxiety accompanies preparing food without being able to see it. Even in the BBQ and the oven, there are strong urges to open the doors and see what is happening. Of course, opening the doors STOPS whatever is happening. Manufacturers install lights in ovens, which is great as long as your oven is sparkling clean (including the window), or until the bulb burns out. They can be tedious to replace. Microwave ovens almost always have windows, an exercise in uselessness.
What could you see by looking through that window? Not to mention the common superstition that you shouldn’t watch things cook in the microwave anyway, because of the radiation. I don’t care if they’ve proven it’s safe, I still avoid it. Only Americans would think of putting a light in an oven, am I right? The fact is, we are nosy.
Clear SV vessels solve this problem. They also let you know if there is even the tiniest leak in a bag, which is not a problem as long as it is solved promptly. They tell you if the water is circulating, and you can measure doneness to a certain extent by looking at your sealed packages. Aesthetically, clear vessels on the counter are brighter and more pleasing to the eye, according to my spouse. She knows about these things. Sort of like having a fish tank, I guess.
Racks and Hacks
I’ve done a lot of SV processing without racks, and, as long as you don’t crowd your vessel, water will be able to circulate around all of your packages. Some form of racking system can better satisfy our sense of order. It also makes it a lot easier to introduce batches into the tank en masse, and to remove them later, to then be lowered into a vessel with cold water to shock. The racks can then be used to store the packages in the refrigerator. Again, I have seen some ingenious improvised rack systems, applying devices from the hardware store or Toys’R’Us that were intended for other purposes.
As long as they are food safe metal, and most of them are, these are fine. As long as packages are sealed, there is no risk of cross contamination. Packages usually lose fluid, rather than gain it, should they develop a leak. Even so, I wouldn’t use lead or nickel based fixtures in the tank. Sometimes, expandable racks have hinges that require oil, which would dissolve in the tank, and anything that rusts will definitely do so in the tank. I worry about these things.
It’s a submarine, not a raft.
Even with tight vacuum packaging, a lot of foods want to float, and that can create some very serious safety problems. SV requires that the temps be uniform throughout the medium. Otherwise foods can dip into unsafe temperature zones, which they will if they float. This is not really so dangerous when processing vegetables, but you will find that the vegetables do not cook evenly unless the package is fully submerged.
Some people try to introduce ballast into the bags to help them sink, silverware, marbles, etc., with varying results. Forks poke through the bag, and glass breaks. Don’t use lead sinkers, for the obvious reason. There is a better way.
I use Lipavi L10 racks and Lipavi C10 vessels, although there are other manufacturers who make similar products. This market has not expanded very quickly, so the devices still seem a little expensive to most of us, but, at least in the case of Lipavi, the quality is there.
- You can see how tight the seal is for the Lipavi lid and the Nomiku Classic circulator. The seal is so good, you can’t really even see it. Lipavi has dedicated lids for all the major brands of circulators, the Joule lids will be available soon. This is the mid-sized vessel that I mentioned, with the mid-sized lid. I don’t work for Lipavi. I do, however, really like their stuff.
- Just that tiny gap between the body of the circulator and the clip that holds it onto the vessel. I do long cooks–sometimes as long as 72 hours. I rarely have to add water. It’s a big deal.
The opposite of separation anxiety.
- No sharp edges. The racks are inserted through a double layer of slots, very secure.
- The racks themselves create separation because of their construction.
- The vessels are designed for minimum clearance under the circulator, also important. There should never be more than 3 inches of space below the circulator in order to achieve consistent temperature.
- The outer racks are hinged, so they can be folded all the way in for storage. All the others are removable, so storage is very compact.
- The medium and large racks also have pins that lock the racks in place, so the whole thing can be lifted out without dislodging the racks.
- The studs at the ends of the racks have holes, and the pins go between the two layers of grid, locking everything in place.
- Very handy, very well thought out. Excellent for things like single pork chops and chicken breasts.
All weapons shall remain holstered.
- Then, the pins disappear completely into the rack.
- When the time comes to lift the whole thing out, it doesn’t matter where you grab–it all comes out together.
Bear with me.
So far, so good, life is beautiful, things are great, Yay. Wait. No system is perfect. I thought that I hadn’t seen any rack systems that were dedicated to prevent food from floating. That didn’t surprise me so much, the floating issue is rarely anticipated, and only experienced only after you’ve bought all your stuff. People like me use pot ids, spatulas, any jury rigged system that’s close at hand, even a plate kinda works. But all these things tend to slip off, and since the water is circulating, nothing likes to sit still in the tank.
But then I noticed something. As it turned out, the Lipavi racks were easily utilized to address the issue of floating. It was only natural for me to flip one over and try to use it, I am one of those people who always uses a table knife for a screwdriver. But I had to wonder. Had they actually thought of this too? I looked through all their literature on their website, and on Amazon where they sell their stuff, no mention. I actually got in contact with the company, and asked some leading questions. They completely denied ever even having thought of this, and I believe them. I sent them some pictures, and they are still scratching their heads. Can such genius actually be unintentional?
- The rack for the smaller Lipavi C5 vessel has a base, and a folding rack on one side. It closes all the way, but only opens, well, it opens at least as much as it does in the pic. A little more, actually.
- Upside down, it trapped the beets, and just fit sideways in the container, holding everything under. Eureka!
- Corner to corner, very secure.
- Celery stalks, one layer only. I cut them to roughly fit the shape of the medium sized container, and Lipavi did the rest.
- The buoyancy of the celery lifted the rack just enough so that water could circulate underneath, but the stiffness of the racks prevented it from falling over.
- You can control the ballast weight by adding or removing racks. a little practice and it gets pretty easy.
DIVE! DIVE! DIVE!
- Carrots–single layer, cut to the approximate shape, I laid them on top of the beet assembly, and just laid one Lipavi rack on top to weigh them under. Perfect.
- I do a lot of things with celery. You can process the whole head, and create several different applications later. Again, the Lipavi sat right on top, didn’t budge, even with the tilt.
- From the end, you can see how it all seems to fit.
I have also used the Lipavi lids that fit the new Nomiku Wifi model, and am expecting a Joule in the mail soon. Lipavi understands the purpose of that tight fit. Look for subsequent additions to this article as we expand our beta testing program!