Seasoning your food before sous vide cooking can make a big difference in the final flavor and texture of your dish. There are several benefits to seasoning before sealing and cooking sous vide, as well as a few potential drawbacks to keep in mind.
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How To Properly Season Your Food For Sous Vide Cooking
1. Salt and Pepper: The Basics of Sous Vide Seasoning
Salt and pepper form the basic foundation of seasoning for most savory sous vide dishes. Salt helps enhance and bring out the natural flavors of the food while also beginning to break down some of the proteins for a more tender texture. Pepper provides a layer of spicy flavor and aroma.
When seasoning steak or other meats for sous vide, use a moderate amount of coarse kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Exact amounts will vary based on the size and thickness of the cuts, but 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon per side is a good starting point for a single steak. Evenly season all sides before vacuum sealing.
For non-meat items like vegetables, eggs, or seafood, use a bit less salt and pepper before cooking sous vide. You can always add more later.
2. Herbs and Spices: Enhancing Flavor in Sous Vide Cooking
While salt and pepper form the core, experimenting with additional herbs, spices, and seasoning blends can take your sous vide dishes to the next level. Common options include garlic, onion, mustard, dill, thyme, rosemary, oregano, paprika, cayenne, chili powder, cumin, and Cajun or Italian seasoning blends.
With heartier meats like steak, limit additional seasonings to 1 or 2, since the flavors can become muddled. Leaner meats like chicken and pork benefit from more additions. For vegetables and eggs, feel free to add a broader mix of herbs and spices.
Apply extra seasonings judiciously before sealing for sous vide by rubbing them into the food or sprinkling lightly. You can also mix them into any marinades or sauces.
3. Marinades and Sauces: Adding Depth to Your Sous Vide Dishes
Marinating food before cooking sous vide allows time for the flavors to fully penetrate and tenderize the ingredients. Sauces cooked together with food infuse it with delicious taste.
Try popular marinades like soy sauce, Worcestershire, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, barbecue sauce, teriyaki, or yogurt. Brush or rub marinades onto meat, seafood, or vegetables before vacuum sealing. If marinating raw meat, keep it refrigerated and discard any leftover marinade after sealing due to contamination.
** Sauces ** like tomato, pesto, curry, or cream sauces can be poured directly into the sous vide bag. For thicker sauces, freeze flat in a freezer bag then break off pieces to add to the sous vide bag to avoid mess.
4. Aromatics: Infusing Flavor into Your Sous Vide Meals
Aromatics like garlic, onions, shallots, ginger, lemongrass, chiles, and citrus zest infuse sous vide dishes with fragrant flavor. They add dimension that penetrates deep into the food.
For the best results, add aromatics to a hot pan with oil first to quickly brown before adding to the sous vide bag. Deglaze the pan with a bit of broth, wine, or juice and pour into the bag as well.
Another option is to use aromatics minced or grated and mixed into marinades, spices, or sauce before sealing. Take care with stronger aromatics like garlic and onions as the extended sous vide cooking time can make their flavors overly pronounced.
5. Citrus and Acidity: Balancing Flavors in Sous Vide Cuisine
A splash of citrus juice or vinegar adds brightness that balances and rounds out flavors in sous vide meals. Lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, rice wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, balsamic and more all work well.
For heartier meats, just a spoonful or two of juice or vinegar is often sufficient in the bag. With milder ingredients like seafood, vegetables, and eggs, be a bit more generous.
Citrus zest also provides acidic punch without overpowering. Use a zester or microplane to add thin strips of zest before sealing for sous vide. Remove any white pith which can turn bitter when cooked.
When Should You Avoid Seasoning Before Sous Vide?
While seasoning in advance is ideal in most sous vide cooking, there are a few instances where waiting until after cooking is better:
- Delicate seafood like scallops or shrimp can easily be overpowered by intense seasoning. Only lightly season beforehand.
- Adding spices and aromatics to vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, or green beans can cause them to turn bitter when cooked for prolonged periods sous vide. Season after cooking instead.
- Lean poultry breast cooked sous vide for over 2-3 hours can become dry and stringy if heavily spiced in advance. Go easy on seasonings or wait until searing to finish.
- Tough cuts of red meat seasoned too aggressively before sous vide may end up grainy. Stick to basic salt and pepper.
How To Get The Most Out Of Your Seasonings In Sous Vide Cooking
To maximize the flavor impact of spices, marinades, and aromatics, follow these tips when seasoning sous vide food:
- Pat food very dry before seasoning to help it adhere and penetrate better.
- Quickly sear or brown aromatics for heightened flavor before adding to bag.
- Mix seasoning blends with oil first then rub into food to evenly distribute.
- With acidic components like citrus or vinegar, err on the side of caution and add less before cooking.
- Allow sufficient water displacement and circulation in the water bath. Crowding bags limits seasoning distribution.
- Rest foods like steak or chicken breast after cooking for 5-10 minutes to allow flavors to reabsorb.
- Add finishing salts like Maldon or fleur de sel and cracked pepper just before serving.
What Are Some Popular Recipes That Require Pre-Seasoning In Sous Vide?
Many classic sous vide recipes rely on ample seasoning before cooking for fully-developed flavor. Some to try include:
- Herb-crusted beef tenderloin – Rubbed with Dijon, rosemary, thyme, and garlic
- Jerk chicken – Marinated in Jamaican jerk seasoning and allspice
- Cedar plank salmon – Coated in maple syrup, whole grain mustard and cedar planks
- Bloody Maria steak – Infused in a bloody Maria marinade with lime juice and hot sauce
- Pork carnitas – Seasoned with oregano, cumin, chili powder, and orange juice
- Miso cod – Marinated in white miso paste, mirin, sake and ginger
- Creole shrimp – Soaked in cajun spices, lemon, Worcestershire and hot sauce
The key is making sure the seasoning profile matches the duration of sous vide cooking time to prevent losing or muting flavors. With the proper prep and seasonings, you can achieve amazing results using this hands-off cooking technique.