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Since immersion circulators have gained momentum in the world of home cooking, sous vide as a cooking technique is no longer reserved exclusively for fancy chefs at Michelin-starred restaurants. However, certain aspects of sous vide cooking—especially related to the use of plastic—have discouraged many from jumping on this new trend.
Are plastic bags safe for cooking? What about the environmental impact of single-use plastic bags? With the help of experts, we’ve listed the tools and methods available to sous vide more sustainably.
Are plastic bags safe for sous vide cooking?
Many people, my husband included, were skeptical about cooking in plastic bags because of the potential for harmful chemicals to seep into the food. The truth is, food grade plastic bags—made with premium, BPA- and dioxin-free materials—are safe to use in sous vide cooking.
Since sous vide is a low and slow cooking method, the maximum temperature is typically still relatively low (around 130°F). Not to mention that some brands, such as Anova Culinary, make sous vide bags that can safely withstand boiling water temperature up to four hours.
If you’re still not keen on the idea of cooking with plastic, there are many other methods to sous vide that reduce single-use plastic.
How to sous vide with Ziploc bags
Not only are Ziploc bags guaranteed to be toxin-free, but they’re also recyclable as long as you recycle at a designated collection site. However, we recommend only reusing them when cooking vegetables and other non-meat foods.
There are many hacks to vacuum seal Ziploc bags. But If you prefer an easier approach, we tested a vacuum food storage system, which includes a handheld pump and reusable plastic bags. Simply place the pump on the seal of the bag, and you’ll get perfectly vacuum sealed ingredients within seconds.
How to sous vide without a bag
Not all types of sous vide cooking take place in a bag. Using a specialty oven to steam sous vide—which geniously “seals” the food by dialing up the humidity to 100% and precisely controlling the ambient temperature—can get the job done just as well as the traditional method. In fact, Anova has a countertop oven that does just this so you don’t have to run to replace your full-sized range just yet.
We like Anova’s countertop combi-oven because it has a built-in probe thermometer that keeps track of the internal temperature of the food, which makes precision cooking possible. This oven can also steam, roast, convection bake, and sous vide without the hassle of the bags.
How to sous vide with silicone bags
Silicone bags are the rising star in the sous vide world. They’re food safe, made from platinum silicone material, and produce no waste after cooking. Stasher, one of the sandwich bags that we’ve tested, isn’t the best for transporting sandwiches, but its sturdiness and versatility make it an ideal candidate for sous vide.
Anova just launched a sous vide-compatible silicone bag that can fit sizable cuts of steak, fish, and other meat. This BPA-free bag has an airtight seal that allows you to easily remove air from the bag by hand and roll the top to close. It's perfect for sous vide cooking, including multi-day cooking, as well as storing leftovers. The half-gallon bag can withstand temperatures from -40° to 446°F and is dishwasher-safe.
How to sous vide with glass jars
Similar to canning, sous vide using glass jars has become popular these days. Of course, there are safety precautions to take before you start, including loosening the lids to let air escape. Additionally, keep in mind that glass jar cooking will take longer than bagged sous vide because heat doesn’t transfer as efficiently through glass.
In a recent blog post, the sous vide experts at Anova also explained that there are limitations on what to cook in glass jars. "Glass canning jars are a great option for recipes that require a lot of liquid or high cooking temperatures. Beans, pickles and grains all work well in jars, as do certain desserts such as cakes and custards," said Anastasia Plotnikova, Social Impact, Brand, and Marketing Manager at Anova Culinary. She recommends recipes such as Sous Vide Egg Bites and Sous Vide Chocolate Pot de Creme for the glass jar method.
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