How to Sous Vide Without a Vacuum Sealer

by Véronique Raymond
vacuum sealer

Though Sous Vide cooking is most commonly done with a vacuum sealer, and many sous vide recipes call for vacuum sealing, there are ways to do it without one. All that is required for Sous Vide is that the food cooks in a water bath in an airtight bag, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be done with a vacuum sealer. We’ll take a look at how to Sous Vide without a vacuum sealer, as well as discuss the results of various cooking methods.

 

What Is Sous Vide Cooking?

Sous Vide is a specialized cooking method that was historically only used by chefs in high-end restaurants. Now, though, it is available to all home chefs as well thanks to sous vide cookers. To cook sous vide, your food is sealed in a BPA-free plastic bag, submerged in a water bath, and cooked to a very precise temperature.

Sous vide foods reach levels of quality and tastiness that cannot be achieved through normal means of cooking. A sous vide machine is especially desired when cooking cuts of meat like steak since the meat marinates in its juices and comes out tender and moist. Plus, meat cuts won’t lose their weight, unlike other cooking methods that can cause up to 40% shrinkage due to drying out.

The main benefits of sous vide cooking are consistent results, food that’s cooked equally edge-to-edge, more flavour, retained nutrients that are lost during other cooking methods, and no dehydration of food.

vacuum sealer

Methods of Sous Vide Cooking Without Vacuum Sealing First

Even though Sous Vide translates to “under vacuum” in English, vacuum sealing your food before using this cooking method is not necessary. Here is how you can cook Sous Vide without a vacuum sealer.

Sous Vide Bags

There are actually bags designed specifically for cooking sous vide style. They are reusable and are usually part of a kit that includes a pump for extracting air out of the bag, clips for holding the bag to the side of the pot, and multiple sizes of durable plastic bags. Using these bags is very similar to using a vacuum sealer since you can remove all air inside the bag with the pump.

Ziplock Bags

Luckily, you don’t necessarily have to purchase any additional equipment if trying sous vide for the first time. You can use ordinary Ziplock bags for sous vide cooking, though we recommend using a heavy-duty option like Ziplock freezer bags for best results.

Resealable Silicone Bags

You can also sous vide using reusable silicone bags. These bags are washable and seal well to lock in juices and flavour. Plus, they can withstand the cooking temperatures of sous vide no problem.

Canning Jars

Surprisingly, it is possible to cook sous vide using jars rather than bags. Though this method only works with things like desserts and beans/grains, it is a viable option if you don’t have a vacuum sealer and want to make a custard sous vide style.

 

Is Sous Vide Better with a Vacuum Sealer?

In all honesty, it depends on the dish. Some recipes do better without a vacuum sealer while others call it an essential step.

However, there are a few reasons to cook sous vide with a vacuum sealer:

  • Prevent water from leaking into your food and changing the taste or ruining the dish
  • Bags with air in them may float up and cause part of your food to be above the waterline
  • Leakage can cause contamination of your dish, especially if using tap water
  • Sous vide vegetables become pasteurized when vacuum sealed and can be stored for weeks in the fridge
  • Vacuum-sealed bags can be prepped ahead of time for streamlined cooking later
  • Removing air pockets from the bag makes your food cook more evenly and efficiently

 

Benefits of Cooking Sous Vide Without a Vacuum Sealer

If you sous vide with Ziploc bags instead of vacuum seal bags, there are a few benefits:

  • You can easily open the bag to check on the tenderness of the meat to determine if it needs more time or not (necessary with some tougher cuts like sirloin and brisket)
  • Seal liquids for cooking so you can use marinades and sauces
  • Can open the bag to let gases escape, which prevents floating during longer cooks
  • Save money since Ziploc bags are cheaper than sous vide or vacuum seal bags

vacuum sealer

Best Foods to Cook Sous Vide (And Which to Avoid)

Can Cook Sous Vide

  • Meat cuts like steak, pork chops, chicken breast, and lamb
  • Eggs
  • Vegetables
  • Desserts
  • Cocktails
  • Fruits
  • Grains
  • Beans

Shouldn’t Cook Sous Vide

  • Fish fillets
  • Hollandaise
  • Liver

 

How to Cook Sous Vide With and Without a Vacuum Sealer

With a Vacuum Sealer

  1. Prepare your food by adding spices and seasonings
  2. Using your average countertop Foodsaver (or other brand), vacuum seal your food in a proper bag.
  3. Set your temperature and time according to your recipe and start cooking
  4. Rest, dry, and sear if you need to
  5. Serve and Enjoy!

With Ziplock Bag

To cook sous vide when using a Ziplock bag, you’ll still want to remove as much of the air as possible since air pockets will affect how your food cooks. To do this, you’ll need to follow the water displacement method. First, you’ll seal most of the bag, leaving just a corner open to the air. Then, you’ll slowly lower the bag into the water bath. By doing so, the pressure from the water will force the air out of the bag. Just before the entire bag is submerged, you’ll zip closed that final corner. To make this easier, you can use a larger bag that leaves more room at the top of the bag for closing. Otherwise, you can use a wooden spoon if the water is hot.

vacuum sealer

Tips For Sous Vide Cooking Without a Vacuum Sealer

  1. Always sear your meat cuts on the BBQ or in a pan afterward for a nice edge
  2. Keep the bag submerged using a binder clip on the side of the pot and top of the bag
  3. Use an immersion circulator for optimal sous vide results
  4. Double check cooking times and temperature guidelines
  5. Use a thermometer to manage your temperature: sous vide cooks at a low temperature below boiling
  6. Cover your water bath so steam condensates back down and slows the sinking of your waterline
  7. Take advantage of the water displacement method to seal your bag with a minimal amount of air (only close it fully just before the zip is submerged)
  8. Don’t try recipes that call for long cook times since Ziplock bags are more likely to leak over time

With these tips, vacuum-sealing food before cooking sous vide is not necessary! Home cooks can still achieve great results using Ziploc bags and a pot of water.

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