Sous Vide Cooking: JUST COOK!

One thing we have discovered that is the “secret” to weight loss. Learning to cook. For many this is intimidating – but when we see patients who are successful five years later, no matter what weight loss operation they had – all of them cook. Why cook? Because they get an appreciation for great food, are able to limit portions, and become truly in charge of what they eat.

The easiest way to start is with Sous Vide cooking. This style of cooking allows you to make a meal and not worry if it is over-cooked. It will allow you to make delicious steaks, chicken, eggs, all of which can be tolerated by everyone from the Lap-Band patient who says they can’t eat anything to the gastric sleeve patient who is progressing through proteins. This is the way to learn to cook and not fear how long something should be in the oven.

We recommend that all weight loss surgery patients get a Sous Vide set up. Sous Vide cooking allows you to have moist meat, and not over-cook any food. We have a number of recipes on

Proteins that commonly dry out from cooking include: eggs, chicken, steak, duck, and pork. Proteins release their liquid when they reach a temperature of 160 degrees F or more. When these proteins lose their moisture they can easily become dry, tasteless, and can cause problems with getting stuck in the esophagus or stomach or above a Lap-Band.

Think about chicken that is cooked in a conventional oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Most recipes say to take the chicken out of the oven once the internal temperature is 160 degrees. At that point, most of the chicken meat has dried out.

If you leave the chicken in the oven too long it is quickly over-cooked, and dry. If you try to swallow a large piece it just doesn’t go down easily. That same chicken breast, if cooked Sous Vide is cooked at a temperature of 148 degrees Fahrenheit in a sealed bag. If the chicken is left in too long it will not go above 148 degrees. The chicken is still being cooked at a temperature where the proteins keep their moisture. When you bite into Sous Vide cooked chicken it will feel moist, tasty, and retain a lot of great flavor.

Eggs also can be over cooked , because eggs are mainly protein. So if the eggs are cooked at too high a temperature they will lose their moisture and be dry. Sometimes people call them “rubbery.”  Sous Vide eggs are delicious- while they take a while to cook, about an hour, when they come out they will have a creamy white and creamy yolk. Most eggs cooked in restaurants are cooked hot and fast on a hot grill, at temperatures that cause the proteins to dry, leaving the eggs rubbery, and hard to choke down.

I love Sous Vide cooking because I can get reliable steak, chicken, turkey (the moistest holiday turkey), and amazing eggs. On any given week we will have Sous Vide lamb, steak, chicken, or salmon – eating by this method three to four times a week because it is just easier.

The Sous Vide cooking requires several parts.  All of which are available by purchase from fine food stores, like William-Sonoma, or Sur Le Table.  We have also found them in Costco, and in various on-line places.  Even Amazon has them.

The Food Sealer:

A chicken breast has been seasoned and is in the vacuum seal chamber

Food is placed in a plastic bag, then the air removed and it is sealed.  There are several systems that do this. Most Sous Vide cooking sets come with these, but you can some great ones on-line.

The food is placed into a plastic bag, and the food sealer will remove the air and then seal the bag. The food then has only the plastic bag between it and the water. This allows the water to uniformly heat the food on all surfaces. The sealer below uses a re-usable bag, and the machine removes the air from the bag. There are many types of these devices available

These food sealers are used for more things than Sous Vide Cooking – the ability to remove air and seal food allows for longer preservation of almost all foods. Sous Vide bags are often much less expensive than standard re-sealable bags, like Zip-lock, so I use my food sealer when I need to reseal other foods. Many companies sell both the water oven as well as the food sealer in a set.

You can get some very expensive models that cost hundreds of dollars, or spend less money for a hand-held, as shown, or other types like the food-sealer.

For starting out, I recommend getting a simple food sealer such as the kind that go with your Sous-Vide set. I use Sous Vide cooking 3-4 times a week in our house, and we ultimately purchased a “commercial grade” vacuum seal device.

However, some on a budget, will use zip lock bags and get the air out.

The Water Oven

This is the water bath unit I use – it is made by Polyscience, and attaches to any pot, or to a large tube like this one. They can be found on-line or from William-Sonoma

This is a device made by Polyscience, and is available from William-Sonoma. It clips onto a container – in this case a plastic box. It keeps the temperature of the water within a tenth of a degree. In addition, it keeps the water circulating. Other types, such as the one shown above, are more like a self contained box. I like this clip on because I can have much larger containers, so I can serve many guests. Like when we have a Weight Loss Fest

This is simply a device that keeps water temperature constant, within a tenth of a degree. Fill the tank with water, set the temperature, and let the water warm up and they will maintain that temperature for as long as you want it. Most foods will only require an hour or so. There are lots of companies making these: mine was purchased from Williams-Sonoma, and is a more industrial type, and is made by PolyScience. Polyscience is introducing a new model like this for $299.00.

Many of my patients are quite happy with water oven made by Sous Vide Supreme. That system is more of a set size box. It is a good starter unit.

Once you have the food in your vacuum sealed container, and the water-oven set you put the bags into it and wait. The time and temperature are available on our website and soon our cookbook for most cuts of meats.

Sous Vide also works great for vegetables. Allowing the vegetables to maintain their color and texture, but breaking down the fiber gently.

Perhaps my favorite way to cook eggs is using Sous Vide. The egg doesn’t need to be placed into a plastic bag, because it already comes in a shell!  If you cook the egg Sous Vide style, it comes out with a perfect creamy yolk, as well as a creamy egg white which is better than any egg you can get anywhere.

While the water oven is a great way to get and keep food- some people don’t have it in their budget. So some people use a “cooler.” By putting hot and cold water to get to the temperature you need, you can place your food in and allow it to cook Sous Vide style. Just keep an eye on the temperature and add hot water or cold water as needed.

Some people have even converted slow-cookers to operate Sous Vide, or rice-cookers to be a water oven. There are plenty of those instructions on YouTube and elsewhere on the internet.

Food Safety

Here are some great steaks cooking in the Sous Vide style water bath

Cooking at low temperatures makes some people nervous about food-borne illness. Sous Vide has been studied extensively and is safe to cook the foods at these low temperatures for the times we state.

Salmonella is one of the worst bacterial food-borne illness we read about today. It is responsible for a number of hospitalizations and even deaths. We hear about it in eggs, produce, chicken meat, and turkey meat. It is important when handling raw eggs, raw meat, raw chicken, raw turkey, or any raw foods to consider them contaminated.

Heat kills Salmonella, but Salmonella thrives at certain temperatures. Below 40 degrees Fahrenheit Salmonella reproduces very slowly. This is why we keep food in the refrigerator until we are ready to use it. At room temperature, 70 degrees Fahrenheit (76 for my wife), Salmonella reproduces about every twenty minutes. This means in two hours, food left out may be contaminated to the point where it will cause severe and deadly food poisoning. Above 122 degrees Fahrenheit no bacteria can live and reproduce, and most of them are killed. The way to remember it is your body temperature is typically 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit- a perfect temperature for you and Salmonella. Any temperature you feel comfortable in so will Salmonella.


Bacteria Time and Temperature:
Pasteurization refers to a process of heat and time that will kill bacteria. The higher the heat, the less time that it takes to kill the bacteria. This is the process used to treat milk and juices. When we cook at high temperatures we can kill the bacteria quickly, however the food becomes dried out and easily stuck above a band and looses flavor.

With chicken cooking above 130 degrees for the Salmonella are unable to grow at those temperatures, as are all the other common bugs. Still, food safety is important. Wash hands after handling raw meats- wash all surfaces and utensils after they come in contact with raw meat. It is more likely that the raw meat will contaminate those surfaces and that those surfaces will pass the bugs onto other foods than you becoming sick from the meat directly. We cook our chicken at 148 degrees F for at least 35 minutes.

For beef- the FDA states that beef is safe when it is held at 130 F for 112 minutes or 140 for 12 minutes.  The temperature of a rare steak is between 130 and 139 in the center.  By cooking the steak for 45 minutes at 136 degrees you will keep well within the recommended limits.

For chicken the FDA states that it is safe when it is held at 165 degrees for a few seconds, but also at 148 degrees for seven minutes.  Traditional cooking of chicken to 160 degrees Fahrenheit means that the majority of the chicken is over cooked. Sous Vide has the advantage of holding the meat at a specific temperature for the time needed. Lower temperatures allow the chicken to retain its taste.  We cook chicken at 148 degrees for 35 minutes. Although the great thing is that if you leave the chicken in the water bath for longer, it won’t overcook — the temperature is held constant.

Plastic – is that safe to cook in?
Yes – this also has been tested extensively. In fact, on one of our other blogs we go into this extensively. For that read click here.

The best
Cooking Sous Vide is the way to cook if you have a band, or even if you don’t. We love cooking this way. It is fool-proof, delicious, and keeps food moist.

Dr Terry Simpson About Dr Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson is a Phoenix weight loss surgeon. He encourages his lap-band surgery patients to learn to cook and adopt healthier lifestyles. His goal is to use culinary medicine to keep patients out of his operating room.

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