How do I know the food is cooked?

Hi everyone
Today is my first cook and this may be a silly question but how do I know the food is actually cooked? I’ve seen people saying that they set the timer and after hours the food was actually not cooked. I’ve seen recipes that give a range of cooking time (e.g. the box it came in only give a general 1-4hrs for chicken breasts). So having never done this before do I go by the most time or just finish cooking it in a pan if undercooked (or is this going to be a lot of trial and error and making notes!)?
Thanks for your help

Somethings you sort of have to take it on faith. There is a bit of trial and error involved. But most people will start by following a recipe or a guide for what they want to cook. And that comes down to having some trust in whatever you’re using as a guide.

The term cooked, as most people use it refers to both the temperature of the item, its expected texture. The appearance of a cooked item is what differs most with using a precision cooker.

If you decide you want your 2" thick steak at 54C/130F because you like it medium-rare, you would set your Anova to this temperature, allow it to heat the water bath and drop your packaged steak in. Now, cooking is about heat penetration. It takes approximately 30 minutes for the heat to penetrate half an inch of meat (this varies with density, and a whole lot of other things, but is a good rule of thumb to use). For our example steak that is 2 inches thick it will take 2 hours for the core of the steak to reach the same temperature as the water bath. For something that is naturally tender, like a rib steak that may be all that is required. For a rump steak of the same thickness, you would probably want to give it some more time in the cooking bath to break down some of that harder working muscle fibre.

When people are saying that their food is not cooked after hours of time, they are most probably referring to the food not having the appearance they expect. This appearance is largely a product of the temperature at which it is cooked. Rare, medium rare, medium or well, is a product of the temperature and it is important to understand that.

I have seen people cooking pork at 57C/135F (which is a perfectly fine temperature for pork) for the required amount of time and complain that the meat is still raw because it’s pink. Of course, it’s not raw at all. It is perfectly cooked to the rare side of medium. They were expecting to see white pork, but they have not understood what to expect from the temperature that they have used. If you wish to get white pork you need to use a higher temperature. Around 60C/140F will give a finish to pork with only the slightest hint of pink particularly around any bones. 63C/145F will give you solid white. Many people still have an aversion to eating medium rare pork, although it is safe to do so. Individuals that exclaim loudly about having followed directions but their pork is still raw probably fall into this category.

It is important to understand what varying the temperature will do to the appearance of what you’re cooking. Chicken cooked sous vide may also display some pink hues. Once again, provided it has been cooked to pasteurisation (a product of time at temperature) it is perfectly safe to eat.

Hopefully this has helped your understanding a little.

11 Likes

Wow. This is a very thorough response. Thanks for taking the time to really explain it and give examples. Great info.

You’ll still need to do some experimenting to find out what texture you like for various things.

It’s a simplification but work on the idea that:
Temperature affects doneness (or at least the appearance of doneness)
Time affects texture.

@MrsNic, welcome to APC SV cooking world and the community. You came to the right place w/ questions. I’m also a newbie, and have gotten some good advice from this forum.

From my experience (all 4 times!), this is the hardest SV adjustment. Frankly, we’ve spent most our lives eating overcooked meat, so something cooked properly seems undercooked.
For example, I did our first chicken for 2 hours @ 140F. They were very juicy and tasty, but didn’t have the usual “stringy chicken” texture. It kinda creeped my wife out, so I did the next one at 145F. She prefers that texture. I may do the next one at 142.5. :slight_smile:
Similar experience with pork chops; I cooked 90 minutes @ 135F. It came out pink, which freaked both of us out (now I know better). I’m sure it was cooked, but we nuked it anyway. LOL. (It was still better than other methods.) Next cook was 2 hours @ 140F. Way less pink. Again, I will probably do the next ones between 135-140F.

Its a process…eating as much as cooking.

Thanks so much for this post. Answered my burning question about how long it really takes for the heat to penetrate the food. I saw wildly different times on how to cook lamb - from 6 hrs - 24 hrs. What??? I ended up cooking lamb steaks, no bone, from the leg for 6 hours at 62 degrees C. Next time I’ll do it a hair less. I prefer a little more medium than rare but these were definitely more on the medium side. We don’t eat beef or pork, but want to do fish so it is not overcooked, and chicken. Can’t wait to try the cod recipe. I love the texture of cod but it can get dry.

Once you’ve achieved temperature equilibrium, the rest of the time is for texture. Collagen converted to gelatin is what gives that luscious mouth feel. With sous vide it can be done without ever raising above medium rare, if that’s your desire. It gives you the ability to use the harder working, secondary cuts of meat which have so much more flavour, cook them long and slow and serve them like the best quality steak.

A lot of the aversion to pink pork comes from a time when there were problems with the pork industry. But, parasite issues and the like were cleared up many years ago. Pink pork is not only perfectly fine, it’s absolutely delicious.

Chicken should be cooked to pasteurisation, which is just a matter of cooking at your preferred temperature for long enough. Pasteurisation tables are available in Baldwin’s Practical Guide to Sous Vide. This is recommended reading for anyone that wishes to learn about sous vide.

http://www.douglasbaldwin.com/sous-vide.html#Poultry_and_Eggs

1 Like

I’ve been cooking racks of lamb at 132 degrees for anywhere from 2 to 4 hours and can’t seem to see the difference. Both came out perfectly medium rare, juicy and tender. I think the meat just holds at that temperature which is fine with me. I dry them carefully and flash brown them in my cast iron pan to rave reviews. Love my Anova!

This is part of the beauty of sous vide cooking. Changes happen slowly. You’ll notice little or no difference between 2 hours or 4 hours or potentially even 6 hours. It’s a forgiving cooking method. No more knife edge between perfection and disaster. It’s also part of the reason why cooking times get quoted in time ranges rather than specifics.

1 Like

I’ve found that the finishing steps that you use can make a huge difference in the perceived “done-ness” especially in meat. Having a good sear on the outside makes it more like what people expect, as well as incorporating the flavors from the maillard reactions we all know and love. Because of the precision of the ANOVA, you can trust the laws of thermodynamics to be sure that the food is cooked to temperature.

Not hard at all. First don’t be concerned to the level of fear - I used to do that. They won’t take away your birthday if things aren’t perfect. In the regular world you know the internal temperature you want for your food. Pull it out, open the bag and stick a thermometer into the meat. I opened my first piece three times and discovered it wasn’t up to speed. Reason I missed the part about having the water up to temp before you put your food into the water. That’s all there is to it. I am unable to conceive of a better way to cook meat.

When we cook on the range or on the grill, we can stick a meat thermometer in and we know it is done. This was addressed in a news story in The Huffington Post.

Sous Vide Doesn’t Play By USDA Rules

Heat kills bacteria, but bacteria don’t all die at once when the meat hits 145°F. They start croaking at about 130°F, and in theory, if you hold a piece of beef at 130°F internal temp for about two hours, you can kill all the bugs.

This is the whole theory behind the latest and most exciting emerging concept in cookery, sous vide. Yes, I know it is not new, but is is newly affordable. Sous-vide is French for “under vacuum”, so named because the cook puts a steak in a plastic bag, add seasoning, perhaps a marinade, and suck out all the air with a vacuum sealer. The bagged meat is then put in a water bath and held at 130°F for hours until it is an even 130F throughout for two hours making it perfectly sterile, and amazingly tender because at that temp enzymes kick in that make the meat extra tender. The problem is that the meat lacks the rich flavor and crisp texture from the Maillard chemical reactions that happen to amino acids and sugars on the surface when you grill a steak, so sous vide chefs often sear the exterior in a pan, under a broiler, or on a grill for a few minutes before serving.

Sous vide can even be used on burgers and poultry, making it safe at much lower temps.

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/craig-goldwyn/usda-pork-beef-temperature_b_867143.html

HI there.

Thanks for the explanation. OK, I get that the chicken can be safe to eat if it still shows pink - as long as you followed the recipe. I just did the “Simplest No-Sear Necessary Sous Vide Chicken Breast” recipe, which specifies 65.6 degrees C for 1 hour. Because I had really big chicken breasts, I left it in for two hours. Should be all safe, right? Problem is: explain that to the husband and child. The Anova has allowed me to re-introduce chicken to our diet. My kid has refused to eat chicken for 10 years because it’s dry. Now, with nice juicy chicken from the Anova, we can put chicken back on the menu. This is a very big deal in our family. But YOU try explaining to her that it’s cooked even though it’s still pink. Now, in this particular case I was essentially poaching the chicken to make a chicken tetrazzini, so the second cooking fixed the colour problem. But I had been hoping to use the rest of the chicken breast for a nice cold chicken salad. That’s just not going to fly. Have any of you dealt with explaining this sort of thing to kids who are fussy eaters? Surely I’m not the only one who has this issue?

If you ever have doubts about the times for pasteurisation of chicken please follow the tables here:

http://www.douglasbaldwin.com/sous-vide.html#Poultry_and_Eggs

You can deal with colour blush by increasing temperatures slightly. 65.6C should not have resulted in any pink. But the way modern chickens are bred for harvesting before they reach maturity is inclined to result in pink and red along bone lines.

You can always use sauce or dressing to disguise things.

Hmmm. They were boneless chicken breasts, so it’s not a question of being pink near the bone. I just used the automated setting associated with the recipe on the app. I didn’t measure the chicken breasts with a ruler; I just used the more conservative time in the recipe (2 hours) because they were large pieces. So, let me ask the next question. If the one I cut up had a general light pink cast in the middle, not raw looking, but mildly pink, does that mean it wasn’t food safe? That one was subjected to a second cooking with the pasta, so I’m not concerned about that one, but I have another one in the fridge that I was going to cut up and use cold for chicken salad. What should I do with it to ensure that it is safe? I’m presuming that I can fix this problem by cooking it more. Can you reseal things in another vacuum bag and put them back into another hot water bath, or is that not safe? Would I just be safer to put it in the oven the traditional way, which will undo the “juiciness” factor that is so appealing about the Anova? Or should I just throw it away and start again? I had put the chicken straight into the fridge after removing it from the water bath. It didn’t sit on the counter.

Ellen, it sounds like your biggest worry here is that even though you’ve followed the suggested cook times you still have some concern that the chicken might not be safe. Totally understandable, as the resulting texture cooked at these lower temperatures. With this in mind I’ll to address that concern. In my opinion you shouldn’t have anything to worry about…But - until you’ve gained more experience and confidence with “cooking sous vide” I’d suggest just leaving the chicken in an additional hour. After three hours in the vat you - and your family - should feel confident that the chicken is fully cooked and safe!

This is actually how I got my wife to initially feel safe about what I was cooking sous vide. Since she knew I was actually cooking it longer than the suggested times required for safety it gave her an added feeling of security. And an additional hour of cooking will not significantly impact the texture of your chicken - that’s one of the beauties of sous vide cooking.
After a while, when the family is more used to what you are preparing sous vide, and as you become more knowledgeable, you can reduce cook times to whatever you determine appropriate. Or just keep cooking things a bit longer if you like - it shouldn’t really hurt.

I actually measured the remaining chicken breast that was in the fridge. It is 1 3/4" thick at the widest part cooked, although I can’t say what it might have been raw. Long and short of it, even if there has been some shrinkage, it wouldn’t have been hugely out of line with a 2" thickness raw, and probably smaller. Therefore, the 2 hour cook was safe - despite the pink juices and the slightly pink cast. So it’s fine. I’ve had it ingrained in my brain through decades of cooking that chicken juices must run clear and that pink is bad when it comes to chicken. This really is a leap of faith, isn’t it.

Honestly I find it no greater leap of faith than believing the FDA recommendations we’ve seen all our lives! :slight_smile:
There’s been a ton of research validating the proper cook times for safe cooking with sous vide. Keep that link @Ember provided you to Dr Douglas Baldwin’s work. It can be a little technical for some but if you ever have any concerns over safe cook times that link that will lead you to the answers.

2 Likes