This Thanksgiving we are exploring the diverse bounty that cooking sous vide can produce. Call it a bit of a challenge for Modernist diehards, or a joyful homage to a technique we are truly thankful for, but make no mistake: it’s a very sous vide Thanksgiving at Modernist Cuisine.
Modernist chefs have embraced sous vide cooking because of the unparalleled control it provides over the textures of cooked food. Sous vide is actually perfect for a preparation-heavy, feast like Thanksgiving—by removing the chef as the role of human thermostat, you can yield perfectly-cooked food without any of the babysitting required by traditional roasting. Preparing dishes sous vide will also help to alleviate the competition for space (and correct temperature) in your oven on Thanksgiving Day. Make dishes like our potato puree ahead of time, and then store and reheat them in your water bath. They won’t overcook, and they’ll never dry out!
Planning a Thanksgiving dinner with the help of sous vide will require a water bath and a little organization, but those who plan ahead will be rewarded by the most delicious, stress-free family feast ever. To help you succeed, we’ve selected some professional tips, organized our recipes according to order of preparation, and included a few extra recipes that highlight our sous vide favorites. For juicy, evenly cooked meat, tender vegetables, and smooth potatoes, make all of these recipes, or just choose your favorites.
Improvising a Water Bath
If you have one or more sous vide baths, you’re ready to start cooking! But if you don’t yet have a sous vide setup (or if you want an extra), there are a few ways you can improvise. All you need is a digital thermometer.
- One of the simplest ways to improvise sous vide cooking is with a pot on the stove. Clip bags of food along with your digital thermometer to a wire cooling rack, and hang it on the rim of the pot, arranging bags carefully so that the pot isn’t overcrowded. Dial in a burner setting that maintains the desired water temperature. Keep the pot covered to retain heat, uncovering only to check on the temperature.
- Placing a pan filled with water into your oven will also work, but we recommend using an oven probe to be sure the temperature of your water remains stable.
- When in need, you can convert a clean kitchen sink into a water bath. Fill the basin with water that has been heated to the desired cooking temperature, adding 1–2 °C / 2–4 °F. Add bagged food to the water, refreshing it with hot water as needed. Use silverware to hold down floating bags.
- If your kitchen sink (or bathtub) is occupied, a cooler can make an excellent water bath.
- Don’t fret if you don’t have a circulating bath. Although these baths are preferred by professional kitchens, keeping your portions in each bag small and well separated will help convective currents flow around them easily.
- Our last suggestion doubles as a party trick: believe it or not, a hot tub will work as a (giant) water bath (but only if you’re lightly cooking salmon). If only we had a photo.
Now that your water bath(s) are all ready to go, it’s time to start cooking sous vide.
1. Start your preparation by making the potato puree. This can be made two days ahead of time and then reheated just before you’re ready to serve your meal. This is not your standard mashed potatoes recipe—instead, you’ll produce velvety-smooth potatoes without a hint of gumminess or grit! Dairy-free? We also have you covered.
2. Don’t save dessert for last when it comes to sous vide. Make our Vanilla-Cinnamon Cream Pie two days ahead of time and refrigerate it. The brown butter crust and apple foam add a seasonal twist to this Modernist favorite.
3. Next, it’s time for vegetables. Chop seasonal vegetables as desired and then vacuum seal them separately. All of your vegetables can cook at the same temperature (see table), and bagging them separately will allow you to pull individual bags from your water bath when they reach the desired tenderness. Make sure you don’t overcrowd your tank; leave enough room for the water to circulate. Prior to serving your food, reheat it and dress it with our Modernist Vinaigrette.
If you prefer the traditional aesthetic of roasted veggies, feel free to make those ahead of time; then seal them in a bag with a little butter or olive oil. An hour or so before you’re ready to eat, pop the bag in your sous vide bath and your veggies will stay at a perfect serving temperature.
4. Classical approaches to roasting a bird whole can compromise your results: perfectly cooked breasts hide the undercooked dark meat of the thighs or else swap flavorful dark meat for dry, overcooked white meat. A Modernist approach is to cook each part of the bird separately. We devoted an entire chapter in Modernist Cuisine at Home to the art of roasting chicken and poultry. For Thanksgiving, we suggest a confit for the dark meat and sous vide turkey breast. Top your turkey with your favorite gravy recipe or dip bites into our recipe for Cranberry-Apple Sauce.
5. Infuse your meal with some family favorites—these might be the best dishes to pair with your sous vide creations.
On Thanksgiving Day, heat your water bath to a serving temperature that’s still below the lowest cooking temperature of the foods you’ll load into it—in this case, 55 °C / 131 °F. Then add your prebagged foods at least two hours before you plan to eat. That’ll give everything enough time to get nice and warm. If your guests arrive late—not to worry—your food won’t suffer at all because of the delay.
We’re very thankful for sous vide Thanksgiving. Very thankful, indeed!