A Very Sous Vide Thanksgiving with Modernist Cuisine

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.

MCAH_SV_Slow Cooker Sous Vide Cutaway

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.

Turkey leg final

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.

MCAH_SV_Improvised_Ziploc Rack_VQ6B8851

  • 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.

Stack in Oven

  • 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.

Salmon in Sink

  • If your kitchen sink (or bathtub) is occupied, a cooler can make an excellent water bath.

Step 4

  • 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.

blog post table

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.

MCAH Potato Puree

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.

MCAH Sous Vide Vanilla Pastry Cream

Brown Butter Crust

Apple Foam

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.

MCAH Modernist Viniagrette

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.



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!

Doneness and Article in Men’s Health

During the writing of Modernist Cuisine, our editor-in-chief Wayt Gibbs pointed out to me that, according to the Webster’s Third New International unabridged dictionary, “doneness” is officially not a word. My response was that it ought to be, and unless there was another word that communicated my meaning just as clearly, then I would insist that we make “doneness” a word. [Editor’s note: We later discovered that the word is indeed included in the 2002 addenda to Web3.]

Doneness —now officially a word, and no longer in need of being separated from other words with a pair of quotation marks—succinctly captures a rather complex notion. For me, doneness means cooking a piece of food to the ideal texture, temperature, taste, and flavor to match the personal preference of whoever will be eating it.

Steak is a great example of a food that elicits strong personal preferences for specific doneness. Some of us are enthusiastic carnivores and want a steak to have a flavorful charred crust, but a center that is raw and meaty. Others, for reasons hard for me to fathom, insist that their steak be well done.

Traditional techniques for cooking steak, like grilling, require that the meat’s time over the heat must be just right. Cook a steak sous vide, on the other hand, and it becomes simple to nail the perfect degree of doneness every time. This is because you set the water bath in which the steak cooks to the final temperature that you want the steak to reach. Once it achieves that temperature, it just doesn’t get any hotter. This difference is one of the most compelling arguments for cooking sous vide, whether you’re a restaurant chef or a home cook.

For the March issue of Men’s Health magazine, I worked with the journalist Paul Kita on an article he was writing on how to prepare the perfect steak at home by using a MacGyver-like sous vide setup. If you pick up a copy of that issue, which is on newsstands now, you’ll see that Paul did a great job of distilling the essential details of how to select the perfect cut, age the meat for great tenderness and flavor, and then cook the steak with nothing more than a zip-closure bag, a pot of water, and an accurate digital thermometer.

One important detail that didn’t make it into the article, however, is the cooking temperature that will yield your preferred degree of doneness. If you happen to like rib-eye steak cooked medium, then the bath temperature of 58–60 °C / 136–140 °F suggested in the article is right on. But if, like me, you prefer your steak done medium rare, a sous vide bath temperature of about 56 °C / 133 °F will give you that juicy pink doneness.

In Modernist Cuisine, we recognize that everyone is entitled to their own preferences for how they like their meat or seafood cooked. With this idea in mind, we developed dozens of “best bets” tables for cooking various cuts of meat and seafood. In each table, we offer suggested temperatures and cooking times that span the gamut from rare to well done.

You may have seen other tables with temperatures corresponding to different degrees of doneness. But notice that those conventional tables rarely include cooking times, which is a crucial component for food safety. Unfortunately, these older tables are usually based on misunderstandings about U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations. In Modernist Cuisine, you’ll find an entire chapter devoted to all of the superstitions around food safety and government regulations. When it comes to cooking meat and seafood, commonly prescribed cooking temperatures almost always result in over-doneness!

It is often claimed, for example, that you must cook beef, veal, or lamb to an internal cooking temperature of 63 °C / 145 °F to prevent foodborne illness. This statement is totally false. The FDA requires NO specific internal temperature for steak. Put simply, even the FDA balks at the idea of telling millions of meat-eating Americans that they cannot have their steaks pink and juicy.

If you study the microbiology at work, as we have, you learn that there is very little need to prescribe a specific internal temperature because the inside of a healthy muscle is sterile. The immune system of the animal took care of eliminating any pathogens in the muscle. (If it hadn’t, the animal wouldn’t be healthy.) So unless the meat has been cut or punctured, the interior will remain sterile even after being butchered into cuts of meat.

It’s the surface of the meat that you need to worry about, because handling it can spread bacteria from the outside of the cut and make you ill. (A word of caution: some cuts of meat are sold “blade tenderized,” which involves puncturing the meat with a large number of small blades. This process can carry bacteria inside the cut, contaminating the meat throughout.)

When you pan-roast or grill a steak, the searing hot temperatures quickly kill any bacteria that have taken up residence on the surface. So it is virtually impossible to cook an intact steak this way and not sterilize the exterior.

The situation is different, however, when cooking steak sous vide. If the temperature is low enough and the cooking time is too brief, some of the bacteria on the surface may survive and remain infectious. If you’re worried about this possibility, you can eliminate the risk by blanching your vacuum-sealed meat in water hotter than 70 °C / 158 °F for a couple of seconds prior to cooking. Alternatively (and this is the approach we prefer), use a wickedly hot blowtorch to give it a quick sear, which also causes a delicious brown crust to form.