Using Sous Vide to Defrost Food

You already know that you can cook foods with sous vide, but did you know you can defrost with sous vide as well?

In fact, a sous vide cooker is one of the best ways to defrost frozen foods and can make your frozen foods perfectly prepared in no time. To use a sous vide machine to defrost food:

  1. Vacuum-seal the frozen food in a plastic bag suitable for sous vide cooking, ensuring there’s no air in the bag.
  2. Set your sous vide machine to a temperature just above the freezing point, around 34°F (1°C).
  3. Submerge the vacuum-sealed bag in the water bath and let it sit until the food is fully thawed. The time will vary depending on the thickness and type of food.
  4. Once defrosted, you can either proceed to cook the food using the sous vide at its desired temperature or remove it from the bag and cook using another method.

Let’s learn more about using sous vide to defrost food.

using sous vide to defrost food

Problems With Defrosting Food the Regular Way

While the exact problems with traditional defrosting methods depend on the kind of food, here is a brief description of what typically happens during defrosting and why it can be hard on food.

During the defrosting process, foods usually thaw unevenly. Inside the food, areas that are still frozen will absorb liquid from thawed parts, drawing moisture out of the food and creating that puddle of juices you always find beneath thawed foods.

Also, as moisture is transferred inside the food, ice particles can be moved along with it, damaging the food’s cellular structure and impairing the texture.

The slower the defrosting process, the more moisture can get drawn out of your food, and the more texture may be lost.

In other words, food quality, juiciness, and flavor are best if food can be defrosted as quickly and evenly as possible.

Why Defrost With Sous Vide?

Here are some of the reasons why sous vide is the best way to defrost foods.

Microwaves Are Awful at Defrosting

As we already know, microwaves do a very poor job at evenly defrosting foods.

Even when the defrost settings are easy to understand, microwaves tend to over-heat liquid parts of the food and start warming it while leaving other food frozen parts.

Microwaves affect liquids a lot, and ice almost not at all. Unlike a microwave, sous vide defrosts foods evenly, without overheating or beginning the cooking process.

white microwave

Better for the Environment

The most efficient method of defrosting many foods is to leave them under running water, but that can waste a lot of freshwater.

Because sous vide cookers recirculate water, you get the benefit of moving water that gently defrosts while protecting food’s texture without wasting water unnecessarily.

More Accurate

Even within a refrigerator, temperatures can vary by several degrees. This can make defrosting frozen foods take a long time and make thawing time frames less predictable.

Because you can set a sous vide cooker to the precise temperature needed to defrost without cooking, you can get more accurate thawing. 

Faster and Safer

Because sous vide cookers defrost more evenly and accurately, they defrost faster. This not only saves you time in the kitchen, but it also improves your food safety.

Thawing and defrosting foods spend less time at unsafe temperatures, reducing your risk of exposure to food borne pathogens.

According to a study published in Food Science, rapid thawing of meat by sous vide was proven to meet food safety and quality guidelines while improving the texture and juiciness.

So, if you aren’t already defrosting by sous vide, it’s time to start.

frozen meat defrosting on plate

Do You Need to Defrost Before Cooking Sous Vide?

No, you can cook frozen foods directly in a sous vide cooker without defrosting them first, assuming they are properly sealed.

If you want to sous vide cook frozen foods, just add 50% more time to the ordinary cooking time (in other words, if you would sous vide cook an unfrozen steak for 60 minutes, then cook a frozen one for 90 minutes).

For faster thawing and cooking of frozen foods, simply start your sous vide with hot tap water to thaw more quickly, and sous vide for the standard amount of time.

How to Defrost With Sous Vide

While you can easily cook frozen foods with sous vide, often people want to use a sous vide cooker to defrost meat so that it can be marinated or seasoned before cooking.

The easiest way to defrost with sous vide is to set the thermostat to 38°F and allow the cold water to circulate around your food.

For fast defrosting of meat, you can also use higher temperatures for shorter periods. In the study linked above, researchers heated steaks at 102°F for 11 minutes.

Because the time frame is short, it doesn’t allow time for bacterial growth and doesn’t impair food safety while significantly shortening defrosting time.

In Summary

If you have an immersion cooker or sous vide setup and aren’t using it to defrost your food you’ve kept in your freezer, you’re missing out.

Sous vide is the fastest, most efficient, most eco-friendly way to thaw and defrost frozen foods while preserving the flavors and textures.

While defrosting isn’t necessary, and you can directly sous vide frozen foods without defrosting first, it’s also a great way to defrost foods for marinating, seasoning, or use in recipes.

To learn about freezing food that you’ve cooked sous vide (and whether you should do if before or after sous vide), click here!

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