I’ve been a sous vide enthusiast since the early days, when water-bath cooking and consumer-grade circulators were just taking off. Being able to pull off uniformly rosy steaks, silky fish fillets, and just-set poached eggs—and never worrying about missing the mark—were the perks that lured me in, and they still impress me every time I cook.
But lately what keeps my immersion circulator in heavy use is how effortless it can make meal planning. Its precision also makes it a great tool when you’re cooking for company, since you can be sure that your results will turn out perfectly. And in many cases, you can cook the food ahead of time and either reheat it or leave it at its target temperature until you’re ready to serve it or apply finishing touches (such as a sear on proteins). You can also use an immersion circulator to make multiple courses for a meal, including dessert.
With that in mind, I put together a pair of recipes that showcase how easy and impressive sous vide cooking can be: pro‑caliber thick-cut pork chops finished with a bright red pepper relish and single‑serving lemon cheesecakes.
Perfect Pork Chops
Sous vide is a transformative way to cook all meat, but it’s particularly beneficial for lean cuts such as pork chops, which are prone to drying out and toughening. In high‑heat methods such as pan searing and roasting, the exterior layers get hotter than ideal while the interior of the meat slowly comes to the desired temperature. This causes their muscle fibers to squeeze out liquid, yielding tough, dry meat. The water bath brings meat up to temperature evenly, so very little liquid is lost. Plus, while conventional cooking methods quickly draw the meat through the temperature range at which enzymes in the meat slowly help tenderize it (100 to 130 degrees), sous vide keeps it in that sweet spot for much longer, yielding more tender results.
I set my circulator in a large Dutch oven filled with water and programmed the temperature to 140 degrees to line up with the pork’s target doneness temperature. While the water preheated, I laid four thick boneless chops (seasoned first) in a 1-gallon zipper-lock freezer bag, drizzled in some oil (this fills in air pockets to improve the evenness of cooking), and pressed out as much air as possible before sealing it. I submerged the bag in the water and let the chops cook for 2 to 3 hours—deliberately keeping them in the water bath far longer than it takes for the meat to hit 140 degrees so that they would cook up ultratender. That wide doneness window was also convenient: The chops were cooked through and supple by the 2-hour mark, but they could hang out in the water bath for up to an hour longer without any ill effect. (You can also sous vide them up to three days ahead and reheat them for serving—a great option for entertaining or busy nights.) Once the chops were cooked, all I had to do was pat them dry and give them a quick sear on both sides to develop flavorful browning. They were perfect—uniformly juicy and tender, with a deep mahogany crust—and even better paired with a roasted red pepper–almond relish.
Creamy Cheesecake Cups
Cheesecake might not seem like an obvious candidate for sous vide cooking, but custard‑based desserts are actually ideal. Their eggs make them prone to curdling when subjected to high heat, but when cooked in a water bath to a precise temperature, the result is lush, all-over creaminess.
Here, I retooled a test kitchen recipe for lemon cheesecake by moving the batter from a springform pan into 4-ounce canning jars that were charming as serving vessels. The batter came together quickly in the food processor; then, I simply portioned it into the jars, sealed the lids (not too tightly, so they wouldn’t crack during cooking), and fully submerged them in water set to 176 degrees (the temperature at which the eggs set) for an hour.
Next I turned to the graham cracker crust and the lemon curd that gets spread over the top. The crust was easy to transform into a buttery stovetop crumble that I sprinkled over each serving. And since the egg proteins in both the cheesecake batter and the curd set at the same temperature, I cooked the curd alongside the cakes in a separate jar. There was just one trick to getting its consistency right: vigorously shaking the jar after pulling it from the bath. The reason? Most curds are finished with cold butter that gets whisked in after cooking to form an emulsion. Here, I added the butter beforehand and it separated a bit during cooking; the shake helped re-establish the emulsion.
Once the jars had cooled, I chilled the cakes and curd for a good 4 hours (they were fine in the fridge for up to five days). Then I assembled the pieces when I was ready to serve, spooning the sunny, tangy curd across the surface of each cheesecake and topping each with crisp, buttery, cinnamon-scented cracker crumbs.