Peeking into the fridge, about to whip up a meal, only to find that our veggies have started rotting or the meat has oxidized, is right up there with the most frustrating, if not upsetting, experiences we dread going through. Sometimes regular weekly grocery runs are just not feasible, and buying in bulk is more often than not friendlier for the pocket any way. On the flipside, chucking all our perishables in the fridge and praying for the best isn’t exactly conducive for the pocket either, if we’re going to have to resign to throwing some of that away because they spoil, not used fast enough.
This is where vacuum sealing comes in. For the uninitiated, it might sound almost intimidating, if not something out of a sci-fi movie, but is in reality pretty simplistic – and incredibly effective.
Similar to packing up our food in Ziploc bags, vacuum seal machines take this one step further by sucking out all the air within the packaging. Food exposed to oxygen inside your refrigerator is prone to spoiling and rotting at a much faster rate – removing this oxygen from within the bag slows down this process impressively, ensuring your perishables will last in the fridge and remain fresh for a very long time. This includes meats, since the vacuum sealing unit removes air and moisture from within the bag containing your chicken breasts or steak and negates the likelihood of freezer burn occurring.
If this is your first time going into the vacuum sealing business, it might appear foreign and perhaps even overwhelming to you – which is why we’re here to break it down into more bite-size info tidbits.
What can you vacuum seal?
To answer this question – pretty much anything. Soft foods like cheeses and some breads, cloves of garlic and mushrooms, and cruciferous vegetables aside, you can vacuum seal your fruits, veggies, meats and even hops for brewing bear, and stick ‘em in the fridge or freezer until you need them, whether you’re storing portions in batches or per individual servings. The rule of thumb here is to make sure the foods you’re sealing away aren’t too soft or small to get crushed during the sealing process, unless you’re using a sealer with a pulse mode or variable vacuuming speeds, which sucks the air out in small increments to ensure you can monitor the process and remove as much as possible, but without risking crushing the morsels.
Not just storage
One of the best things about vacuum sealing is that you have the option of not just storing pre-cooked food – but also cooking and storing post-cooking too. If you’re a sous vide enthusiast and swear by this particular method for ensuring your food is consistently and thoroughly cooked while all the good nutrients are retained, you’ll be happy to know that not only can you switch out the Ziploc bags you might have been using for your sous vide recipes for vacuum sealed bags, but also store your cooked foods either refrigerated or frozen for a very long time as well. Thanks to the machine completely removing the air from within the bag, you can rest assured that your food will cook evenly and thoroughly – which is not the case if there’s still pockets of air trapped inside, which might result in ‘floating’ or inconsistent cooking.
After you’re done cooking, you can just stick your veggies or meats into the fridge or freezer until the next time you need them, in the same vacuum sealed bag, without having to worry about rot or freezer burn. In fact, veggies properly cooked sous-vide style and then vacuum sealed are properly pasteurized, so you can keep them in the fridge for weeks and still treat yourself to fresh, crisp greens with the nutrients all intact when you’re ready to eat. Because vacuum sealing veggies compresses the cells, you’ll always have crunchy, fresh and often more vibrantly colored goodies to look forward to, compared to soggy, off-tasting and maybe even moldy veggies left improperly stored in the fridge. Similarly, vacuum-cooked meats can be stored in the fridge or the freezer for extended periods of time, so you can batch-cook for the family to reheat over the week or cook in advance for a large dinner party, or even prep your groceries in advance while they’re still fresh so they’re good to go in the days that follow.
Bags and sealers
You have the option of either pre-cut bags or a roll out option you can cut to size depending on the portion you need to seal up. Both options have their ups and downs – pre-cut bags are of course a little more convenient since they’re ready to use, whereas a bag you need to cut to size out of a roll requires a little more effort. If this proves too tedious for you, you can opt for a sealer that comes fitted with an in-built roll-out bag option and cutter. There are resealable options and one-off use options – it’s down to what you’re looking for. Most manufacturers recommend their branded bags for use with their sealers, especially as different machines may seal at slightly different temperatures and need bags compatible to these. Some machines feature accessory hose and head attachments, which you can use to suck the air out of Ziploc bags, but don’t attempt to seal these using the machine. Accessory hose ports can also be used to suck the air out of mason jars and containers to ensure they’re airtight.
When considering the sealer itself, one of the primary considerations to keep in mind is how you’re going to use it. If you’re planning to try or are a dedicated enthusiast of sous vide, or simply want to store away stews or other foods with gravy or sauce, you’ll need a machine supporting a wet foods mode. Essentially, you seal one end of the bag, put in the food you cooked along with gravy or sauce, and use the wet mode to seal it up for later use. Such a model will include features like a drip tray to capture liquid run-off. If you’re looking for an option for sealing up marinades you’ll be cooking later, sealers are available with this specific mode too.