“It [Sous-Vide] has the potential to be the biggest change in domestic kitchens since the microwave. It has already created the biggest change in commercial kitchens since electricity was used in cooking” -Heston Blumenthal, Chef and Owner of the Fat Duck
Have you ever struggled with cooking a steak to a perfect medium rare without overcooking or undercooking it? Although with lots of practice and time in the kitchen, this can be done almost consistently. However, with the emergence of sous-vide cooking appliances, guaranteed perfection becomes reality.
Sous-vide, French for “under vacuum”, originates from Sir Benjamin Thompson, known more commonly as Count Rumford, in his essay “Of the imperfections of the Kitchen Fire-places now in common use” in 1799. It was then re-discovered and developed as a method of food preservation in the 1960s by American and French engineers. Eventually, it was adopted by Georges Pralus in 1974 for the Restaurant Troisgros in Roanne, France, when he discovered that cooking foie gras in this manner would retain its original appearance without losing much fat.
Sous-Vide cooking revolves around cooking food sealed in airtight plastic bags by placing them in a cooker which can set and hold a target temperature to within a degree or two. When the food reaches your target temperature or time, your food will be finished cooking. Compared to traditional high-heat cooking, the food is cooked at a consistent temperature rather than temperatures much higher than the desired internal cooking temperature. As a result, food such as steak ends up being overcooked near the edges with the core cooked properly or the core becoming undercooked with the edges cooked properly. With Sous-vide, a steak is uniformly cooked all the way through, an egg will be custard-like and gelatinous (reference), or chicken becomes perfectly moist (reference).
The benefits of Sous-Vide cooking are of course the consistency throughout food that requires very precise windows of opportunity to reach proper doneness such as seafood and meats. Additionally, it allows the cook to let the food cook as long as they want while engaging in other activities since the food won’t cook beyond the target temperature. With Sous-Vide, food tends to be juicier and tenderer because the humidity in the bag braises the food.
The limitations of this type of cooking though are noted. Without cooking the food at high temperatures, it is impossible to recreate the flavors from browning (Malliard reactions), forcing the cook to sear the food after being cooked Sous-vide if they want the browning. Furthermore, people worry that cooking the food at lower temperatures won’t kill pathogens in foods such as poultry. However, the biggest complaint for the Sous-Vide fans are the cost of this molecular gastronomy equipment.
Over the past few years though, Sous-vide fans have started to rejoice over the decrease in prices of these tools, making them more affordable. There are three types of sous-vide cookers: the immersion circulator, the water bath, and the sous-vide controller. The immersion cooker is the simplest gadget that attaches itself to the side of whatever you are cooking in, be it a stock pot or plastic tub, and heats the water while circulating it to maintain uniform temperature. These bad boys range from $200 to $2000 but are small and compact enough to store away easily. The water bath is an all-in-one device but is bulky, heavy, and only heats water to a fixed temperature without circulating it, starting at around $300. The sous-vide controllers are basic heating appliances that switch on and off to keep water at a fixed temperature but don’t circulate water and can’t handle power interruptions. These controllers though only start at $100 for those looking for an introduction to sous-vide without costing too much.
For the most bang for your buck, most people are keen on buying an immersion circulator. Some of the popular brands currently are Nomiku, Anova, PolySci Creative, Sansaire, and SideKIC. According to this article (recommended read for those trying to get into the nitty-gritty on the positives and negatives of much sous-video gears), Anova seems to be the best budget immersion circulator at $199 but Nomiku ($299) isn’t bad for the extra $100. Of course, whether you want an all-in-one unit like a water bath or the cheapest you can get with sous-vide controllers will depend on your preference and financial situation. There are many options for giving sous-vide cooking a shot through improvised methods (if you want a sample of what it’s like, click here), although the accuracy won’t be nearly as close to actual sous-vide equipment. Either way, sous-vide cooking seems like an interesting way to pretend you are a scientist in the kitchen!
“Sous-vide via Wikipedia.com” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sous-vide) last viewed 14 April 2014, last updated 5 April 2014
“Why Cook Sous Vide?”(http://modernistcuisine.com/2013/01/why-cook-sous-vide/) last viewed 14 April 2014, last updated 15 January 2013
“Sous Vide Equipment What to Know Before You Buy?”(http://www.molecularrecipes.com/molecular-gastronomy/sous-vide-equipment/) last viewed 14 April 2014, last updated 10 April 2012
“Improvised Sous Vide – Pot on a Stove Method” (http://www.chefsteps.com/activities/improvised-sous-vide-pot-on-a-stove-method) last viewed April 2014, last updated 15 April 2013
“The Best Budget SousVide Gear” (http://thesweethome.com/reviews/best-cheap-sous-vide-gear/) last viewed 14 April 2014, last updated
Sous-Vide Machines in Reference
“Anova Sous Vide Immersion Circulators” (http://anovaculinary.com); last viewed 15 April 2014, last updated 15 April 2014
“Nomiku Immersion Circulator and Sous Vide Machine” (http://www.nomiku.com); last viewed 15 April 2014, last updated 15 April 2014
“Sansaire Hompage” (http://sansaire.com); last viewed 15 April 2014, last updated 15 April 2014
“ICA Kitchen | The SideKIC” (http://www.icakitchen.com/the-sidekic); last viewed 15 April 2014, last updated 15 April 2014
“PolyScience- Innovative Culinary Technology” (https://www.cuisinetechnology.com) last viewed 15 April 2014, last updated 15 April 2014