I Sous-vide, Therefore I Eat

My daughter asked for my opinion a few weeks ago, a rare event just by itself. She was mulling over a birthday present for her husband, and she wondered if this was a great idea or maybe not:

If this doesn’t ring a bell, I understand. This is a sous-vide precision cooker, with the added bonus of having Bluetooth and wifi capabilities if that’s what rings your bell.

I’ve been aware of sous-vide as a sort of faddish cooking method, or that’s the way I saw it. I enjoy cooking, or at least a little, although recently it’s consisted mostly of me drumming up some sort of meal for my wife on long days. We’ve all become scavengers in this household, with our own schedules and preferences, which is fine but hardly efficient and certainly more expensive. I could do better, but I wasn’t much interested in new ways of doing it.

Sous-vide isn’t a fad, though. And it’s not new: Slow cooking is an old technique, and sous-vide is by definition slow cooking. And it’s a technique that was rediscovered half a century ago, now pretty widely in use by restaurants and caterers. You can read more about it if you’re interested, but the short version is pretty simple: Put your food in vacuum-sealed bags (or remove as much air as possible; this doesn’t affect the cooking so much as prevents spoilage if you’re making a bunch and planning on freezing or refrigerating), heat water to the temperature you want the food cooked to, maintain that temperature for a certain period of time, and end up with food that is perfect.

I imagine anyone who needs to cook for more than one knows about slow cooking; the crockpot has been around awhile. I also imagine most of us have at one time or another poached an egg or something else. Sous-vide is similar. The results aren’t.

The results made me a convert. I spent last week in Austin with my daughter, and she used that baby every day. Inexpensive beef became the best steak I’ve ever eaten. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts, so tempting at the store and so unsatisfactory when I get around to actually cooking them (aside from battering and frying, which is fantastic, of course), were amazing.

But it’s not poaching, not really, and not all that slow. This fancy device heats the water and circulates it, keeping the temperature exactly the same. Preheat the water to the desired temperature (say, 129 degrees F. for perfectly medium-rare steak), clip the plastic bags with the food onto the side of a stockpot, and walk away. The food won’t overcook, and the cooker will even send you an alert on your phone when it’s ready (about an hour for those perfect steaks). Give the meat a quick sear for a minute on the stovetop if you want that nice crunch and you’re ready to go.

And it’s spectacular, honestly. The food gets cooked to the same temperature all the way through, edge to edge. Vegetables, desserts, eggs: You can pretty much cook anything. Call this an endorsement.

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