By: Diane Weintraub Pohl
While the sous vide has become a recent buzzword in upscale, high-tech restaurant kitchens, the cooking method has recently gone populist, with a variety of home equipment available to suit a range of budgets and ambition. Sous vide (meaning “under vacuum” in French) involves vacuum-sealing food inside a pouch so that no juices, vapors or nutrients escape, then cooking it slowly in water at a steady temperature for most, tender and healthful results.
Except for delicate greens and soft fruits, which would turn to mush, most any meat, fish, or vegetable is fair game. But be prepared to wait; while the sous vide appliances promise easy push-of-a-button cooking, 48-hour spare ribs, 8-hour chicken breasts and 6-hour potatoes are fairly standard. Most are worth the wait, though some foods, like hamburgers, which reportedly even confound Chef Thomas Keller, prove tricky. Most home sous vide purchases provide plenty of guidance, with time and temperature charts and recipes.
Though the low temperatures ensure tenderness, maintaining a constant water temperature is crucial to preventing harmful bacteria like salmonella and anaerobic toxins, which can thrive without oxygen in the sealed bags. While sous vide presents unique safety challenges, says Christian Seel, Grant Achatz’ co-chef at Chicago’s lauded Alinea, “It’s not any more hazardous than any other type of cooking.”
Expense also is a factor, with equipment ranging from about $150 to $800. Chef Wylie DuFresne of New York City’s’ cutting-edge WD-50 emphasizes the necessity of proper equipment: ” You have to make a commitment to some expense in order for true temperature control.” Usin cooking-approved food-grade plastic bags, free of BPAs and other chemical substances and available at many supermarkets, with a reliable vacuum sealer, is crucial as well.
This digital display unit must be paired with a crock pot, rice- or slow-cooker. Simply plug it in and drop the sensor into the pot and close the lid, and the display will monitor cooking time and temperature.
SousVide Magic Water Oven-C
This device is a digital display paired with an aluminum pot, which contains a built-in air-bubbling circulation system, as well as surround heating for even cooking.
The Sous Vide Supreme — the only food product to be named Popular Science’s “Best of What’s New” in December 2010 — cooks with the touch of a button, offering precise temperature control to one degree. About the size of a bread machine, it holds 20 4-oz portions. A vacuum sealer ($129.99 at sousvidesupreme.com and bloomingdales.com; $129.95 at surlatable.com) and sealer bags (1 quart or 1 gallon size, $9.95 at sousvidesupreme.com; $10.95 at surlatable.com and bloomingdales.com) are sold separately, or are included with the $479 Special Promotion package at sousvidesupreme.com.
The Supreme’s little sister, the Demi, takes up the counter space of a crock pot and holds 12 4-oz food portions. A vacuum sealer and bags are sold separately (see Supreme description above).
PolyScience SV Professional
This sophisticated immersion circulator clamps is the type found the kitchens of chefs such as Charlie Trotter, Thomas Keller and Grant Achatz. It clamps onto almost any size pot and circulates water to ensure even cooking, and temperatures can be controlled to within one-tenth of a degree, with actual and desired temperatures displayed on an easy-to-read LCD screen. Chef Keller’s book Sous Vide: A Guide to Low Temperature Cooking is included with purchase.