Okay, so I am just starting to embark on this Sous Vide adventure and I am going to take you along for the ride. I promise to be honest, to share my colossal failures as well as my successes and to spare you the expense, frustration and heartache that goes hand in hand with learning any new cooking technique. Because I love, I will do that for you.
What the hell is this gosh darn sous vide business, you might be asking. Well, if you eat in restaurants, you have most likely eaten food that has been cooked to the perfect temperature and held in a hot water bath until it's time to plate. It's then removed from the bag, dried off, seared, sauced and sent out, never dry, never overcooked, always perfect. Not only will the food be perfectly cooked but it will stay at that optimal temperature, often for many hours, if left in the water bath until it's needed. Inconsiderate dinner guests and hour late?
Read this to learn lots more
No problem. Although those rudey McRudersons probably deserve pork chops that resemble leather shoe tongues, if you cook them in your sous vide set up, those little piggy's can sit in the water bath for hours without ever overcooking or experiencing any deterioration. When those slackers finally drag themselves through the door, complaining about traffic with McDonalds on their breath, you just take the meat out of the sous vide bath, sear them, whip them on the plates and nobody would ever know that they were supposed to be on the table two hours ago.
The term "sous vide" sounds super fancy pants but it is just French for "under vacuum". Food is put into food grade plastic, the air is sucked out, the bag is sealed tight and the food is dropped into a water bath that is set to the exact temperature that you want the food to be when it's perfectly cooked and ready to eat. Because the food is not being cooked from the outside-in, it cooks evenly all the way through. When your perfectly medium rare steak comes out of the bath, it's medium rare from edge to edge without the ring of grey, well done steak that occurs with conventional cooking methods. Unfortunately , it also looks like grey dog food (unless you give it a sear before you put it in the plastic, which you can do if you like), so you need to dry it off and sear it in a smoking hot pan or grill quickly right before you serve it. Don't even get me started on what chicken looks like fresh out of the plastic pouch. It will taste like the most tender, succulent piece of poultry you have ever eaten but you will have to eat it blindfolded. Don't let that deter you.
This method of cooking works perfectly with all the proteins from lamb to fish as well as producing an egg poached in it's shell with a magical, custardy yolk that is impossible to attain with any other cooking method. It's the Japanese onsen tomago, or egg poached in it's sell and often served on your bowl of ramen, that started my current obsession. As we go along our merry way, I will be sous viding everything in sight to see what does and doesn't work.
Anova Precision Cooker to use and review, so let's get that out of the way right now. There is also a Sansaire on the way and I will use that as well and let you know how that goes. This was given to me by the company, at no cost so that I could use it an share my opinions about it, which are always very much my own. At this point, I have used The Anova only three or four times but so far, I love it. It is very straight forward to use, the clamp is simple and sturdy and comes with an app so I can control the timer and the temperature with my iphone, which I love although it's kind of a gimick since once you set the temperature, you don't really change it at all but I do like to know that if I want to, I don't have to get up off my ass and miss a moment of James Spader being creepy and RIDICULOUS to raise the temperature 1 degree. I mean, really, do you watch The Black List??
I have also received a Food Saver to try out (my review is here) but I am also committed to using freezer bags as well so that I can give a balanced account of your options. There are odd instances, like when doing meatballs, where the freezer bags actually worked a bit better because the Food Saver was a kind of aggressive and smashed my meatballs down so that they weren't really meatballs so much as meat disks. Delicious but oddly shaped.
So, all that said, here is the skinny on heaters:
You can buy a self contained unit like the SousVide Supreme which was the only game in town at one point. The drawback, for me, was always that it is big, bulky, and has only one use so unless you are sous viding every day and have tons of space in your kitchen, this is a beast of an appliance. They are also much more expensive than the immersion heaters, starting at almost $400 for the cheapest model.
if you don't want to buy an expensive, bulky appliance, you can purchase a free standing immersion heater like one of these:
the top four immersion heaters, all under $300 US seem to be:
The Anova connects to your phone by bluetooth so you can use the handy app that they created to control heat and time and has handy recipes etc to use as a guide. The Nomiku offers a wifi capable model as well.
This is a great comparison of the three units
This is a year and a half old but has good information, if a touch outdated
The only con to this immersion cooker is trying to figure out how the hell I am going to store it. It comes in that awesome and very modern tube but once you take it out the first time, It doesn't easily just pop back in and out. I have trouble getting the lid back on without lots of fidgeting. It's kind of big and I don't want to just throw it in a cupboard and I am not quite sure how I am going to solve this problem. My kitchen isn't big enough to just leave it out all the time.
Again, if any of you have some ideas about this dilemma, please share with the class.
You'll need a container for the water bath:
|the pot I used at first|
a metal pot that is at least 8" deep.
Pros: everyone has a nice, deep pot and you will use it to cook other things all the time when you aren't using it to sous vide.
Cons: metal transfers heat and, therefore, it makes the machine work harder. Round containers are not always the best shape to accommodate the bags of food. If it's your only big pot, you can't use it for anything else while you are using it for sous vide
a plastic cooler can work believe it or not.
Pros: Because they are insulated, the water retains the heat more efficiently which also means your heater doesn't have to work as hard. They are also rectangular which is a better shape for accommodating the bags of food to be cooked. A great idea I came across online was to buy a small cooler only for use with your sous vide immersion heater and you can cut a hole in the lid for the heater. That way you can leave the lid on which helps keep the water from evaporating during long cooking periods and helps further retain the heat resulting in less power used by the heater. Just make sure you don't buy a giant cooler that will require far too much water.
Cons: they are bulky, need to be stored and have only this one use and coolers aren't really made for very hot water.
The walls are thick and it might be difficult to attach your heater.
Polycarbonate containers are the best choice all around, I think.
Pros: They are clear so you can see the progress of your food
They come in all shapes and sizes
They retain heat much more efficiently than a metal pot so your machine doesn't work as hard
They are meant for food storage so they generally come with lids and it is much easier to cut a hole in the lid so your heater can poke through it
They are light, they are made to withstand heat and are easy to store.
|my current set up, minus the eventual lid with a hole cut out - still waiting for the lids|
To cook the food you'll need bags:
A vacuum food sealer is wonderful. I have a FoodSaver and I am loving it.
Pros:You can make custom sized bags, get a much better vacuum seal etc
Cons: it's another large appliance, it's not cheap and one use bags always feel wasteful
|meatballs in a freezer bag top left and the other two are after using my Food Saver|
Pros: easy to use, easy to buy, you can buy in bulk for a great price
Cons: You can't get all the air out like you can with a vaccum and, again, they are one use only and so it does feel wasteful
Pros: reusable, less waste, not plastic for those who worry about cooking in food grade plastic
Cons: smaller so not great for larger quantities and people say the seal is not as good as with the other bags. Also, if it springs a leak, it needs to be replaced.
I am reading up on doing some of your cooking in glass jars but the problem is that you need to remove the air from the jar. I have my canning lid attachment to do this for my Food Saver and I will be trying this at some point, so we will see if that even works.
I am not sure if this is true but it makes sense to me so I am passing this bit of advice along:
I was going to set it up on the counter across from my oven with some cork trivets underneath when Shack pointed out that plugging it into the stove could be more energy efficient since a stove's outlet is 220V. It stands to reason that it makes more sense to use that source than a wall plug, which is 110-120V.
If anyone reading this is a electrician or owns an electrician, can you verify that for us?
At any rate, I have it set up beside the stove, plugged into the outlet on top of the stove, sitting on a couple trivets although, for the majority of our cooking needs, we will never use temperatures high enough to do damage to the countertop. Better safe than sorry, since I am clumsy, accident prone and paranoid about burning my house down.