Sous vide - is it more than just boil-in-a-bag?

Sous vide steak

Sous vide has been a restaurant cooking technique for many years. For anyone who is not sure what sous vide is, it's a process of cooking food in a vacuum-sealed bag.  The food is then cooked in a precise temperature-controlled water bath. There are several advantages: reliability - the same moist results every time; cooking to the exact desired temperature - meat is evenly red or pink throughout; and attention-free cooking.

While there are ways of creating home made sous vide machines (see below), in 2010 the first sous vide machine became available for the home cook. It created a fair amount of attention, but its cost was (and still is) high for a specialty appliance (currently, at Amazon, the Sous Vide Spreme sells for $430 (£359). So is it worth it?

The Guardian recently asked this question in Sous vide cooking: sucking all the sensation out of food preparation? Unfortunately, the author was not impressed with the machine. Not only did it not work with a number of food types (fish and eggs were especially noted), but, as they wrote, "Crucially though, and particularly for people who enjoy cooking, sous vide nixes the role of the senses. One of the greatest pleasures of putting dinner together is the smell it brings to the kitchen - onions sweating in butter, a curry puttering away on the stove, a cake baking in the oven. Smell also tells you when things are done, or indeed burnt. Touch helps, too, a prod telling you how rare a piece of steak is; a squeeze revealing how close to baked a spud is. And we constantly make decisions about a dish's progression based on sight and sound, listening for something frying too hard, looking for a piece of fish colouring too quickly, or catching those mutinous bits of rice that scale the side of the saucepan. And as any chef will tell you, taste is the most important sense of all."

In short, they agreed that sous vide is a good cooking technique, but simply not fun. However, we should note that there are numerous opinions to the contrary. Kenji Alt, for example, at Serious Eats, has regularly written about his success in cooking with sous vide, especially with steaks, hamburgers, and chicken. In all cases he advocates some post sous vide cooking to get a good sear but raves about the quality and taste.

And we should also add that Kenji, as well as others, like the process so much that they've developed ways to cook sous vide without the expensive machine. If you're interested, check out Kenji's Beer-cooker sous vide process or  Popular Science's method in a slow-cooker. And let us know the results.

Photo by Kenji Alt

 

4 Comments

  • pikawicca  on  2/22/2013 at 2:24 PM

    Have had mine for 2+ years and absolutely love it!

  • HarlanH  on  2/22/2013 at 7:31 PM

    Am a big fan of the much more inexpensive Sous Vide Supreme: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B006X4GNAI/ref=oh_details_o03_s00_i00?ie=UTF8&psc=1 It's just a heater+pump unit that hooks over the side of a pot, plus a controller unit, for more like $150. And I've had great luck with chicken, steak, and fish. (I don't know why the article complains about fish -- it's great for keeping fish from getting dry!)

  • sir_ken_g  on  2/23/2013 at 1:07 PM

    Pass. You will be able to get then at Goodwill soon.

  • TheCoddledEgg  on  2/9/2014 at 8:21 AM

    Foods cooked sous vide have changed my cooking life! I serve sous vide prepared food, not just meats, to guests who declare it to be the best ever aside from a great resteraunt (where the food was most likely cooked sous vide). Placed pears have been a revelation and I have been poaching pears for years and years. The most incredible difference sous vide has made with me so far is with skinless chicken breast. For the longest time I have only made chicken dishes from legs, thighs and wings. I will happily eat chicken breast sous vide any time I can find it or make it... IT IS CHICKENY!!!!

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