Awhile back I posted some quick thoughts on a new kitchen gadget we got, a sous vide cooker. We've had it a couple of months now and my final opinion is it's useful but I'm not sure it's worth the expense and space. Ken does the cooking; he likes it.

Sous vide is the process of cooking food, particularly meat, slowly at low temperature in a sealed bag. The great appeal of sous vide is it's really simple to get consistent results. Want a medium rare steak? Set the temperature to 55°C, toss some beef in for 2-72 hours (depending on cut), and out comes a perfectly cooked medium rare beef. Hamburgers, fish, poultry, eggs, all easy to cook to a consistent texture.

In some sense sous vide cooking is the mirror twin of barbeque. But what it doesn't do is add flavour. Traditional hot cooking sears, caramelizes, browns, burns, and generally imparts complex flavours to food. Sous vide doesn't do that. So you have to brown the meat after cooking it. But the browning is tricky; you can't do it too long lest you overcook it. (Spicing is also tricky; some spices taste different after being cooked sous vide). We've yet to get a really good crust on a sous vide steak.

If we had no idea how to cook a steak properly the sous vide would be a miracle. Or if we needed to turn out forty steaks a night consistently, it would be a huge help. But Ken already knows how to cook a great steak on a grill, in a skillet, or in an oven. So now we've got a fourth way, with some drawbacks, and I don't quite see the point.

One strength of sous vide is that it's not a dry process. Chicken and pork come out beautifully tender and moist. It's a great way to salvage the flavourless fat-free industrial meat we get in the US. I also shouldn't understate the value of the convenience; Ken really likes not having to worry about timing the meat completion along with everything else. And it's easy to cook something, store it in the fridge, then finish it with a quick sear days later.

The home appliance of choice is the SousVide Supreme, $400 on Amazon. It's a well made appliance, good construction and works well although I wish they'd done a better job on the lid insulation. It's far too large for meals for 2–4 people, but the demi version they offer isn't significantly smaller or cheaper. You also need a vacuum sealer; any air left in a bag at all will cause it to float and cook inconsistently. The package deal is $470, a significant expense. If you don't already own good knives and cookware, buy those first.

  2011-03-11 15:05 Z