As an "early adaptor" I jumped at the chance to try the new and controversial food toy, the Sous Vide Cooker!
Mother was an early adaptor, so I guess I come by it honestly. More sensible people greet something new with a healthy degree of skepticism. Is it necessary? Is it useful? Where will I store it? How will I use it? Can I afford it? I am more likely to elbow dawdlers out of the way in my passion to acquire the latest shiny new toy, and the devil take the hindmost!
Mother's first microwave was a great unwieldy, astonishingly heavy thing. Two sturdy men were required to hoist it into place. We were all fascinated. Mother promptly took a class in how to use it, google not having been invented yet, and began her ultimately formidable collection of microwave cook books.
Many chickens ran around squalking that the sky was falling and this would be the end of civilization as we knew it at the time - which, as it turns out was done in by the sixties anyway. Some still have their doubts. I was told recently that you can't use a microwave to warm water when you're proofing yeast because the microwaves kill yeast. I didn't bother sharing that I had done so most of my life and my yeast always burgeoned beautifully. Since I don't like to be disabused of my fanciful notions, I don't like to stomp on those of others.
When it appeared on the horizon, the microwave was a tad overhyped. It would revolutionize cooking and replace the old-fashioned oven - which, of course, it never did. But it also was not a fleeting fancy. It found it's place in thawing and reheating things, melting butter, chocolate... In fact, if it replaced anything at all, it was the double boiler. It found its niche in our lives, and, by now, most of us would not want to be without one.
Which brings us to sous vide.
One day, quite recently, I opened my email to find a suggestion from a friend that I look into a "sous vide" cooking device. I flexed my fingers, googled a Google, and before you can say "Are you out of your mind?" had ordered one of these shiny new devices online and it was winging its way to my waiting arms! Some of you savvy folks with spiralizers, I'm sure can relate.
But what is it, you may well be asking.
"The sous vide (pronounced "soo-veed") technique involves cooking food in vacuum sealed pouches submerged in a water bath held at a precisely-controlled temperature. This foolproof method eliminates guesswork and lets anyone cook foods with incomparable taste and texture: steak perfectly cooked edge-to-edge, vibrant vegetables, juicy tender chicken breasts, and ribs with the meat literally falling off the bone. All at the push of a button!"
Anyone who has chucked shucked corn into a cooler and covered it with boiling water for a large party has actually cooked sous vide. (This works like a charm, by the way. Put the lid back on the cooler, let it sit for an hour, and the corn will be perfect for hours ever after!)
Actually, sous vide is a well-worn method used in restaurants to magically produce meat ordered to precise specifications. Fetch the medium rare from the medium rare pot, the medium well from the medium well pot, et cetera.
My new toy arrived, and I began to experiment. It is a simple device, a metal tube with a heating element and a propeller designed to move water in a large pot while maintaining a precise temperature. And it does exactly that.
The joys: It elevates an even a less than premium cuts to surprising tenderness and yet not the very well doneness of the slow cooker. Low and slow. Edge to edge indeed and tender as can be! Beef, ribs, chicken, vegetables. Fabulous. No fuss. Vacuum pack it, or use a Zip-Lock bag, plop it in the water and off you go.
The less joyful aspects: It takes time. Hours and hours. Far more than regular cooking.
And it doesn't brown. At all. That roast of beef requires a "reverse sear" to sizzle its edges to an appetizing finish. Some folks use a hot cast iron pan for this step. Others slap it quickly on a barbecue or griddle. I, personally, favor a hefty blow torch.
Upshot: Like the microwave, it will not be the cooking panacea that will cure all your ills and replace your oven as well as your microwave, but it has certainly found a place in my heart and in my kitchen. In these days of expensive meats, it is grand to be able to cook a less-pricey cut to tender perfection. It's nice to be able to "set it and forget it". And when it's time to serve, plop it out of the bag, brandish the blow torch and bask in the oohs and aaahs. Also no pans to wash. Bonus.
Yes, you should use food grade plastic bags, although SV cooking maintains temperatures well below the boiling point, typically 130-160 Fahrenheit.
Yes, plastic is bad for the environment (though I'm not ready to relinquish my vacuum packer any time soon).
Yes, blow torches are dangerous in the wrong hands or in the wrong mood.
Nonetheless, let's take it out for a spin.
Sous vide eggs:
Set temperature to 148 (for soft cooked).
When the water is heated to that temperature, lower eggs into the pot of water. You don't need a bag because eggs come packaged by nature in a very handy container. It doesn't matter how many eggs. One or a dozen.
Wait 45 minutes (you read that right) or longer. Take them out of the water bath.
Break your perfectly poached, remarkably creamy egg onto a piece of toasted baguette. Butter. A few shavings of Parmesan. A sprinkling of Maldon (crunchy, tender, finishing) salt. A perfect cup of coffee. Heaven. I'm telling you.
Of course, so is a soft-boiled egg cooked as you have been doing forever, if you're going to be that way about it. But you won't be able to convince this early adaptor that the sous vide egg isn't just a little bit better…