Sous Vide or Not Sous Vide?
We touched on this topic briefly during the final Top Chef live blog, but it’s such a dilemma for me that I really have to expand and get some serious input from the ES community.
First things first, I’m a total food sucker. OK that sounds really gross, but don’t worry, I chew my dinner like a regular person. What I mean is that even though a try to be an ultra-cynical food blogger, I have to admit I’m drawn in by pretty much every silly, over-hyped food world craze. Tell me grass-fed beef is trendy and I’ll switch to it. Mention that buffalo meat is the new pork? I’m game. Make bacon out of duck? Why not?
But inevitably, I’m never that impressed by these trends and get mad at myself for being sucked in. Grass-fed beef smells bad, buffalo is just kind of meh, and duck bacon is fine, but it’s no bacon-bacon. Yet of course I get suckered again and again. Which brings me to sous vide…
Ever since season three of Top Chef, when winning chef’testant Hung sous vide-ed over and over again, I’ve been fascinated by this mythical cooking method, which involves sealing food in airtight plastic bags and heating them in a water bath to a precise temperature. Apparently it turns water into wine, makes fruit taste better than steak, and transforms steak into…um, better steak.
So late last year, I was wishfully wandering through Williams-Sonoma and stumbled upon a display of Thomas Keller’s latest book, Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide. Obviously, the beautiful, oversized, overpriced thing went straight onto my Christmas list. While I’ve already spent hours pouring over the amazing photos in this book, it was perhaps not the best-thought-out gift request, since um, to cook sous vide you kind of need a $200 vacuum-sealer machine and a $1,000 sous vide machine. Brilliant move, BS.
Undeterred, I figured there has to be a half-assed way for me to cook sous vide. Just wrap the food in a ziplock and through it in a pot of boiling water, right? Apparently not. There are two main problems with faux-sous-vide cooking:
1) The whole point is you can cook food to a precise temperature (within one degree, even), and the sous vide machine circulates your water bath so that it’s always at the exact right temperature. Just throwing some saran wrap steak in a pot of warm water accompanied by a meat thermometer is not gonna achieve this.
2) If it’s not done properly, there’s a risk of botulism, a rather serious disease that results from toxins that grow on food in the absence of oxygen. Eek.
Wow, this is getting kind of serious. But browsing around the webs, I found there are more than a few botulism-flirts who have developed at-home ways to sous-vide your own food. My favorite is Grub Hacker, who made his own sous vide machine using a crock pot, mortar and pestle, and a fish tank pump. He’s since been busy making sous vide steak, duck, pork belly and the like.
There are also some infomercial-quality bootleg versions of sous vide equipment, like the rather sketchy looking SousVideMagic. They’re semi-affordable, but no one seems to have much good to say about them, and as JoeHoya said during the live blog: Buying a discount sous vide machine just screams “the guy who owns this effed up and got sick.”
So what the eff do I do? Help a cooker out. Your votes/comments would be greatly appreciated.