So after hearing me bitch for the last two years about how everyone on Top Chef gets to sous vide but I don’t, someone finally decided to throw me a bone. The folks over at SousVide Supreme, the first legit sous vide machine aimed at home cooks, sent me over one of their $450 contraptions to test out for a few weeks. Woo-hoo!
For those who need a recap: sous vide cooking involves vacuum sealing ingredients in plastic bags with this neat little contraption:
That’s actually the most fun part, watching all the air get sucked right out of the bag. Then you submerse the bag in a thermal hot water bath that’s designed to remain at an exact pre-set temperature, down to the degree:
The idea is that you get food cooked perfectly and uniformly every time, and that it retains all of the nutrients and flavor that might be allowed to sneak out when baking, boiling or sauteeing.
First thoughts: sous vide takes a long ass time. I don’t really understand how the Top Chef-testants are always doing this during the quickfire, because at least with this machine, it took about half an hour to heat the bath up to the required temperature (usually 140 degrees for meat and 185 for vegetables), and then between 40 minutes and many, many hours to actually cook the thing.
Instead of making a full meal, our tasting team tried out sous vide-ing a whole bunch of different ingredients to see how this bad boy handles the basics.
The meat was definitely the most successful, notably this nice little lamb tenderloin, which was perfectly, uniformly soft throughout every bite. Even that little edge of fat you see on the left somehow tasted gloriously soft and flavorful — not a hint of chewiness.
Salmon (which I cooked with mustard, dill, salt and pepper added to the bag) was also pretty perfectly cooked, if less revelatory. I think the main sell here with the fish is that it makes it super easy to cook. No worries about dry, overcooked fish or scary, undercooked fish — just set the time and temp designated and it cooks perfectly throughout.
Fruits and veggies we were less impressed with. We sous vide-d up carrots, onions, squash, yucca, beets, pineapple, pears, and blueberries (phew). The carrots were probably the only thing that were noticeably different from any other cooking method. They don’t lose any of that flavor that might otherwise seep into a sauce when cooking, and the sous vide carrots had a more intense flavor than you’d expect. The other fruits and veggies, while cooked well, were underwhelming — our tasting team found no particular difference in flavor or texture that would convince us buy a sous vide machine to make these. Everything was tasty, it just didn’t blow our minds.
Scrambled eggs were fun to make — you just crack the eggs right into the bag, agitate it a few times throughout cooking and voila, you’ve got a creamy scramble that’s been cooked uniformly throughout — with no burnt, crumbly edges. The machine can also be used to hard-boil or poach an egg, but we didn’t try that because, um, it takes at least an hour. Neat that you can set it to make an egg perfectly every single time, but really, what home cook is going to put aside an hour+ of their time to make an egg?
Overall, I’m so far a little underwhelmed by sous vide at home. If I had this machine all the time, I’d definitely break it out once in a while to sous vide a nice piece of meat, but I’m not convinced it’s worth the effort for other foods.
Notably, after the vacuum packing part, it’s just not that fun. This kind of cooking is all about perfection, not experimentation. You just put your food in the machine and wait — no adding ingredients throughout, no filling your kitchen with beautiful smells — no errors, but also no discoveries. One of our more intellectual tasters noted that cooking can be kind of like art or architecture — making something that’s perfectly, uniformly beautiful is perhaps not as interesting as making something that’s got a few flaws in it, if only for the excitement in each new bite. So maybe we do want those different textures and burnt edges after all. OK, so if you buy a $30 filet mignon, you don’t want any burnt edges, but for run-of-the-mill foods, sous vide may not be the panacea Top Chef had led me to believe.
Perhaps I’m being too hard on this little guy — everything we cooked in it was, after all, delicious, just not as life-changing as I was hoping for. We decided sous vide is the Barack Obama of kitchen appliances — it does a perfectly fine job, but really we were expecting miracles.
So what am I missing? I’ve got this bad boy for another week and am way open to suggestions for what else I should drop up in him.