We've seen Top Chefs make judges drool with their perfectly-cooked sous vide short ribs and heard Thomas Keller declare the wonders of sous vide cooking as evidenced in his French Laundry kitchen. But we've never really considered sous vide cooking at home. Until one of these machines was sitting on our counter, that is.
What Is Sous Vide Cooking?
At its most basic, sous vide cooking is all about temperature control. You vacuum-seal your food in plastic and submerge it in water. The sous vide machine keeps the water at a very specific and constant temperature, gradually raising the temperature of your food to the desired doneness.
For instance, if you love your steak cooked to a perfect medium-rare, you can seal it in plastic and set the sous vide machine to 130°. The steak will be slowly cooked to exactly 130° and not a degree more. It is, in effect, nearly impossible to over cook. The texture will gradually change over time, but the flavor and internal temperature stays the same.
This kind of cooking can be a little hard to wrap your head around! Safety is an issue, so along with exact temperature control, following time guidelines is important to make sure the food is cooked through before taking it out of the sous vide machine. In many ways, cooking food sous vide is not unlike cooking it in a slow-cooker.
The SousVide Supreme: Features and Performance
The SousVide Supreme is a counter-top water bath with heating coils embedded in the body to keep the water at a constant temperature. It's about the size of a large bread machine or slow cooker.
The push-button controls are intuitive and easy to use - you set the temperature and let it go! A built-in timer is also very handy, especially for long cooking times. An adjustable rack inside the machine keeps vacuum-sealed foods separated so cooking is even on all sides.
The machine heated the entire water bath, nearly three gallons of water, at a rate of about four degrees Fahrenheit per minute. For our 140° short ribs below, the water went from tap-water warm to full temperature in about 15 minutes. During cooking, the water temperature only fluctuated by a degree. The outside of the machine also stayed surprisingly cool and there was very little water loss due to evaporation.
All in all, the machine was very easy to use and performed its job well.
Food Trials: Short Ribs and Eggs
For our first test, we cooked a batch of short ribs at 140° F for 48 hours. The low-heat and long-cooking help all the collagen in the short ribs melt away, leaving them (hopefully!) tender and rich. We rubbed the ribs in a little seasoning, sealed them up, and tucked them into the machine. Over the 48 hours, our ribs went from raw-pink to deep, rich brown.
The flavor on the finished ribs was incredible. The seasoning we'd rubbed on the outside was completely infused throughout the meat. The texture, on the other hand, was disappointing. We really expected it to knock our socks off, but instead it was just...good. Aside from the great flavor, these short ribs were really no better than oven-braised short ribs we've made in the past.
In the second test, we wanted to try soft boiled eggs. Eggs are one thing that come up again and again in discussions about sous vide, usually with the statement "best eggs ever" thrown in there somewhere. We followed Thomas Keller's instructions in Under Pressure and cooked our eggs in the shell at 144.5°F for an hour.
Cracked over our plate, the soft boiled eggs literally slithered out of the shell. It was a little hard to convince our brains that these soft and runny whites were actually cooked, but once we got over that, the experience was amazing. The whites melted on the tongue while the yolks had the incredible consistency of lemon curd. So good. These really were some of the best eggs ever.
Final Review: Good, Bad, and Decent
While the sous vide machine itself is easy to use, learning how to cook with it takes some time. It's not really the kind of machine that you can plug in, follow a recipe, and make something incredible the first time. But we can definitely see its potential, and over time, we can see producing some really superb dishes.
The machine takes up a lot of counterspace. In a small kitchen and for some of these recipes that take several days, this can get a little annoying. Filled with water, the machine is also very difficult to move. Unless you have a faucet hose that's long enough to reach wherever you've decided to park your machine, you're left carrying sloshing pitchers of water to and fro to fill it up.
And call us old-fashioned, but we really missed the smell of food cooking, which is something you get even with a slow-cooker. Without smell, there's no anticipation, no build-up, no final reveal of a glorious dish. Maybe this is part of why our short ribs felt anti-climatic.
In the end, it was a fun toy to play with for a few weeks, but we felt ok sending it back to the manufacturer when our turn was over. If you're the type of home cook that gets excited by molecular gastronomy and the kind of high-level cooking going on in top restaurants, then you'll absolutely love this machine. But if you're a regular home cook who just likes a good roast in the oven, a sous vide machine can go a little lower on your priority list.
• Buy It! SousVide Supreme, $449 at Sur la Table
Have you ever cooked with a sous vide machine? What do you think?
Related: Product Review: Breville Smart Oven
Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. However, the manufacturer did give us the product for testing and review purposes.
(Images: Emma Christensen)