By Ezra Klein
In celebration of the day of my birth, occasional-IFA contributor Annie Lowrey gave me a Sous Vide Supreme. That is to say, I now have a large device on my countertop that can cook foods in a hot-water bath at extremely precise temperatures. I also now do my cooking in Zip Lock baggies. All in all, my life has changed dramatically in recent weeks.
And the change, I think, is for the better. The idea of sous vide cooking is to replace the hot imprecision of fire with the cool inerrancy of The Future. Take the normal process you’d use to cook medium-rare steak: You heat fat in a pan, waiting for the temperature to rise to a level where you can get the center of the steak to about 131 degrees Fahrenheit — that’s medium-rare — without burning everything around it. If all goes well, you get a medium-rare steak that’s only medium-rare in the center. And that’s if all goes well.
Sous vide works by bringing a water bath to, in this case, precisely 131 degrees and then leaving the vacuum-packed (or bagged) food in it for long enough that the contents of the bag match the temperature of the surrounding water precisely. In other words, everything is 131 degrees. Then you take out your steak, give it a quick sear to add flavor, and eat your perfectly-cooked steak. So long as you set the temperature correctly, left it in for long enough, and don’t have a broken machine, your steak is perfect. It’s as close as we’ve come to the Jetsons’ vision of a computer that takes your dinner order and calls a perfect version of it into existence before you.
The technique, at this point, has a solid professional pedigree. Thomas Keller, Heston Blumenthal, and a variety of other fine chefs use it constantly. As for whether home cooks should rush out and buy the gizmo, I’ve no idea. I’ve only had the machine for a week, and in that time, I’ve made some great carrots and parsnips, some amazing eggs, some bad eggs, and some mediocre brisket. Right now, I’m making pork chops. I’ll tell you how they turn out.
But damn is it fun. It’s like learning to cook all over again. The rules are all different, and I don’t know how I like things yet, and there’s all sorts of stuff to experiment with. It occurs to me that it makes cooking like baking: More science than art, and dependent more on the measurements and the ingredients and the technology than on the technique of the chef. I can’t say yet whether the flavors in my food will take a quantum leap thanks to the Sous Vide Machine, but anyone who’s ever wanted cooking to feel more like a high-school lab experiment will have a blast with it.