Sous vide!

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.

11 responses to “Sous vide!

  1. sounds like it’s not helping your effort to limit your meat consumption very much

  2. MinneapolisPipe

    Ezra,

    Has there been any studies done into heating the plastic bags to that temperature and what substances might leech into the food?

    I like the process and have enjoyed it several times at a friend’s house, but this remains a concern.

  3. You get a good vacuum on those ziploc bags?

  4. I was going to ask MinneapolisPipe’s question.

  5. How should we interpret the fact that your main blog says today that you can’t write because of crippling food poison?

  6. I believe both Ziploc and Glad say not to use their bags in boiling water. However, I think every study has found that unless you get to the bag’s melting point, you’ll be okay. It’s all a crap shoot. It’s not like burning food with fire isn’t risky.

  7. I’ve been considering getting some sous vide equipment (thanks for the nudge, Ezra), and think that I’ve seen enough comments on the “cooking in plastic” issue to feel ok about it.

    Minneapolis and Allen – What I’ve read is that ziplocks and saran wrap type plastics (PE and PVC) are food safe up to close to their melting point, which is far far in excess of what you use for low temp cooking. I believe the melting point for a ziplock is close to 200C, while sous vide cooking is done between 40C and 85C, and usually in the 50-65C range. I’m not promising it’s perfectly safe, but I’ve satisfied myself that that plastic isn’t a danger to worry about (and I’m someone that has gone BPA-free as much as possible).

    Here is a link to some discussion:
    http://www.cookingissues.com/2010/04/07/sous-vide-and-low-temp-primer-part-ii-cooking-without-a-vacuum/

    And the bottom of this post:
    http://blog.ruhlman.com/ruhlmancom/2008/11/under-pressur-1.html

  8. Brilliant. Although I admit that I just tend to wrap things really tight in several layers of ordinary plastic wrap and poach them – duck breast fillets, whole eye fillets (about 800gm), chicken, yep, even eggs… no food poisoning or indeed any kind of poisoning yet. It’s the method outlined in the Thomas Keller “French Laundry Cookbook”. Very fun, especially if you wrap the meat in something like sliverbeet first – looks fab and is so very soft. You are going to have so much fun!

  9. Pingback: Ribs, St. Louis meets Lexington via Aix-en-Provence. « The Grandma Blog

  10. proarticlesdaily

    Wow this is really nice! The bags are safe for microwave?

    Free Articles Directory Submission

  11. @Miss Anne
    “…no food poisoning or indeed any kind of poisoning yet.”

    When you develop a strange cancer 20 years from now, think back on this.

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