Is this a Fad?

Professional Level Sous Vide Circulating Bath
Professional Level Sous Vide Circulating Bath

Fads and tools for the kitchen come and go. Many stay (or not) depending upon the financial situation of the restaurant or home or the size of the kitchen. For instance, you will never see a pizza oven or an “anti-griddle” in my postage stamp-sized kitchen. You’ll also never see a soda maker, either.

If you’re a fan of the original programming on Food Network, you may have seen, for example, some of the chefs on Iron Chef America fire up (metaphorically speaking) a Sous Vide contraption that looked rather intimidating and not for the faint of heart. Way before he got involved in the vomitus mass that’s Cutthroat Kitchen, Alton Brown explained how the Sous Vide system worked, but it still looked intimidating.

Fast forward to the last few years when Sous Vide is no longer just the purview of the professional kitchen. The home cook can now set up a home Sous Vide system ranging from jury-rigging a picnic cooler and a thermometer all the way to a professional level system.

But is this just a fad? In this case, I don’t think so. It feels like one more step towards having an efficient kitchen and having the ability to cook delicious and nourishing food. I happen to hate microwaves – which were a “fad” at one time – but I’m using this. I’m not one to easily grab every new gadget or concept that comes along, but I decided that this was worth trying out.

First Steps

Sous Vide Rig setup
Sous Vide Rig setup

I started out doing the jury-rigging, this time with a stockpot, a saucepan of hottish water, a thermometer, and a lot of patience. I tried eggs which I found had better results on an actual Sous Vide setup, but the eye-opening meal was two chicken thighs.

I vacuumed sealed two chicken thighs – I’ve had a FoodSaver® for years, thanks to The Wineaux Guy™ – and with no seasoning at all, dropped them in the hot water.  About an hour and a half later, I removed them from the water, cut open the bags, drained the juices into a separate bowl, crisped the skin in a hot cast iron pan and then removed the bone in order to enjoy it with a salad and pasta.

OMG. The chicken tasted like the chicken I remembered from my youth when Mom and I would go to the Ridge Avenue Market in Philly, choose a clucking chicken and minutes later, given a brown paper wrapped package. Yeah. That fresh.

The chicken flavor was intense, and when I decided to reduce the juices, I was rewarded with incredible concentrated flavor, worthy of a Merlot. Light whites need not apply.

When chicken is cooked this way, it doesn’t just “taste like chicken.” This chicken has flavor, depth, and complexity, and no other foods that allegedly taste like chicken can possibly taste like this chicken. Admittedly, I did spend a little extra (okay, a lot extra) for pasture-raised chicken from Whole Foods (Motto: Why Pay Less?); I doubt that I would have gotten this depth of flavor from a flaccid supermarket bird.

The Purchase!

sous-vide-cookingAfter much research, I decided to get an immersion system which is the type most used by restaurants, but I didn’t want to spend hundreds (and hundreds) for it. While you can get away with a rather makeshift system for about $100 or go full tilt and spend a couple of thousand, I decided – or rather, The Budget™ decided – that I’d stay to the lower end of the scale. So for a little less than $300, I purchased a VacMaster SV1 circulator, a 12-qt Rubbermaid container and an accompanying lid.  I chose the VacMaster because they also make the vacuum chamber sealers used by restaurants who cook Sous Vide, and I figured they know what they’re doing.

The results have ranged from spectacular to “what the hell.”  Spectacular has won overwhelmingly, hands down.

My “what the hell” moments were due to user error.  The spectacular ranged from a repeat of the chicken thighs to a corned beef brisket to root vegetables.  The meats have been good, the eggs, gorgeous, and the root vegetables tasting garden fresh.

VacMaster SV1 Setup.
VacMaster SV1 Setup.

I’ve also noticed that it appears that cooking Sous Vide preserves the nutrients and many characteristics of the raw vegetable. For instance, I have a condition called “beeturia.” Without going into detail on this post, I’ll just say that apparently, only about 10-14% of the population deals with this (it’s harmless although can be somewhat unnerving the first time it happens), and because of it I’ve been eating only cooked beets for years.

Enter Sous Vide. The vacuum packed beets that I sous-vided were tender and delicious, but surprise surprise! Beeturia raised its (brightly colored) head. Now that’s something I’d like to see some information about and why the water-poached beets have the same effect on susceptible individuals as the raw.

Okay. I’m leaving TMI territory!

It All “Tastes Like Chicken”!

Well, the vegetables, like the chicken, taste more like themselves with the carrots tasting carrotier, the beets beetier, and the fennel fennelier.  In other words, they taste like the fresh-picked vegetables from Grandmom’s garden in my youth.

I also discovered that foods with this enriched flavor complemented my wine choices even though I quickly realized that many of my go-to options wouldn’t fit in the Sous Vide scenario – see chicken and Merlot example above.

Sous Vide Creme Brûlée. Yes, even Creme Brûlée!!
Sous Vide Creme Brûlée. Yes, even Creme Brûlée!!

In the Old World, where foods are grown naturally without GMOs and where poisons applied to food crops are limited, the flavors of the vegetables are richer and more varied. Animals grown without the various hormones and antibiotics that are common here taste more like the way they’re supposed to taste when prepared properly. These factors, along with the wines grown in the same regions, are why food and wine occupy the same place.  This is why Sancerre and goat cheese are a marriage. Why hams, salamis, salumis, and charcuterie pair so exceptionally well in the regions in France, Italy, and Spain.

We have allowed corporate interests to dictate what we eat and have allowed them to choose the quality. Hint. Low to none. In my opinion, this is why so many Americans can get confused over the concept of wine with food and wine as food. Our tastebuds are asleep and if we continue as we’re going without demanding better and more varied quality of foods – or taking matters into our own hands and growing our own – they will stay asleep. There are already many children who will never know the pleasure of garden or farm-fresh foods because they live exclusively on diets of commercial and fast foods. It’s pretty safe to infer that this is not good for their health. I fear for the health of my grandchildren.

In the very recent past there were great TV shows that revealed new and exciting cooking methods. Nowadays it’s all about silly contests, food game shows, and off the charts stupid stuff in kitchens. But check out the PBS food shows. At least they’re still sane for the time being.

I will continue to report randomly on my Sous Vide experiences. While the setup takes up a little space on my counter, so far it’s been earning its keep.

Stay tuned…

 

2 COMMENTS

  1. I am a home cook with what has become extensive sous vide experience. The equipment you used is impeccable, but I’ve used mostly a crock pot with a thermostat plus aquarium air stones.

    My first experience with the joyous texture and flavor of sous vide meats was skinless chicken breasts cooked before I got the thermostat running, regulating the temperature manually. Here in Southern California the cultural norm is that restaurants serve flattened, chalky, overcooked chicken breasts chilled until any hint of meatiness has been driven from the remains atop chicken Caesar salads. It was against this backdrop of recent experience that I first tasted juicy chicken breasts cooked to perfection in a Ziplock freezer bag.

    I now have prepared over 4000 individual meals (over 1000 family meals) at home in my 7-qt Crockpot. I love the results, but even better, the conveniences! Sous vide allows me to come home from work and complete a meal in much less time than it takes when cooking in the traditional way because the entree is already pre-cooked. After dinner, I’ll bag tomorrow’s entree, and either put it in the water bath or refrigerate it until tomorrow morning, depending on what is being prepared.

    My regular rotation of meals includes a lot of chicken breasts, pork loins, spare ribs, pork chops, tri-tip, flap meat, sirloin. Using a well circulated water bath means three to four pound roasts are prepared properly — something an uncirculated water bath cannot do, even though the uncirculated model is larger than my Crockpot. Tri-tip (131F 10-24 hours), chicken breasts (140F 3-10 hours), and pork loins (138F 3-24 hours depending on whether I want pulled pork) are always perfect, tender and tasty.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences! I’m thinking about getting a similar setup for my Crock Pot just in case I need an extra for entertaining. This is great!

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