A couple of weekends ago I was at the International Housewares Association show in Chicago and got a chance to check out the SousVide Supreme. Richard Blais from the 2008 season of Top Chef was giving demonstrations and plugging the product. If you remember that season, Blais was big into molecular gastronomy and sous-vide cooking so it is no surprise to see him associated with this device.
Essentially, this appliance is a home version of the expensive immersion circulators used at some restaurants, whereby food is cooked in a controlled-temperature water bath. Before this, enthusiasts wanting to experiment with sous-vide cooking (which means ‘under vacuum’ in French) had to search eBay for used laboratory equipment or purchase the SousVideMagic which is a temperature control mechanism that you can use along with a rice cooker, crock pot or other water-worthy vessel to create your own water oven set-up.
Sous-vide cooking is all the rage these days, but it is still a rather costly endeavor. The SousVide Supreme will run you $450 and then you will also have to pay extra for food-grade cooking bags and a vacuum sealer to remove the air. Beware that the SousVide Supreme vacuum sealer retails for $129. The SousVideMagic is cheaper at $160, but then you also need (or have to buy) a rice cooker or crock pot of some sort. And once again you will need bags and a way to vacuum seal them. Though I must admit that some people just use zip-lock bags, press the air out by hand as much as possible, and use a straw to remove the last little bit.
With that said, resources on the web are plentiful if you want to learn how to cook sous vide. The eGullet society has a thread called Sous Vide: Recipes, Techniques, and Equipment that has a staggering 115 pages with 3,400+ replies dating back to 2004. Good luck reading that. They should give you a diploma in sous-vide cooking if you read through the entire posting. For a more manageable post, eGullet has a thread on just the SousVide Supreme that has around 100 replies. A lot of that discussion revolves around how well the temperature is maintained, water circulation issues, and a comparison to the SousVideMagic set-up.
When cooking sous vide, food safety is also an issue. This type of food preparation uses lower temperatures to cook food (often meat) for a longer period of time. When meat is cooked at a higher temperature it kills all the bad stuff very quickly, but the proteins also shrink and expel moisture. That is why overcooked meat is so dry and tough. By cooking at lower temperatures, however, the meat retains its moisture and stays soft and moist. But there is a fine line between creating a heat that cooks the meat and kills the bacteria and also creating a warm, moist environment where bacterial growth is actually promoted. Remember, bacteria also like dark, warm, moist places. In fact, botulism is still a concern with sous-vide cooking and anyone attempting it should take care to learn proper, safe techniques. Douglas Baldwin’s A Practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking is a good place to start when learning how to safely cook using this method, but the document can get a bit technical. Just make sure to look up preparation times and temperatures or follow instruction manuals with your device of choice.
Serious Eats also has a good post on cooking steak sous vide, and they provide nice visuals for a range of cooking temperatures so you can see how much moisture is being lost at which temp. Just reading that article alone will give you a fair understanding of what is at play with sous-vide cooking and if it is the right method for you. Just keep in mind that sous vide is a great way to prepare short ribs, so if you are fan of that cut of meat, you might want to consider it.
The Steamy Kitchen blog is also a good resource if you are thinking about buying the SousVide Supreme. The author tested the machine out on meat and eggs and has a lot of photos of the device in action. By the way, Richard Blais said the SousVide Supreme cooks onions perfectly. It isn’t just about meat, you can also use it for eggs, vegetables, and even some sauces.
I don’t have this machine yet, but I will probably consider it after grilling season is done. Even then I need to evaluate whether I would use it enough to justify the price or if I want a big appliance taking up room in my kitchen.
If you are interested, you can buy the SousVide Supreme 10-L. SousVide Supreme Water Oven at cooking.com and the SousVideMagic is sold at Fresh Meals Solutions.
Thomas Keller also has a book out called Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide but is more for a professional or very serious cook.
Good luck cooking at low temperatures.